Raymond Kirk: Kesler the key to long term success, despite two losses since his return.

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Ryan Kesler: Photo: CBC.ca

The record may only be 0-1-1 in the two games since Ryan Kesler made his much anticipated 2013 Vancouver Canucks debut, coming off of shoulder and wrist injuries, yet the effect he has already had and will continue to make is significant to the Canucks and their aspirations of chasing Lord Stanley this spring.

There may be a lot of talk about the Sedin twins, the depth of goaltending, the offense from defence, overall team depth, but in my opinion, a healthy Ryan Kesler is the piece that makes the whole puzzle work. You need to look no further than the 2011 playoffs, when Kesler all but took the team on his back for long stretches in Round 2 against the Nashville Predators, and Round 3 against the San Jose Sharks before he was injured yet again, and was not the same force because of it in the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins. Kesler, when healthy, is arguably one of the very best two-way players in the NHL, and could very well have added a Conn Smythe trophy to his Selke award. He is the heart and soul of the hockey team when healthy and on his game, and after only two games, his presence has been significant, in helping make a listless powerplay not only effective, but looking dangerous at the same time. His faceoff game has been sorely missed, especially now with the loss of Manny Malhotra for the rest of the season. Kesler will continue to take big minutes as he works himself into game shape against the best forwards in the world, and in doing so, will cause opposing Head Coaches to game plan against him, which will open up even more opportunities for the Sedin twins against different defensive pairings. There is not one Canuck that can bring all the tools to the table that Kesler possesses when he is on top of his game, and that just makes a tough team even tougher to play against. A fresh and healthy Kesler will be critical for the Canucks to make a deep run in the postseason this year, and seeing a fresh, healthy and motivated RK17 in mid February is great news for this organization.

It will take time for the team to adjust to having Kesler in the lineup, and determine just who will be most effective to play with him. The Sedins and Burrows to me are a lock to stay together, as the old adage goes, “if it aint broke, don’t fix it.” Myself, now knowing that it sounds like David Booth is ready to make his own season debut on Tuesday against the red hot Blackhawks, I would like to see the reunion of “The AMEX Line” with Booth, Kesler and Higgins skating together. It’s impossible to say just what kind of impact Booth can have without playing a game yet this season, but this line has familiarity on its side, and has displayed good chemistry in the past and I feel can be just as effective once again.

This would allow Jordan Schroeder and Mason Raymond to continue to play together, and I would like to see Zack Kassian get a shot on the wing with these two. Kassian has hit a bit of a wall in the last week or so, and needs to rediscover the aspects of his game that had him the toast of the city in late January. he is a big body, better hands than I expected and, although not as fast as Schroeder or Raymond, can move well for a big man, and if he plays to his strengths, I think he could open up a lot of ice for the speedy duo who have been nothing short of a pleasant surprise this young season. Raymond has to be hands down Canucks comeback player of the year at this point, and this trio could potentially be one of the most dangerous third lines in the NHL.

The unfortunate victim of lineup depth in this equation is Jannik Hansen, as I would see him on a fourth line with Max Lapierre, and take your pick of Dale Weise and Aaron Volpatti. Hansen is such a coup for this organization I feel, as he is speedy enough to play with top six forwards, is a tenacious forechecker and can chip in offensively. It does not seem fair to see him “wallowing” on a fourth line, but this is the price you play to play for an organization that has aspirations of winning it all, and not just making it to the playoffs. You need a forward like Jannik Hansen, that almost everyone in the league would love on their second or third line, to provide that depth and hustle to the lineup. To allow your Head Coach to effectively roll four lines, and not just when you are up or down by two or three goals in the third period. And if things are not going well, like stretches last evening, the Head Coach has the luxury to mix and juggle lines, and have effective players take key minutes, on any given night, to give your team the best chance to win.

For a team with a 8-3-3 record, it has been a frustrating season at times for Canucks fans, with, inconsistencies in the overall game, not possessing a killer instinct with a lead, and a defence that seems to make the game much more difficult than it needs to be. The fact that the record is what it is, is a testament to the remarkable goaltending the team has received, from both Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, and also to the depth that this franchise has, that many other teams simply do not. A healthy Ryan Kesler can make this a much more dangerous hockey team as it heads into the second quarter of this shortened season.

Your thoughts? Thanks for reading.


Follow me on Twitter: @RayRay2233


 

Raymond Kirk: Three things to be encouraged by, discouraged by & improved on.

Today’s blog is all about ‘three’. Three things to be encouraged by, discouraged by, and what needs to be improved, through three home and three road games this season.

The Encouraging Signs

  1. As great a story as Zack Kassian has been, with 4 goals in 6 games, my number one most encouraging thing I have witnessed thus far is the “rebirth” of much-maligned speedy winger Mason Raymond. Night in and night out, Raymond has looked to be the most consistently dangerous Canucks forward. Using his speed is something Raymond has always done, but so far, he has combined that speed with much better strength and puck awareness, staying on his feet, using his vision to create opportunities for his linemates, and paying the price to go to the tough areas to generate offense. There is a long ways to go, but Raymond is skating with a purpose and being rewarded for the obvious hard work he has put in since his brutal injury at the hands of Johnny Boychuk in the Stanley Cup final a year and a half ago.
  2. Zack Kassian. Hands up everyone who figured that ‘The Kassassin’ would have a team leading four goals through the teams first six games? Going into the year, I hoped that Kassian would at best develop this year into a dependable, big third line winger, who would throw his weight around and help bring size that is sorely lacking to the Canucks forward ranks. Now settled into the second week of the season, Kassian finds himself holding a lucky lottery ticket in his hand as the third Sedin, grabbing first line minutes and power play time. Winning fights, scoring goals that are not tap-ins, and not hurting his team in his own end of the rink, Kassian is developing into a power forward in front of our eyes, and once Kesler and Booth finally return from their injuries, will only help to bolster what is, when healthy, arguably still one of the most potent offenses in the Western Conference.
  3. The 5-6 Defensive Pairing. OK, hands up once again who said they believed that the pairing of Chris Tanev and Keith Ballard would be the Canucks most dependable defensive group a week and a half into the season? Granted, this is probably just as indicative as to how shaky the top two defensive pairings have been (which will be touched on shortly) however, it has been a pleasant surprise to see just how well Tanev and Ballard have gelled this year. Tanev is, in its simplest terms, steady. I don’t know if he will ever score a goal in his life, and right now, I really don’t care. He is almost ALWAYS in the right position, stick on the ice, uses incredible hockey IQ and I as a fan, trust him every time I see him on the ice. And Ballard, to be honest, looks and feels like he is just starting to enjoy hockey again. It has been a tumultuous two plus years in Vancouver, with injuries that were never on his resume before, to banishments to AV’s doghouse. He has looked like a player without a home in Vancouver, but with Tanev, it seems like he is finally just beginning to relax, and focus on playing hockey. And perhaps it’s just me, but he appears to have found a gear in his stride that just hasn’t been there since he arrived in Vancouver with great anticipation. I still don’t see a fit for him on this blue line come next season, but if he can even remotely make himself look trade-able come the offseason, what a feather in the cap it would be in the organization if he could be moved for an asset…any asset, instead of being a buyout casualty that 99 percent of Canuck Nation would have put odds on to start the New Year.

The Discouraging Signs

  1. The dreaded 2-0 lead. Blowing a 2-0 lead three times a season seems too many for a team that wants to be considered elite. To have it happen in 6 games is just flatly unacceptable. At home against Edmonton and Calgary, and then once again on the road in LA, the Canucks, through luck or good fortune, found a way to stake their claim to a 2-0 lead, only to find their game crumble around them, and go into that dreaded ‘protect mode’, forgetting to do the little things that found them in a lead early in the first place. Great teams don’t play scared. The Canucks, early, have played scared to win. Not getting pucks deep, not finishing checks, poor defensive decisions have lead to three games that, with one more goal, would have likely sealed the deal. Instead, they came away with only 4 of a possible six points in those games, but more discouraging, is the 5 points they have allowed Western Conference foes to gain in the process.
  2. Jason Garrison. I considered giving him a pass here, but his play has, quite frankly, been terrible, especially the final two games in the road trip. The much heralded big shot has hit the net with less frequency than the popular (and missed by many) Sami Salo, and defensive zone play has been equally as spotty. Granted, it’s early, but I’m sensing that many are seeing the same similarities here in Garrison’s beginnings with Vancouver as we saw with the aforementioned Keith Ballard when he made his much anticipated and much scrutinized Canucks debut. Garrison, who battled injury through the lockout, is playing with pressure he has put squarely on himself. Playing at home, family and friends, a contract to justify and a rabid fan base holding their breath with every attempted shot, along with learning a new team, system, defense partner and Conference has Garrison playing a tight game. I’m confident it will come, but this early into the season, I am classifying his play as a big disappointment.
  3. Lackluster, indifferent play. From the Sedin twins, Chris Higgins, Max Lapierre, Manny Malhotra, Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, and so on, and so on. It was believed that the core veteran players that have been Canucks for years would take the bull by the horns and play responsible, smart, competitive hockey come puck drop on the season. I’m adamant that this year needs to be considered an anomaly, as you cannot just create mid season tempo if you haven’t played all year without a proper camp. But the Canucks have been outshot, and outworked most nights, against teams that were in the same boat they were in, going into a year with a one week training camp. No excuses. It appears that players such as Burrows and Higgins are starting to round into form, but the level of desperation needs to be much higher, especially when playing in tight games, where that one more goal, big hit, or huge penalty kill can make all the difference in the world.

What Needs To Be Improved

  1. Special Teams. One word; Atrocious. The power play looks lost, and is a momentum killer, while the penalty kill is showing just how much it misses Ryan Kesler. Even the ones they kill look dangerous, and feed into the emotion of the opposition who must feel, as we do watching at home, that it’s just a matter of time before they break through with a big goal, which has happened too many times thus far. The power play, save the Anaheim road game, has had chances to salt away games with a big tally, and has come up empty handed. There are too many veteran players and quality players for these trends to continue, regardless of how early it is in the year.
  2. The goaltending dilemma. In my opinion, the Canucks either need to declare that they are not moving Roberto Luongo during the season, or make the deal, and quickly. Schneider and Luongo have both handled the elephant in the room with professionalism and class, and I do believe that it is not as big a deal in the room as the media wants to make it be. But Luongo has been a star, for many seasons, and does not deserve to play once a week. Schneider has paid his dues, for many seasons, and deserves to have the ball to run with, with no need to look over his shoulder. And the team and coaching staff deserve to not have to have the same questions asked over and over. If it’s announced that there will be no deal during the season, I am completely fine with that. Any team would love to have a #1 they can throw out on any night, and feel you have a chance to win. But it’s a distraction that the team just does not need to have for much longer, and it’s time to turn the page.
  3. The health of the heart and soul. Ryan Kesler has never been more missed than he is right now. Hank may wear the ‘C’, but Kesler is the glue. I know that after missing nearly a year of hockey, it is not likely that RK17 will jump right in and be a dominant force. But I wouldn’t bet against him if he did. A royal pain to play against, Kesler eats minutes against the best of the best, is a warrior on the penalty kill, a constant net presence. He has a great shot, forces top D pairings to respect his game, which opens up more chances for the Sedins when they are in the ice. Quite simply, a healthy Kesler is the best Canuck, most nights. I wonder if he has really been healthy since the Cup Run playoffs against the Predators and first few games against the Sharks. At that point, he was beginning to look like one of the best all-around players in the world. A healthy Kesler, in game shape or not, makes the Canucks a very dangerous team.

The Canucks, as bad as it has seemed, have managed to take points in 4 of 6 games, in 9 nights. They have had to play well below par to do so. Players will continue to round into form. Kesler and Booth WILL be back. The goaltending will be rock-solid more often than not. It’s early, but in this story of threes, I will leave you with this question. If the Canucks can score three goals a night, how many games out of ten do you think they win? Three is the key. And this team is definitely good enough to get three more than they have to this point.

Your thoughts?

Follow me on Twitter: RayRay2233


 

Toby Ward: The destruction of the second line.

CanucksCorner.com is pleased to welcome Toby Ward to our team. Toby is a  former reporter and producer who covered the Canucks and has since turned consultant, blogger, and season ticket holder. A lifelong Canucks fan who bleeds blue and green, Toby first saw the Canucks when they hosted Bobby Orr and the Bruins in 1974.

mason-raymond

The Canucks have been without a consistent, stable second line since Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs versus Nashville during the 2011 playoff run – a round that saw the emergence of Ryan Kesler as a potential super stud. Unfortunately, Kesler was injured in the next round versus San Jose, and Mason Raymond famously joined him on the DL in the Finals versus Boston. Since then, the second line has rarely been stable and has constantly been shuffling players in and out.

Nearly two years later, the second line has once again migrated to the infirmary.

The good news: Raymond, who has never been the same since his horrific injury in those same 2011 Finals, and may now get a chance to slowly find his game on the third line (provoking a massive sigh of relief from all those Raymond haters who’ve demanded his trade for most of the past year). The bad news: the Canucks have no second line.

Kesler is a month or two away from making a return; Booth joins him on the infirm list for a minimum of six weeks, if not more, with what appears to be a too-much-training injury of his groin; and Raymond cannot play by himself, and probably would benefit from a reduced roll while he finds a productive hockey stick. In fact, the third line may now likely become the second line by default, even though it still lacks a definitive center.

At this moment, it would appear that young Jordan Schroeder may be given every opportunity to earn the opportunity to win that second line center spot; leaving the third line center spot for Lapierre, or possibly Hansen who can play center, but likely will have a shot on the wing on the second line (Chris Higgins can also play center, but almost certainly will move to the wing on the second line).

If Schroeder fails to impress, one wonders if Jason Arnott might not be considered again, or the spritely local boy and fan favourite, Brendan Morrison (both are still looking for a team). Let’s hope that GM Mike Gillis resists the urge to bring in an aging European winger – a la Marco Sturm, or Peter Sykora (who’s also without a job).

The problem with extended injuries in a shortened 48-game season is that the Canucks can ill afford a slow start – especially since every single game is versus a conference rival who may be competing with the Canucks for conference positioning, or dare I say it, a final playoff position.

The impetus and pressure on Gillis to pull the trigger on a Luongo trade just intensified, but may already be under serious, specific consideration. There are signs that Gillis may already have a trade package ready to go: the signing of veteran defensemen Cam Barker and Jim Vandermeer bring the total number of defensemen with significant NHL experience to nine (not including Frank Corrado and Connauton) – far more defensemen than is necessary on a defense roster that is one of, if not the strongest in the NHL. It would be highly unusual for the team to keep more than seven with the club past Friday).

With Alex Edler out of contract at season end, and the Canucks already pushing the limits of the current salary cap, Elder may in fact be used a trade bait if Connauton or Corrado look like they are ready to make the jump. Although, a move of Ballard and/or Tanev may be more likely.

Regardless, the current injury crisis and destruction of the second line is likely to incite Gillis to make a move – perhaps a mega blockbuster trade – before the start of the season on Saturday.

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Raymond Kirk: Is Your Canucks Second Line Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

CanucksCorner.com welcomes the newest member of our blogging team, Raymond Kirk. A resident of Calgary, Raymond is a life long Canucks fan, former coach and player and we’re excited to have him join us.

worry

Without a game being played in the Vancouver Canucks 2013 NHL Season, the organization is faced with a huge decision in how to prepare for the upcoming season. Knowing that Ryan Kesler is on the shelf for an undetermined amount of time, news that David Booth would miss the seasons first 4-6 weeks with a groin strain. Suddenly, the potent Canucks offensive attack has been deemed stalled by many, before a puck has even been dropped. I’ve heard several people today say that the need to trade Roberto Luongo for a centre must be expedited now, or that the tires should be kicked once again on a Jason Arnott, or even, gasp, inquire about a soon to be bought out Scott Gomez, if the price was right on a one year deal. But is it aready time to sound off the alarm on offensive woes before a game is even played this season? Without exploring what the club already has in house?

The answer of that question, to me, is I don’t know, and I don’t believe the team knows either. With two thirds of your second line out, and audition hopefuls being comprised of AHL question marks and a much-maligned Winger in Mason Raymond, I don’t know what can really be expected to fit what this team will need to do, to win on a night in – night out basis. But I am ready to find out.

In my opinion, there will be no better opportunity to find out just what you have drafted, in your 2009 1st Round Pick, Jordon Schroeder. Yet to play a game for the team, it’s now or never to see what he can bring to the table, as the 22 year old has to prove that he can produce as a top-six player for the organization, as his skill set will not work as a bottom-six forward for this hockey team. Can he be successful in that role? The only way to find out is to actually let him play. It’s a tough spot for Schroeder, with no camp, but he has played all season with the Chicago Wolves, and is in game shape, and seems to be finding his game at the right time of the season. Injuries provide chances for players…..Schroeder needs to seize this time now.

Zack Kassian, fairly or not, will always be linked to Cody Hodgson around here, but I see no reason why he can’t be an effective second line winger, and be a difference maker right now. Finding a goal or two early into the year would do wonders for his confidence, and if he sticks to a simple game, and uses his size and strength effectively, he can bring a much needed element to the top-six. I still think he’s better suited in a third line role, but I think the team needs more size up front right now, and Kassian fits the bill, as long as he isn’t a defensive liability. To be determined…

The key to this line would be Mason Raymond, who admittedly would say that 2012 was a rough season for the speedy winger. He has shown flashes of the potential 30 goals that he could score in the past, but coming off an abysmal offensive season coming back from the injury he sustained in the Stanley Cup Final, will he be able to regain the form and give the second line the offensive output this team will need to be successful early in the season? I expect a motivated Raymond to want to put a bad year behind him, and don’t think that 12-14 goals this year is unreasonable. I was hard on him all last year, but want to give him the benefit of doubt after having a full off season of recovery time from his injury. Until he goes the first three games without a goal and I’m screaming to the hills to move him for a bag of pucks. Just score, Mason…

The Canucks will score from other areas….overall offense will come from the Sedins, Chris Higgins, Max Lapierre, and a blueline that has always found a way to contribute with key points at key times. I’m not convinced that Jordon Schroeder, Zack Kassian and Mason Raymond will cure what appears to ail the offensive loss in the absence of Kesler and Booth. But I’m hopeful they can. And if not, then it will be time for Mike Gillis to play his hand and make his move to acquire a difference maker for the top six. A short season heightens the need for results, and quickly. Fair or not, the auditions will be short, but here’s hoping that we like what we see come the weekend.  Your thoughts?

Raymond Kirk

Follow me on Twitter: @RayRay2233


 

Ryan Kesler stars in “The Guzzler”. When you’re facing elimination, there is one man you turn to.

Just thought we would have a little more fun with the Kevin Bieksa interview done by FOX Sports Radio that was all over social media yesterday. To lighten the mood a little before Game 5 a We played around with a classic movie poster to bring you a SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS Production, The Guzzler.

Enjoy the game everyone and as The Guzzler himself would say, God Bless America!

GO CANUCKS GO!

Ryan Kesler - The Guzzler