Comparing the 17’s: The Ryan Kesler / Radim Vrbata Story

By Caleb Harder – CanucksCorner.com

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On Wednesday, July 2th, the Vancouver Canucks inked a 2-year $10 million deal with former Arizona Coyotes right-shot winger, Radim Vrbata. The 33 year old veteran will provide substantial support for the roster and is expected to be playing on the first line alongside Henrik and Daniel Sedin. This would be bumping Alexandre Burrows (33) to the second line to assist recently acquired centre, Nick Bonino (26) who came in a package deal with Luca Sbisa in exchange for former Canucks star, Ryan Kesler. In memory of Kesler, one thing that he and Vrbata have in common is the jersey number 17. With that in mind, let us take some time to compare the two great hockey players.

Kicking it off, let’s go back to the grassroots of how their NHL journey began in the prospect entry draft. Vrbata and Kesler were eligible for being drafted in separate years, Vrbata being the 1999 draft and Kesler the 2003 draft. Ryan Kesler was selected 23rd overall by the Vancouver Canucks and it was one of the best picks that they have made in franchise history as further down the road he became the face of the team and carried them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011.

Radim Vrbata, on the other hand, was not a first round draft pick. The Czech Republic native was selected in the seventh round at 212th overall by the Colorado Avalanche and had not spent two seasons with the team when he was traded in March of 2003 to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for left wing forward, Bates Battaglia. Vrbata was then eventually traded to Chicago and then went to Phoenix where he spent six seasons between 2007 and 2014. Overall, Vrbata did not live up to expectations in the place he was drafted, but ended up playing remarkably higher than he was ever projected to.

So what makes Radim Vrbata better than he was projected to be? The veteran forward is a fantastic play making winger who knows where to put the puck and how to utilize his teammates when it is needed. Vrbata, through this favoured style of play, was able to post up a 20-31-51 point total in 80 games for the 2013-14 season. Ryan Kesler, on the other hand, is a great hard-hitting, two-way forward who can be physical and still provide the points that his team needs. Although Kesler is able to crash about on the ice and snipe pucks into the net, he does not use his wingers in this process. He prefers to keep the puck to himself and play his way or it’s the highway. This style of play has not always been effective for the centre because it increased his chance of injuries. Kesler has had more than his fair share and it has, at times, cut down his productivity on the ice when he was needed by the team to save the day.

In games where the Canucks are attempting to roll four effective lines, it would not be possible with Ryan Kesler in the ranks.  He put up a 25-18-43 scoring tally in 77 games this season. Though it looks like a reasonable record for the once struggling Canucks, he was not playing at the full potential to which he could perform. In career totals Vrbata has a playing record of 464 points in a 792 game span with a point average of 0.59 points per game and Kesler with a 392 point total in 654 career games with the Vancouver Canucks and having a 0.60 points per game average. Overall, their point averages are the same but Kesler’s wear and tear game will eventually bite him back whereas Vrbata’s game is safer and guarantees he’ll be dependable for years to come.

The shootout has always been something the Canucks have dreaded with their streaky statistics in the game deciding skills competition. Fans may have more faith in the team during shootouts with Radim Vrbata who is ranked fifth all-time scorer in the shootout throughout the NHL with 35 goals in 82 attempts with a 42.7 shootout percentage. Ryan Kesler is currently ranked third within the Anaheim Ducks team roster with 11 goals in 45 shootout attempts with an overall of 24.4 percent in his career. With Vrbata now in the Vancouver ranks, the team will have more skill under their belt than previously under the lead of Ryan Kesler.

In comparing the number 17’s, even though Ryan Kesler has been impressive, Radim Vrbata is a great team player and possesses a skill set the Vancouver Canucks desperately need. He has the potential to be a fresh change that the team has been searching for.

Change is good.

Twitter @cjaharder

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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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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

For all the marbles: Canucks and Bruins Stanley Cup Final Preview/Prediction

I’ve been running this site since 1996 so I have yet to have the privilege of covering a Stanley Cup Final. Years of hoping and waiting have finally ended, and here we are with the Canucks in the finals for the 3rd time in their 40 year history. It’s been an exhausting playoffs and it seems like forever since they started. The NHL’s brilliant plan to wait so long to start the final haven’t helped but here we sit on the verge of the biggest playoff series in Canucks history.

So here we have it, our last preview of the playoffs, as we take a look at the Canucks and Bruins, for all the marbles.

Canucks and Boston - Photo Credit: Richard Lam/Getty Images

Canucks and Boston - Photo Credit: Richard Lam/Getty Images



If the NHL wanted two of the best teams in the NHL, they certainly got it. That said the two teams are built very differently. Vancouver built on depth and speed and the flexibility to play multiple styles. The Bruins are built on toughness, hard work and solid defense. The Canucks have proven over the course of the regular season and in the playoffs that they can play any style you want to, and they attempt to dictate what style their opponents play as well. Can the Bruins play multiple styles and adapt to a faster Western Conference? They did in the only meeting between the two clubs this year, leaving Rogers Arena with a 3-1 win.

The keys to the series:

The Canucks are the favourites in the series and with good reason. We all know they ran away with the President’s Trophy and have been picked by many to win it all. To beat Boston, the Canucks are going to have to use their speed to make Boston’s defenders chase them. Puck movement, getting to open spaces quickly and efficiently will be crucial to Vancouver’s success.

The defensive pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg will be assigned to contain the Sedin twins who returned to form against the Sharks. The Bruins have strong penalty killing led by Chara and goaltender Tim Thomas and if the Canucks are to be successful their five on five play has to be better than it was against San Jose where they did most of their damage on the power play. They have to generate more shots at even strength, more quality chances, and get Tim Thomas moving in the net.

If the series becomes a parade to the penalty box the Canucks chances are likely increased, as long as that parade includes both teams. The Bruins power play has been brutal in the playoffs and that’s being kind. The Canucks however have been very effective.

For Boston to win they need to control the Sedin line. The twins struggled to find space against Chicago’s Seabrook and Keith and Nashville’s Weber and Suter. They thrived against the Sharks who don’t have a defensive pairing of the ilk of Chara and Seidenberg. But the Bruins will also need to pay attention to Ryan Kesler, who will have used the lengthy break to get as close to 100% as possible and who almost single handedly led the Canucks against Nashville. Kesler may revert to a defensive role again, concentrating on shutting down the Bruins big line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton. But the Bruins roll four lines consistently, and the Canucks may be forced to do the same if they want to keep fresh legs out there. With Vancouver’s fourth line a revolving door, Alain Vigneault may have to find a trio he can stick with and give them more minutes. That will require relying on some youth, particularly if Manny Malhotra can’t get the green light to play.

Both teams sport pests that will attempt to get under the oppositions skin. The Canucks Torres and Lappiere will counter Boston’s Brad Marchand.

The biggest battle however will be between two Vezina finalists in Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas. In three career starts against Vancouver, Thomas has allowed just one goal. Not a large body of work, but it does indicate what impact Thomas can have in a seven game series. Luongo has been solid after a speed bump against the Hawks and despite some untimely goals at times has played a huge role in the success of his team. His performance in game 5 against San Jose was one of his best ever.

Both teams will attempt to get traffic in front of the net and the Bruins have the bigger bodies to do just that. The Canucks defense will have to be at their best to allow Luongo to see the puck as much as possible. The Bruins will have to contend mostly with Kesler and Burrows who will see a lot of Mr. Chara and will have to pay the price. The Canucks have generated fourteen goals from their defence to Boston’s eight and whatever team can get their back end involved will have a great advantage.

If you’re into stats, here is a nice little package compiled by James Mirtle at the Globe & Mail. By the numbers this could be an incredible final and a very competitive one. It could go down the wire but for some reason I just have a gut feeling the Canucks are a team of destiny. They have been the best team in the league almost from start to finish. They have demonstrated they can play any style they need to and in my opinion they are deeper than the Bruins.

The Bruins will put up a tough fight and the games will be close. But I think the Canucks find a way to win this series in six games and win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history and what an incredible end to an amazing 40th anniversary season that would be.

Seven Reasons Why the Canucks Should Beat the Predators

Since the beginning of the series with the Nashville Predators I knew the Canucks were in for a tough one.  The Predators may not put up a lot of goals but they sure can prevent a lot of them. The Predators block a tremendous amount of shots, they don’t mind getting dirty in the corners with their opponents and most of all, they have the incredible play of Pekka Rinne.  I will admit, I am not a fan of “Predator” style hockey. I find it to not be entertaining nor is it exciting but I will admit, it’s efficient. If there was a team to choose in the playoffs for ‘winning ugly’, I award that honour the Predators, hands down.

Pekka Rinne making a save on Maxim Lapierre. Photo credit: nhl.predators.com

However, with the Canucks losing Game 5 at home with the series lead (3-1) in a rather ‘ugly’ fashion on Saturday night, there are some out there that are beginning to wonder if the Canucks can finish off the Predators.  I believe they can. I believe the Canucks are too talented, and work just as hard as the Preds to not win this series. Game 5, in my opinion, was summed up to a few unlucky bounces, bad play by a few key players, and Roberto Luongo not being so great in this one.  I see the Canucks rebounding and ending this in the next game, but nothing is a guarantee.

That all being said, I have my reasons as to why the Canucks should win this series, so without further ado, here they are:

  1. Ryan Kesler Whatever type of energy drink this man is having, the rest of the team should grab a bottle and join in.  He has been a rock carrying this team through this series. He is scoring key goals and making all the right moves on both ends of the ice. He’s become our modern day Trevor Linden, and then some.  He plays with an edge but still in control. He is showing the reason why Bob Clarke made an offer when he was an RFA five years ago, an offer that some of us out there, thought was completely absurd. I’m sure we all think that Bobby Clarke sensed something that we all should have at that time. The Canucks are now reaping the rewards of qualifying Kesler’s offer back in 2006.
  2. Blueline Depth Unlike Nashville, the Canucks have an abundance of blue liners to bring into the line-up. Guys like Salo, Bieksa, Hamhuis  and Edler don’t have to play 30 minutes a night because they can all share the ice time and responsibilities, a little more evenly. Keeping their blueline with fresher legs, the longer a game goes, the better it should be for the Canucks. Weber has shouldered an incredible amount of ice time to compensate for a not so strong defensive core.
  3. Blueline Offensive Contributions Unlike the Predators, the Canucks have very capable defensemen that can contribute on the score sheet on a fairly regulary basis. Bieksa, Edler, Ehrhoff, Salo can all blast shots from the point. A few don’t have a problem jumping into the play.
  4. Special Teams The Canucks haven’t capitalized enough on their powerplays during this series, but their penalty killing has been, for the most part, stellar.  Nashville hasn’t capitalized much on their power play opportunities and is a big part of the reason they are down in the series 3-2.
  5. Lapierre and Higgins If you told me in January that former Montreal Canadiens, Max Lapierre and Chris Higgins would have been key players in this series, I would have laughed in your face. Higgins has worked very well with Kesler and Raymond in moving the puck, working hard on the forecheck and potting a timely goal or two. Lapierre has done exactly what he was intended to do when he was acquired during the trade deadline. He is winning key draws on 3rd line shifts, hitting and grinding in all the greasy areas, and frustrating the likes of Mike Fisher in the process.  Their value from the trade are really starting to show in this series and if the Hockey Gods be happy, allowed to do so in the next.
  6. Roberto Luongo Say what you will Luongo haters, but with the exception of Game 5, he’s been good this series allowing far less goals than some of you anticipated.
  7. Talent There is far too much talent on this team to not advance to the next round. There is far too much that has happened in this season to have them lose now. Talent can get you long way, desire and discipline will help them get the rest of the way.

Ryan Kesler providing some offense in the series vs the Predators: Photo Credit CBC.ca

Although I feel the Canucks will win this series, I have to give credit where it’s due. The Predators are not going down without a fight. They have played valiantly and Pekka Rinne has kept his team within striking distance throughout the whole series. It will take all the talent, all the want and a killer instinct to put away the Predators. On paper, the Canucks should have this series in the bag, but theories were meant to be tested. That’s why they play the games and that’s why the Canucks get another chance to put the Predators away, once and for all.

 

Justine Galo