Sunday, December 30, 2012

Vancouver Canucks on Canada's Junior Team – All-time list

To follow up the last blog post, I thought it would be worth seeing the all-time pool from which the Canucks' All-Canadian WJC Team was chosen.  All told, there have been 27 Canucks prospects to have played for Canada at the World Juniors.  (Again, not including players to be drafted by the Canucks after their WJC appearance.)  Among those, four have played in back-to-back years – Brent Tully (1993–94), Chad Allan (1995–96), Brad Ference (1998–99) and Luc Bourdon (2006–07).* 

The first player ever to play for Canada's under-twenties as a Canucks prospect?  None other than West Coast Express architect Marc Crawford (1981).  The Crow played in the World Juniors in the last year that Canada was automatically represented by the CHL's Memorial Cup-winning team.  He is also one of three Canucks prospects to wear the "C" for Canada – the others being Jim Sandlak (1986) and Brent Tully (1994).

In total, three Canucks prospects have cracked the WJC All-Star Team for Canada – Tully (1994), Bourdon (2006) and Cody Hodgson (2008) – while Jim Sandlak stands alone in having won any of the IIHF directorate's awards as Best Forward (1986).

The 1994 and 1998 tournaments marked all-time highs for Canucks representing Canada's juniors with four in each year.  Meanwhile, there have been 20 instances since the first official tournament in 1977 that Canada was without a Canucks representative, including the current four-year spell. Conversely, a Canuck hopeful was present in eight straight Team Canadas from 1992–99.

On that note and without further ado...


-HC

*Brandon Reid played in 2000, before having been drafted, and again in 2001 as a Canucks prospect.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Canucks All-Canadian WJC Team

When Frank Corrado was cut from Team Canada two weeks ago, Canucks fans were painfully reminded that it's been four years since one of our own played for the good guys at the World Juniors.  For reasons too many to count, we needn't be reminded who that last player was, but could we really forget Cody Hodgson's mastery in 2009?  Two years before that, Luc Bourdon had his turn starring for Team Canada.  It takes you back to a time when the Canucks actually drafted good Canadian players.

Bourdon and Hodgson undoubtedly mark two of the best Canucks-in-the-making to suit up for our national junior team.  Sadly, it becomes a real stretch after that to think of the last Vancouver prospect to make an impact for Canada at this tournament.  And no, Roberto Luongo does not count.  For that reason, Bure's Triple Deke gives you the Vancouver Canucks' All-Canadian WJC Team.  That is – by position, the five greatest performances by a Canucks draft pick at the World Juniors.

I dare you not to get excited about the name Jim Sandlak.  Go on, just try not to!

*An important caveat: Players must have been drafted prior to their WJC performance.  For example, Brandon Reid led Canada with 9 points in 2000, but was not yet official property of the Canucks until his draft later that year.

Goaltender

Frank Caprice, 1982

Apparently the Canucks are terrible at drafting Canadian goaltenders, because the last time a prospective Vancouver netminder made any noise at the World Juniors was 31 years ago.  Caprice played second fiddle to Mike Moffat, who was named to the Tournament All-Star Team, in a seemingly 1A-1B goalie rotation.  Starting three of seven games, he posted a 2.33 GAA, helping Canada to an undefeated record and their first gold medal in tournament history.

Going into his NHL career, the Canucks' ninth-round selection (1981) never managed to secure that starting role.  Caprice played in the Richard Brodeur era of Canucks history, spending six years in the backup position.  In 1984–85, he appeared in a career-high 28 games, posting a 4.81 GAA and .851 save percentage.  Years later, he even made a cameo appearance for the Vancouver Voodoo.

Defence

Garth Butcher, 1982

Another 1982 alum.  Butcher was a tenth overall selection in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft and immediately played five games for the Canucks before being sent back down to the WHL for a third junior season.  Playing for Team Canada, Butcher was one of three Canucks prospects on the national junior squad, alongside Caprice and forward Moe Lemay.  He tied for second in scoring among Canadian defencemen, behind Paul Boutilier, with a goal and four points over seven games.

Butcher was a mainstay on the Canucks blueline for years to come thereafter, spending more than half of his thirteen-year career in Vancouver.  The stay-at-home defender would become a casualty of Pat Quinn's rebuilding process in the early-ninetees; his trade to St. Louis ushered in a trio of supporting cast members from 1994 in Geoff Courtnall, Cliff Ronning and Sergio Momesso.


Bourdon played in 2006 and 2007, winning
back-to-back gold medals for Canada.
Luc Bourdon, 2006

The Canucks already knew they had a gem in Bourdon after the lockout tossed them a draft freebie with the 10th overall slot.  But it wasn't until the 2006 World Juniors that the late defenceman was firmly established as a can't-miss prospect.  With Vancouver playing host, no less, he led all tournament defencemen with five helpers, adding to one goal.  Bourdon scored, passed and hit his way to All-Star honours, helping lead Canada to their second of five straight gold medals.

Bourdon went on to play another year of junior, securing a second World Junior gold, before splitting the 2007–08 campaign between the Canucks and Manitoba Moose.  He scored two goals over 36 career NHL games.  The rest – tragic history.

Forwards

Jim Sandlak, 1986

After being chosen fourth overall in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, Sandlak made the Canucks opening roster out of training camp, but was shipped back to junior after 23 games.  Joining Canada for the 1986 World Juniors, the power forward was named team captain.  He scored 5 goals and 12 points, ranking third in Canadian scoring behind Shayne Corson and Joe Murphy.  His efforts earned him Best Forward honours from the IIHF directorate (despite being left off the media's All-Star Team), overshadowing such future NHL stars as Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts and Luc Robitaille on the Canadian roster.  Canada went on to a 5-2-0 record, finishing second-best to the undefeated Soviets.

Sandlak's success was quickly parlayed into his first full season with the Canucks in 1986–87.  Seemingly fast-tracked for some form of stardom, Sandlak and his All-Rookie Team honours allowed Vancouver to ship their other power forward, one by the name of Cam Neely, to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Barry Pederson.  So the story goes, the Canucks clearly misplayed their hand, as Sandlak never progressed significantly beyond his scoring output as a rookie – he managed one 20-goal season over the course of a nine-year career in Vancouver.

Rick Girard, 1994

Girard was one of four Canucks prospects on the gold medal winning squad in 1994.  The other three – Yanick Dube, Brent Tully and Mike Peca.  While the latter is alone in actually having suited up for the Canucks, Girard dominated the World Juniors with a tournament-leading six goals (tied with teammate Martin Gendron and Czech Petr Sykora).  Thanks in large part to the Canucks' second-round draft pick (1993), Canada went undefeated in seven games en route to their second of five straight gold medals.

Despite his high-scoring junior career, totaling 261 points over 175 WHL games, Girard never caught on in the NHL.  After toiling in the Canucks' minor-league system for four years, the former World Junior star went the European route.  He played 15 years in Germany, winning one league title, before calling it a career last season.

Cody Hodgson, 2009

Without a doubt, the single most dominant performance by a Canucks prospect for the Canadian juniors.  Hodgson led the tournament with 16 points and received All-Star Team honours.  Only Jason Allison has totalled more assists in a single year for Canada.  Only Wayne Gretzky has recorded a higher points-per-game rate.

Fast forward to the present and it's clear that of the five players on Vancouver's All-Canadian WJC Team, Hodgson will likely go on to make the greatest NHL impact, as well.  But nobody needs reminding of Hodgson's merits as an NHL forward here, do we?  Especially in comparison to a certain power forward currently playing for the Chicago Wolves?  No, I didn't think so.

Intriguing parting thought: Can you just imagine what Hodgson would have been capable of as a Team Canada returnee in 2010 if Canucks trainer Dave Gagner hadn't broken the kid's back four summers ago?

Honourable mentions

Yanick Dube, 1994

Centreman tied for the team scoring lead with 10 points in a gold medal year.  Late-round draft pick never played a game in the NHL, however.

Josh Holden, 1998

Led Canada in scoring with four goals and no assists.  Needless to say, it was an off-year for Canada, who lost their seventh-place game against Kazakhstan.  Speedy forward remains active to this day, donning the maple leaf alongside Bergeron and company at this year's Spengler Cup.

Bryan Allen, 1999

Allen was a steady presence for Canada, scoring a goal and two assists as a shutdown defenceman.  Won silver alongside Luongo in Canada's overtime heartbreaker against Russia.  Poetically enough, Allen left Vancouver seven years later in exchange for his former national teammate.

***

It's certainly not a star-studded lineup by NHL standards, but the quintent of Frank Caprice, Garth Butcher, Luc Bourdon, Jim Sandlak, Rick Girard and Cody Hodgson certainly made their mark at the World Juniors – simultaneously representing Canada and Canada's favourite team, the Vancouver Canucks, of course.  Remember that when you're watching Bruins prospects Malcolm Subban and Anthony Camara competing for our country this year.

Interestingly, Canucks legends Stan Smyl and Trevor Linden both played for Canada at the World Juniors, as well.  Like Reid, however, they had not yet been drafted by the Canucks.  Both of them underaged for the tournament, Smyl had a goal and an assist in a bronze medal effort (1978), while Linden scored one goal en route to a gold (1988).

-HC

*See the online discussion regarding this post on the Canucks.com forums here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pavel Bure, the Green Power Ranger and DJ Tanner

I've never made it a point to watch the HHOF's annual induction ceremonies.  Speaking for all my fellow twenty-something diehards, we're really only now entering an era in which the careers of the players being honoured are truly relevant to us.  Five years ago, for example, of course we recognized that Mark Messier and Al MacInnis were players that belonged in the Hall, but as our demographic goes, when those two were in their primes, we were really more preoccupied with, say... Devil Sticks.  Or Tommy, the green Power Ranger.

So while it did take me a full week to actually sit down and YouTube it, this year's HOF ceremony was different – for obvious reasons.  Last Monday, Pavel Bure (yes, he of triple deke fame) stood behind the mic in Toronto, capping off the latest flurry of debate regarding his merits as an NHL and Canucks legend.  Before we delve into the Russian Rocket's slice of this year's HOF pie, however, how about the other three inductees?

Though he made a living terrorizing Canucks fans, Joe Sakic deserves special recognition around here, having been born and raised in Burnaby.  In the same way that Griffiths Way pays homage to the Canucks' former owner, about ten kilometres east, people are similarily reminded of the former Nordique and Avalanche captain when they turn on Joe Sakic Way to access Bill Copeland Arena.  Simply put, he's the greatest hockey player ever to have called Vancouver his childhood home.

Conversely, it's easy to dismiss Mats Sundin's induction in this city, considering his brief and uneventful tenure with the Canucks (if you remember, much was made in the media about the Swede receiving equal attention to Bure on the team's website when they were initially voted in several months back).  But believe it or not, the guy deserves some credit from a Canucks point-of-view.  Sundin left a team he captained for over a decade to play for us.  His signing also arguably coincided with Ryan Kesler's breakout as an offensive threat.  And that's a valuable legacy around these parts.  If you're not buying it, you have to admit it was fun knowing Vigneault could have thrown out a line of Sedin, Sedin and Sundin at any moment, just to mess with Don Cherry.

As far as Adam Oates goes... much respect, but unlike the rest of his class, his career had little impact on the West Coast.  Being the eldest of the 2012 quartet, his best years were played in the aforementioned Power-Rangers-before-hockey era of my generation.

And so we come to Mr. Bure.  While the HOF commitee may have deemed him least-deserving of hockey's highest honour by way of his six-year wait (Sakic and Sundin were inducted in their first years of eligibility; Oates was in his fifth), Bure is undisputed as the most exciting, talented and skilled of the four.  Call it the Most YouTube-Friendly Award.

To actually comment on his speech, Bure came across as a truly humbled individual.  That may seem like a given considering the honour in question, but to a lot of people who have followed his career, his character hasn't always been portrayed as such.  If you believe the reports that Bure declined an invitation to the Canucks' Ring of Honour, you may not consider him to be the most appreciative person. 

With that in mind, it was refreshing to watch the ten minutes allotted to Bure last Monday, because it was exclusively a celebration of the guy's God-given talent.  It wasn't a debate pitting him against the Canucks' former management.  It was Pat Quinn comparing him with Bobby Orr in a class of the most skilled and exciting players ever.  Sounds like hyperbole, but Quinn is not a man short on hockey cred.  Sadly, Bure's on-ice reputation is too often overshadowed by his supposed character off of it.
...Valeri Bure's answer to
his brother's HOF ring.

Finally – given the early-ninetees flavour of this article, I would be woefully amiss if I didn't ask: Was that really Candace Cameron of DJ Tanner fame all grown up and back on television, sitting behind Bure's mom in the audience?  (You can add Full House to the list of things that were more important than Mark Messier's career in my formative years.)  I suppose that's the universe's way of evening things between Pavel and Valeri.

So here's to the Hall for finally getting it right and Quinn for speaking the truth.  Here's to Pavel for hockey's highest honour and Valeri for his.

-HC

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Could have been Henrik's day

Several weeks ago, The Province's feature sports story depressingly reminded Vancouver that October 11 "Could have been Schneider's day".  It would have marked the Canucks' 2012-13 season opener against the Flames and, consequently, Schneider's official christening as Vancouver's new endless scapegoat undisputed starter.

Fast forward later in the month and yesterday marks what would have been Vancouver's tenth game of the regular season.  Preparing for a matchup against the Detroit Red Wings, our theories by now would have been confirmed as to whether or not the Canucks' lacklustre Octobers have been entirely Luongo's fault all these years.  But in the grander scheme of Canucks hockey lore, the city would most likely be focused on something far more significant.

At 747 points in 892 games, Henrik Sedin currently stands nine points behind Markus Naslund for the Canucks' all-time lead.  Assuming he and Daniel's near-robotic point-a-game pace, Henrik would have hypothetically broken Naslund's record yesterday with his 10th point in the 10th game of the season and 757th all-time.  Would have happened at Rogers Arena on national television to boot.  Maybe a one-timer to Jason Garrison?  Probably a tap-in to Burrows.

Realistically, you give or take a couple games for Henrik to pass Naslund in this scenario.  Point is, in this now-cancelled stage in the season, we would either be celebrating or anticipating something truly great.  And within another three months or so, Daniel, too, would be within reach of his former captain, statistically solidifying the twins as the Canucks' best players in team history.

Cue the standing ovations.  The headlines.  The city's love affair with the Sedins and, by extension, the game of hockey as a whole.

Moments such as the Sedins' pending milestones have that rare capacity to capture a city's brief attention and a rabid fan's entire consciousness.  They turn even the most jaded Canucks followers rosy-eyed for but a few moments – about the length of a pre-game ceremony or a well-produced YouTube montage.

But with this feel-good storyline delayed – reduced in the present time to a mere hypothetical – Canucks fans can add it to the increasing pile of reasons to curse the league's powers-that-be.  As exciting as the displaced-NHLer-makes-news-in Europe routine can be these days, yesterday was ultimately for Bettman and Fehr to continue hogging the league's dulling spotlight.  Shame to imagine that the day could have been Henrik's.

-HC

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Jason Garrison: Top 5 Career Goals

A little over a month ago, someone on the Canucks.com forums came to me with a suggestion for my next Top 5 video countdown.  So because I should never take for granted that there are interested people out there actually reading this blog...


When Garrison first expressed interest in signing with Vancouver, quick YouTube searches city-wide determined that, simply put, the guy's got a shot.  In fact, 13 of his 16 goals last season (or 81%) were scored à la Sami Salo (making the loss of said player to free agency a much easier pill to swallow). Without that particular asset, you can guarantee Gillis would not have made him the highest-paid defenceman on the team

But as exciting as a howitzer from the point can be, no one seems to be paying any credence to his ability to jump into the rush, which is why I purposefully omitted any cut-and-dry slapshots from these five goals.  This set of highlights showcases an underrated and doubtlessly valuable ability of Garrison's that should be fun to watch once his groin and the lockout have both resolved themselves.

Number five and four are both milestone goals and uncanny carbon copies of each other, while the last three coincidentally feature some sort of Canucks-related cameo appearance (no surprise, given that the Panthers and Canucks have a seemingly exclusive trading partnership with each other).  In number three, Garrison takes a page out of the Sedins' book, deflecting a pseudo-slap pass into the slot while on a power play.¹  Number two sees him on a two-on-one with David Booth, while his buzzer-beating OT winner against Tampa Bay begins with a defensive play from former Canuck Mike Weaver.

A lot has been said about Brian Campbell playing a significant role in Garrison's breakout year.  But whether he's pinching in or hanging back at the blueline, you can bet he'll have just as much space to work with on shifts with, oh let's say...the Sedins?  That said, it'll be exciting to see what he'll be capable of as a Canuck. 

-HC

¹ Though the goal was announced in the play-by-play as a record-breaker for powerplay goals by a Florida defenceman, if you pay close attention, the penalty had ended by just a second.  Rather than 10 powerplay goals, Garrison was left with 9 on the season, tying him with former Panthers Jay Bouwmeester (2008-09) and Gord Murphy (1993-94).

*See the online discussion regarding this article on the Canucks.com forums here.

The moral dilemma with Bieksa's Buddies (Part 2)

Just to prove that I did, indeed, attend the game and am not $400 richer...
 
 
 
 
I fully realize that I could have simply taken these pictures off the internet, but...take my word for it? At the very least, you should be able to appreciate the grainy stunning quality of these iPhone pictures, no?
 
To actually comment on the game, the Thunderbirds showcased a lot more skill than I anticipated, while Bieksa's Buddies were gracious enough to let them.  Give or take a Tanner Glass bodycheck along the boards.
 
Good time.
 
-HC

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The moral dilemma with Bieksa's Buddies

In lieu of the past month's lockout, Kevin Bieksa has rapidly assumed the position of Vancouver's off-season darling.  He skates alongside the city's young and aspiring hockey players.  He gives us near-NHL-calibre hockey in the name of charity.  He even admonishes the local scalper community for driving up the ticket prices.  It's as if Captain Planet died and was born again as an NHL defenceman.

That said, I hope you'll forgive my reservations about that third act of valour.  For those out of the loop or who need refreshing, Bieksa was featured on the front page of Wednesday's Province for lashing out at scalpers reselling his game's tickets for as much as five times the original value – a healthy $100 per seat!  My first reaction when reading the article was, alongside all similarly honest and hard-working folk (of course), "Good on ya, Juice!"  About time someone publicly called out the black-hearted among us, no?

But somehow I found myself magnetically drawn back to that inflated figure: $100 per seat.  I have four tickets.  (Open my calculator app...)  Well that takes care of half the month's rent for a lot of people.

Here we see Bieksa considering what he
might actually do to someone he caught
scalping his tickets...
Do I dare incur Bieksa's wrath?  Don't get me wrong.  I don't find it a morally thrilling endeavor to scalp, but is it really the evil he makes it out to be?  First things first, is Bieksa or anyone else particularly surprised that this is happening?  Surely he knows how much actual Canucks tickets can go for on Craigslist.  And I'm pretty sure anyone within a square mile can hear the scalpers outside Rogers Arena on a game night.  Obviously Bieksa takes special offense here as this is his event, but if it's on moral grounds that he disagrees with scalping, where has his outrage been all these years?

Most importantly, however, what exactly is the moral dilemma presented by scalping?  I ask the question out of genuine curiosity, because the situation at hand puts me between an easy paycheck and a code of conduct that Bieksa likely shares with many others.  His objections stem mostly from the fact that the tickets are for charity.  I understand the stigma associated with making a profit in that context and I do question the morality of it myself, but objectively speaking, there are zero proceeds being lost here due to scalping.  The maximum amount of money has already been made for the organizations in question.  For that reason, I struggle to see how the charities are relevant in this situation.  What we have, I believe, is a discussion in the morality of business.

Never in my life as a liberal arts student did I think I would be an advocate for capitalism, but let's consider other comparable scenarios here.  In the business of real estate, you might buy a house and sell it for profit as the market turns in your favour.  In the business of living out of your parents' basement, you might do the same with a well-packaged action figure or hockey card.  No ethical dilemmas there, I would imagine.

Or say, for example, in another completely random scenario, that you're a professional hockey player and the commodity you possess is your athletic ability.  Take the value of your ability on any given year.  Due to a wealth of factors, including market demand, free agency, salary inflation and the  terms of the era's (yikes) collective bargaining agreement, can you possibly imagine a situation in which you might be paid more than what your same athletic ability was worth at an earlier time?  If you can't, then you clearly do not follow NHL hockey or any professional sport, for that matter.

Here's the thing: In this current lockout and all the frustration surrounding it, does anyone ever blame the players for accepting the money thrown at them all these years?  No.  And nor should they.  Surely, when the opportunity arises, you sell to the highest possible bidder.  At the very least, you sell according to the given market value.  For that reason, I fail to see why I should be morally prevented from re-selling my tickets.

I speak mostly as the devil's advocate, because you won't actually see my tickets on Craigslist.  I will be happily going to the game in place of a student's fortune.  And for the record, Bieksa deserves a tremendous amount of respect for what he's been doing in the community.  I simply think his comments regarding scalping could be understood differently with an alternate perspective.

So here's to watching one-half of an NHL scrimmage tomorrow.  And here's to those making an exorbitant profit on them, too.

-HC

*See the online discussion regarding this article on the Canucks.com forums here.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Alex Burrows: The backhand deke

It's as dependable as an NHL lockout every ten years or so.  If Burrows is skating alone across the blueline, the goalie will still be playing the shot by the time the puck's been roofed on the backhand.  Alternatively put by the Pass it to Bulis bloggers, "When Burrows challenges a man to a duel, he fakes a forehand slap before going backhand."

With his new four-year deal in hand, Burrows is Vancouver's most recent man of the hour in this current NHL off-season purgatory.  Over the course of his present four-year bargain, he has honed his backhand deke into near-legendary status among Canucks circles – on par with say...Naslund's wrister from the half boards or Salo's blueline slapshot.  Just wait til it happens against Mike Vernon in a playoff game and the internet will light up with blogs named in the goal's honour. 

The now-trademark move has been pulled off more times than logic really should allow, but exactly how often are we talking here?  Among his 149 regulation and shootout goals, no less than 16 times. 

Including the very first time he pulled it off, against Edmonton four years ago, here's every single one:



Of the 16 goals scored, 8 were in a shootout, 5 were short handed and 3 at even strength.  There were five instances this past season, 6 in 2010–11, 2 in 2009–10, 2 in 2008–09 and 3 in 2007–08.  The most telling breakdown of the 16 goals, however, is that every last one was crucial to the outcome of the game.  If it wasn't a shootout goal, Burrows either tied the game or put Vancouver ahead or within one (the lone exception being the Toronto goal in which he brought Vancouver within two), further cementing his reputation as a timely scorer.

Here's to 16 more breakaway dekes over the next four years...

-HC

*See the discussion regarding this post on the Canucks.com forums here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why Vancouver can finally cheer for Lu

"I had a great six years in Vancouver... Unfortunately, I was not able to bring a Stanley Cup there.  Probably my biggest regret." -(See this YouTube video at 10:15)

Here's a probably suprising fact about Roberto Luongo.  At 339 regular season wins, he stands behind only Curtis Joseph (454) and John Vanbiesbrouck (374) as the most prolific goaltender in NHL history not to win a Stanley Cup.  (See the all-time wins list here.)  At age 33, it stands to reason that Luongo has a legitimate shot at topping the list before he calls it a career.  And by as early as next season, if he's not still mired as a backup in Vancouver, he will likely surpass the Beezer for a dubious second place ranking.
 
Of the three hard-luck goalies, Luongo has come the closest with a Game 7 in the Finals to his credit.  Vanbiesbrouck made it as far as the 1996 Finals with the Panthers, where they were swept by Colorado, while Joseph has two third round appearances (1999, 2002) to his name as a Maple Leaf.  Coincidentally, Florida and Toronto represent the two most likely destinations for the Canucks' three-time Vezina nominee. 

Now, the Canucks may not be the sure-fire contender they were two years ago, but you have to think his best shot would have been with the Sedins and a healthy Kesler playing in front of him.  I won't even begin to consider the Maple Leafs' merits as a championship team, largely in part to their complete absence of any.  But Florida, which Luongo has already personally earmarked as his next destination, represents a scenario brighter than it initially seems.

Having already taken the current Eastern Conference champs to a seventh game in the opening round, the Panthers are a young team that are only getting better.  Nobody's going to accuse Florida's goaltending for their playoff exit (their netminders posted a combined 2.41 GAA and .920 save percentage), but as long as Jose Theodore and Scott Clemensen is your tandem in net, you're not getting confused for a Cup contender either.  Consider Luongo a hefty step in the right direction.

Will we see Luongo in a Panthers jersey again?
Or will he remain in some form of blue and white?

Assume the Panthers do land him.  The invariable question is: Can Luongo remain an elite goalie¹ long enough for their young-and-upcoming roster to catch up to his level? If the conditions are right – and Panthers GM Dale Tallon accomplishes the same kind of rebuild that Canucks fans are all too familiar with in Chicago – there is a remote possibility Luongo could do with the Panthers what he couldn't here.

And when it comes to a player as consistently successful as Luongo has been in this league, if he does end up having another sniff at the Cup, you are almost required to root for him. Not because he was once our own, but for the same reason you cheered for guys like Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk when they finally got their moments. 

You might knock him for some of his playoff performances as a Canuck. And you might be glad his days in Vancouver are numbered. But in the grand scheme of things, Luongo doesn't deserve the Cujo fate. Not for someone with three Vezina nominations. Not for someone who practically carried the Canucks in his first three years here. And not for someone with 339 wins.

-HC

¹ This is assuming you belong to the 50% of hockey fans in Vancouver that believe Luongo is, indeed, still an elite goalie.

*See the online discussion regarding this article on the Canucks.com forums here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The deepest blue are Canucks

Outside of Vancouver – with the exception of the most observant NHL followers – the Canucks' group of defencemen may be among the league's most underrated.  For virtually as long as the team has been in existence, the Canucks have lacked a bonafide Norris Trophy candidate and this past year's edition was no exception.  But what the Canucks' blueline may lack in a world class player à la Shea Weber or Zdeno Chara, they make up for in, arguably, unparalleled depth.  This was reflected in the Norris's most recent voting results, as the Canucks were one of only two teams to have three defencemen receive a vote for the award – Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa.  (The other team was the New York Rangers with Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonaugh.) 

Offensively, this was further exemplified by the Canucks' fifth place ranking in defensive goal-scoring (see table to the right).  Among the top five teams, Vancouver and Los Angeles were the only ones to statistically do so "by committee".  Alex Edler led the Canucks' defencemen with 11 goals, accounting for just over a quarter of the Vancouver blueliners' total output.  Comparatively speaking, the other three teams topped the league by virtue of one standout player.  At 19 goals a piece, Shea Weber and Erik Karlsson scored nearly half of their teams' defensive goals, while Niklas Kronwall's breakout 15-goal campaign accounted for more than a third of Detroit's total. 

Statistically, that may all change for Vancouver if newly-signed Jason Garrison (who himself accounted for 53% of the Panthers' goals by a defenceman – the highest proportion in the league) can match his 16-goal output from last season.  And while Edler's play in the post-season left many wondering how he ever got voted best defenceman by Canucks fans, the reality is, when he's at his best, the big Swede could be just a few years out of a Norris nomination.  All things considered, however, Vancouver remains a balanced force on the blueline with no individual head-and-shoulders above the rest.  Garrison and Edler will share their equal portion of the load with Bieksa and Hamhuis, not to mention the ever-enigmatic Keith Ballard and the ever-improving Chris Tanev representing the blueline's potentially high-reward wild cards.

No one's saying that a player like Weber wouldn't put Vancouver over the top, cause that could very well be the case.  But Canucks fans would be wise to appreciate the group of guys we do have, 'cause collectively, they're among the league's very best.  So in salute of Vancouver's standout rearguards, here are the Top Five¹ of the group's 40 total goals from last season:


-HC

¹ Technically 4 of the Canucks defencemen's 40 goals, as Edler's shootout goal does not count towards official statistics.  Bonus fact: Edler had four shootout goals to lead all league defencemen.

*See the online discussion regarding this article on the Canucks.com forums here.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Rushin' Rocket and Geoff Courtnall's HOF foul

The Province ran an article today, blasting Mikael Samuelsson for a recent Swedish interview disparaging Alex Burrows and his finger-biting antics in the 2011 SCF.  Good for Botch.  But he and his paper missed another interview foul in their own backyard when they reached former Canuck Geoff Courtnall for comment regarding Pavel Bure's HHOF induction just over two weeks ago.  Read on for the article they should've printed.

My apologies to Pavel Bure.  For a blog sullying his good name by association, BTD has been woefully silent on last month's Hockey Hall of Fame induction.  Somewhere out there, sitting on millions of rubles and memories of Anna Kournikova, I know the Russian Rocket's been waiting for my two kopecks on the matter...

By now you've surely read the dozens upon dozens of articles covering the drama of Bure's overdue selection into the Hall.  If not, don't worry...as with anything in the media, they're all echoes of the same stories we've been hearing since his departure 13 years ago:

*Most electrifying Canucks player ever, yes.
*Most electrifying player of his time, (arguably) yes.
*Vancouver needs to retire his number, of course.
*The Canucks organization hated (and still hates) Bure, naturally.

The last one is questionable, but that debate is a can of worms worthy of putting the current Luongo-Schneider drama to shame.  (You can read the Sparknotes version of Bure vs. the Canucks in this Province article.)   At any rate, those four statements essentially form the skeleton for 99% of the media's coverage on Bure's pending induction.  That's why one particular article stood out last month in the wave of coverage following the announcement.

In an interview with The Province, former Canucks teammate Geoff Courtnall provided some bold insight into Bure's previous non-selections.  Word for word, Courtnall blamed the Hall for "prejudice towards Russian players in the NHL."  While it's not an original perspective (here's to you, Don Cherry), nor one of much consequence to Courtnall (I doubt he has any illusions of receiving a call himself from the HOF), it's interesting nonetheless. 

Here's why.  In addition to Russians, you can presumably extend this prejudice that some feel exists in the NHL towards Europeans, in general.  For all the hype Bure's HOF snubs have garnered over the last half decade, it's kind of poetic that in the year he does get the call, another glaring pass has been made towards Brendan Shanahan, a Canadian.  In addition to Bure, Shanahan was overlooked in favour of Swedish centre Mats Sundin (perhaps the Hall isn't so much anti-Russian as it is pro-Toronto).  It's hard to imagine such a prejudice as Courtnall has suggested exists when a Russian and a Swede get voted in for the Hall ahead of a Canadian with 600 goals.  The retired power forward and current league disciplinarian now enjoys the distinction of being the most prolific point-scorer in NHL history not in the Hall of Fame (among those who are eligible¹).

Besides Shanahan, another Canadian remains waiting in the wings in Eric Lindros.  The latter is arguably much less of a snub than Shanahan, but the former Flyer's injury-shortened career is almost a carbon copy of Bure's.  Along with Bure, pre-concussion Lindros had few peers to match his skill and dominance in the 90's.  Their stats are near-identical.  779 points in 702 games for Bure; 865 in 760 for Lindros.  Both starred in their teams one-off playoff runs – Bure in 1994 and Lindros three years later.  And while the Rocket garnered a few more individual awards by comparison (a Calder and two Maurice Richards), Lindros's Hart holds considerably more NHL cred.  Even off the ice, Lindros' departure from Philadelphia had all the controversy Bure's did in Vancouver.



So.  Geoff Courtnall.  While you gotta admire him coming to Bure's defence, his claim appears to be unfounded.  For what it's worth, his accusation does provide an effective starting point to analyze the Hall's incosistencies.  At any rate, Vancouver can finally put the issue to rest.

Regarding his play on the ice, the NHL was exceedingly lucky to have seen as supremely talented and entertaining a player as Bure was.  This city, all the more so to have had him on our side.  I can appreciate the reasons why he wasn't chosen in his first six years of eligibility – first and foremost, for lack of longevity – but byegones will be as such.   Starting now, we can officially appreciate Bure's place among the league's very best of all-time.  Meanwhile, Detroit and Philadelphia can continue the same weeping and wailing we've endured for our former superstar.  (Only difference is, Geoff Courtnall, theirs are Canadian.)

-HC

¹ Ahead of Shanahan are Jagr and Selanne, who are still active, as well as Recchi and Modano, for whom the three-year waiting period has not yet passed.  Next on the list is Pierre Turgeon.

*See the discussion regarding this article on the Canucks.com forums here.

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Kesler effect: Booth to hit 30?

Of all the Canucks players not named Luongo or Schneider this off-season, perhaps the only one to make any noise has been David Booth (See: Hunting video misguidedly published online).  Whether the Canucks winger should be condoned or criticized or his bear-hunting practices is borderline irrelevant completely up to non-hockey-related debate.

For that reason, it’s unfortunate that any mention of him until training camp will likely redirect attention to that incident (one Province column even facetiously asked in a headline, “Would Canucks trade David Booth after bear bait incident?”), cause speaking hockey, Booth represents the Canucks' central X-factor for the upcoming season.  If there's one player whose impending breakout season the team will benefit most from, it's Booth.  So to the multitudes on the Canucks.com forums heralding Zack Kassian for that role, sorry, but no.

When Gillis traded for Booth last October, the Canucks essentially flipped Mikael Samuelsson and change for a younger, more exciting version of the aging Swede.  At his best, Samuelsson represented valuable second-line scoring and upwards of fifty points you can bank on.  By comparison, Booth delivered 16 goals and 30 points over 62 games in a first year with Vancouver interrupted by major injury.  On a points-per-game basis, that ranked sixth among team forwards, behind the Sedins, Burrows, Kesler and Higgins.  That’s not quite as eye-popping as one of his forays to the front of the net can be, but it’s not a hugely underwhelming performance.  It's also consistent with his expectation to contribute top-six numbers.

Still, the organization and fans will undoubtedly, and even justifiably, want more in 2012–13.  The need is even greater with Kesler sidelined for the first month-and-a-half… though playing without a bonafide centre to start the campaign will logically work counteractively towards that. 

On the flip side, consider that even with a winger capable of scoring, Kesler became even more unwilling to make a pass last season.  (I don't care how many goals you scored two years ago, you can't shoot the puck through the defenceman's skates on every single rush.)  With Kes gone until mid-November, it could spark Booth to take more responsibility for his performance on the second line.  He will conceivably have more puck-time and, consequently, more opportunity to prove why fans voted him for the Most Exciting Player Award at the end of the regular season.  For the former Panthers cornerstone, a return to 30-goal form is not out of the question, even after his multiple concussions in 2009–10.

Though he's been inconsistent in his short tenure with the Canucks, the upside to Booth is that when he does make something happen, everybody notices.  It's legitimate reason to hope he can be a major part of this team for a long time. A little over a month ago, I wrote an article highlighting Henrik Sedin’s top five assists from the previous season.  So without further ado, as determined by Bure’s Triple Deke... Booth’s top five plays from 2011–12:



It makes Canucks fans and management alike salivate at what level he could attain if he did it on a consistent basis.

-HC

*See the discussion regarding this article on the Canucks.com forums here.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Dan Hamhuis: Behind the Norris Trophy scenes

This post may be about a week too late, but this is the off-season, man... I exhibit no guilt in being two major NHL events behind.  Hopefully you don't mind.

Try, if you will, to suspend all current thoughts swirling in your head about Brendan Gaunce and Pavel Bure.  Then see if you can recall all of nine days ago, when the NHL doled out their annual awards, celebrating the league's very best with the utterly irrelevant esteemed likes of Matthew Perry and Nickelback.  But forget the telecast.  If you were wise enough to watch something else last Wednesday, perhaps, like me, you opted to simply review the voting results online.  If you are lucky enough to actually locate it, the full results for each trophy – down to every last fifth-place vote – are a resource that can sustain your attention far longer than the actual awards broadcast.

While it's always interesting to see just how close or distant the voting was between the winner and two runners-up, often times the more intriguing results are found after the top three.  Case in point is the balloting for this year's Norris Trophy.

Source: Yahoo! Sports article from Puck Daddy

Among the many ways one could hyper-analyze this list beyond the three nominees, here are just a couple to start with: At fourth overall, Alex Pietrangelo has achieved elite status in just his second year in the NHL.  (Can anyone remember at which point in the season that actually happened?  I cannot.)  That accomplishment segways nicely into the complete absence of Drew Doughty on this list, which effectively contrasts his regular season performance from that of the playoffs.  While not one of 149 voters thought he ranked among the league's top five defencemen this regular season, by the time he was lifting the Stanley Cup two months later, he was probably in a two-way tie with Dustin Brown for Conn Smythe runner-up.

But this article is about neither Pietrangelo or Doughty.  Unlike last June, there was literally nothing for Canucks fans to get excited about for this year's NHL Awards.  So if you're looking for a consolation prize, Vancouver, you did indeed see correctly: At 10th overall in Norris voting, the Professional Hockey Writers' Association (PHWA)¹ gives you the Canucks' own, Dan Hamhuis.

For all the fans out there blasting Gillis for letting
Willie Mitchell go now that he's won a Cup with L.A.,
remember that he wisely signed Hamhuis in his place.
While it's admittedly hard to get excited about a 10th overall ranking – from one perspective, it highlights the longstanding absence of a Canucks defenceman actually capable of winning the Norris – consider the names that Hamhuis finished ahead of: Duncan Keith.  Keith Yandle.  Dan Boyle.  All three defencemen enjoy far higher profiles and the implicit expectation to produce 50-60 points a season.  Mind you, none of them had particularly great seasons by their own personal standards, but they all recorded more points than Hamhuis and are no slouches in their own end.  The fact that the NHL's writers collectively voted Hamhuis ahead of those three offensive juggernauts speaks volumes for his defensively-responsible game.  (It's also interesting to note that Alex Edler, who Canucks fans chose over Hamhuis for the Babe Pratt Trophy as the team's best defenceman, finished 15th.)

With a $4.5 million cap hit, Hamhuis doesn't exactly fly under the radar, but his style of play has seldom attracted the league-wide attention it deserves.   At 23 points over 64 games in his first season with the Canucks, he did not draw a single voting point in 2011, when he was arguably just as valuable to the team's back-end.  So while Hamhuis' real vote-getter was presumably his defensive game, the 14-point improvement in his statline certainly helped to attract more attention to it.

I anticipate that many outside of Vancouver would argue that Hamhuis' name on the above list is no more than an outlier...an anomaly.  To that, I would first give to them Dan Girardi's two first-place votes to figure out.  If Hamhuis is an anomaly, then Girardi at sixth overall is... what?  A UFO sighting?  But mostly, I'd accuse them of something we're probably all guilty of.  The fact is, we will always overlook sound and reliable defence in favour of flashier end-to-end rushes and more explicit point totals.  While the PHWA gave Hamhuis his due (two second-place votes), by awarding Erik Karlsson the Norris (66 of 149 first-place votes), they also implied that, in expert hockey wisdom, you don't have to be world class in your own end to be deemed the best defenceman.

There is really no objective way of quantifying a player of Hamhuis' ilk in the same way that points do for an offensive defenceman.  It's a subjective call, which likely gives the powers-that-be a little less confidence in voting for a stay-at-homer.  The league awards the Selke for the equally subjective best defensive forward; why not establish a new trophy (to go with a long overdue one for the assists leader) for the best defensive defenceman?

Call it the Rod Langway Trophy, in honour of the Montreal Canadiens/Washington Capitals shutdown defender from the 1980's.²  Then sit back and just watch the nominations pour in for number two in blue and white.

-HC

¹ The PHWA is responsible for picking the Norris Trophy, as well as six other major NHL awards.
² Langway accomplished the rare feat of winning the Norris Trophy in back-to-back years (1983 and 1984) as a shutdown defender.  In his award-winning seasons, he scored no more than 32 and 33 points.

*See the discussion regarding this article on the Canucks.com forums here.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Cup-winning model... It's not all black and silver

Another year, another Cup winner.  Another off-season for fairweather fans and professional analysts alike to lose perspective on any success their teams may have recently enjoyed.  (Look under: back-to-back Presidents' Trophies and a Campbell Bowl in two years.)  Unless you're basking in the aftermath of a Stanley Cup parade right now, it's time for the annual "If you can't beat 'em, copy 'em" game.  Fortified by Boston's previous success, enter the era of the L.A. model: Size and goaltending.  An ability to score is a given – this isn't 1999 anymore – but it seems now that your top players require the ability to deposit both pucks and bodies wherever they please if you want to win 16 games between April and June. 

In other words, if your captain can't play like Dustin Brown, who led the playoffs in points and hits, practice your golf swing.  Imagine Vancouver's horror.  Suddenly the finesse and puck possession formula championed by Detroit and emulated most by the Canucks is obsolete, right?  (You mean we can't Sedin our way to the Cup?)

To respond to this growing stream of thought, here's a brief history of NHL analysis in the past five years alone:

The Ducks win in 2007 and the mantra is established to "Get bigger."  A high-profile goalie is also obviously a must.  Then Detroit and Pittsburgh stickhandle their way to the Finals in back-to-back years and size is effectively de-emphasized for skill and puck possession.  The obligatory "high-profile goalie" in net was Chris Osgood.  Chicago continues along the same vein, relying more on skill than size, while being backstopped by no less than Antii Niemi.  Fast forward to the past two years as Boston and Los Angeles re-flip the script for the goaltending-and-size combination to take prominence once more.

These trends are clearly short-lived, but when the nightly analysis on Sportsnet and TSN get going again in September, I'll bet that more than a few of the former players and coaches out of NHL jobs the esteemed experts of the league are gonna start counting teams out based on how dissimilar their rosters are to Los Angeles's.

For all their in-depth knowledge, it will always be easier to deal in straightforward and simple maxims:  Size wins championships.  Defence wins championships.  Build around your goalie.  Don't build around your goalie.

The reality is, if a team with a completely different style and roster composition than the Kings doesn't win the Stanley Cup next year, one probably will the year after.  Where the Broad Street Bullies succeded in the 70's, so did the free-wheeling Oilers the following decade. 

This isn't gonna cut it for most Canucks fans – succeeded league-wide in jadedness by perhaps only Toronto – but the lesson is to stay the course.  I fully understand that said course is approaching a half-decade, but at no point in this Cupless streak has the team been this close, this often.

For those calling to blow up the roster to look more like Boston or L.A., I'd hate to be you when another puck possession team inevitably wins the Cup.  The only thing that Anaheim, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles all have in common is that none of those fool-proof rosters won twice in a row.

But if you must insist on reducing it to a simple formula, best to follow the find-team-chemistry-and-get-hot-at-the-right-time-while-getting-above-average-performance-from-all-your-players model.  Although the analysts might be on to something, cause that's significantly less catchy.

-HC

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The road to Stanley goes through Vancouver

With the L.A. Kings up 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Finals, it looks like any remaining games against New Jersey in this series are all but a formality.  Congulations Dustin Brown and company for rendering the entire 82-game regular season schedule utterly useless.  When the Kings win their 16th win of the post-season in the next few days or so, they will become the first team in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup as an eighth seed.  A supremely impressive stat.

However, implicit in that achievement, another almost equally baffling story continues to develop.  Eighteen years in the making, it goes as follows: Teams that beat the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs go on to win the Stanley Cup at a 73% success rate.  Of the 11 times the Canucks have qualified for the post-season since 1994, they were ousted by the eventual champions on eight occasions.  More recently, if you jump the gun like the rest of the hockey world and include the L.A. Kings, the rate increases to 100% in the past three years.  If you're a team planning your championship parade route, make sure it includes a stop in Vancouver.

The last 11 teams to eliminate the Canucks since 1994
and their usually successful fate

But what does it all mean, Basil?  Besides the obvious Messier curse, nothing of major significance, really.  However, it does say something about the nature of Vancouver's latest playoff disappointments.  For the better part of a decade, the Canucks have developed into somewhat of a perennial contender.  Since the team's liberation from mediocrity circa 2004 (thank you Markus Naslund), Vancouver has been chosen on several occasions as a Cup favourite.  But despite the quasi-annual hype – peaking around the lockout and again in the past two years – the team has but one measly trip beyond the second round since then to boast of.  As a result, the prevailing widsom surrounding this group has often been that they cannot play to expectations in the post-season.

I understand this requires a certain kind of perspective, but when you consider just how often the Canucks' conquerors go on to prove their ultimate worth, the average fans' yearly pill of disappointment becomes at least a little easier to swallow.  On the record, Gillis begs to differ (for presumably professional reasons), but the team's first-round exit this season does take on a different meaning now, given L.A.'s success.  Imagine the Kings went on to be swept by the Blues.  Or that the Flames' semi-upset of Vancouver didn't result in them becoming Western Conference champions in 2004.  Logically, those losses become far more dubious.

So take solace Canuckland; take it wherever you can.  Ultimately, it's not much more than a briefly interesting stat you look at and go "Huh."  But the off-season is long and not every team can use "we were beaten by the best" as an annual excuse 7.3 times out of 10.  For all the glass-half-fullers out there, you're welcome.  Take it and run!  For the rest of you, sorry I even brought it up...

-HC

*See the discussion regarding this article on the Canucks.com forums here.

Friday, June 01, 2012

The L.A. Kings -- Not a Cinderella team

Nobody following the playoffs this year needs to be reminded how the L.A. Kings are doing.  The team from Hollywood has written a script worthy of their locale: Top three teams in the West vanquished.  Second eighth-seeded team to ever qualify for the Finals.  Three wins away from the perfect underdog story.  Lookout Dodgeball.

Although I think Vince
Vaughn's character in this
movie is way too nice to
be Dustin Brown...
However, as unlikely as your standard Cinderella story initially seems, between 2002 and 2006, a poorly-seeded team had annually qualified for the Stanley Cup Finals – in order, the Carolina Hurricanes,¹ Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers all finished with bottom-three records in their conference.  When you include the current feel-good team of the year, the prevalence of a Cinderella team in the Finals is exactly 1-in-2 for the past 10 years.

With this in mind, are the 2012 Kings really that surprising?  Is their performance really that unlikely?  The answer is as emphatic as a Dustin Brown blindside to the head and/or knee: Yes!  Here’s why.

If teams like the 2006 Oilers and 2002 Ducks represent what Cinderella squads are supposed to look like, the Kings aren’t one of them.  Unlike the other four bottom-ranked teams to make the Finals in the past decade, L.A. has blitzed their way through the playoffs with a current 13-2 record.  Within recent memory, your standard issue surprise team has had to scrimp and scrape their way to a shot at the Cup with one-goal games they didn’t deserve to win and the supremely elevated play of little else than their goalie (See J.S. Giguere).  Ultimately, they were outplayed and overmatched for the better part of 20-25 games.

But this year’s Cinderella edition has consistently either matched or surpassed their higher-ranked opponents in all aspects of play.  No, the Kings probably wouldn’t have achieved this level of success without Jonathan Quick in net, but they are anything but a one-man show.  L.A. has more depth, talent and efficiency than any of their underdog predecessors ever had in their improbable runs.  Statistically, the Kings have outscored their opponents 43-23 and outshot them by an average four shots per game.

The Kings' current win-percentage, goals for/against and shots for/against, in comparison
to the four most recent "Cinderella" teams.

Sixth, seventh and eighth-placed teams can routinely make the Finals.  That’s not what makes the Kings special; it’s that they’ve done so with the level of play of a first seed.  Often times, L.A. has won convincingly.  All of the time, they’ve done so with their opponents’ bodies lying on the ice.  If not for their eighth-place ranking, nobody would ever name them after a Disney princess. 

The L.A. Kings have proved that they simply aren’t underdogs.  The hockey world expects this team to beat New Jersey.  And in that sense, that is surprising for an eighth seed.  That is a big deal.

-HC 

¹The Hurricanes were seeded third by virtue of winning the annual Southwest Division lottery, but had actually finished with the eighth-worst record in the East.

*See the discussion regarding this article on the Canucks.com forums here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Henrik's top five assists from 2011-12

UPDATE: Rather than watch all the plays individually via the links below, I've uploaded a YouTube video with all five plays in one here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYiZbDSeml4

To supplement and, I suppose, support my previous article, I took the unnecessary invaluable liberty of sifting through all 67 of Henrik Sedin's assists from the 2011-12 season.  The result?  Five of the best assists you have (or haven't) seen all year.  Ready?  Ok.

Number Five
Nov. 16, 2011; vs. Chicago – 2-on-1 to Hansen
Standard issue 2-on-1 saucer pass.  Sadly, this went on to become another blowout loss in Chicago (the undisputed worst kind of blowout loss).

Number Four
Oct. 25, 2011; vs. Edmonton – Backhand drop to Burrows
If not for the slow motion replay, you really have to be paying attention on this one.  Henrik's pass is that quick in relation to the flow of play.  After Salo's shot rebounds to Henrik, for whatever reason, Khabibulin assumes Henrik's not gonna drop a no-look pass to Burrows at the last second.  The goal brought the Canucks within one in the third period, but they ended up losing this one too.

Number Three
Nov. 6, 2011; vs. Chicago – Cross-ice to Daniel
A powerplay goal from the first half of the season (as if such a goal existed in the second half).  Again, Henrik ends up with the puck off a rebound and Crawford plays the shot.  Silly goalie, Trix are for kids.  Henrik throws it the width of the ice with Crawford swimming.  6-2 win for Vancouver.

Number Two
Dec. 1, 2011; vs. Nashville – Half spin-o-rama to Burrows
Off – what else – the cycle, Henrik skates out from behind the net to challenge Preds D Jack Hillen.  Who?  Exactly.  Burrows redirects it past Rinne.  6-5 shootout loss.

Number One
April 4, 2012; vs. Anaheim – wtf...to Burrows
Inside-out-How's-she-doin-behind-the-back-spin-o-rama-goodness.  Mind you, the whole thing is moot if not for Burrows' equally impressive shot, but this is just silliness from Henrik.  An uncontested number one, in my opinion.


Here's to five even better feeds from Hank in 2012-13...

-HC

*See the discussion regarding this post on the Canucks.com forum here.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr...Henrik Sedin

Did everyone miss the headline at the end of the regular season last month?  With 67 assists in 2011-12, Henrik Sedin became just the 5th player in NHL history to lead the league in that category for three consecutive years.¹  The other four?  Joe Thornton (2005-08), Wayne Gretzky (1979-92..!), Bobby Orr (1969-72) and Stan Mikita (1964-67).  And if Henrik manages to out-assist the Crosbys and Thorntons of the league for a fourth straight go in 2012-13, the club shrinks to two – just him and Gretz. 
Pay special attention to the tasteful sign
behind held to Henrik's right.

You didn’t find it on NHL.com or The Vancouver Sun for two reasons.  The assist will always be the overlooked middle child of a player’s statline.  How the league can stand to award the Lady Byng every year, but not have any hardware for the top playmaker is a tragedy.  Secondly, unless he or Daniel hit 100 points again, no one really gets excited about these two players anymore. 

Now, there are admittedly countless schools of thought to disprove Henrik’s place (or Thornton’s for that matter) among the Gretzkys and Orrs of the game.  And rightfully so.  Bobby Orr led the league as a defenceman.  The Great One lasted a consecutive 13 years atop the league, more than quadruple Henrik’s current streak.  Also implicit in Gretzky’s monopolization of the league’s assists board over two decades is the fact that any other elite playmaker competing in this timeframe was overshadowed in this regard.  Think Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Ron Francis…to name a select, select few.  These players would have likely put together a run of several years themselves, had they played in any other era.

What about the fact that Henrik’s highest assists total in these three years, 83, ranks exactly 52nd all-time.  Not quite elite.  Many would also argue that his streak has largely benefited from an unhealthy Sidney Crosby.

All these things are true, but let’s give Henrik some credit where credit is sorely due.  It's derived from the simple fact that in this time and space in the history of the NHL, he has perennially dominated the league as a playmaker.  Yes, Crosby has been injured, but remember the year Henrik won the Art Ross?  The Pens captain had played a full season and was 25 assists Hank’s inferior.  And as Thornton’s play in San Jose has deteriorated in this same three-year span, the assists crown has not only been Crosby’s to lose, but Evgeni Malkin’s, Nicklas Backstrom’s and Pavel Datsyuk’s among many other arguably more high-profile players.



Also, a closer look at that 52nd-best assists total reveals that Henrik’s 83 assists is the 21st-highest achieved by any individual.²  That is a heavily underrated stat because among the 20 players ahead of him, only Thornton, Crosby and Jagr achieved their marks in the current dead-puck era (ie. post mid-to-late 90's).  Common wisdom dictates that Henrik might have racked up far more had he played in the freewheeling 80’s.

All things considered and in the grand scheme of NHL lore…no, you probably won’t see Henrik’s name alongside Gretzky and Orr ever again in perhaps more telling analyses.  But for these past three years in the current NHL, the elder Sedin is, statistically, the absolute best at what he does.  And that’s a headline the league should see much more often.

-HC

¹ For the full list of single-season assist leaders, see it on Hockey-Reference.com here.
² Only counting each unique player once, ie. players like Gretzky, Lemieux and Orr have multiple single-season assist totals in the top 50 or so, but in this regard we only count each player once. See the list on NHL.com here.

*See the discussion regarding this post on Canucks.com forum here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Alex Burrows: Olympic hopeful (...Right?)

And who says Burrows is a pest? Even
Kazakhstani goalie Vitali Kolesnik is
feeling the love.
Ever engage in a thought experiment where you consider the merits of a ridiculous proposition, then slowly start to believe it?

Depending on who you ask, Alex Burrows is either one of the most overrated or underrated player in the NHL.  If you’re a devoted hockey fan anywhere outside of Canada’s west coast, chances are the Canucks forward is nothing more to you than a pest whose stat line is generously inflated by his linemates.  The fact he’s achieved 20-plus goals in each of the past four seasons only means Vigneault provided Daniel and Henrik a warm body to pass to while the gifted Swedes cycle their way through the entire league.

Granted, Burrows’ career was undoubtedly jump-started by his place on the Canucks’ top line, but the past season has seen him maintain the same pace while playing large chunks of time without them.  With this in mind, is Burrows a candidate for Canada’s Olympic roster in 2014?

The answer, anywhere in the NHL, is a resounding…no.  I must be that rare breed of Canucks fan – overzealously loyal, even after their latest playoff disappointment.

Your average Canucks devotee will always be quick defend Burrows honour against Ron MacLean and the rest of the world, but few will go so far as to say he is among the top 12 or 13 Canadian forwards in the game.  I’m here to argue that as of yesterday, which marked Canada’s third straight quarterfinal exit from the IIHF World Championships, Burrows has played himself into Steve Yzerman’s consideration for the national team’s fourth line in 2014.

Here’s the short story: After missing the first week of competition with a suspected concussion, Burrows was slotted into the team’s fourth line with fellow grinders Andrew Ladd and Teddy Purcell.  In five games with limited ice time, he recorded three goals and no assists, ranking second-last among Canadian forwards in point-scoring.

Admittedly, his numbers aren’t overwhelming by any stretch.  Even at the NHL level, his points totals haven’t cracked the to forty among Canadian forwards in either of the past two seasons.  In 2009-10, he ranked fourteenth, but many would see that as an outlier.  At face value, Burrows still seems as well-suited for the Olympics as Mark Messier in a Canucks uniform. 

But here’s where the argument naturally begins: Canada doesn’t need twelve superstar forwards, all capable of scoring at a point-per-game pace.  They require about nine of those; the remaining three or four have to fill a defensively-responsible energy and provide the intangibles in a low-profile fashion.  Starting to sound more like  number 14 in blue and green?

Burrows has always played key minutes on the Canucks penalty kill, which has been perennially top-ranked.  His role was no different on Team Canada these past two weeks.  Intangibles?  For the past four years, his plus-minus (a stat that is questionable in merit, but does measure to some degree a player’s impact at even strength) has been in the top 10 among Canadian forwards.  In two of those years, so have his takeaway totals.  Burrows is underrated as a defensive forward and while maintaining the same level of tenacity, his penalty minutes have decreased from 179 in 2008-09 to 90 this past campaign.

A good fourth-liner is also timely.  Enter Burrows' proverbial "slaying of the dragon" and overtime-winner against Boston in last year's playoff run.  In 2011-12, he scored seven game-winners, tenth among Canadian forwards.  At the World Championships, his first goal of the tournament started Canada’s 5-3 comeback win against Finland.  The next game, he scored shorthanded against Kazakhstan (I know… it’s Kazakhstan) when a powerplay goal against would have cut the lead to just 2-1 in the second period.  Finally, his quarterfinal goal in the third period would have stood as the game-winner against Slovakia had Canada not collapsed into itself to finish the contest.
Zamuner and Draper set precedent for
a player like Burrows to be selected...
Here's the statistical comparison.

When you look at what Canada’s gold-winning fourth line was in 2010, however, imagining Burrows as a replacement for the likes of Patrice Bergeron and Mike Richards once again seems ludicrous.  But the history of Canadian rosters at high-profile tournaments reveal selections that seem far more unlikely than Burrows.  Rob Zamuner, anyone?  Kris Draper ring any bells?  (1998 Olympics and 2004 World Cup/2006 Olympics, respectively.)  Both stand out as players who, on paper, seemed out of place, but subjectively, they filled a need for the sort of player that I think Burrows meets and exceeds.

The reasons against are many and the likelihood is minimal.  Nobody will really complain when he isn’t even short listed, including me.  But you cannot say that Burrows doesn’t play the game in a way that could benefit Team Canada's Olympic team if it was chosen today.  Who knows?  Maybe Yzerman will throw us all a curveball.  Then we'll see if Burrows can wrap around Tim Thomas in an American uniform too, come 2014.

-HC

*See the discussion regarding this article on the Canucks.com forum here.