Sunday, December 01, 2013

Drayson Bowman: Vancouver's kinda-sorta hometown product

Six years after his draft, Drayson Bowman appears to be finally
sticking with Carolina. So what has that go to do with Vancouver?
(Photo: romec1, Flickr)

Back in the Memorial Cup days of the Vancouver Giants -- a far cry from the current "Under Construction" era -- I always paid a little extra attention when the Spokane Chiefs came to town. Nowadays, it's anytime the Canucks play the Carolina Hurricanes.

Why, exactly? There's a little-known fact about a Carolina winger who has very slowly started making a name for himself since being drafted from Spokane in 2007. Born in Michigan and raised in Colorado, 24-year-old Drayson Bowman also called Vancouver home for a brief period in his mid-teens.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Raymond and the top five "how come he never did it here" ex-Canucks

So...what do these three players have in common?

This past Thursday, I took a look at Mason Raymond's very well-publicized revival in Toronto. And while I may have been a little premature about Todd Bertuzzi "beating the odds once again" (six games without a point since my post), Raymond is just now coming off a career-high 5-game point streak, upping his season totals to 8 goals and 9 assists in 23 games.

With nearly a third of the season through, it seems like May Ray's awakening has some legitimate staying power. At his current pace, he'll have 28 goals and 60 points by season's end. But without repeating why Raymond's scoring rate would likely not have occurred if he had stayed in Vancouver (see the previous post), it nonetheless constitutes a cruel, cruel joke, given the Canucks' current offensive vacuum.

For years, fans in Vancouver waited patiently, err... passionately for Raymond to put forth this kind of secondary scoring. It's the kind of "he really couldn't have done that here?" scenario that a self-deprecating Canucks fan can really feast on.

So with Raymond's current run with the Leafs in mind, here are the top five players who put in their best years only after handing in their Canucks jerseys.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mason Raymond: Santorelli of the East, and then some

After long having given up on Mason Raymond, Vancouver watched as the perpetually-imbalanced winger opened the season with 8 points in 7 games as a Maple Leaf. By the time he returned to the city on Bure night, however, he had cooled off considerably and everybody generally stopped paying attention. A pair of other former Canucks started turning heads around the league, as Maxim Lapierre earned a five-game suspension and Manny Malhotra authored a movie-script return to the NHL in Carolina.

But after having seemingly leveled off to his previous Canucks pace, Raymond has picked up the offensive slack in Toronto once more. Including his game-winner against the Islanders on Tuesday night, he is currently riding a four-game point streak. And with 8 goals and 8 assists through the quarter-mark of the season, Raymond is on pace for a career-high 62 points. This, at a time when the Canucks' offensive well has all but dried up (6 goals during a 5-game losing skid).

So then. Was letting Raymond go a serious mistake?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Benson looking to rebound after lacklustre U16 Cup

Benson set to make his Giants debut tonight after a
gold medal win with Alberta in the WHL's U16 Cup.
Tyler Benson will make his hotly anticipated Vancouver Giants debut tonight against the Tri-City Americans. Set to play in one of a maximum five games for the Giants before his midget season ends in March, Vancouver is looking for Benson to live up to his "exceptional player" status and all the hyperbolic expectations that come along with it.

The last time that a Giants player was even selected first overall in the WHL Draft -- let alone a year early -- it was Gilbert Brule. Say what you will about the Brule's NHL career -- he came exactly as advertised in the 'Dub, single-handedly leading the Giants to a WHL championship and Memorial Cup appearance in his third junior season. As the hype would seemingly dictate then, the road back to legitimacy for the Giants starts tonight.

Nationwide, the precedence for being drafted into the major juniors a year early begins with John Tavares, which should give you some indication that Vancouver isn't the only city closely watching tonight's game.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Bertuzzi beating the odds, again [with statistical WCE comparison]

Last night, Todd Bertuzzi scored a goal and an assist in an overtime loss to Dallas. A pretty innocuous statement by itself. But a closer look reveals that with those two points, Bertuzzi's current pace (5 goals and 4 assists in 17 games) would see him score 20-plus goals for the first time since 2005-06 -- otherwise known in Vancouver as the West Coast Express's last hurrah.

The fact that Bertuzzi has carved out a very unlikely niche in Detroit's system is a well-covered story. Having been discarded by five different teams in a span of three years, Big Bert reinvented himself as a defensively-responsible cog in Mike Babcock's lineup.

But that was four years ago. The surprise now is that at age thirty-eight, Bertuzzi remains just as valuable as he unpredictably was in his first couple of seasons with Detroit -- if not more. And not only is he at an age when the vast majority of players are retired, he is coming off a season in which he spent all but seven games with a severe back injury.

Continue reading for a year-by-year and cumulative statistical
comparison of Bertuzzi, Naslund and Morrison, post-2006.
Image: Paige Kaitlyn, Flickr

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Bure night: Trevor, the wife and Ron frickin' MacLean

Well that's that. From Jim Hughson at the podium to Pat Quinn seated at centre ice to the spirited fans chanting his name, the pre-game ceremony at Rogers Arena last night was a proper blast from the past and a success in enshrining Pavel Bure's superlative time as a Canuck.

Pavel Bure joining Smyl, Linden and Naslund in the
highest-possible honour to be bestowed on a Vancouver Canuck.
Photo by Sheriff Earp on Flickr.

Gretzky on Malhotra for Bure: "I would not have retired"

Earlier this week, the Hurricanes made the announcement that Manny Malhotra was back in the NHL. Or at least on a two-way contract. As a result, fans on the West Coast couldn't be happier. For Vancouver, the love affair with Manny traces back to 2010, when he was first signed from Columbus as a free agent.

But as the under-explored story goes, Malhotra was nearly a Canuck long before 2010. With Vancouver still reeling from Bure night, the connection traces all the way back to the Russian Rocket's trade away from the West Coast in 1999.

As you know, Bure went to Florida, in exchange for a package that centred around Ed Jovanovski and Nathan Smith the promise of a first-round draft pick. A year after the trade, however, then-Canucks GM Brian Burke commented on a proposed that would have sent Bure to the Rangers instead. 

Similar to the actual return from Florida, the ask was centered around a very promising and high-profile young player, an 18-year-old rookie who was already centering a line for the Rangers named Manny Malhotra. 

Much like Kassian-Hodgson, Malhotra would have likely had to endure
a lifetime of comparison to the Rocket had the Rangers pulled the trigger in 1999.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The long-term implications of Bure to Florida

Fourteen years later: Ed Jovanovski and Kevin Weekes
 were two of Vancouver's key acquisitions in the 1999 trade.

It will continue to be the main sticking point for detractors of Pavel Bure's upcoming jersey retirement -- the trade.

Simply put, Bure wanted out. And that's gonna leave a sour taste in a lot of people's mouths long after November 2. But regardless of who was at fault for Bure's relationship with the team deteriorating, the trade ushered in a new era that the Canucks badly needed at the time.

Bald-deep in the Messier nightmare, Vancouver was a mainstay in the Western Conference basement. Rather than continue to shape the team around Bure, the trade allowed for then-marginal players like Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi to develop in the team's go-to guys. It is, in fact, no coincidence that Naslund emerged as the team's leading scorer the same year Bure was dealt.

After an initial close call with the Rangers, Brian Burke succeeded in dealing the Russian Rocket, sending him to Florida, along with veteran defenceman Bret Hedican, prospect defenceman Brad Ference and a third-round pick in 2000.

Here's what Vancouver got in return:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Bures, the Sedins and fraternal scoring supremacy

After years of poring over stats upon stats upon stats, one begins to accumulate what I refer to as 'trivia records'. They have little significance or relevance and typically only represent unique scenarios that don't really reflect what the NHL is like as a whole.

For example, the "brothers record". Perhaps you too have once been told that Wayne and Brent Gretzky hold the all-time record for career points by a pair of siblings at 2,861 -- Brent's contribution being a whole 4 points. Puts a different spin on Gretzky's dominance in the league, I suppose, but ultimately, this record yields about zero relevancy in terms of its ability to illustrate the history of actual brother tandems in the league.
Pavel and Valeri in their lone season
together in Florida.

Enter Pavel Bure and his younger brother, DJ Tanner's husband Valeri. While there is a pretty sizable disparity in skill between the Bures, it is far smaller than that between the Gretzkys. As such, a record held by the two of them might actually have some relevancy. And wouldn't you know it, in 1999-2000, Pavel and Valeri combined for 93 goals in a single season -- a league-leading 54 from Pavel and 35 from Valeri. As a result, they topped a rather legendary pair of brothers in Bobby and Dennis Hull, surpassing their previous mark of 88 goals, set in 1968-69.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pavel Bure and the progression of the Canucks point-scoring record

Recall Henrik Sedin's Art Ross-winning season three years ago. It was in that legendary final game against the Flames that Henrik eclipsed Alexander Ovechkin for the NHL's point-scoring crown. And in the process of securing the first Art Ross Trophy in team history, Henrik set another franchise mark. With his 111th point, he surpassed Pavel Bure for the highest-scoring season by a Canuck in team history.

Established in 1992-93, Bure's 110-point record, at the time, had stood for 17 years. In just his second season in the NHL, the Russian Rocket went all Soviet on goaltenders throughout the league and nearly doubled his output from the previous season. On the strength of 60 goals and 50 assists, he made a mockery of the previous team record of 91 points, set by Patrik Sundstrom in 1983-84.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The staying power of Bure's 60-goal record

The following is the fourth in BTD's 10-day series of posts counting down to Bure night.

Having played just 428 games as a Canuck, Pavel Bure is somewhat buried in the team's all-time stats lists. Though he left the Canucks as the second-highest goal-scorer (254, behind Smyl) and fourth-highest in points (478, behind Smyl, Linden and Gradin), both years and Swedes have gone by. As a result, he now stands fifth and seventh in those regards.

Nonetheless, Bure's name remains littered all over the Canucks single-season record books. Most power play goals in a season (25 in 1993-94). Most shorthanded goals (7 in 1992-93). Most shots (407, 1992-93). Most points by a winger (110, 1992-93). Though that mark stood for 17 years as the overall record until Henrik Sedin surpassed it in 2009-10.

The most impressive of them all, however -- and perhaps the safest  -- remains Bure's 60 goals, recorded in back-to-back seasons. Set in both 1992-93 and 1993-94, the mark is now 19 years strong and counting.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pavel Bure, Alex Ovechkin and other All-Star voting fallacies

Counting down to Bure night, this is the third in a 10-day series of posts that I now regret promising chronicling the Russian Rocket's career.

With Bure night exactly a week away, the Canucks are returning home from their road trip where they'll await Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on Monday. Ovie's pure skill and goal-scoring ability have drawn him comparisons to Bure ever since he broke into the league.

This past off-season, Ovechkin made headlines when he was dubiously voted to both the First and Second NHL All-Star Teams. Thanks to a collective balloting error from the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA), he was named to the First Team as a right wing and the Second as a left. As you can imagine, it was the first such All-Star deuce in NHL history (I feel like somewhere Roberto Luongo's ears just perked) and effectively cheated Taylor Hall out of a Second Team spot.

So what does this have to do with Pavel Bure? Well, the Writers Association does in fact have a history for this sort of thing. Only the reverse happened to Bure following his rookie campaign in 1991-92.

Bure, the victim of voting error, and Ovechkin, the beneficiary.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pavel Bure's Top 10 Goals as a Canuck (honourable mentions)

Today's post is the second in a 10-day series chronicling Pavel Bure's career in anticipation of his jersey retirement on November 2.

As mentioned in yesterday's countdown featuring Pavel Bure's top ten goals as a Canuck, it is nearly impossible to isolate any number of the Russian Rocket's goals as 'the best'. Ten is just far too little.

So with that in mind, here are a few more of Bure's endless highlight reel efforts -- infused with the usual slapdash of trivia and facts -- that didn't quite make the cut:

First NHL goal vs. Los Angeles (November 12, 1991)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pavel Bure's Top 10 Goals as a Vancouver Canuck

Today's article is the first of a 10-day series chronicling Pavel Bure's career in anticipation of his jersey retirement on November 2.

Consider it "Bure-mania", re-lived. Ten days from now, Bure's iconic number will be raised to the rafters, ending more than a decade of divisiveness regarding the Russian Rocket's place in Canucks history. YouTube montages, engage!

There is no shortage of online videos by which fans can re-experience the brilliance that was Bure's career in Vancouver. Nonetheless, BTD would be remiss if we didn't contribute something to the collection (you could literally spend hours watching quality highlight reels dedicated entirely to Bure), as endless and as saturated as it may be.

Of the videos currently out there, TSN's Top 10 Bure goals, uploaded by several different users, has hundreds of thousands of views. And as much as I love TSN's nightly countdowns, a revised edition of Bure's best goals is sorely in order.

Monday, September 30, 2013

What you (probably) didn't (care to) know about Zac Dalpe

Zac Dalpe is a little over 24 hours into his new tenure with the Vancouver Canucks. And sadly, Wikipedia remains devoid of interesting tidbits to sate my inner hockey geek. As pointed out by The Province shortly after the trade, the 23-year-old Ontario native is already familiar with BC, having played for the Penticton Vees back in 2007-08.

But caman. We can do better, internet! As far as obscure Google finds go, Pass It To Bulis got the ball seriously rolling with these NHL Award predictions from 2011-12. According to two out of five Hockey Prospectus analysts, Dalpe was your surest bet for the 2012 Calder Trophy. Take that, Gabriel Landeskog. 

But what else? I don't know about you, but when Dalpe gets that first call-up, I wanna be well-stocked with some truly mundane facts to casually toss into pre-game conversation. How else are you supposed to signal your superiority of unnecessary hockey knowledge?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The all-time precedence for Hunter and Bo

Gone are Frank Corrado and Brendan Gaunce, re-assigned to Utica and Belleville, respectively. Meanwhile, the Canucks' original wave of the future, Jordan Schroeder and Nicklas Jensen, have both been reduced to the press box with a pair of injuries.

So with four of the Canucks' top prospects out of the rookie derby running, the stage was set for yesterday's report regarding Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk. Despite being the two youngest players among the team's current rookie crop, Bo's London Knights and Hunter's Medicine Hat Tigers were both informed that they'd be without their star players for at least opening night in the NHL.

Shinkaruk's offensive skill has been on full display over the pre-season (feel free to re-live this outrageousness), while Horvat has been a steady presence at centre. In other words, both have come exactly as advertised since their draft. And with one half of this new tandem costing the team one of the best goalies in the league, this is welcome news for Vancouver.

Granted, the Canucks' dearth at centre and Shanahan's most recent misjudgement Zack Kassian's suspension have as much do with this development as the pair's actual play. But credit is due to the 2013 duo for taking advantage of the opportunity.

It is rare in any circumstance that a Canucks prospect cracks the lineup in his draft year -- let alone two. That said, what sort of precedent is there for Canucks rookies cracking the roster immediately following their draft?

Thanks to a rainy afternoon and a storm of Wikipedia-ing, I can elaborate for you exactly the sort of precedence that exists. Down to the last Murray Bannerman.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Henrik and Daniel: Plus-minus royalty among active players

Neither Sedin has ever won a plus-minus crown.  (Of all their Canucks teammates, who would have thought that Marek Malik would have beat them to it...) But ever since a combined -5 rating in their rookie seasons all 13 years ago, the Canucks duo have been plus players every year of their careers.  And from 2009-10 on, Henrik has been an annual staple on the league's plus-minus leaderboard -- ranking 8th, 14th, 15th and 11th in that span. Meanwhile, in that same four-year run, Daniel has come closer to the NHL's Plus-Minus Award, but has been a bit less consistent at 5th, 5th, 64th and 45th.

Henrik and Daniel at 3rd and 6th overall. See the note at the end
of the article for differences between our list and's.
As a result the Sedins steady 5-on-5 play, Henrik enters the 2013-14 season ranked third among all active players in career plus-minus.  In some part to his current ironman streak, Henrik, as always, has an edge on Daniel at a career +200 to +172.  The only two above him?  Jaromir Jagr and Pavel Datsyuk -- one is likely the greatest offensive threat of his generation, while the other represents the best two-way forward of his.  In other words, Henrik stands among pretty heady company.  Daniel, meanwhile, ranks sixth* with Marian Hossa and Patrik Elias sandwiched between the twins.

(Borderline related: See BTD's January article on the Sedins' ranking among active players without a Stanley Cup.)

The Sedins, defence and shot blocking

Coming soon to a Sedin near you. Shot blocking!
Copyright The Province.
Much has been made since Tortorella's initial christening with the media about the Sedins' newfound expectation to be more defensively responsible. (See the National Post, PITB and The Province, to name just a small few.) That, as Torts has routinely indicated, will include penalty killing and yes -- not Henrik's ironman streak! -- blocking shots.

Now the idea of either Sedin throwing their graceful, talent-laden bodies in front of 100 mph slapshots is probably enough to make even Don Cherry question Torts' expectations. But the Sedins deserve a lot more credit for their defensive capabilities than doubters seem to give them.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Alex Edler's 2-game IIHF ban and Olympic ramifications

The heavy hand of the IIHF came down hard on Alex Edler this morning.  The Canucks defenceman, who was already forced to miss the last two games of the Worlds (a semi and a gold medal game), will have to additionally sit out the first two contests of Olympic play.  Though his unavailability for those opening matches now plays a factor in his eventual role for Sweden come February.

From an NHL perspective, the IIHF has a history of exaggerated suspensions.  With stricter rules for head shots and anything with the mere appearance of over-aggression, Canada's national teams often seem at a disadvantage when it comes to international punishment.  It's practically an annual tradition now that Canada's WJC team is depleted at some point in the tournament on account of suspensions.

So it is with some irony that Edler's increased ban was levied with a Canadian playing the role as victim.  But that's besides the point.  Any way you look at it, his knee-on-knee against Eric Staal was reckless.  And truth be told, given the IIHF's history, additional punishment was expected and, to a legitimate degree, warranted.  But a very large part of me protests this decision, nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Canucks to retire Bure's number 10

Back in April, a flurry of Bure activity in Vancouver seemed to offer fans of the Russian Rocket false hope that number 10 might finally end up in the rafters. Tonight, at the Canucks' annual Summer Summit, one of the team's most lively debates in history was resolved as it was announced that Bure's jersey would be retired.

Truth be told, the Canucks' end-game with Bure's April tour of BC Children's and Rogers Arena was more-or-less transparent.  By drawing out Bure's re-introduction to the Vancouver community, Canucks brass were afforded the opportunity to test the waters for reception.  And when the Rogers Arena faithful elected to give Bure a standing ovation during his in-game appearance, jersey retirement became a foregone conclusion.

Nonetheless, the organization did an impressive job of preventing the story from leaking in the days leading up. Save for a Sportsnet tweet mid-Summit, it appeared that all there would be for Canucks Nation to discuss at this event was Luongo and Tortorella.

As far as those issues are concerned, however, the crowd of 2,000 seemed to be uniformly behind Luongo (apparently season ticket holders don't accurately reflect say, the Twitter population) and Tortorella really couldn't be saying better things in his first month of appearances.

Nonetheless, just as detractors for Tortorella remain, so too do they exist for Bure's jersey retirement. This was no slam dunk on Aquilini and Gillis' part.  The reasons for number 10 to remain in circulation (to be worn by the Trevor Letowskis and Ryan Johnsons of Vancouver's hockey world) are well-documented.  Let alone Bure's less-than-ceremonious departure, this clearly seems to disrupt the community service requirement that Gillis once declared for jersey retirement.

As Bure and the city of Vancouver continue with this mutually-ingratiating process, however, the door is wide open for the Russian Rocket to start in that regard.  A handful of BC Children's patients back in April would likely argue that he's already begun.  And without reading too much into him being put on the spot, Bure's comments tonight seem to illustrate him as entirely receptive to any charity event that Gillis might ask of him. 

With regards to that infamous holdout, if you're familiar with a similar falling out that Patrick Roy had in Montreal (just a couple of years prior to Bure's West Coast depature), then you might have some added insight to the way things have seemed to resolve themselves here.

Once the Hall of Fame offered league-wide recognition for Roy, it no longer made any real practical sense for Montreal to deny him of local honours.  Within two years of his induction, the Canadiens finally put water under the bridge and gave one of their best ever a hero's return.  Enter Bure's Hall of Fame nod last summer.  Fast forward a year and here we are.  The Canucks have granted Bure official prodigal son status.

Let it be known that I am in no way insinuating that Bure's contributions and significance to this organization are analogous to Roy and the Canadiens.  But the parallels of historical bad blood and divisiveness among fans are there, nonetheless.  So too now is the practice of repairing broken relationships and giving their superstars what's due to them.

The detractors will say what they will, but truly, the Canucks need this.  Consecutive 60-goal seasons, a Calder and yes, a Triple Deke.  For an organization that doesn't have a lot of history to celebrate, the opportunity to celebrate and recognize Bure's unprecedented achievements should be welcomed. 

Without exaggeration, Bure was the most skilled and most exciting player the team has ever had.  And as put by Gillis, his generation of NHL players yielded no match in those regards either.

So commence the mad appetite for ceremony admission and retro skate jerseys.  Congratulations, Mr. Bure.  Well-deserved and long overdue.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Farewell to Schneider, Raymond and company [Top 10 video]

Following the Canucks' second straight first round exit, a roster shakeup to any degree seemed like a strong possibility.  Indeed, led by Cory Schneider, the 2013 off-season has spurred on a bevy of multi-year Canucks, ranging from marginal cog to roster stape, who have either already moved on or are awaiting alternate pastures.

In ascending order of overall impact, they are -- Andrew Ebbett, Andrew Alberts, Keith Ballard, Maxim Lapierre, Mason Raymond, Manny Malhotra and, of course,  Schneider.  Thanks in large part to Gillis' failure to land an immediate impact player from New Jersey, none of these vacancies have truly been filled as we enter the fourth day of free agency.  Though that's a diatribe for another time.

Depending on who you ask, however, the exodus of any one of the aforementioned seven players may be welcome news.  Ebbett couldn't seem to take advantage of any opportunity presented to him, Raymond has inspired a entire website dedicated to his inability to stay upright and even Schneider had vehement detractors for his lack of success when it really counted.  Just as easily, however, any of the departing seven could and, in many cases, should be defended with equal-to-greater zeal.

So in celebration of their time here and -- as is ritual for any player dear to anybody, anywhere -- to offer a proper YouTube send off, scroll down and enjoy BTD's Farewell Top 10 to Schneider, Raymond, Lapierre and Ballard.

As should be expected, Schneider dominates this Top 10 with three of his saves included.  Ditto for Raymond.  My apologies to Ebbett and Alberts, but I didn't think anyone wanted to see footage of either of them sitting in the press box.  And for highlights of Malhotra's time in Vancouver, see the compilation put together in February.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Cory Schneider, prophetic Devils and opportunities squandered

"He's a number one goalie in this league... He's that good."

The above quote is credited to Czech centre and omni-Devil, Patrik Elias.  Without knowing the proper context, one might easily assume that the New Jersey forward had been asked by some draft-day reporter to assess his newest teammate.  Elias' lofty praise for Schneider, however, dates back to February 24, 2012, after the former Canucks netminder backstopped his team to a 2-1 win in New Jersey.

At a time when Schneider was still an overqualified backup, he turned aside 30 of his future teammates' shots, standing opposite Martin Brodeur.  Aptly enough, Elias finished his post-game interview by adding, "There will be 29 teams in line to get him when the time is right."

Schneider with now ex-teammates during a 2012 pre-game warmup.
Thoroughly outplayed by Schneider, the NHL's all-time goaltending great offered his opinion of his up-and-coming counterpart: "A lot of teams will look at the guy to be a next coming... The team that'll be able to grab him will find themselves a number one goalie."

Prophesy, you Devils.

It seems difficult to imagine now, but it wasn't that long ago that a trade involving Schneider was an inevitability rather than the curveball it represented Sunday afternoon.  That said, it's not as if Elias and Brodeur were speaking with great clairvoyancy, but it is interesting nonetheless to see how highly Schneider was regarded, even in the less-exposed East -- and especially within the team that inevitably acquired him.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Canucks top five plays of the month - April 2013 edition

With the exception of one chill-inducing win in particular, Canucks fans should be content to leave the team's 7-5-1 April in the rear-view mirror -- though that goes without saying with playoff puck drop set for tomorrow night.  Nonetheless, BTD is here to put a damper on your post-season anticipation with a quick look back at the best of April.  Aforementioned win well-represented.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Henrik's records 605th career assist, continues to climb the all-time list

A week after recording his 600th career assist in a game against the Flames, Henrik Sedin has continued his climb among the league's best playmakers of all-time.  Assisting on Ryan Kesler's powerplay goal less than two minutes into the game, Henrik passed Nordique Hall of Famer Michel Goulet as the 73rd most prolific playmaker in NHL history.  And at 606 assists, the Canucks captain stands nine helpers behind yet another Hall member, Rod Gilbert, who represents the next rung on the NHL's all-time assists ladder.

Henrik eclipsed the former Nordique and Blackhawk forward's
604 assists in 155 fewer games. 

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

On Kesler's return and the hope for ensuing dominance

The last time Ryan Kesler made a triumphant return from long-term injury, the Canucks dropped a 4-3 game to the Dallas Stars and went on to lose five of seven games with the Selke-winner in the lineup.  This time around, the initial omens are far more encouraging.  Kesler's presence catalyzed a team performance that the final score failed to do proper justice.  Despite solving the Coyotes' irritable netminder just once, the Canucks outshot Smith and co. in excess of a two-to-one ratio. 

Currently averaging in the bottom-half of the league in shots on goal (28.3 per game), their 41-shot effort represents the Canucks' highest output thus far in 2013.  The only other time they hit 40 was February 4 against the Oilers, thanks to a seven-shot overtime.  (None sweeter than the last, mind you.)

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Derek Roy and the Canucks' March in review [with top five plays of the month]

As seemingly always, the Canucks have been a team of many faces this season – as capable of a six-game win streak as they are of losing to the worst team in their conference.  A 3-4-2 start to the month of March meant losing their divisional cushion on the Minnesota Wild.  Consequently, even an 6-1-0 run to finish the team's busiest month of the campaign (16 games in 28 days) wasn't enough to regain their lead atop the Northwest.  But that has as much to do with the Canucks' early-month struggles as it does Zach Parise and Ryan Suter finally paying dividends for the Wild.  Time will only tell how the respective Sabre-fying (yes, that's a word now) of either team will tip the Northwest scales.

While Derek Roy's capacity to jump start this team into consistency remains to be seen, one can imagine that the mere presence of a healthy, veteran centre in the lineup will do wonders in relieving pressure off the Sedins.  Taking nothing away from the trio of Jannik Hansen, Jordan Schroeder and Mason Raymond – easily the Canucks' most successful second line combination thus far in 2013 – Henrik and Daniel's best years have very neatly corresponded with the legitimate distraction that Ryan Kesler's 70-point pace represented.

Needless to say, a player like Roy has been sorely needed in Kesler's absence, but credit is nonetheless due to several from the supporting cast for filling in the secondary scoring quotient.  Among the most deserving has undoubtedly been Hansen, whose March exploits were summarized in BTD's previous article.  It takes a lot for a Canuck to outscore either of the Sedins, but for a nine-game stretch in which Hansen recorded two goals and five assists, he nearly outscored the two of them combined.  And over the entire 16-game March schedule, his 12 points were second only to Henrik's 13.

But what his aforementioned linemates have lacked in sheer will-power and overall production (Schroeder and Raymond had 4- and 9-point efforts in March), they have made up in far more BTD-friendly dangles and spin-o-ramas.  As such, Hansen's fellow speedsters are featured rather prominently in the latest installment of the top five plays of the month.  Honey Badger may often get what he wants these days, but apparently not if it involves any sort of highlight reel dangle.

See the top five plays of the month for March 2013 below.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Honey Badger weaseling Canucks into the win column

Hansen most likely staring down a pot of honey.
With a pair of 1-0 shutout wins in the Canucks' past three games, buzz words like "the intangibles" and "workmanlike effort" have abounded.  To be fair, the Columbus Blue Jackets' 2.15 goals per game ranks last in the league.  The Los Angeles Kings, however, are seventh in that regard (2.88) and were held to just 20 shots on Saturday.  During that game, Jannik Hansen had an assist and two of the Canucks' 13 shots on goal.

It should come as no surprise then, that the Canucks' workmanlike prototype has been leading the way for the past month with 12 points in March.  The Danish winger of uniquely-pitched fame has enjoyed a much-publicized surge in production this year.  If you had been told in January that the third-line staple would be the Canucks' highest-scoring non-Sedin thirty-three games in, you might have imagined that Burrows, Raymond, Higgins, Edler and probably even Bieksa had all joined Kesler and Booth on the injured reseve.  But with 8 goals and 11 assists, Hansen sits third in team scoring at a pace that would see him approach 50 points over an 82-game season.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Jason Garrison and the Adrian Aucoin effect

I don't really do #TGATT all that often – neither following nor contributing.  But lo and behold, after following Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets online, it is possible to parlay seemingly innocuous twitter banter into a full-fledged article.  (Cheers, @kerbjack27.)  Who knew?

Ah, Adrian Aucoin.  As far as slapshots go, consider him the Canucks' antecedent to Sami Salo.  Aucoin, of course, set that record with a 23-goal anomaly in 1998–99, breaking Doug Halward's 16-year-old mark by four.  And yes, the all-time high still belongs to him.  Between Ed Jovanovski, Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler and the dearly-departed Salo, no Canucks defenceman has come within even five of Aucoin's mark since.¹  In fact, of the 23 markers, his 18 powerplay goals was a league-wide record until Sheldon Souray snapped it by one in 2006–07.²  It also remains the Canucks record by four.³  To put that into context, the closest total since was Salo's 9 man-advantage markers in 2005–06.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Canucks' February round-up [with top five plays of the month]

My, how a month can change.  The Canucks began February with a six-game winning streak (with one carried over from January), propelling them to nearly the top of the Western Conference.  Then they played Dallas on the 15th and the team went 2-4-2 to finish the month.  It's as if nobody got what they wanted for Valentine's Day and they spent the rest of February moping about it.

Meanwhile, Ryan Kesler's much-anticipated return was supposed to put Vancouver over the edge.  Dare we say Chicago territory?  But that hero's welcome was tempered in threefold.  First, his return seemed to have required the end of Malhotra's career (plug BTD video here).  And rather than bolstering the lineup, the Canucks turned into a .500 team with their number-two centre.  Finally, by the end of the month, he was back on the IR with a broken foot.  So it goes.

If after these past few games then, you need to go to a place where, like Howard Campbell's tombstone, everything was beautiful and nothing hurt, I've got just the thing.  The Canucks' top five plays of the month:

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Japandroids: Not Nickelback, but not thrilling either

I like the Japandroids.  I really do.  So I want to like that "The House That Heaven Built" won the Canucks' cleverly-dubbed NU2 contest.  Of the six choices, they're the closest to my own personal taste in music (which isn't saying much given the possibilities).  But forgive me, local indie talent, I'm simply not convinced. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Luongo ties Broda in all-time shutouts, passes Hasek in games played

Unfortunately for anybody watching, it was a classic 1-0 game against the Predators last night in Nashville.  Fortunately for Roberto Luongo, it meant facing a season-low 23 shots for his second shutout in eight starts.  And in the process of blanking the Preds, he made two significant moves up the NHL's all-time goaltending lists.  Luongo simulatensouly tied Turk Broda for 15th overall in shutouts (62) and surpassed Dominik Hasek to enter the top 20 in games played (736).

Luongo remains behind Hasek in wins (344 to 389) and shutouts (62 to 81), however.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Canucks 3, Blackhawks 4 (SO): Hansen's elbow, Schneider's glove and holy crap Chicago's good this year

Post-game articles are not our forté at BTD (which I'm sure you could have gleaned from this article appearing two days after the fact).  But when you're a Canucks fan, games against the Blackhawks have this capacity for obsessive brooding, especially after a shootout loss. 

So for my own cathartic purpoes, three quick rambling thoughts I wanted to unload before tonight's contest against Dallas:

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Five years after Naslund, Henrik Sedin's 757th

A cross-crease one-timer to Burrows.  Poetic justice at its finest.  Henrik's 757th point to pass Markus Naslund could not have been achieved on a more fitting play.  After receiving the puck from Daniel, he unleashes one of those seeing-eye passes off the rush, landing right on the tape through a maze of sticks.  It's what we've come to expect from the captain in his historic tenure here. 

Henrik achieved the feat in his 905th game, 21 more than Naslund

Friday, February 15, 2013

[Video] Best of Manny Malhotra and the Canucks

Companion video to BTD's article on Malhotra's season-ending IR placement.  From his first goal as a Canuck to his Finals return in 2011, here are his five most memorable moments in Vancouver:

* Update: For commentary on all five highlights from Daniel Wagner, see this video featured on Pass It To Bulis and on Canucks Army's "Afternoon Headshots"! *

All the best, Manny.


Gillis on Malhotra: 'The hardest thing I have done'

When it was announced yesterday that Mike Gillis was shutting Manny Malhotra down for the season, even the most positive-minded among us could put the decision into context.  In the last year of his contract and his performance in sharp decline since his eye injury, it can be fairly assumed that Malhotra played his last game as a Canuck last Saturday against Calgary.  And as ubiquitously respected as the centreman is around the league, when your general manager declares that he cannot with a straight conscience let you play, the chances of another team signing you on is bleak.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Henrik within four points of Canucks history

Despite being held pointless in Thursday night's win against the Minnesota Wild, Henrik Sedin sits within four points of passing Markus Naslund (756 points) for the Canucks' all-time record.  And with Vancouver kicking off a four-game stand at Rogers Arena tonight, Canucks fans are treated with the strong possibility Henrik will become the most prolific player in team history on home ice.

Henrik's pending record, representing the sheer longevity of his value to the Canucks, comes on the heels of another major individual achievement on the team.  When Chris Tanev scored the most dramatic first NHL goal in recent memory earlier this week, the team and, by extension, the entire city was compelled to celebrate the young defenceman.

As far as NHL firsts go, Tanev's goal had a noticeably added flavour to it.  Playing in his third NHL season, the milestone was a long time in the making.  (Mind you, he achieved the goal in just his 63rd NHL game.). Because Tanev's value to the team had been established so much earlier than his first goal, the milestone yielded that extra level of deservedness.

Now compare Tanev's three-ish years to Henrik's career of service to the Canucks and you can begin to imagine what kind of recognition is due for Vancouver's captain when he eclipses Naslund.  Nevermind that he is mired in a slump of two points in the last six games.  Canucks fans are notoriously incapable of looking beyond a player's most recent performance, a fact that might shed light on the complete lack of media coverage regarding Henrik's forthcoming record.

Two strong games could see Henrik overtake Naslund's
franchise-high 756 career points.

This is one of those rare instances that an achievement can summarize all of a player's contributions to a team.  In this case, Henrik's inevitable 757th point might call to mind an Art Ross, a Hart, countless divisional titles and a run to the Finals.  Canucks fans have the opportunity to tangibly celebrate the era of success that both Henrik and Daniel have led in this city.

And while all the pomp and glamour and attention just seems so... un-Henrik, Vancouver owes him the melodrama that these kinds of achievements warrant.  Anything less would be an insult.

So whether it's a tap-in to Burrows or a one-timer to Edler, make the 757th one memorable, Vancouver.  Four to go and counting.


Monday, February 04, 2013

Top 5 Plays of the Month | January 2013

New CBA in hand, January began with a renewed purpose to sit for hours in front of the television.  As far as first months of the season typically go for the Canucks, Schneider's Luongo's team was not half bad.  With a 48-game season, much had been said about the Canucks not being able to afford their usual sluggish start.

After an unclimactic and severely embarassing home opener, it seemed like that's the direction Vancouver was headed.  A final January record of 3-2-2 isn't going to do much to change the team's reputation, but signs of life abound for the reigning Presidents' Trophy winners, nonetheless.

The Canucks' first month was highlighted by 5-0 and 3-0 wins against the Ducks (returning the favour for their home opener) and Avalanche, respectively.  With a different goalie in net for each win, Schneider and Luongo's matching shutouts reflected the month's central storyline in Vancouver.  Whose team is this?

For the first time since the tandem was established, the pressure is squarely on Schneider to perform and it's Luongo who's playing with nothing to lose.  With the exception of Schneider's shutout against Anaheim, it shows.

As pervasive as the crease drama continues to be, however, goaltending wasn't the only emerging storyline in Vancouver to start the year.  It's been nine months since the Canucks' first-round exit, but playoff Edler is still here.  And judging by Jason Garrison's play, he's contagious.  Meanwhile, Mason Raymond actually looks like he could score 25 goals in this league again.  And finally, Zack Kassian.  (No explanation necessary.)

As a 3-2-2 record suggests, you take the good with the bad.  Luckily, if there's one place Edler can play defence, it's in BTD's Top 5 Plays of the Month.  January edition.  Enjoy!


Friday, February 01, 2013

Sedins look to snap rare streak vs. Keith and company

With 10 points between them through the first four games of the season (6 for Daniel, 4 for Henrik), the Sedins produced pretty much as we've come to expect for the past half decade.  Since then, however, the twins have been pointless in three consecutive contests against the Sharks, Kings and Avalanche.

Besides retribution against Keith,
Daniel should look to snap he and
Henrik's current 3-game pointless slide.
Preparing for their rematch against Duncan Keith's elbow tonight, the Sedins are faced with the exceedingly rare prospect of going four straight games without a point.  The scenario is as inconceivable as either Sedin actually seeking retribution against Keith tonight.  (Though Dustin Brown might be quick to argue.) 

Daniel and Henrik have gone on similar pointless streaks, individually, since hitting their prime.  But the prevalence of neither of them recording a point for an extended span?

Imagine that both Sedins are held off the scoresheet once more tonight.  It would mark just the fourth time since the last lockout that they have gone four straight games without a point (details below).  Playoffs, notwithstanding.  That accounts for seven full seasons.

As far as other contemporary duos in the NHL go, that has got to be an unprecedented statistic.  Sure, the Sedins have been overshadowed in that seven-year span by, say... Spezza-Heatley, Perry-Getzlaf or currently, Thornton-Marleau.  But none of those combinations have been as consistent over as long a period of time as the Sedins.

The genetic advantage, no doubt.

Nonetheless, current circumstances rank near the very bottom of the Sedins' capacity as one chromosomally-mashed-up unit.  In the trio of instances in which they have both gone four-or-more games without a point, the Canucks are 6-8-0.  Over the current 48-game schedule, Vancouver can't afford sub-.500 play.  As it has so customarily been the case, that's up to the Sedins.  And against the 6-0-1 Blackhawks, it starts tonight.

Sedins' pointless streaks of 4-or-more-games since 2005–06
*March 1–10, 2012 (STL, BUF, DAL, WPG, MTL; Canucks record: 2-3)
*March 10–15, 2008 (LAK, ANA, PHX, DAL; Canucks record: 2-2)
*April 13–21, 2007 (Playoffs, games 2–6 vs. DAL; Canucks record: 2-3)


Friday, January 18, 2013

Sedins among the league's Cup-less best

**UPDATE: See this article get a shout out on CanucksArmy's "Afternoon Headshots: Januay 21st" (scroll to the bottom).

Way back in August, I posted an article regarding Roberto Luongo's standing among the most successful goalies in NHL history never to win a Stanley Cup.  Going by regular season wins, he ranks dubiously at the top among active goalies and third all-time.  So because playing in Vancouver for an extended period of time just tends to have this championship-less effect on players, how do the Canucks' other high-profile vets rank among active players without a ring?

The numbers are decidedly less striking than Luongo's, but at 747 career points, Henrik Sedin's production ranks him 9th overall in that regard.  Trailing him by 29 points is Daniel at 13th.

At the top of the list are Daniel Alfredsson (1,082 points), Joe Thornton (1,078) and Jarome Iginla (1,073) – three players who, like the teams they play for, have their very best years behind them.  So too may be the case for the Sedins, but I think consensus could be had around the league that Vancouver remains a higher probability for a Cup this season than Ottawa, San Jose or Calgary.

Who, then, among this list of mostly aging NHL stars,¹ stands the best chance of beating the Sedins to a championship?  If the past two decades of NHL hockey has taught us anything, it's that the Red Wings and Devils are to be considered near-annual contenders.  In that case, could Todd Bertuzzi do in Detroit what he couldn't as a member of the West Coast Express?  And not that Ilya Kovalchuk particularly cares about the NHL, but the Parise-less Devils aren't completely out of the question.

Nonetheless, it appears that Henrik and Daniel have the edge over their fellow luckless veterans.

If, for whatever reason, you need that statement quantified, you can look to any of the recently-updated betting odds online.  Bovada has the Canucks as 9:1 favourites, ranking them third behind the Penguins (8:1) and Rangers (8.5:1).  (The odds-makers clearly have a more positive take on the Canucks' second line than anyone in Vancouver does.)

But the fact that the Sedins are on this list at all underlines this slowly creeping notion that Vancouver's team is, to a certain degree, aging.  While Zack Kassian and Nicklas Jensen have been promising, any major contributions from them are still a few years out.  Giving Cory Schneider the crease certainly helps in lowering the core's average age, but the Canucks remain, undisputedly, the Sedins' team. 

Simply put, the Canucks live and die with the Sedins.  And life has been pretty good with the twins (when was the last time in team history Vancouver has been such routine Cup contenders), but they can't play at their current level indefinitely.  At 32 years of age, common wisdom suggests they have two or three elite-level seasons left in them.  Possibly more, but it is a rare breed of player that ages as such.

It is now...ish or never.

The Canucks' second line will inevitably return this season, at which point, the Sedins will have another legitimate shot at adding a championship to their already-prestigious NHL mantels.  The Daniel Alfredssons of the league are simply out of luck.


¹With the exception of 29-year-old Kovalchuk, all players on the list are 30-plus.

*Read the online discussion regarding this article on the forums here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Steve Nash and Mark Messier: Basketball for Canadian Dummies

If Steve Nash were the type of person that required a lot of attention, he would have quite a dilemma.  As a skinny, white Canadian incapable of dunking, he commands an undeservedly miniscule amount of fanfare in the NBA.  Meanwhile in Canada, where the reverse is true, the average sports enthusiast's puck-riddled brain wants to, but cannot properly, appreciate his genius.  Yours truly, included.

So when the Lakers point guard became the fifth player to record 10,000 career assists on Tuesday night, I scrolled through the NBA record books pretending to know exactly how prestigious it was to be in the company of one Mark Jackson (third all-time).

While the other three players to reach 10,000 helpers – John Stockton, Jason Kidd and Magic Johnson – yield a significantly higher profile than Jackson, those names simply do not mean much in Canada.  They don't, at least, to me.  So rather than continue feigning NBA expertise, I gave into my 2 a.m. stupor and... wait for it... turned to the NHL record books in hopes of understanding the basketball milestone.

A hockey-based analysis of an NBA achievement.  In honour of the the country's greatest basketball export, it was the most Canadian response I could think of.  If Nash's statistical ranking were applied in an NHL context, where would he rank?  Is he an Adam Oates?  Dare I suggest, a Ron Francis?

Well, at fifth overall, his hockey doppleganger appears to be Paul Coffey at 1,135 assists.  For those of you appropriately questioning the validity of this endeavour, I propose to you that 10,000 assists in the NBA are uncannily akin to 1,100 in the NHL.  (One-thousand would be a nice, round number, but the extra 100 seems to account for what appears to be longer careers in the NHL.)  An elite passer in the NBA should boast somewhere around a 10.0 assists-per-game pace, while the same such player in the NHL hovers at about a-tenth of that rate.  Meanwhile, both leagues typically operate on an 82-game schedule. 

Five players in the NBA's 10,000-assist club.  An equal five in the NHL at 1,100.  And just as Wayne Gretzky put his record-setting total permanently out of range, so too has John Stockton.  Way to help this ridiculous comparison along, sporting gods. 

Unlike Coffey, however, Nash is still pluggin' away at his trade.  With 8.9 assists per game at 38 years old, his current output remains three-tenths above his career average.  (Forget Paul Coffey; Nash is clearly the NBA's response to Gordie Howe.)  At that rate, he will have passed Johnson and Jackson by the end of the season for third overall.  Depending on how many years Kidd has left, Nash has an outside chance at second-best all-time... better known as Ron Francis stature.  Unfortunately, third means Mark Messier for Canada's basketball legend, a fate no one even remotely from Vancouver deserves.

But nevermind that (or any of this, if you lack a sense of humour).  Point is, we need to celebrate Nash as we would any of hockey's equivalents.  The reasons are exactly 10,014 and counting.


Monday, January 07, 2013

The Higgins-Ebbett-and-Booth effect

Fist pump with my Sunday morning coffee.  It's over.  Cue the angelic chorus... The endless tweets.

Cue the renewed storylines that everyone has an opinion on by now.  When and where will Luongo go?  Is Schneider a capable NHL starter?  What's Kesler timeline?  How many goals will Garrison score?  No doubt, these questions are crucially intertwined with any continued success the Canucks hope to have come glorious puck drop.  With the lockout preventing these storylines from actually playing out, the anticipation has compounded.

But behind every headline are the unsung stories that could ultimately mean just as much for a team.  Case in point: It is unlikely that after acquiring Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Simon Gagne last off-season, Los Angeles fans had any idea that their most important player that year, far and away, would end up being Jonathan Quick.

So while we'll justifiably continue our anticipation of the trade, don't forget these next three storylines (in no particular order) that you may not have given as much consideration thus far.

Andrew Ebbett to the rescue

Last season, Ebbett competed for a job that no one hoped he'd win against Cody Hodgdson.  Indeed, that two-man race ended with him spending the majority of the campaign in a suit and tie.  While Hodgson was an immediate hit, little attention was paid to Ebbett's success when he did figure into the lineup.  Granted, it's not the biggest sample size, but in the 18 games he played last season, he was on pace for 22 goals.  Needless to say, that would be a welcome pace with Kesler out of the lineup.

Barring a significant asset at centre in exchange for Lu, it appears the diminutive forward is a lock for opening night this time around.  Though he'll be competing with yet another rookie hopeful for second line duty, Ebbett's experience seems to give him a clear edge over Jordan Schroeder.  Let the vertically-challenged battle begin.

Chris Higgins' contract year

If you're going to write about a Canuck entering a contract year, most people want to talk about Alex Edler.  But seeing as we're trying to unearth the upcoming season's unsung stories, what better player to start with than 2012 "unsung hero" Chris Higgins.

After playing a supporting role as a deadline acquisition in 2011, the Canucks rewarded him with a two-year, $3.8 million deal.  Higgins returned the favour with a nearly identical points-per-game (0.61) and cap hit ($1.9 million) combination as Burrows' (0.65 at $2 million).  That said, Higgins was literally just as much of a bargain as Burr was last season, which says a lot.  And just as the Picourt, Quebec-native cashed in with a four-year, $18 million deal last September, Higgins is also due for a raise, should he maintain his pace.  (Mind you, I doubt anyone expects Gillis to pattern a similar deal for him.)

For that reason, expect the utility winger to play with the same urgency he showed last year, pre-bacterial infection and all that general unpleasantness.  That's good news for the Canucks, who are a  better team with Higgins, who – when healthy – seems to be their most consistent forward.

David Booth's secondary scoring

Way back in July, when lockouts were not yet part of our daily vocabulary, BTD ran an article about Booth holding the unlikely key to Canucks success in 2012–13.  With Kesler out long-term, the former 40-goal star-in-the-making would be the highest-profile forward not named Sedin or, arguably, Burrows on the team.  As such, he would shoulder the burden of secondary scoring.

Fast forward six months and the story remains unchanged.  Unlike Higgins, Booth is no good to the Canucks in the bottom-six and he is no bargain.  Gillis put him in a Vancouver uniform to score goals and he'll pay him at least $4.5 million for three more years to do so.

While a mediocre Booth isn't absolutely detrimental to the Canucks, a lot more of this will go a long way.  How long?  Put it this way.  The 2010–11 Canucks showed the league that having two elite goal-scorers in front of a stocked back-end is a nearly unstoppable combination.  If/when Kesler returns, imagine what they could do with three 40-goal scorers playing in top form.  That said, there is a lot riding on Booth living up to his cap hit.

Maybe even a Stanley Cup.


Friday, January 04, 2013

Still something to prove for RNH and company

When Ryan Nugent-Hopkins confirmed that he and his shoulder would be available for the World Juniors this year, it appeared that Canada would be without excuse.  (Not that they ever are.)  The blissful effect that an NHL lockout can have on Canada's gold medal hopes at the World Juniors has been well-reported for months.  In Nugent-Hopkins, Canada was supposed to have a Patrice Bergeron 2.0 – the type of player that, thanks to the lockout, would catalyze utter dominance, a la 2005.  With even more offensive upside than Bergeron had as a 19-year-old, it seemed the sky was the limit for where the Nuge could take Canada.

That was all just 24 hours ago.  As it currently stands, Canada will play for bronze for the second consecutive year.  What exactly happened?  Given the country's expectations for Nugent-Hopkins, in particular, it might be all too easy to center the blame on the Oilers star.  Having gone pointless against the United States in their semifinal loss, it's safe to say that Canada required more of their captain.  But if we're going to uphold the 2005 comparison, Bergeron's supporting cast was, in a word, immaculate (Perry, Getzlaf, Richards, Carter, Phaneuf, etc, etc.).  Nugent-Hopkins may have been held off the scoresheet, but Canada's roster as a whole failed to perform against the Americans.

From tournament get-go, it was apparent that this Team Canada was a work in progress.  Virtually anything they did in their own zone was alarming and their powerplay was worse still.  Too often Canada's defence seemed incapable of a proper breakout or proper coverage.  Crossing either blueline seemed a chore.  Fortunately, they were able to hone their game against Germany and Slovakia, after which they did improve.  So much so that they manhandled Russia after holding on against the States the first time around. 

With a couple days off for bad habits and lazy plays to settle themselves back into Canada's repertoire, however, they followed a perfect game against Russia with their worst performance of the tournament. 

Often times, Canada gets away with their B-game at the World Juniors, even against the US.  But Canada was as bad as American goaltender John Gibson was good.  And that ultimately put the game – and tournament – away for Nugent-Hopkins and company. 

Nevertheless, it can be hard to keep things in perspective as Canadian hockey fans.  This country's juniors have so consistently spoiled us in previous World Juniors that playing for bronze embitters us far too easily.  This Friday, Canada will attempt their 15th consecutive medal.  Let that settle in until you feel pride in this country's junior program again.  It is a phenomenal accomplishment in any tournament for any sport.

So as much as it seems like it, this World Juniors is not yet over.  There is still pride to be won.  Nugent-Hopkins remains the tournament's best player and will have to play the part if Canada wants to beat Russia a second time on Friday.  Bring it home, boys.


Thursday, January 03, 2013

The NHL and Pride Rock: A summary of locked out Canucks in Europe

NHL circles have been abuzz for the past couple of days as the league's highest-profile players competing abroad have either already returned to North America or are planning to do so shortly.  Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza promptly ended their European tours following Canada's Spengler Cup triumph, while Cory Schneider and Matt Duchene have put their team on notice

If the NHL were the Lion King, this would be that opening scene where all the animals are flocking to Pride Rock.  In anticipation of something big.  You know... Ahhhh-sabenyaaaa...

Anyways, the implication is clear.  NHL play is nigh.  So with the expectant return of Canucks players competing overseas, their performances abroad can now be guaged with some sense of finality.  Because we can still only speculate the lockout's end, this may, in fact, be jumping the gun, but hakuna matata right?

Not including Mason Raymond, who hasn't yet played for his new Swedish team, the Canucks have had six players compete in Europe.  In order of their signing, they are Nicklas Jensen, Dale Weise, Jannik Hansen and Cory Schneider.  Just in case you haven't been among the more compulsive of us, checking up on our displaced heroes game-by-game, here's what they've been up to all this time:

Nicklas Jensen; AIK (Elitserien)
32 GP, 12 G, 4 A, 16 Pts, 16 PIM

It was asserted early on that the Canucks' youngest Dane is remaining in Sweden regardless of the lockout.  For developmental purposes, it's not the worst idea, but you have to imagine that team brass have to at least be reconsidering the notion several months later.  Jensen quickly took Sweden by storm, scoring eight goals in his first 15 games with AIK.  While his pace has slowed considerably, his 12 goals still accounts for nearly one-sixth of his team's total (AIK sits third-last in Sweden).  The fact that he is also tied for sixth in league goal-scoring as a 19-year-old tells you that he might just be the Canucks' surest thing since Hodgson (yes, I said the H-word). Case in point, 2:25 of this video.

If he's made available for international play, look for him to dominate for Denmark at their Olympic qualifying tournament against such competition as Slovenia and Ukraine in February.

Dale Weise; Tilburg Trappers (Eredivisie)
18 GP, 22 G, 24 A, 46 Pts, 77 PIM

The first Canucks roster player to sign abroad, Weise sent blogs and discussion boards in a tizzy after scoring eight points in his first two games.  The whole tough-guy-turned-Dutch-superstar schtick really was too good to pass up for the few legitimate outlets actually covering his stint with Tilburg.  In reference to having chosen number 88 (his birth year) with Tilburg, Pass it to Bulis declared him "the Eric Lindros of Holland".

For as much comedic relief as Weise's wild success provided, however, some bona fide credit is due to the fourth-liner.  When he first signed, it appeared anyone could have really cared less.  Ultimately, he made people back home actually notice a marginal player competing abroad by leading the league in scoring.  Someone tell Gillis to sign linemate Josh Prudden, pronto! 

But what I really wanna know is what on earth happened when he got 30 penalty minutes for "abuse of officials" last week?

Jannik Hansen; Tappara Tampere (SM-liiga)
18 GP, 6 G, 10 A, 16 Pts, 39 PIM

Not long after the Dutch Lindros signed in Europe, Hansen followed suit.  After collecting a season-high three points in his debut with Tappara on November 1, the Danish winger has been steadily producing at nearly a point-a-game pace.  To put that into context, fellow NHLers Valtteri Filppula, Jussi Jokinen and Mikko Koivu – all of whom enjoy a far higher profile than Hansen – are scoring at similar rates in the competitive SM-liiga.

Currently on a five-game point streak, Hansen was even moved to centre recently after 17-year-old Aleksander Barkov left for the World Juniors.  Looks like the Canucks can end that search for a third-line centre... 'm I right?

Cory Schneider; HC Ambri-Piotta (National League A)
8 GP; 4 W, 4 L, 3.22 GAA, .913 Sv%

While rivals Boston and Chicago had Bergeron, Seguin and Patrick Kane competing in Switzerland early in the season, the Canucks lacked a legitimate star to follow abroad.  Enter Cory Schneider and the dual citizenship unbeknownst to nearly anyone.

In Weise's case, nobody anticipated cared if he would dominate the Dutch league, whereas that was the exact expectation for Schneider in Switzerland.  The only problem was, quite simply, Ambri-Piotta.  Schneider's new team was (and still is) second-last in the league, a fact that is clearly reflected in the netminder's statline.  Despite a respectable .913 save percentage (including four 40-save performances), his GAA is sky-high at 3.22. 

Nonetheless, when he wasn't getting danced by Kane in shootouts, Schneider was lifting his team into respectability.  In eight games, Schneider is .500; by comparison, Ambri-Piotta was 7-19 previously.  Having Matt Duchene defect from Sweden shortly after Schneider's debut certainly didn't hurt either.

Outside of league play, Schneider was also lent out to HC Fribourg-Gotteron for the always bizarrely-formatted Spengler Cup.  Splitting starts with Benjamin Conz (of 2010 World Junior fame), he went 0-2.  After allowing two goals on 17 shots to HC Vitkovice Steel in group play, he was lit up by Duchene and the Team Canada juggernaut in the semifinals.

Hopefully it won't be too long before Schneider has a team to match his calibre playing in front of him.  So here's to Schneids exacting revenge on Kane in NHL play.  And to Weise continuing his 2.5 points-per-game pace with the Canucks.

Vancouver needs its Dutch Lindros.