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Wait, What Slump?

Posted by Jason Chen, 25 January 2011 · 148 views

Islanders Garth Snow Evgeni Nabokov Mikael Samuelsson Senators Bryan Murray Cory Clouston Kings Mason Raymond Tony Gallagher
I wrote last week in my entry "Ups and Downs" that despite what everyone seems to think, this team was not in a slump. To recap, I think a slump is something like what the Kings are going through. The Kings, a team many picked to break out this year given their maturing young stars, finished October with 8 wins and 3 losses, and then kicked off 4 straight wins in December. By no stretch of the imagination was this a fluke - this is a team, after all, with a franchise centre in Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, and Jonathan Quick. As of right now the Kings sit 11th in the West. That's a slump. A team that obviously has the tools to win but short of firing Terry Murray or Dean Lombardi has tried everything it can to break out of its funk but only to fail time after time. The Canucks lost 4 in a row prior to a 7-1 drubbing of Dallas, but in those 4 defeats, 2 came in shootouts and one in overtime. That's not a slump, that's just a bump. Of course, having Kari Lehtonen play like he belongs in a beer league helps, but that's besides the point. It's also further proof that the Canucks (read: not specifically Luongo) are horrendous at shootouts, which again begs the question why Vigneault refuses to practise shootouts up until this year, but then you have to blame the Canucks for putting themselves in that position in the first place.

If you're talking individual slumps, then you might have something there, but let's put everything into perspective. Stats are the most misleading aspect of sports. Nothing beats watching players and a game with a naked eye. If you're watching it live, even better. Sports scouting is not done through statistics. (Unless it's baseball, but that's a different topic altogether). It's certainly helpful and at least gives you an idea of how the player is performing, but by no means does it tell the entire story. A 20-goal scorer in the NHL, on average, will score a goal about once every four games. That's not bad, but remember that's the average. Since most scorers in the NHL are streaky and feast-or-famine type players, if that player scores a hat trick in one game, the law of averages say that he has a good chance of going the next twelve games or so without a goal.

Take, for example, Mikael Samuelsson. His goal vs. Dallas was his first in 15 games. Before that dry spell, he was on a tear, with 5 points in 4 games (Dec. 20-26). Before that, he had gone 7 games without a goal (Dec. 1-18). Even before that, he had another 7-game goalless drought (Oct. 19-Nov. 4). Goalless droughts for him aren't unusual. So, 15 games is a little longer than anyone would like, but Samuelsson's still on pace for about 20 goals, which would still rank among his career highs. His feast-or-famine scoring ability couldn't be more apparent than last year when he got hot at the right time. Mason Raymond's 11-game goalless streak (Jan. 3-22) sounds terrible, but he had scored a hat trick two games before he got hurt. He's yet to find his groove, just less than one month removed from a hand injury and constantly bounced around in the lineup. Given his pace, he's still on track for roughly 20 goals, like Samuelsson. Manny Malhotra's gone pointless for an entire month, but he also went pointless last year in the month of May and had just one point in April and May combined. He's still on track for his career season averages of a dozen goals and 30-odd points. No more needs to be said about how streaky Raffi Torres can be. The only one that kind of baffles me is Jeff Tambellini, who's getting tons of scoring chances, shoots the puck very well, but just can't find the net. Even very good goal scorers, like Phil Kessel and Marian Gaborik, are prone to stretches of zero production. Before Gaborik's 4-goal outburst vs. Toronto he went 8 games without a goal and Kessel is currently mired in a 7-game drought for the third time this season. Neither Samuelsson nor Raymond are at that talent level so naturally I shrug when they don't score for 7 games. It's expected. When the Sedins are in a 7-game pointless drought, however, then you have a problem...

When Dan Hamhuis scored, The Province's Tony Gallagher tweeted: "Hamhuis' first in 25 games not terribly meaningful but after that long we're pretty sure he'll take it."

What? Does Gallagher even realize that with Hamhuis' current pace he's on pace to tie or break his career high of 7? Does Gallagher even realize that Hamhuis averages about 25 points per season? (I'm writing that 38-point season off, same with Samuelsson's 30 goals. Don't think we'll see either post those totals again). No one's mistaking Hamhuis for Shea Weber. I'm pretty sure Hamhuis isn't bothered by the fact that he hasn't scored in 25 games because that's not his game and he knows it. He's a dependable defense-first player that's occasionally seeing powerplay time this year because for whatever reason, Vigneault refuses to play Ballard (using Tanev instead vs. Dallas) on the man advantage. But I know better than to argue with results. Vancouver fans and media have been absolutely spoiled this year with such a great team that can, on most nights, seemingly score at will. Once we lost 4 games (3 of which we have collected points) everyone panicked. I like a win as much as the next guy but let's not lose perspective here. Had the Canucks continued their 3-2-4 "slumping" pace, that's still 91 points over a full season, a playoff-bound total.

Okay, enough Canucks. Let's move ahead. I've had some time to digest the Evgeni Nabokov situation. The whole fiasco is a complete microcosm of why the Islanders still stink: management constantly overrating their value. What do I mean? I mean that Garth Snow thinks Long Island and a decrepit Nassau Coliseum is an attractive place to play, even though Manhattan and the much more storied Rangers are across town. This is a guy who was convinced he had a legitimate shot at signing Ilya Kovalchuk. That he thinks Nabokov, a player who has clearly earned enough money and is much more interested in a lengthy playoff run, would want to play for a team that's headed towards the lottery is lunacy. Is it even in the Islanders' best interests to play veterans and try to win games? The Islanders can't flip him back to Detroit (or any other team) for a pick because Nabokov would have to clear waivers again (he won't). Neither camp is moving and so the Islanders have suspended Nabokov. Dumb. The Islanders are supposed to be geared towards their youngsters. They don't need this distraction and what does this tell Islander players of their current situation when a guy who couldn't find a suitor during the offseason won't come play? Nabokov made it clear his intention was to play for Detroit, and from the information I've gathered, the Islanders didn't bother calling ahead and gauging Nabokov's interest in joining them. There were reports that Nabokov had hung up on Snow on a phone call (after he was claimed), but only because Nabokov didn't realize it was Snow. Does that sound as fishy to you as it does to me? It's not like Snow's brand new to the scene. Snow's quickly garnered a reputation as a very aggressive and sometimes confrontational GM. When he found out Nabokov wasn't coming you don't think he could've went into Bruce Boudreau-mode? If I were Nabokov, I'd hang up on him too. I'm not trying to start rumours or conspiracy theories, but that's just the way I envision it went down. By all means, Snow played within the rules, but that doesn't mean it's not a dumb move (see also: Lowe, Kevin and Penner, Dustin).

An equally baffling move is Eugene Melnyk's decision to stick with Bryan Murray and Cory Clouston even though he's essentially admitted that the season's lost. Doesn't that make Murray and Clouston lame ducks? Melnyk may want to keep Murray beyond this season as a senior advisor but for a team that is in dire need of a new game plan, a new perspective, isn't that counter-intuitive? If the re-build starts now, wouldn't it better to bring in a new guy now and let him sell off the assets at the deadline for picks and prospects to establish his own foundation of the team? It seems as though the Sens are delaying the process of moving in a much-needed new direction.

And by keeping Clouston, whatever motivational advantage Murray would've had by saying "we're not making any coaching changes, so suck it up and play like he wants you to play" has simply disappeared. I mean, what kind of affect would that have on a guy like Alex Kovalev, who on some nights really looks like he couldn't care less? Or Sergei Gonchar, who is probably really regretting turning down the Pens' two-year offer. On the other hand, you could argue that by doing so you could really tell the difference between players who are self-motivated and those who aren't and need to be shown the door ASAP. Some players may simply wish to play hard because they're looking for that big deal in the summer (Chris Philips, Kovalev) but it's kind of an interesting way to see which players respond and which don't. It's not on the record, but there's a belief that there are only two untouchables on the current roster: Daniel Alfredsson (declining) and Erik Karlsson (stud). It might change over the course of the next two months. Sometimes, you just never know with Eugene Melnyk.

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