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oldnews

When the Canucks were ousted in the first round of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, the disappointment was obviously considerable - and the debates that have ensued have been equally unceremonial. In hindsight, the order of things may have helped the dust settle. Before media and fans could embark on a feeding frenzy calling for players to be dumped and coaches to be given walking orders, the first matter to address was whether Canucks fans would see the return and extension of GM Mike Gillis. While of course there are always people on either side of an issue, the question really was as close to a no-brainer as they come. The same sentiments that Gillis expressed regarding his coach (that you don't get rid of a guy on the heels of so much success) certainly applied to himself, and upon being re-signed, he in turn brought back coach Alain Vigneault, although, of course, neither decision transpired without significant debate on CDC. There was an almost natural progression of tempered blame, but despite the time it took to sort out those matters, one pivotal question remained in the background - the status of Vancouver's dynamic goaltending tandem, and the future of the player at the crux of the franchise through the term of it's greatest success, netminder Roberto Luongo.

Roberto Luongo's post game comments after the game 5 loss to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions started a snowball of speculation that his tenure in Vancouver may come to an end with the emergence of Cory Schneider, buoyed by the fact that the young Vancouver goaltender started crucial games 3, 4 and 5 of the opening round series. While the decision to start Schneider was not a determination that the veteran was being ousted, events were certainly conspiring to force a change, and the media wasted no time asking the perhaps timely yet crude questions.

“It’s going to be what's best for the team,” said Luongo. “Whatever scenario that is, I’m ok with it. Whether that involves me being here or not is ok.”

Luongo's words have been taken in various ways, but what they clearly were not is a trade request or anything resembling one - what evolved in the time since has been an apparent consensus that the resolution to the Canucks wealth in netminding is to move the veteran goaltender, hastened by the approaching RFA status of incumbent Cory Schneider.

Despite his perennial consistency, there has been no shortage of exaggerated devaluations of Luongo, something that pretty much comes with the territory between the pipes. The idea that his career is in decline is clearly contradicted by the reality that he just finished yet another solid season, ironically a season where he performed above his average over his impressive career. The idea that his contract is an obstacle is likewise overstated - reasonable if not below market value cap hit at 5.3 million, and the term is misleading as has been acknowledged by the likes of Bob McKenzie - the last three years his salary drops off considerably, and the buyout on his contract is only 914 thousand a year... The exaggerated downside of his contract is being over-stated by Leafs lobbyists, but the reality is that the deal is somewhat of a cap circumvention. The other reality is that Luongo is not showing any signs of decline, and is an extremely hard worker, which indicates that his longevity is as likely as some of his goaltending peers - he has many good years left in him. Say what you want about Luongo - he is a great goalie, a winner, and that isn't about to change anytime soon. When it comes to the microanalytics about his imperfections, the reality is that if you look at any other goalie in the NHL, they have all had their share of ups and downs - and few of them have had the ups or the consistency that Roberto Luongo has. Just by way of comparison Luongo has 284 wins over the past 8 seasons and a lifetime save percentage of .919 - Martin Brodeur has 291 wins over that span and a lifetime .913 sv%. Despite that, Canucks fans have tended to take Luongo for granted, but if he is in fact dealt, there are many of us who will miss him dearly... and don't appreciate the insulting devaluations, for reasons that go beyond his trade value.

The movement of very similar contracts (Richards and Carter) for market value returns would indicate that Toronto's attempts to lowball are simply going to exclude them from competitive advantage - add to that the further irony that they just added a 25.5 million contract over 6 years for a player who has only topped 20 goals once in his career and it becomes clear that Burke's comments that he doesn't condone long term contracts and won't "stripmine" his system are merely classic Burke hyperbole...

If you listen to the Eastern hockey talk of late, you might start to believe that Toronto is the only market with any likelihood at all of landing Luongo - they are also intent on convincing people that the price will be relatively low in addition. The downside of such lobbying it twofold - first, they are raising the expectations of Leafs fans that they are positioned to finally poach a perennial top notch goaltender, and second, they are simultaneously attempting to devalue Luongo, raising the additional expectation that they can pawn off a second rate prospect or salary dump in exchange. Add to the game playing the suggestions by Damien Cox that they might (despite Burke's adamant distaste for them) offer sheet Schneider in order to increase their leverage and what you have out of Toronto is a whole lot of contradiction, wishful thinking and souring of the lines of communication. Aside from the fact that they lack the extra assets to make a deal, their "untouchables" themselves aren't particularly attractive and unlikely to improve the Canucks roster - add it up and you have a recipe without ingredients.

Here is Pierre Lebrun's comments after the trade deadline:

"He’s still a top-level goalie and the Canucks are adamant they will make a hockey deal, not a CBA dump deal. You can’t blame Vancouver for that. Simply put: if Toronto gets Luongo, for example, it makes the playoffs next season, in my opinion. Think that shouldn’t be motivation enough for the Leafs?

Know this from the Panthers: They’ve decided this weekend they’re going to see this Luongo thing through. They’re going to focus on it seriously. "

With all due respect to Toronto, Florida has seemed to be a more likely destination all along. First, the fans in Vancouver don't want to see Luongo in a Leafs jersey - a large portion of the rest of Canada responds with an irrational backlash at the prospect of Canucks success, and the feeling is mutual - we enjoy watching the Leafs lose and miss the playoffs, and Luongo in a Leafs jersey would be a serious threat to both. Whereas with the Florida possibility, there is the obvious history of Luongo's tremendous rise to stardom as a young Panther and the fact that his wife and family have maintained their roots there. There is the history of Mike Gillis and Dale Tallon cutting deals. There is the goaltending reality of the Panthers - their starter Theodore has one year left on his contract at 1.5 million, their prospect Markstrom is only 22 and has had injury problems with his knees, and Luongo would be a solid upgrade for a rising team that just made the playoffs and had a very strong showing against the eventual Eastern Conference Champions. The Florida Panthers, in addition, have only 40.5 million tied up in cap space at the present time (suggestions they can't afford Luongo are not very credible) and Tallon was not shy about going out and acquiring Campbell and his 7+ million cap hit. In addition, the Florida Panthers are teeming with young prospects... on the blueline they have Kulikov, Gudbranson, Robak, Ellerby, Petrovic, and just added yet another first rounder in Mike Matheson. At center they are likewise loaded with young talent - Huberdeau, Bjugstad, Matthias, Howden... the majority of these young prospects were first round draft picks and the additional thing that makes sense in this scenario is those assets are at positions of interest to the Canucks. Vancouver's acquisition of Gaunce and Mallet with their 1st and 2nd picks may slightly alter their interests, but needless to say, Florida has many more attractive assets, and a far greater ability to part with a few than the Toronto Maple Leafs. If I were to guess, I'd think a deal for one of the Panthers young near NHL-ready centers (Bjugstad) and a young blueline prospect (Petrovic) would be a good return, in addition, it is possible that Theodore come the other way as an option/insurance to take the pressure off Eddie Lack to step up at the NHL level. The Panthers have expressed reluctance to deal their top young prospects (likely Kulikov, Huberdeau and Gudbranson) - even if they held firm, they have a lot of options to work with. They also have a handful of forwards (Goc, Upshall, Bergenheim) that could make sense as the third piece if the Canucks decided they need someone who can contribute now, were to add a second piece to the mix, or Florida insisted upon returning some salary...

Florida may have needed a little time to sort out what they would be getting in the NHL entry draft, but it is not inconceivable that with that assessment they now have a better idea of what assets they may be prepared to move to land the veteran goaltender. The timing is right - for Vancouver, signing Schneider before July 1st would be advantageous to avoiding the potential of offer sheets, although that may happen regardless of the status of Roberto Luongo - the Canucks have made it fairly clear that they are committed to Schneider. In addition, having a less complicated idea of the roster going into free agency may be advantageous, but really, with the quality and depth of the Canucks system, there is absolutely no urgency to add pieces. Some people may be getting impatient, but the real window or time to deal is still wide open, Gillis' back is anything but up against a wall, as wishful Toronto thinkers may try to imply - and needless to say, there are plenty of other possibilities not even touched upon here. In any event, we''ll see if the Panthers and the Canucks are prepared to get "serious" - for all parties involved, that seems like the best outcome. We'll see you in the Stanley Cup Finals Roberto.

oldnews

For those of you that missed Mike Gillis addressing the media today, here are what I considered to be the most salient points.

The key issues this season:

When asked what went wrong this season Gillis noted that the problems started to emerge after the win in Boston. He felt that the game was like a SCF revisited, and the team never got their emotions together after that. While the downside was an inability to elevate their game, the upside, for the most part, was that he felt their goaltending got them through this season, and has every bit of confidence in both of his goaltenders, who allowed the Canucks to win a lot of games despite the team as a whole playing somewhat indifferently. He stated that they will see if it will be workable to keep both goaltenders moving forward and in addition, feels that Eddie Lack is an excellent young goalie, and they will see in training camp if he is ready to play in the NHL. Later he acknowledged that the emergence of Cory Schneider as such an outstanding young goalie changes the landscape.

The Canucks style of play:

Gillis feels that the dynamics in the NHL are changing and that it is not a coincidence that the four remaining teams in the playoffs in the Western Conference don't have a point-a-game player. Teams have reverted somewhat to collapsing five players in front of their goaltender, and playing low-risk hockey, that is not necessarily that exciting (or the best way to promote the game). Gillis still believes in offense - that offense is what entertains people - and that the NHL needs to keep the entertainment value of the product in mind, otherwise the NHL might consider changing the name of the game to "Goalie." When asked if the team needs major changes, Gillis expressed that the Canucks have the makings of three solid lines, a solid and deep blueline, and great goaltending - in other words, significant changes are not essential - and he was not prepared to answer a question regarding who the untouchables on the Canucks are. That type of question is not in the organization's interests to answer.. He noted that the team needs to get younger, bigger, and stronger, and that the Canucks have made moves in that direction and will continue to focus on adding strength in those areas, as well as keeping an eye on balance.

The Hodgson trade:

Gillis does not intend to share what is discussed with players behind closed doors - he has no intention of breaking their trust or deterring them from coming to him with concerns - but he did say that he spent more time on Cody's issues than every other player combined. In the end, obviously Hodgson and/or his camp were simply too demanding or needy, and it had become a hindrance to the team. Gillis revealed that they had identified 6 young players that they were prepared to take in exchange for Hodgson. Zack Kassian was the one who was made available, and in Gillis' mind, players like Zack are extremely rare to come by. It was refreshing to hear Gillis express that he doesn't regret that move at all, and that he'd do it again. He went on to point out that Hodgson was given exclusively opportunities to be successful offensively and took maybe 5 defensive zone face-offs the entire season.

Ryan Kesler:

Players have their ups and downs and Gillis was certainly not prepared to be critical of Kesler, who was injured to start the season, and also noted that Kesler has some other injuries being evaluated now. Gillis stated that he didn't have confidence that they were solid enough at center, and therefore acquired Pahlsson at the deadline. If Kesler's health was a persistent issue, I think it becomes very clear that in addition to being very needy, that depending on Hodgson to match up defensively in a second or third line role was simply something the Canucks did not have the confidence that he is capable of - and by all indications of his performances in Buffalo, that truth was certainly borne out at this stage of his career. If Kesler was not healthy, sheltering Hodgson would have been increasingly less possible.

Mason Raymond:

Gillis feels that the potentail for dire consequences as a result of Raymond's injury were certainly there, and that he needs time to see if he can regain his form and potential. Gillis made it very clear - 'if you are asking if I am going to give up on Mason Raymond', he said very definitively, "No."

Managing the health, potential and well-being of the players:

Gillis is excited that the Canucks continue to work on trend setting ways to offset the impact of all the travel the team does, the up tempo types of games they play, and the pressure that they are under to constantly produce and ultimately deliver a Stanley Cup. Gillis feels that despite progress, the team still needs to deal better with those factors, and will continue to work in innovative ways to help the players perform to the best of their abilities. He tempered the high expectations with the reality that there are no assurances of success - everyone is disappointed with the results in the first round series, but the organization is not going to change it's approach, and will move forward and continue to work to improve.

Alain Vigneault:

I found Gillis' response to repeated questions about AV very promising. While there may be uncertainty in the minds of others, Gillis stood by his coach and implied that if it is up to him, he will continue to. He emphasized that he himself will be evaluated first, and the next step will be to continue to evaluate the organization at every level, as they do every season. He noted that within a few weeks he will be prepared to give a definitive answer to the question, but when the predictable questions about Vigneault persisted, he expressed that it gets exasperating... This guy, Alain Vigneault, is the winningest coach in this team's history, we just won two President's trophies, went to game 7 of the SCF... Gillis made it fairly clear what his position regarding Vigneault is, asking if that is when you decide you are going to start getting rid of people? Alain's record speaks for itself - he is an excellent NHL coach.

The Sedins and the young prospects:

The Canucks are going to continue to support the Sedins with the best young talent they can surround them with. No one has a crystal ball, but Gillis feels that the Sedins are still in their prime, and if the Canucks stay the course, they will have a new Cup window that will begin or continue even after the Sedins careers with Vancouver. When asked about the young players knocking on the NHL door, Gillis mentioned Nik Jensen first, and feels that he is a lot closer to being NHL ready. [i thought Jensen looked very impressive in the preseason with Vancouver - I reviewed his stats after his recent call-up to the Wolves - he managed 4 goals in 6 regular season games and another pair in two playoff games - quite promising] Gillis also noted that Zack Kassian, Connauton, Tanev, Schroeder, and Gragnani are all very promising prospects, and that Anton Rodin is probably the most dynamic, highly skilled player in the system and will see how he makes the transition from Europe to North America...

The potential is there (for all those guys).

The direction of the NHL:

Gillis feels that the league has to be offensive, has to be exciting, and that rules have been amended and should continue to be in order to create a more entertaining product. He feels that people enjoy the way the team plays and that beyond the Canucks, the rules package after the last lockout supported the view that offense is important, and the result has been that the last 3 or 4 years the NHL has seen the best hockey ever. Gillis feels that a retreat from that doesn't seem to make any sense.

Vote of confidence in his players:

Gillis emphasized that he feels that there is remarkable character on this team - he likes the loyalty of his players, many of whom could have gone elsewhere and perhaps made more money - he doesn't question the character on this team. The reality is that things change and you have to roll with the punches - there's much more opportunity to be disappointed than elated - but you find solutions, and that's what the Canucks are going to continue to do.

oldnews

The KIngs enter the playoffs playing their best hockey of the season, going 12-5-3 to secure a playoff spot in the tight Western Conference. Many people are considering the physical Kings to be an unfortunate draw for the Canucks in the first round, but regardless of who you face in the West, it is a tough matchup.

As everyone emphasizes, the Kings play a tight defensive game, allowing only 179 goals this season - their offensive output was unimpressive, with only 194 goals, but they managed to score at a much better clip in their past 20 games. The Canucks scored 249 times and allowed 198 goals.

The Kings had a balanced record going 22-14-5 at home and 18-13-10 on the road, while Vancouver went 27-10-4 at home and 24-12-5 on the road.

People have been quick to emphasize, in addition to their defensive game, that despite LA's lack of scoring this season, they nevertheless have some premier skilled, physical forwards. Their biggest threat is the dynamic, steady, highly skilled power-center Anze Kopitar (25 goals and 51 assists), who will be the focus of the Canucks attempts to shut down the Kings top line. Dustin Brown (22 goals, 32 assists) is a very versatile power forward who leads the Kings in hits perenially, can score, and defend - an excellent two-way forward. Justin Williams (22 goals, 37 assists) had a solid season, while Mike Richards struggled (18 goals and 26 points) this season, going through a long drought in LA in the second half of the season, before being joined by Jeff Carter, who recorded 9 points in his 16 games with the Kings (when you look at the deals to acquire the talented Richards and Carter, you nevertheless have to wonder if they wouldn't be a better club with Schenn, Simmonds and Johnson...) Aside from those players, no player on the Kings scored more than 8 goals or 15 assists. Some people have been including Dustin Penner among the elite forwards, but he too struggled through a 7 goal. 17 point season in 65 games, while skilled forward Simone Gagne is on injured reserve. The Kings depend very heavily on their top two lines and Drew Doughty to provide the overwhelming bulk of their scoring.

The Kings blueline is not terribly mobile, but a very solid defensive unit, with Drew Doughty being the primary scoring, puck-moving defenseman - he led LA defensemen with 10 goals and 26 assists, while the solid former Canuck Willie Mitchell was their second leading scorer on the blueline with 5 goals and 24 points, enough to place him 6th overall in Kings scoring. The top pairing of Doughty and Scuderi will likely see the most ice time, while the shutdown pair of Willie Mitchell and rookie Slava Voynov will draw the task of shutting down the Canucks' top line. Solid defensive blueliner Matt Greene and the young second year defenseman Alec Martinez will be their third pairing. A weak spot for the Kings could be their depth on the blueline - the seventh and only other d-man on their roster, Davis Drewiske, played only 9 games this season, and has played only 106 games in his four year career. They could face some real adversity in the event of an injury on their blueline.

Where the teams differ the most - by comparision, the Canucks had a dozen scorers who had more the 25 points (13 if the departed Hodgson is included).

A lot is being made of the potential absence of Daniel Sedin - a number of high-profile analysts and commentators are considering his injury a factor that would swing the balance in the Kings favour. I think that underestimates the depth of the Vancouver Canucks.

# Pos Player GP G A P

33 C Henrik Sedin 82 14 67 81

22 L Daniel Sedin 72 30 37 67

14 L Alex Burrows 80 28 24 52

17 C Ryan Kesler 77 22 27 49

20 L Chris Higgins 71 18 25 43

36 R Jannik Hansen 82 16 23 39

7 L David Booth 56 16 13 29

11 C Anze Kopitar 82 25 51 76

14 R Justin Williams 82 22 37 59

23 R Dustin Brown 82 22 32 54

10 C Mike Richards 74 18 26 44

Aside from Raymond who had 20 points in 55 games, and Samuel Pahlsson who replaced Hodgson as the shut down center on the new-look third line, all Canucks forwards on the first through third lines scored considerably more than the players below the Kings top five.

In addition, the Canucks had three blueliners who scored more than the Kings top scoring blueliner Doughty, while Sami Salo scored more than the Kings second scoring defenseman Mitchell.

23 D Alex Edler 82 11 38 49

3 D Kevin Bieksa 78 8 36 44

2 D Dan Hamhuis 82 4 33 37

6 D Sami Salo 69 9 16 25

8 D Drew Doughty 77 10 26 36

33 D Willie Mitchell 76 5 19 24

The Canucks projected pairings of Hamhuis with Tanev form a solid shut down line, while Edler and Bieksa pose a strong two-way threat, and the third pairing of Salo and Rome are another solid pairing, with the threat of Salo's cannon on the blueline.

Given the difference in depth, the Kings focus on low-scoring games, their physical style of play, and the bad ice at the Staples Center it is clear that the Kings will look to turn this into a series in the trenches. They will look to slow the pace, shut down the neutral zone, and take advantage of the borderline liberties the NHL allows in playoffs hockey. They are physical and gritty, but not intimidating - the Canucks will not be pushed around by them. It will be important to get right back in the face of guys like Richards - show him as much disrespect as he dishes out - but remain disciplined and play patient Canucks hockey. While guys like Richards will look to incite the Canucks off their game, he too has a tendency to be hot and cold, and can be frustrated. Kopitar and Brown are two great players that will likely show up every night, but if you can limit or frustrate them, the Kings are hard-pressed to force the issue.

I think the Kings will be in tough in Rogers arena without the last change - the Canucks depth, and particularly the strength of their third line might be their key. If the Pahlsson line manages to frustrate the KIngs top line, that could turn the balance in Vancouver's favour. With two strong scoring lines, and two excellent checking lines, the Canucks, even with the potential absence of Daniel Sedin, have a very balanced lineup, with plenty of secondary scoring potential on the blueline. The Kings will look to terrible ice and shutdown matchups to be an advantage at home. The biggest concern might be how healthy the Canucks are, and because of that, LA may try to make that factor #1, amping up physical playoff hockey as much as they can. Given the difference in depth and the strong defensive and physical presence of the Canucks fourth line, when LA attempts to win the physical battle, it will not be an easy task. They may find that trying to push Vancouver around, and outhit them is not an obvious advantage to them. The Canucks can turn the tables, particularly if the third and fourth lines decide to take a toll on their blueline, which gets very thin once you get beyond their top six

While anything is possible in playoff hockey, the Kings will need their best players and goaltender to dominate - not an easy task when lined up against the Canucks speed, depth, ability to roll four lines, three solid defensive pairings, and two stellar goaltenders. The Kings cannot give up leads, while the Canucks are capable of turning up the pressure if they give up the lead - they can counter-punch or press the issue. Goaltending could go either way in this series - while Vancouver may be able to compensate if Quick is lights out, the Kings likely will not win if Quick does not equal Luongo (and Schneider). Special teams, likewise, can be unpredictable and go either way - as can the way the series is called. With or without Daniel Sedin, I think the Canucks are deeper at the center position (the Kings are strong, but aside from Henrik, are there four better defensive centers than Pahlsson, Malhotra, Lapierre and Kesler on any club?), deeper in scoring, deeper on the blueline, and have some quality depth players in reserve. I think that will amount to being too much for the game LA Kings, but you never know - that is the exciting nature of playoff hockey.

I don't agree with the PJ Stock's who are picking LA, but I don't agree with the self-depracating Kings fans either, who are predicting the Canucks in 3 - I'll say a healthy Canucks team wins in 5 close games, a depth lineup in a tough 6 games.

Best of luck Canucks.

oldnews

Vancouver's disproportionately vocal uber-whiners have been struggling through a slump lately. They have been taking the usual barrage of shots, but having difficulty hitting the target. As the Canucks started to build some momentum after experimenting with many changes in the lineup and making adaptations to playoff-style hockey, they were left with a dilemna - what Canucks-wise is there to complain about?

The post-deadline panic may have finally subsided; the new Canucks have shown why they were acquired, and the depth players have helped produce results that evidence the balance on the roster - but you still get the strange sense that Canucks fans have been primed for disappointment. Is it a defense-mechanism? Or has a strange sense of entitlement and cynicism taken root? It wasn't surprising to hear that the sky was falling when the Canucks were 'slumping' - which for the Canucks means playing .500 hockey over a ten game stretch - but when they are winning... I mean really? Add the anticipation of playoff hockey to the mix and what is enjoyable for some, seems like life and death for others.

Case in point of someone who just won't give it up, even when the team is winning... Just when The Province's Tony Gallagher was convinced that his prophecied gloom and doom had taken root, once again, as things tend to, things changed. The Canucks regained their cohesiveness after retooling at the trade deadline, and Alain Vigneault, whose days as the Canucks coach Gallagher had aggressively numbered, put together lineups and gameplans that produced a seven game winning streak. Gallagher, being an expert in the field, nevertheless managed through experience to find something to bolster his resolute commitment to predicting failure The wins were a bit of an obstacle, but with signature repetition, Gallagher wrote more mopey articles (I'd include a link, but they are numerous and easy to find) bemoaning that the Canucks wins are just not exciting enough for him. Adapting to more lineup changes and preparing for the playoffs - not worthwhile considerations - what mattered was that they were not entertaining enough for Gallagher. It's almost like he is wishing the Canucks turn to Leafs and freefall so that he can exercise the chip on his shoulder. Those 1-0 games...too boring - and the Canuck's successful strategy, well it may have been good enough to beat a handful of desperate teams fighting for their playoff lives, but according to Tony's clockwork-consistent negative speculation, not good enough to beat the better teams in the NHL. Forget the fact that the better teams were not playing as well as those on the bubble that the Canucks were defeating... That fact could get in the way of another dire story. That winning streak was nothing less than inconvenient for Gallagher, whose determination to continue calling for the coach's head was no doubt frustrated...

I will never forget what Neil McCrae (who could certainly rival Gallagher's negativity in his day) once said when he was asked why no one had heard a word out of him for weeks - his answer was essentially 'the Canucks are winning - I have nothing to complain about'... I had grown more than tired of McCrae, but to be honest, I loved the candor. But unlike McCrae, winning does not deter Gallagher... it's enough to want to request from Mark Spector an "Open letter to Tony Gallagher"...

The ultimate doom must be lurking somewhere else then...a 'lack' of scoring (more than their opponents, but somehow still not enough). In the 'lack of scoring', Gallagher found something to go on and on about - (which no doubt relates to his having deserted the Canucks as a result of the Hodgson trade) - but as usual, Gallagher didn't bother to delve too deeply into context. The Canucks focus on team defense may not have impressed him, but as far as I am concerned, it made nothing but perfect sense. With Ballard still out of the lineup, Bieksa missing games to heal and rest, Rome suffering a knee injury, and Sami Salo unable to get much time to rest before the playoffs, the Canucks blueline found itself in familiar territory, dipping into their wealth of depth in order to sustain the Canucks stellar play of late. Wouldn't it be logical to suggest that the forward units offer a little extra support?

I personally find a 1-0 game every bit as exciting as any other close game, and preventing the opposition from scoring is extremely satisfying from a fan of hockey's perspective, but under the recent circumstances, I appreciated these wins even more. The Canucks had half of their top six blueliners out of the lineup and were depending upon two rookies (although Tanev has the poise of a veteran) and solid depth defensman Andrew Alberts - while the team may not have been lighting it up as much as the expectant Gallaghers out there protest, the fact that they were managing to shut down desperate, very good hockey teams (regardless of what Gallagher might think) was very impressive. Combine that with the fact the Canucks were not looking to take any extra physical risks - not necessarily throwing themselves in front of every potential shot to block, not throwing body checks at their highest clip, or forechecking like gangbusters - and you have a very intelligent, balanced strategy that resulted in lower-risk, confidence building hockey - that also happened to pay off extremely well in the standings. The Canucks reminded us that they can win despite injuries, with team-defense. solid goaltending, limiting quality scoring chances and having the depth of talent to counter-punch very effectively. They have a group of very skilled forwards that, to-a-man, play very defensively responsible hockey. They have a blueline that can pinch regularly, contribute a good deal of scoring, and (with the exception of the rookie Gragnani who is still developing, probably in reality 9th on the depth chart, and getting accustomed to playing with his new team-mates in a new system) they can depend on everyone in their top eight to play very effective shut down hockey. Remarkably, as everyone knows, the Canucks now find themselves in a position to potentially win the Conference or even President's trophy for the second straight season. And when the time comes, they will likely hit and forecheck more, take a larger toll on opposition's blueline, generate more scoring chances... but for the time being, there has been no sense in wearing themselves thin before the playoffs begin. They turned their game from what was perceived as 'coasting' - to calculating - with excellent results.

Ok, so Alain Vigneault - we tried real hard, but really, so little to complain about where the coach is concerned. Lack of scoring - takes some creative negativity to complain about that in the midst of seven straight wins and really, it has been over-stated - and oh yes, the this-style-of-hockey-wouldn't-work-against-better-teams theory... that was a nice effort by Gallagher, but ultimately another fail. The theory that defense wins championships is heard repeatedly in sports, for good reason. The Canucks have made their stategy work in the context it was intended for - beyond that, Gallagher is outsmarting himself with an extrapolation that is nonsense.

What else could fuel some discontent? Of course - no matter how good things may get, there is always the irrational expectations of Mason Raymond...but he too, has not been co-operating. Whether it was a game-off from Alain Vigneault. or a chance to rest, whatever it was that helped him revitalize, the results have been obvious, and the implications no doubt sour in the mouths of naysayers - again, as difficult as it must be to swallow, Vigneault, and Raymond deserve credit. The other candidates for whipping-boy unfortunately have sustained injuries.

The Sedins... they were 'slumping' weren't they? Possibly even getting close to "too old to get anything done five-on-five" according to Gallagher ... Yeah, whatever.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. Roberto Luongo, of course. How could any Canucks fan forget to complain about Luongo? The minor speed bump that was giving up four goals in what was another victory anyhow against Anaheim was all it took to break the levee in Vancouver - so much unexpressed discontent gets pent up over a seven game winning streak (it makes for such hungry whiners) - the nimbus that hang over Vancouver accumulate a hell of a lot of precipitation, tend to cool off rapidly and are inclined to hover over a predictable outlet - Luongo - the receiver of all blame. On the eve of his birthday, on the verge of consecutive President't trophies, and after a four game stretch in which Luongo had a shutout, had not given up more than two goals and gained 7 of 8 possible points - there was, nevertheless, no room for error. Enter Schneider, and Canucks fans have another to place all our 'faith' and expectations upon...ah, the novel habit of funnelling all our anxiety onto the shoulders of a goaltender. But really, at-the-end-of-the-day/game, the Canuck's tandem has given so very little to complain about. It's really, really easy to see why Mark Spector wrote his "Open letter to Canucks fans"... With the amount of whining that goes on around here, you'd think the home team were wearing a bunch of Maple Leafs.

Anything else to whine about? Oh, of course, that's right - the Hodgson trade - always lurking, poised to backfire. What if the Canucks were to lose a key scorer from their lineup? Without Hodgson, that would most certainly spell doom, wouldn't it. Without Hodgson carrying the team with his "secondary scoring", the Canucks have no chance... Mike Gillis really screwed up there. I mean, Zack Kassian? ...and Samuel Pahlsson? What was he thinking? Or this young puck mover Gragnani - clearly not ready to be a top-four defenseman. Where is the fifth or sixth top four defenseman that we needed so badly? What a bust. Why couldn't we have just given up the farm for Steve Ott? How inconvenient for the outspoken discontents that Pahlsson has played outstanding hockey in a Canucks jersey, and Kassian has shown why he was so highly regarded - he has taken his cue from the veterans, has not tried to do too much, has shown good hockey sense and made intelligent decisions with the puck, been disciplined when aggressive, defensively responsible, has surprising speed, obvious offensive potential - he has been playing a range of roles and fitting in quite nicely for such a young power forward.

Vancouver - a city that really could use a good head shake for perspective before the puck drops on the playoffs. Forget the levee and try some levity. There are no guarantees - the fear and anxiety of losing is irrational - and obviously brings out the worst in the city. A large part of the pleasure of winning is supplied by the very real possibility and (15 of 16) probability of losing. It can almost seem at times like a minority position amongst fans in Vancouver to love this team and it's players, win or lose - but I think the truth is that the majority who think that way are just not as loud about it as the nimbus (perhaps fairer to title this 'tough times on the Boohouver side of town'). What makes Vancouver 'deserve' a Cup, while nothing else is good enough? When it comes to Luongo and the Canucks, there is a large part of Vancouver that takes what-have-you-done-for-me-lately to a truly epic level. At least that is how some of the most vocal complainers make it seem...perhaps it is overdue for a change of tone in Vancouver. The old one misrepresents - it is a losing approach to being a fan of the game - and ironic considering how good, in reality, the team has been. The fans are one thing - but how people who follow and cover this team "professionally" can fail to appreciate the finer points of a team threatening to repeat as President's champions would be difficult to understand were it not Vancouver we are talking about. Henrik could be hoisting the Stanley Cup above his head, and the Vancouver media could still find a way to see the cup as half-empty...

oldnews

Vancouver Canucks fans have experienced something recently that they are not used to - their share of anxiety. While the Canucks have stumbled out of the blocks the last two seasons, they have turned those slow starts around rather dramatically, and have produced the most consistent results in the NHL over the past two seasons. But the recent inconsistency at this point in the season is not something Canucks fans have been accustomed to - and likewise, the Sedins' production is a microcosm of those struggles. The NHL's most consistent producers (the team and the twins) have experienced a slump - to suggest that is oldnews is an understatement. Ironically, perhaps nothing is noted more consistently than those uncommon instances where the Sedins show they are capable of the same lapses as every other player in the NHL, but it might be worth looking at the fact that, whether you are talking about teams or individuals, there really are no other exceptions.

Have the Canucks and the Sedins been "figured" out, or has their production simply been so consistent that it has become predictable? We witness predictions all the time in hockey-talk; who doesn't love to make predictions? Hockey fans sure do, but one thing is certain - the NHL is not a terribly predictable entity, and if there is one thing that is consistent in the NHL as a whole, it is change. By contrast, if there is one thing Canucks fans have come to count on, it is a consistent effort that consistently produces results. While the Canucks may not have impressed of late, it is worth keeping things in context.

If you look back at the NHL a few months ago, the top four teams at the time have not fared that well lately - Boston has taken a shocking nosedive; they are scrambling to hold off the Ottawa Senators for the lead in the Northeast and avoid falling to the 6th or 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. Likewise, Detroit also looked practically unbeatable earlier in the season, but have fallen to fifth in the Western Conference (and many people appear to be forgetting to consider them contenders). The Rangers have followed suit, coasting along at a less than .500 clip and have seen the Penguins close the gap by ten points to draw within striking distance of the Eastern Conference's top seed. Meanwhile the Canucks have also idled along, maintaining their second seed, but ceding first to the St Louis Blues who have replaced Detroit at the top of the Western Conference.

If we look back further, at the four teams that went to the Conference finals last season, the results are even more dramatic. Aside from what's been noted about the Canucks and Boston, the Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves two points out of the Eastern Conference basement, while the San Jose Sharks have plummeted to the 10th spot in the West and are looking like a shadow of the team that finished 2nd in the Conference last season. Likewise, the Washington Capitals, who finished first in the Eastern Conference last season, are clinging to a playoff spot.

On the other hand, there are a number of eventual Stanley Cup winners who faced significant struggles and slumps prior to the playoffs yet managed to amp up their game when it really mattered and pull off a successful Cup run.

There has been a great deal of speculation about the Sedins recently - (there always is) - but this time it seems to have gone further, and into questions whether their careers are starting to tail off. Not many people take those suggestions seriously - and likewise, that the rest of the league has "figured them out" is an idea that has done its' rounds without gaining much credibility. Some of it is rather amusing, and the expectations that many people express is reflective of the fact that the Sedins are remarkably talented and their consistency second to none - not to mention the irony of all the doubts about their toughness, in the context of Henrik's tremendous iron-man streak. In the spirit of keeping things in perspective, and in light of how quickly things change in the NHL, if we consider the Sedins and the other top scorers in the NHL, something surprisingly similar to the inconsistent results in NHL standings that teams experience (as noted above) also emerges where individual players are concerned...

The top ten scorers at the end of last season were:

1 Daniel Sedin VAN L 82 41 63 104 +30 32 18 0 10 0 266 15.4 18:33 24.3 23.5

2 Martin St Louis TBL R 82 31 68 99 +0 12 4 0 7 1 254 12.2 20:58 24.3 38.2

3 Corey Perry ANA R 82 50 48 98 +9 104 14 4 11 2 290 17.2 22:18 26.5 40.9

4 Henrik Sedin VAN C 82 19 75 94 +26 40 8 0 4 0 157 12.1 19:15 24.6 52.0

5 Steven StamkosTBL C 82 45 46 91 +3 74 17 0 8 1 272 16.5 20:11 23.7 46.5

6 Jarome Iginla CGY R 82 43 43 86 +0 40 14 0 6 1 289 14.9 20:56 23.2 54.0

7 Alex Ovechkin WSH L 79 32 53 85 +24 41 7 0 11 3 367 8.7 21:21 21.7 33.3

8 Teemu Selanne ANA R 73 31 49 80 +6 49 16 0 5 0 213 14.6 17:56 22.7 44.5

9 Henrik ZetterbergDET L 80 24 56 80 -1 40 10 0 3 2 306 7.8 19:35 23.6 52.4

10 Brad Richards DAL C 72 28 49 77 +1 24 7 0 3 0 272 10.3 21:43 23.3 50.6

The top ten scorers at this point this season are:

1 Evgeni Malkin PIT C 64 41 47 88 +15 58 11 0 8 1 293 14.0 21:12 22.1 47.0

2 Steven StamkosTBL C 72 50 34 84 +3 66 10 0 10 4 251 19.9 21:43 24.4 45.5

3 Claude Giroux PHI R 68 26 58 84 +5 27 6 0 5 2 209 12.4 21:39 25.6 52.6

4 Phil Kessel TOR R 73 35 40 75 -7 20 9 0 6 0 262 13.4 19:53 22.6 32.1

5 Jason Spezza OTT C 73 29 46 75 +9 30 10 0 2 0 209 13.9 19:51 26.1 53.6

6 Ilya Kovalchuk NJD L 68 30 43 73 -6 29 8 3 4 0 275 10.9 24:39 25.3 33.3

7 Erik Karlsson OTT D 72 19 53 72 +16 42 3 0 5 0 232 8.2 25:16 27.1 0.0

8 Marian Hossa CHI R 72 28 43 71 +23 16 8 2 4 0 219 12.8 19:59 26.0 25.0

9 Jordan Eberle EDM R 68 32 38 70 +6 8 9 0 4 0 165 19.4 17:24 21.5 40.0

10 John Tavares NYI C 72 31 39 70 -1 24 7 0 8 1 263 11.8 20:42 21.9 51.5

Steven Stamkos is the only player who has managed to repeat his top-ten performance from a season ago. If you consider that the Sedins succeeded each other as the NHL's leading scorers the last two seasons, and until recently were once again in the mix (in fact Henrik is tied for 10th with 70 points but not shown as a result of goals/assists ratio while Daniel is 3 points off the pace) - the cause for so much concern regarding the Sedins might be seen in a different light. Of course, there are many people who have yet to push the panic button, but for those who have, where the NHL and consistency are concerned, the Vancouver Canucks and the Sedins remain the high water mark, along with the Lightning's all-world talent Steven Stamkos, who despite his team's inability to sustain results, has established himself amongst a small handful of relatively virtual 'sure-things'. Honourable mention here should probably go to Jarome Iginla, who has once again hit the 30 goal mark. On the other hand, where the NHL and the unpredictable are concerned, unfortunately NHL officiating is in the class of the highly inconsistent - whether it is justifiable (as with the highly competitive teams and players) is another issue entirely - but if anyone had earned the right to say so, it was Henrik Sedin.

So what might explain this recent uncharacteristic stretch of inconsistency for the Canucks? First of all, Tony Gallagher;s recent take on things is probably not going to contribute any substance to our hockey insight. Second, apologies to all the Hodgson devotees, but I am going to dismiss the Hodgson trade out of hand - while the changes in the lineup could account for it's part of the inconsistency, the loss of Hodgson's contributions are nowhere near as significant as many people suggest, and the inconsistency is certainly not related to his absence. I'm not going to engage too deeply in the overdone debate about the Cody-effect, other than suggest that the idea that he alone could put a team over the top was extremely premature and borderline ridiculous, as is the idea that the Canucks Cup hopes were significantly and negatively effected when they traded him. With the injury to Keith Ballard and his absence in the lineup, and the shuffling of the defensive pairings to experiment with and acclimate the young puck moving Gragnani, there is an inevitable effect upon the team's consistency on the blueline. In addition, the regular changes to the forward lines, from trying to kickstart the Amex line, to shuffling the third forward on the Sedin line, to changing the nature of the third line with the addition of the shut down role played by Pahlsson, to the addition of the versatile young power forward Zack Kassian and rehabilitation of Mason Raymond, and experimenting with the makeup of the fourth line - clearly there has been a significant amount of work to do in piecing together the different potential looks that Alain Vigneault will be able to deploy once the games really start to matter.

For all those who are dumbfounded by the changes, and clamoring for Alain Vigneault to be fired...

"A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new." Albert Einstein

Speaking of the dumbfounded, this just in from Tony Gallagher:

'Vigneault’s time with this team is surely drawing very near the end because management owes it to the group to give them another coach next year, so as to have a fresh approach before the Sedins get too old to even talk about getting something done five-on-five."

Gallagher's latest article is another one of his patented hack and squirt gigs - according to his ability to foretell the future, apparently this post-season is a predictable foregone conclusion of failure... while Gallagher has graduated himself from telling Alain Vigneault how to do his job, to instructing Mike Gillis when his coach's tenure will end. Gallagher's consistent negativity, unfortunately, falls on the predictable side of things. I can't help but wonder whether Mike Gillis is taking notes, having been informed that Vigneault's days are numbered, or whether Gallagher in fact doesn't "know" what he is talking about? (Of course, I suggest the latter) Is Gallagher a journalist, a lobbyist, a fortune teller...? Does he really "know" that AV is 'perilously close' to that type of situation? Is he certain that AV is 'playing with fire' here? I suspect that once Gallagher realizes Mike Gillis doesn't take instructions from him, he will climb even higher on his ladder of pretension, and tell us all that Gillis' days are also numbered. Gallagher may eventually have to get around to firing Canucks ownership himself. Recommendation - don't pay too much attention to Gallagher - 25 years from now he still will not have gotten over the Hodgson trade.

The reality in addition to the changes recently, is that the Canucks played a great deal of hockey in the past 16 months, face a gruelling travel reality year after year, have won a President's trophy, are not making that priority number one, are somewhat locked into, at the very minimum, the second seed in the Western Conference, and have been to the SCF, realizing what it takes to survive and persevere through the playoffs... when you consider all the factors together, the idea that the Canucks currently appear as though coasting is certainly not inexplicable... For some people reality just won't do - they expect, demand and somehow feel they deserve results - constant results... There also seems to be a tendency (on the part of fans and sidechair Gallaghers) to underestimate the lesser teams in the NHL - on any given night, any team can step up and take two points from anyone, particularly when they are fighting for their playoff lives, or are out of the race, playing with nothing to lose and under no pressure.

On the other hand, when the puck drops on the playoffs, no team in the NHL has a better chance of winning than the Canucks.

Despite all the experimentation recently, the truth remains that the core of the team is a very well know quality and quantity, and the Canucks have a group of players who for the most part have a very good idea of how to play with each other... The 'risks' they are taking may be overestimated. It never ceases to amuse how quickly and how many people can lose faith or get the impression that Alain Vigneault does not know what he is doing. He has had the luxury lately of making changes, trying new things, and preparing for contingencies that may emerge if/when the health of the roster or the matchups of different opponents dictate changes. There may be a measure of confidence behind the the willingness to make changes, but the Canucks have earned this luxury by virtue of a level of consistency from their skaters and goaltending that has bought them this grace period, while not costing them significantly in terms of their seeding in the playoffs. People may feel that they have not been consistent enough in the last month, but when it has come to big games, they have stepped up to their stiffest challenges and defeated both Detroit and St. Louis. It will be interesting to see their response to a visit to Chicago tomorrow. I highly doubt you will see an uninspired Vancouver Canucks performance, even if they do not organize their roster as they would if it were a playoff game.

Some people are wondering if Mike Gillis was too confident when he made the changes he did at the trade deadline, and feel that the recent results indicate that he made the mistake of messing with a good thing. I disagree - I don't think their fate hinges on these recent decisions, and I think there is an ironic amount of short-sighted thinking that informs such panic. Is the Canucks ability to regroup and compete as fragile as suspected? I have a lot of faith that the short-term consistency that has been placed slightly in the balance - in favour of the longer term production (the playoffs) - is a strategic move that will pay off. I also consider Alain Vigneault to be one of the best coaches in the NHL. There certainly are no guarantees, particularly in the NHL - but I like the risks that have been taken - I think they were very well calculated. I also think Alain Vigneault has a lot better idea of what he is up to than the general perception of the nervous wrecks amongst Canucks' fans.

It is generally a safe bet to predict playoff failure - 15 out of 16 teams will fail to win the Cup - and all the 'authoritative' predictions of doom (hello Tony Gallagher et al) never really strike me as having as stiff a backbone as their negative posturing would suggest. The theory in some parts seems to be that the lineup that the Canucks had before the trade deadline (with "secondary scoring" = Cody Hodgson) was better equipped to win in the playoffs than the lineup now in place after the trade deadline changes that were made. Another theory goes along the lines of Vigneault having 'lost' the players because he is too "disengaged". Again, I am more apt to think that it is Gallagher who has completely lost touch. But who doesn't like to speculate and make predictions? I personally like the chances of the post-deadline Canucks better, and as angry as many people are regarding their recent results, I'd prefer the changes and experimenting over the previous, more predictable order of things. There would also have been risks involved in keeping things as they were - the downside of those seem to have been somewhat drowned out by attention-seeking doomsdayers. The Canucks took some excellent risks at the trade deadline. The facts are that changes are inevitable in the NHL - even if you are as consistent as the Vancouver Canucks have been - and change isn't necessarily a bad thing... But predicting that failure in the playoffs is a foregone conclusion, or that Alain Vigneault's days in Vancouver are "very near the end" - those are just negative expectations - informed by nothing - nothing more and nothing less.

"If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts" Albert Einstein

oldnews

... Lighten Up Tony Gallagher

If you read the article Tony Gallagher published today - "Cam Neely Deal Spelled Canucks Doom" - you will find a winding road of fickle hockey history traced, complete with weak links of logic connecting the dots from the Cam Neely trade all the way into the present, leading miraculously and disastrously to the Canucks loss in last year's Stanley Cup Final. Pretty amusing stuff if you aren't too concerned about mental health. I am not going to bother engaging too deeply with his line of 'reasoning', but I will say that his point leads less obviously to a loss in last year's Stanley Cup Final than it does to him losing his mind over the Hodgson deal.

Here is a link to the entertaining or disconcerting article - enjoy or brace yourself - depending on how you choose to read it:

http://www.theprovin...9343/story.html

Is it all that surprising that Gallagher has prophecied doomsday and has placed such a high stake in the impending disaster that he feels the Hodgson trade represents? The irony/ironing is that Galllagher appears to have played his own not-so-small part in the trade that saw the young idol he had come to worship moved to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions of 2037, the Buffalo Sabres, who are now clearly destined to hoist the Cup that year on Vancouver's home ice.

Tony Gallagher, back on December 28th, 2011, really got the ice time controversy rolling...

"I think the Canucks are really playing with fire. In fact, I know they’re playing with fire with this business of what they’re doing to Hodgson. They may not have to accede to demands to be traded, if in fact they come, but you don’t want to be messing around.

Once a player starts doing that, starts asking, if you’ve gotta say no, then you’re starting to really sour the relationship and I don’t think they want to go there. They are perilously close to that kind of situation. I mean, if I had been Cody’s agent I would have been asking long ago. They have been way more than patient."

Quite some time later, Hodgson's agent Ritch Winters wrote a very long, rather pedantic response to / critique of PITB blogger Daniel Wagner, who speculated that the source of Gallagher's foreboding, anxiety and obsession with Hodgson's ice-time may have been his relationship with Hodgson's agent Ritch Winter.

If you care to try to get through Winter's remarkably odd and convoluted article, the link is

http://www.theagents...onds-press.html

One of the few interesting things about Winter's long-winded and patronizing lesson in critical thinking is actually an absence - for all his anger with Daniel Wagner, he did not take issue at all with anything that Tony Gallagher said. He chose instead to write a marathon snore, implying that Wagner is a loose cannon, sadly unfit to uphold the nostalgic journalistic standards of days gone by. Yet curiously Gallagher's claims to "know" that the Canucks are flirting with demands to be traded did not seem to concern Winters at all. If Gallagher "knew" this, where else could that information come from than Hodgson's camp? In the end, I find the line Hodgson's agent took to be very shifty, and no less indirect than Gallagher's strange connection of the dots noted above.

From Winter's article:

"Recently, in the Vancouver Sun, Daniel Wagner wrote about Cody Hodgson’s ice time. The story was an amazing example of the type of rapid deterioration of sport journalism into what we are seeing more of these days in sports reporting. Because, not only did Wagner base a lot of the piece he wrote on fiction, he didn’t even try to hide that. The article is entitled: “Hodgson seems happy with his ice time; who isn’t?" The piece is, to put it mildly, a piece of work.”

It could have been the case that Gallagher - who seems to come up with an idea once a month or so and is simply unable to let go of it - came up with this controversy regarding Hodgson's ice time all on his own, without any input from Winters or Cody et al. If you read Gallagher's comment however, he states very clearly that he "knows" what the Canucks are messing with. For PITB Wagner to assume that the ice time controversy may have more at it's root than merely the mindless and endless obsessions of Tony Gallagher is not hard to understand. Gallagher claimed to "know" that the Canucks are playing with fire, and kept on and on about Cody's ice time, ad infinitum, in an incredibly boring and annoying campaign to inform Alain Vigneault how often and when Hodgson ought to be used. Apparently Gallagher based this campaign on....absolutely nowhere near as much information or insight as Alain Vigneault has - the person, in the end, that Gallagher was essentially complaining about. But were his fears of discontent and trade demands baseless?

Suggesting that a rookie might not be happy with his ice time - if that isn't jumping the gun, then what is? Gallagher was, however, through all his anxiety and endorsement, not really harming Hodgson's bargaining position - just feeding annoying speculation - and interestingly, was not a target of the ire of Hodgson's agent Ritch Winter. There is a strange contradiction implicit where Gallagher's dire forecasts go unchecked, yet in a tone of hockey royalty, Winter took such extensive and high-fallluting issue with the surf/blogger's presumption that Gallagher knew what he was talking about, and that it must have come from conversations with Hodgson's handlers. As an aside, if anyone should be annoyed with Vancouver media, you'd think it would be Mason Raymond's agent, as Gallagher and Botchford waged a ceaseless campaign against Raymond repeating the same degradations over and over and over again...

PITB's Daniel Wagner provided an honest, stand up response to Winter's offensive, and apologized, although in the end, (and I may just be defending a fellow basement suite blogger here), I am not really in agreement that Wagner overstepped so dramatically - at all. Nevertheless, here is a link to Wagner's site and his apology...

http://www.passittobulis.com/

It might be worth reading this quote from Gallagher again.

"I think the Canucks are really playing with fire. In fact, I know they’re playing with fire with this business of what they’re doing to Hodgson. They may not have to accede to demands to be traded, if in fact they come, but you don’t want to be messing around.

Once a player starts doing that, starts asking, if you’ve gotta say no, then you’re starting to really sour the relationship and I don’t think they want to go there. They are perilously close to that kind of situation. I mean, if I had been Cody’s agent I would have been asking long ago. They have been way more than patient."

If that isn't alarmist then what is? Was it surprising today to see that Gallagher has followed it all up with a prediction that Black Monday (the trade deadline) will cause a permanent curse on the Canucks Cup dreams? Probably not. With journalists like this captaining the cause in Vancouver... who needs detractors from competing cities? They would do well to remain mute and watch the long and industrious media tradition in Vancouver endlessly repeat it's negative chorus of chipping away at the home team. No wonder young Canucks fans act out, when the tone that has been set is so... gloomy, and well, childish.

This latest article by Gallagher has taken it all to it's apex. Gallagher was after all, the one to "break" this issue. Perhaps Hodgson's agent Ritch Winter and Tony Gallagher have a cordial relationship - if you read Winter's article you will realize that they both obviously have an overwhelming tendency to protest too much, and Winter got an awful lot of mileage out his disdain for PITB Daniel Wagner (if you can stomach reading the entire article). But I don't think Daniel Wagner took much of a leap at all - considering how over the top Gallagher had been with his warnings and foreboding. Wagner really only made one assumption - that there was something, as indicated by Galllagher's obsessing over the issue, to it all and that it came from Hodgson's camp - in the end, was it all just Gallagher obsessing? Or did he "know" something? The thread starts with Gallagher, who sure caused a big stir, and how convenient that was for Winters - prematurely driving his client's value up, and at the same time giving him the opportunity to launch into his critique of the modern media. Personally I don't buy Winter's lines at all, and think he was scapegoating Wagner and being opportunistic, while not really taking any public position on the issue of Hodgson's willingness or unwillingness to accept his role in Vancouver. The whole approach leaves a bad stench, not unlike backroom politicking.

Here is an ironic passage from Winter's "Agents of Change" article:

“Take a recent exchange between a well known Canadian national television personality and myself – I will not divulge his name due to the fact I did not seek his permission to reprint our dialogue. Yesterday he asked, "Are you expecting Cody Hodgson to be moved?” I responded, “Never gave it much thought. I suppose Vancouver could trade their best young player and leading scorer in the month of January. That, and nuclear war are real possibilities don’t you think? I just don’t have any time to invest in speculation and rumors. I am busy doing my job, managing real issues to get involved in the stuff you poor suckers have no choice but to indulge in. I feel for you guys having to fill all the air time they a lot to you with garbage, but just don’t rely on me to be a part of that...I will be spending my spare time reading “The Rare Find” by George Anders, a great read recommended to me by a leading Canadian decision theorist and Nobel Prize winning economist, as well as Daniel Kahneman’s new book and the watching the National Geographic Channel for something intelligent as the trade deadline approaches."

Deny the fire all you want - a lot of smoke remained. Hasn't the Hodgson camp's approach pretty much done exactly that - resulted in a whole lot more speculation and rumours than necessary?

But here is perhaps the most telling, most interesting passage in Ritch Winter's article:

"In fact, every time Tony and I speak I am surprised at how much angst Cody’s ice-time is causing him. In fact, my reaction to his concerns was all Tony was talking about. Nothing more. Nothing less. But, Wagner never called Tony or me to check on that and went on to make a mountain out of a bag of pucks.,,,Of course, unlike Wagner, I actually know who had issues with Cody’s ice-time and why. But, will not say."

Clearly, beyond Gallagher and Wagner, there was a source of all the smoke after all.

This Hodgson saga has been a distraction that Gillis and Alain Vigneault have had to waste their time on and perhaps some of it is 'karma' as a result of what many have alluded to as Vigneault's early difficulties with the young centre. No doubt Vigneault may have a regret or two of his own, but expecting Cody to be compensated with ice-time relative to veteran stars is unrealistic - borderline ridiculous. While we are speaking of 'karma', Tony Gallagher, even weaker in his role as a sidechair coach and sidechair GM than he is as a journalist, appears to have taken things too far, stirring up a whole bunch of premature nonsense and controversy, and the result is ironic to say the least. The only delicious part is that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. Some extra irony lies in the fact that his article traces the impact of the Wesley part of the Neely deal - which would imply that the future lineage of Sulzer is what will really cost the Canucks in this deal.

When it comes to Hodgson's agent and his undisclosed role in all of this, I have to sympathize with Mike Gillis - if Winter's exhausting article is any indication of what it is like to deal with him and what Gillis had to endure in order to keep Cody here, it is not difficult to see why he traded the young centre. It could have taken forever to get down to brass tacks. I think Hodgson was worth some patience, but his agent seems like quite a "piece of work" and price to pay himself, and regardless, in the end, it looks like Gillis' hand was either forced, that there was simply a mutual agreement to let bygones be bygones with each going his own way, or all the tolerance that could possibly be mustered had been spent on all of this, and Gillis made a somewhat pre-emptive move, before it got even more drawn out and the Canucks risked losing value on their investment. From where I sit, most signs point to the latter.

I am personally not one of those people who are angry that Hodgson's camp appears to have essentially wanted him to play in a different situation than Vancouver (or wanted Vancouver to create a different situation for him, which essentially spells moving Kesler). In the end, live and let live, and it appears part of what Gillis accomplished was exactly that, trading Cody as close to his home as possible. But a simple stand up position on these issues would have avoided a lot of speculation and grief for fans, who in the end are going to feel they got the run around - bigtime - particularly after the dust settles and comments like those above are taken into consideration.

This issue of whether Hodgson had earned more ice time - I am sorry to make such trivial points, but Kesler and Hank - the players ahead of Cody on the depth chart - took a long time to earn their way up to positions on the first and second lines. This premature Hodgson controversy is rather laughable relative to the dues other guys have paid. What it all looks like is an out of control ego in the Hodgson and handler's camp, and some inflated idol worship on the part of Gallagher, whose 'idea' that the Canucks Cup hopes left with the Hodgson trade are similarly ridiculous. Kesler may also have joined the Canucks with an ego and expectations, but after a short period he seemed to realize that he would have to put his work boots on and become a true two-way player in order to earn the minutes and the role he initially appeared to expect. Kesler did exactly that and played a depth role, working his way up over time to owning the second line, and despite his marquis status, we have never heard anything resembling an expectation to equal or surpass Henrik and take the centre spot on the first line - not to mention the fact that both the Sedins and Kesler seem satisfied with less minutes than are typically allotted to the top lines in the NHL.

Apparently Hodgson's camp, on the other hand, felt he is special. He has looked good playing where he belonged at this point in his short career, with the appropriate amount of minutes that he was given - but the push for more ice time was a warning sign that there were unrealistic expectations about his status on a team alreadly loaded with veteran all-world players. Fast forward and rumours/reports are (although I haven't spoken to anyone - I am a mere amateur-blogger) that there was a meeting with Alain Vigneault before the trade deadline... I, like Wagner so offensively did, am nevertheless going to go out on a limb here, and assume that Cody and/or handlers have their share of responsibility in all of this. If not, Tony Gallagher would have absolutely no complaining to do, but rather, a whole lot of explaining. I personally will be less than surprised if Gallagher's response to all of this takes on an arrogant 'I told you so' tone. But evidently, there was more to it all than just Wagner and Gallagher. Winter - "my reaction to his concerns was all Tony was talking about. Nothing more. Nothing less... I actually know who had issues with Cody’s ice-time and why. But, will not say."

Did Cody or his handlers feel they were ready to essentially say it is Cody's ice time vs Kesler's, or Cody's vs Hank's, because that is what it all boils down to - in other words... going to Buffalo. Keeping in mind that this ice time drama didn't start the weekend before the trade deadline - that it was already months old - if we consider that months ago, in December, Cody's entire NHL career was only months old - this controversy takes on an air of utterly silly proportions - a few months represent a significant fraction of Hodgson's entire NHL career. Not the kind of mindset you want from a player many were touting as the next captain. A young candidate for captaincy would recognize his veterans leaders, accept his current role, put his work boots on, check his ego at the door, and do the little things in a supportive role to help his club - not expect his inheritance prematurely.

Hodgson can act like he didn't want to be moved, but he can't separate himself from his handlers or the controversy - regardless of the substance of those conversations that none of us know the details of, it all obviously resulted in a trade. Hodgson may have said previously that he is content with his ice time - he can say he was shocked by the trade and didn't expect it - if he doesn't want to take responsibility for what has been said and done, so be it, he is a young man, and his tenure here was not an easy one. Perhaps it should have been a case of enough said months ago - we all know that he is a rookie behind a Selke and Hart winner - but apparently the unrest and dissatisfaction from his camp was not going to subside, and there was simply something about his "shock" on deadline day that didn't quite sell. Perhaps the most revealing part of it alll was when Winter shared that "I actually know who had issues with Cody’s ice-time and why. But, will not say." Mr. who? appears to have kept pressing the issue. Perhaps the shock was that Mr. Gillis called all the bluffing and decided it was enough.

When it comes to 'doomsday', from where I stand the Canucks look like they actually fared pretty well through this. Mike Gillis turned this situation into a player who is no doubt the best power forward not yet playing full-time in the NHL, as well as a highly promising defenseman. The more I consider this trade, the more convinced I am that I would have been satisfied with Kassian alone, who looks ready to play at the very least a secondary role, which is, in the end, all that Cody had earned and was contributing. I prefer the route Mike Gillis chose, as opposed to what I was proposing, which was to potentially move Kesler for a guy like Eberle to play with Hodgson (with the cap being the main factor, not a preference for Hodgson over Kesler - I think they both 'got game'). But in the end, Kesler's contract is very reasonable, whereas who knows what kind of contract Winter would have been pushing for - expecting the rookie to get premature minutes after 33 points in the NHL is a good indication that it all would have spelled long term drama. In the end, well done Mike Gillis et al. Best of luck Cody - no hard feelings. Unfortunate that it didn't work out - but let's all hope it is a win, win trade. It certainly looks like it has the potential to be, despite the doomsday scenario Gallagher seems intent to project or invoke. It looks like Gallagher just couldn't let it go - in a manner similar to the way he and Botchford can't let go of their ceaseless 'dogging' on Mason Raymond. I can only imagine what Raymond's agent would like to write about Gallagher and Botchford... But in the end it looks like Gallagher wasn't the only one who wouldn't let it go.

I personally won't be letting the negative suggestion ruin my optimism regarding this trade, and won't be expecting the sky to fall or the roof to crash in on GM Place. I am very excited about Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani having joined the Canucks and highly doubt the Sabres will be hoisting the Cup 25 years from now as a result.

On a brighter note, it was enjoyable to read an article written by a Torontonian - who was baffled by the move - I doubt they would have been as baffled if Hodgson had gone to Toronto. I'd be willing to bet that Burke was wanting in on the Hodgson deal (and Cody's agent and Dad...?). But Toronto simply didn't have players like Kassian and Gragnani to offer - and would we rather have sent Hodgson to Toronto for Luke Schenn? That would have been a trade worth Neelying. I love what Mike Gillis pulled off here, and to be honest, I take a little pleasure in the fact that Hodgson won't be wearing a Maple Leaf - I am also glad for his sake that he didn't land in a town that has an actual curse on their hockey team.

For those who truly loved Hodgson (and were saddened by Gallagher's article), perhaps this alternative way of thinking might help - Trevor Linden, after all he did for the Canucks, wound up bringing to Vancouver Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe, and a pick that turned out to be Jarkko Ruutu (no I'm not suggesting as Hodgson's agent did, that he was in any way Linden's equal, but many Canucks fans thought he'd be their next Canucks captain)... Bertuzzi became a premier power forward in Vancouver, and wound up being the player that brought Luongo to the Canucks....(but then by the same measure as Gallagher uses in his article, we might by some strange turn of logic owe it to Mike Keenan that Luongo wears a Canucks jersey)... Anyway, Zack Kassian aspires to be a player like Todd Bertuzzi, and might actually have even more potential upside - he looks like a player with all-around potential. It is hard to actually find a satisfying comparison as he already seems to have more hockey sense, mobility, and versatility than the player he is commonly compared to - Lucic. It might be necessary to go to another sport to find the best potential comparison; Kassian looks to me like hockey's version of Charles Barkley. The Round Mound of Rebound was a remarkable athlete who outrebounded much taller men using his strength, jumping ability, positioning and sheer determination. He dominated the boards and in the paint, always contributed a game effort, and simply would not be denied. Barkley would pull down a defensive rebound, and if there was no outlet, he would take off rumbling the length of the court with mobility and ballhandling skills uncanny for a man of his stature. He was a prototypical power forward, but his all around game gradually became less and less surprising - he could score, rebound, make plays, and defend... Charles Barkeley was a total package of a player. Kassian looks like he has that kind of intent. I hope Hodgson does turn out to be a Cam Neely quality player for Bufffalo - that would only seem fair when you look at the quality of players the Canucks landed in return.

In the end, the Canucks had two top notch young NHL proven assets going into the trade deadline, both of whom found themselves playing behind marquis veterans. The 22 year old Hodgson had played only 3/4 of an NHL season, and already the ice-time controversy was getting old. The 26 year old Cory Schneider on the other hand, proved himself in the AHL for a few years, and played a full NHL season last year, by all estimations ready to be a legitimate premier NHL starter. He has played another 3/4 season this year, and has been unwavering, consistently beating the Canucks strongest opponents. The difference - we have never heard a single word about Schneider being unsatisfied with his ice-time, the amount of games he has played, or his role, and with all due respect to Hodgson, Cory has simply earned his ice time to a degree Cody hadn't. Another difference - Cory had endured a great deal of trade talk - it hasn't phased him. His performances reflect none of the distractions of being the constant focus of speculation. For all the future captain talk about Hodgson, Schneider is the player who has conducted himself in a manner you would like to see from a young potential captain (but we've all seen that goaltenders don't need that extra complication). Again, with all due respect to Hodgson, his agent's claim that he is Vancouver's best young player does not ring true.

For this playoff run, Mike Gillis kept, moved and acquired the right assets - he traded the player at the position where there wasn't the right mix of depth, for players that provide roles we needed, and in adding Pahlsson, the Canucks are different but no weaker at the centre position. Hodgson as a third line centre could have been facing some defensive-end matchup problems in the playoffs against clubs who have size, depth and skill in their forward lines. Hodgson is a great young player, but if you listen to his agent or some Canucks fans, you might start to believe he is in a class by himself - but he doesn't simply have strengths alone. There has been a lot of fear about what happens if the Sedin and Kesler lines aren't scoriing... What does Hodgson provide when he is not scoring? Not necessarily more than Kassian does, who brings a lot of versatility and options.

I am not convinced that keeping a smaller, not terribly fleet footed third line rookie scoring centre was as vital as retaining the goaltending tandem. I love the decision to keep Schneider - I don't think Luongo feels threatened or has an ego problem with the fact Schneider is in his corner - and you never know - Luongo could suffer an injury, get the flu, or struggle - and Cory has his back. Even if Luongo were to carry all the luggage in the playoffs, Cory will be a large part of the reason he is reasonably rested going into the playoffs, and having Schneider nevertheless takes a lot of do-or-die pressure off Luongo - that alone could help Luongo perform at his best.

As for the re-curse of Cam Neely - I just realized that the parking ticket I received last week might actually be the responsibility of the original owner of my van, who went out in 1994 and bought a minivan when his wife wanted a station wagon. The line of causation from that decision lead directly to the piece of paper left on my windshield by an overzealous parking enforcer. And that money could have been beer to drink while watching a Canucks game...

Lighten up Gallagher - for many of us fans of the team, the trade spells anything but doomsday - the Canuck's Cup window still looks very open - and the present and future still look pretty bright, perhaps even brighter.

oldnews

Short answer - next to nobody? But perhaps the signs were there nevertheless...

Orca's don't usually make splashes that shake an entire coastline but today, Canucks fans could feel the ground shifting beneath their feet...

Initially, when I heard that Cody Hodgson had been sent to Buffalo for Zack Kassian, I was shocked - as no doubt everyone was. Who doesn't love the way he has played for Vancouver - who didn't imagine his future as a Canuck? He was bringing that extra something. Kassian on the other hand seems like a question mark when it comes to his readiness to play a significant role at the NHL level, whereas Cody has erased any question marks this season, quite emphatically. An uneasy feeling of disbelief started to set in, tempered only by the sense that, as Brad May expressed, there must be more to it. Moments pass by, and wondering about Kassian turns to the idea that this may be ok - this might be a downgrade in terms of pure skill, but Kassian is that rare player - a skilled giant, and if he lives up to his potential, this could still be a relatively balanced deal. This is a deal Gillis made, after all, and he doesn't make moves like this on a whim. Imagine Kassian alongside Booth and Kesler, and the second line takes on a whole new beastly tone. He may not be ready for that role - he may play some useful minutes on the fourth line in the interim, or need some time in Chicago - who knows? He may just surprise us, but one thing is certain - all eyes will be on the youngster, and he may require us to remember that a little patience is a virtue.

A few minutes later, a bit more relief sets in, as the announcement that Marc-Andre Gragnani, the second piece in the deal, was disclosed. When you consider the young defenseman Gragnani, it becomes easier to let up on the fear of losing the young and much loved Hodgson. Gragnani could turn out to be the element that makes this trade a great deal for the Canucks. It might be rather inaccurate to describe Gragnani as a "depth" defenseman, a term that has initially been thrown around - a puck moving defensemen, he may be a depth guy to start with, but his potential seems far greater than that. His numbers before reaching the NHL are very impressive, his playoff performance last year certainly raises eyebrows at a point a game in 7 games as a rookie, and for what it is worth, more impressive than his offensive numbers this year is the fact that he stands out on the Sabres at a remarkable plus 10 on a team with only three plus players; the next closest skater being a plus 3. In addition, he is apparently capable of playing as a forward. How many times have the Canucks had a defenseman suffer an injury, leaving five guys to play taxing minutes? If that proves to be the case, Gragnani is an asset that is also particularly valuable as insurance against injury in the playoffs, potentiallly allowing seven defensemen to be dressed. Moving forward with young defensemen like Tanev and Gragnani, in addition to a solid core of veterans, and prospects Connauton and Sauve still developing, the blueline starts to look extremely deep for the long term.

I had wondered if it might be Kesler that may be moved to make room for Hodgson, but the fact the Canucks acquired a pair of top notch young prospects in return for Hodgson is a very favourable factor in this deal, and probably better than many of our mere fantasy scenarios. As difficult as it may have been, there is the feeling lurking that something had to be done. Cody may have felt "weird" upon hearing the news, but somehow he didn't seem as shocked as may have been expected. Given his agent's apparent knack for meddling and dramatics, it seems like there could quite possibly be more to the circumstances than meets the eye. Or was all the ice-time controversy and foreboding just an obsession of Tony Gallagher's?

The controversy around Cody Hodgson's ice-time may have hastened a move somewhat, and trading Cody's agent may have played a role in moving the young centre as well, but as balanced as the Canucks are, there also remains the fact that they were strongest at the centre position. The scoring balance Hodgson helped bring was certainly valuable, but there was also the repeated suggestion that his "handlers" were not satisfied and were not consenting to the limits of his role. If those appearances were in fact the case, Gillis has to be commended for managing to turn the trade that he did out of that situation. Regardless, I wish Cody all the best, and am glad that he will not be playing for a rival in the Western Conference. Before getting terribly disappointed, it is probably worth keeping in mind the context of Cody's success this year, surrounded by a solid, deep team - and ask Ehrhoff how easy that success is to replicate in a different context in Buffalo.

Aside from what appears to be similar outstanding talent coming back to Vancouver, I am equally excited about the fact the Canucks added a pair of young players. Kassian and Gragnani could not only play as substantial long-term role as we had envisioned Hodgson to, but balancing the club with talented young players also buys a few years of easing off the pressures of the salary cap - in the cap era, it seems vital to manage this aspect of age-balance wisely. Moving a young star like Hodgson would have hurt much more if an expensive veteran were added, making the potential upside of a deal a shorter term benefit.

This deal not only allows the Canucks to retain Kesler, but with the addition of Pahlsson, it would be hard to consider these moves as having weakened the Canucks short-term chances at a Cup as well. If anything, the Canucks have added three potential roster players adding new dimensions to the team - they have given up one key component, but at a position where the Canucks were facing a bottleneck. Instead, they acquire a true third line stifling shut-down centre, a versatile puck moving defenseman who could prove to generate scoring and help compensate for the loss of Cody's as well, and if Kassian is able to step in and contribute, they become deeper and more imposing. Canucks fans may not like these trades in the present, but there are likely a few opponents who don't and won't like them either.

Once again, Mike Gillis and his team seem to have struck a very intelligent balance - if the complications of Cody's restless agent were a factor, it is hard to argue with the results MG and his management team produced. They certainly showed a willingness to take a risk, and made a very difficult decision that may be unpopular in the short term, but if there is one thing they have earned, it is a little faith from Canucks fans. It is not hard to imagine this developing into a trade Canucks fans accept after all the premature panic and hysteria calms down - given some time to breathe and the chance to see what MG and his team see in these players, the doubt could very well return to faith. From where I sit, shocking or not, these moves look like they might just be more of what we have come to expect (or take for granted) from MG...results.

oldnews

The Calgary Flames have worked themselves into what seems to be a perennial catch-22 situation... They have been a pleasant surprise of late, getting themselves into playoff contention – it is not entirely shocking when they step up with a few wins under pressure, when you consider that they have solid veterans and a goaltender who has stolen countless wins for that organization. In fact they seem to be doing this year after year, making late runs that put them at the edge of playoff contention. But this year, it will be shocking if they manage to sustain the pace they have set of late, and this year is of course, yet another year later; one has to wonder if these late runs are as much curses as they are blessings…

On some levels, it was surprising that Edmonton skated into Calgary and handed the Flames their most embarrassing loss of the season. Calgary may need to brush this off as their second worst performance of the season and get back to business, but there are a number of things that make the Edmonton reality check far more significant than the loss to Boston. First, and most obvious, it was their bitter rival Edmonton and not the Stanley Cup Champions who made them look like an AHL contender and NHL playoff pretender. Second, it was in Calgary’s own building, where they were 16-8, and not the intimidating confines of the Boston Gardens. Third, Calgary came into the game with momentum and confidence, and the timing of the drubbing could not have been worse.

On another level let’s not underestimate the Oilers or suggest that those two points should have been a ‘gimme’… Facing a young team like Edmonton, despite Calgary’s overwhelming head-to-head advantage and their recent success, may not have been exactly what the doctor ordered. With nothing to lose and an opportunity to rain on Calgary’s run at the playoffs, the fleet Oilers were no doubt primed to catch the Flames off-guard, forcing the issue with a pace of game that Calgary was not prepared to match. The result no doubt made Jay Feaster take note… Is there a possible way of finding a silver-lining under such circumstances?

Having to over-ride their aging horses is no doubt bound to catch up with them... Calgary has been cursed by injuries, and obviously doesn't have the depth to handle any more - at all - and at this time of the season the going gets rougher, and guys get battered and tired as the long season takes a toll... Being short of healthy bodies creates a snowball situation of having to rely even more on those still standing - a bad combination for any team, but for Calgary it means depending even more on aging veterans and inexperienced young players.

Hopefully Feaster's decision to "make a run" doesn't come up just short (again), AND prevent them from making the moves they probably should get around to, in order to retool their team for the future. It is easy to sympathize with the Flames, but the situation they find themselves in is not entirely unpredictable, nor the result of injuries alone… It is hard to make a whole lot of sense of the messages sent this season, or be a fan of the majority of moves this team has made.

As much as it stung, the Edmonton game might be a timely wake up call for the Flames. With an opportunity to hold onto their newly acquired playoff positioning, the Flames did not lose a tough battle with the Oilers – they came out absolutely flat and lifeless. The troubling thing is that they are not a club that lacks character – if they didn’t show up for that vital game, in my opinion, it is a sign of something else. Exhaustion. They have been getting out-shot every game and depending on the magic of their go-to goaltender. The Flames are already over-taxed and undermanned, and yet the most challenging and contested part of a playoff run has only just begun. They were already living on a prayer, and despite their run, the chips have not exactly been falling into place for them.

Some people felt the Flames should have faced the music and started rebuilding long ago. Other people feel that it is too late now that they have set their course for a playoff run - their success of late, if anything, has solidified that stance. So what are the Calgary Flames? As the trade deadline approaches, they are clearly not buyers - they have no cap space to use, and don’t want to be parting with any more young assets. They seem to have made a statement that they are not sellers, not intent upon making decisive moves, and have been managing to keep pace with the other playoff hopefuls in the Western Conference. Are they a better club than Los Angeles and Phoenix? What should they do at the trade deadline?

Playoff run or not, I was not necessarily in agreement with people who felt they should “blow it up” and move Jarome Iginla or Miikka Kiprusoff. I would be inclined to hold onto those guys at least another year, if not until retirement, as they are still productive, but perhaps even more important, they are the identity of the Calgary Flames. As a result, they may be considered exceptions to the rule of moving aging assets. There has been a whole lot of talk about contracts in Calgary this season - they have moved a few and added another, but the moves haven’t necessarily added up to making a great deal of sense. If the Flames had not just added him, Cammalleri’s might be a contract worth parting with in the interest of adding youth, depth, assets and cap space. In Feaster’s defense, Rene Bourque has not faired much better in Montreal, but the Habs gained $3 million in cap space in the move, while Cammalleri is still producing at the rate of a guy worth half his cap hit.

As far as I am concerned, if there is one decisive move that needs to be made in Calgary, it is convincing Jay Bouwmeester to renegotiate his no-trade clause, and move his $6.8 million cap hit. Whether Bouwmeester is “over-rated” is one question that is debatable, but whether he is their best defenseman is also debatable, and whether he is overpaid… not as debatable. The Flames may not be terribly deep on the blueline right now and would need to acquire a young defenseman in return as part of a package, but if the decision between making a run right now, or making moves for the future is in balance, perhaps the scales should tilt slightly towards the latter. Moving Bouwmeester would not necessarily represent throwing in the towel on the playoffs. Trading Bouwmeester’s cap hit may be no easy task, but there might be no better timing than the present, with a high demand for veteran defensemen, and Hal Gill already off the market. There is likely a GM or two who may be willing to take the chance on Bouwmeester regaining some scoring form with a change of scenery, and with the premium for defensemen at the trade deadline being what it appears, Calgary may actually be able to acquire a roster player or two that it needs, and/or young assets.

Perhaps just as importantly, Calgary could gain a little breathing space under the cap – there are legitimate Cup contenders who have more cap space than the playoff question mark that is the Calgary Flames. If the Flames are trying to get better and compete at the same time, - that does not preclude making decisive moves – and the time to start the bidding is not at the deadline – it is now. Perhaps it is time to let the shopping begin – if a move could be made before the deadline, Calgary would actually have a little time to work with. As things stand, they remain in a familiar position; the chance of making the playoffs may be exciting, but idling up against the cap, with an aging core and lack of depth… that must also be getting uncomfortable.

oldnews

What's new? The Bruins are at it again.

The caption beneath a picture on CSNNE’s BRUINSTALK, showing Sami Salo airborne as a result of Brad Marchand’s low bridge, claims that...

Brad Marchand and the B's have been thinking too much out on the ice.”

Yes. That’s it. Exactly what comes to everyone's mind. The Bruins are thinking too much…

You'd have thought the stuff out of their mouths couldn't possibly have gotten any more ridiculous than their comments after their deflating loss to the Canucks earlier this year. But more than a month later and the Bruins are still in defense mechanism mode.

To quote a quote (M-A-K-A-V-E-L-I) of a quote (John Stewart)…

“You guys make it so easy!!!”

Lucic runs Miller – no games.

Marchand low bridges and repeatedly punches Sedin – no penalty.

Ference head shot to Halpern – no penalty, no suspension.

Lucic boarding/hit from behind on Rinaldo – one game.

Marchand low bridge against Salo – five games.

Ference hit from behind on McDonagh – three games.

Comment that the Bruins are thinking too much – priceless.

I know, I just posted another blog, but all this “Bruinstalk” is simply too hard to resist.

The Bruins are slumping and ironically, they are searching for excuses - not surprisingly, they are finding them. The conclusions they are coming to - that Sheriff Shanahan is “binging”, and the Bruins are “thinking too much” - these are the things preventing Boston from ‘protecting’ themselves, leading to Bruins losses… Those conclusions call for another infamous M-A-K-A-V-E-L-I edit - insert the patented John Stewart lip-smack-to-the-end-of-his-fingers here... and add in a Jesus face-palm for good measure.

According to “Bruins Insider” Joe Haggerty, the Bruins “ were outhit in eight of their last 11 games by the opposing teams”, something he claims hardly ever happens… Apparently the Bruins are not hitting because they don’t know the difference between a body check and boarding/a hit from behind or a low bridge. The rules are so confusing.

To read the article the link is... http://www.csnne.com...?blockID=646532

But if I remember correctly, the Bruins were primed when the Canucks walked in to their big bad house and outhit them 24-17 in the season’s most gigantic game, that “score-settling” one that started the Bruins slide. While we are at it, let's look a little closer at that claim that the Bruins beat up the Canucks in the Finals. This non-sense about Vancouver not being tough enough has annoyed me enough that I decided to go back and review the boxscores in the Finals last year. In fact the results do not reflect all the claims that Boston is so much tougher than their opponents: Game 1 Boston outhit Vancouver 31-30, Game 2 Vancouver outhit Boston 40-31, Game 3 Vancouver outhit Boston 39-31, Game 4 even at 27 hits each, Game 5 Vancouver outhit Boston 47-27, Game 6 Boston outhit Vancouver 43-38, and Game 7 Vancouver outhit Boston 47-29, Overall, if you do the math, Vancouver had a sizable advantage, out-hitting Boston 268-219. I think it might be fairer to say the Bruins out-dirty and out cheap-shot their opponents far more often than they out-hit them. When the Canucks out-play them, the Bruins resort to acting out on their frustrations and expect their dirty liberties to be permitted. Clearly they have gotten quite accustomed to that.

“Perhaps it was inevitable the Bruins were headed for a rough patch after their emotional loss to the Vancouver Canucks…Above and beyond dropping the score-settling Stanley Cup Finals rematch to the hated Canucks, the Bruins lost Brad Marchand for five games on a clipping call... While the players say they won't change their ways due to a little league attention, the suspensions certainly had their effect on the team.”

The Bruins are sticking with their protests - that they are getting undue attention from the Sheriff.

Haggerty goes on to rationalize…

“That’s not really conducive to playing their brand of hockey, and would explain why the B’s seem to be on their heels at times. Once the players begin questioning whether what they’re doing will be eyed suspiciously by the league, it takes some of the starch right out of their game. “

Milan Lucic couldn’t agree more…

“I’ve still tried getting in there forechecking and finishing my checks, but definitely you have to be aware of when the microscope is on you. You’re always aware of that,” said Lucic. “[The suspensions] might have something to do with [the struggles].

Honestly, forgive me for indulging, but this stuff is just too rich not to comment upon - I’ve seen Lucic and the Bruins on their heels before, and it had nothing to do with official discipline, and everything to do with facing faster, more skilled opponents. Lucic was invisible for most of the playoffs last year… He is unfortunately most notable when running players from behind or goaltenders half his size. When it comes to "starch" (ie dirty hockey), without it, the Bruins seem to be admitting that they don’t match up so well.

“Let’s be honest: They’ve come down pretty hard on us. Especially with the five- and the three-game suspensions . . . I mean, [the Devils' Patrik] Elias was a more blatant hit from behind [on Montreal's Mike Blunden last week] than mine or Ference was, and that was just a fine.”

“We don’t want to lose key guys for long periods of time, so there’s definitely heightened awareness about the rule changes.”

Let's be honest? Rule changes? Being penalized for running guys from behind is a “rule change?”

Forget about the fact that Salo missed more games than Marchand, or that Ryan Miller’s concussion went unpunished, as did Ference’s hit on Montreal’s Halpern that took the vital forward out of the Habs lineup in last years playoff showdown with the Bruins. The Bruins are being wronged by the rules here and they don’t want to lose key guys for long periods of time. “Socialism” (as it has been called elsewhere) and “rule changes” (what rule “changes” is he talking about?) would seem to be repressing the freedoms of the Boston Bruins.

Cue another M-A-K-A-V-E-L-I edit…

"That is, if I may say, some of the most free-range, organically grown, disingenuous, ideologically marinated, un-self-awareness I've ever seen in the wild…"

Let’s face it – when it comes to actual hockey, there are teams out there that might simply be better than the Boston Bruins, and ironically, just as tough and capable of dishing out clean body checks - something the big bad Bruins, by the way, have coming. To reverse a Mark Spector quote, “Karma is a Real Bear.” Something else the Bruins aren’t – aside from a few of their skaters - the Bruins are not the most fleet-footed team in the league, something that lends vulnerability to them getting out-hit by opponents.

But let’s get back to more from Bruins’ Insider Joe Haggerty –

“It was almost like one long sit-down with Brendan Shanahan and the player safety department broken up into three different parts, and it gave off the feeling that the league was watching the Bruins like they were a bad Rockwell song from the 1980s.”

One thing is as clear as a blue sky – in the words of the legendary rock band Led Zeppelin - “the Song Remains the Same” in Boston, and all the hot air they can muster may not be enough to keep their fantasies afloat. But there’s no need to think too much about it, when there are so many clichés to choose from.

“What colour is the sky in your world?” may be an appropriately over-killed cliché question for the ballooning Bruins.

Or, in the words of a fan responding to Haggerty’s article, from deep down a river in Egypt…

“The Bruins can Thank the Coaches of the Canucks (notice I am leaving out the Habs) and the Sabres for the microscope attention, When Coaches go public it's an automatic that the league officials will have meetings and will try to address the complaints. Ruff, Vigneault and Laviolette are the biggest whiners in the League. “

Yes. And the Bruins are too busy “thinking too much.” There may be the impression that this is how things are done in the NHL - that lobbying and patronage is what drives decisions, but it seems like more the case that that is what Shanahan is trying to get away from - to suggest that he is making decisions based on phone calls from coaches is missing the point.

As Travis Hughes of SB Nation put it “the way it comes off in this story isn't going to win the Bruins any fans outside of Boston.”

But let’s look at an angle I doubt they thought about before making these “intelligent” comments (as tempting as it is, I’ll resist quoting Claude Julien here). There is an admission implicit in these Bruins protests - that they can’t win if they are expected to play the game like every other team in the league – to be specific, within the rules of the game, which they are claiming they are having such a hard time figuring out. If the liberties they take, running around distracting opponents at the very least, and at worst running them with illegal hits, engaging in intent to injure opponents outside the bounds of legal body checks - if those cheap shots are curbed, the big bad tough guy Bruins actually appear over-rated, and fall back into the mix with the other teams in the NHL. Their sense of entitlement, having been challenged by someone with the audacity to uphold the rules of the game (Shanahan), has left them at a loss. In fact, they find themselves in a relative losing streak, searching for excuses outside themselves, for reasons that they are getting outplayed, outside the fact that they are getting outplayed. Who are the biggest whiners in the league? Expecting more patronage is kind of pathetic. Their legitimacy as Champions is less and less undisputed.

I have been under the impression that the Canucks versus Red Wings are the most entertaining matchup in hockey, but the Bruins versus their own egos, in an epic battle to outsmart themselves and sustain their entitlement, is proving to match up competitively. As a result, “The Ironing is Delicious” is more entertaining than watching the typical Bruins game.

Haggerty figures that “The Bruins lead the NHL in the unenviable category of nine games lost to suspensions this season, and an argument could be made the B’s – carrying the reputation of a team that plays on the edge, earned while beating up Vancouver in the Stanley Cup Finals -- no longer get the benefit of the doubt on 50/50 calls.”

The Bruins were getting the benefit of the doubt? That almost sounds like awareness breaking through. 50/50 calls? Apparently one man’s ‘protecting’ himself is another man’s predatory cheap shot and intent to injure. But the third party Sheriff doesn’t seem to see things the way Bruinstalk (ie doublespeak) does, and far from binging and going away, it appears Shanahan is here to stay, while the Bruins....are swimming with a fan in Egyptian waters.

The Bruins have been suspended for a whole nine games combined? Instead of complaining, Beantown should be thankful for everything they have gotten away with – as in take the Cup and run and be grateful for your good fortune - it could have been a lot more than three suspensions and nine games, justice could have started last season, and we might not be talking about the Bruins and the Cup in the same sentence. The reputation Boston has earned is the result of a lot more than cheap shots against the Vancouver Canucks in the Finals. And the

Bruins are not under a microscope - it is out there for everyone to see - they are bringing all the attention on themselves. The Bruins have been making enemies across the NHL and better get used to being hit hard and frequently – and not just by the Canucks. Teams seem to be lining up for the opportunity to return Boston favors. Last but not least, poking the Sheriff is probably not a great idea either.

Apparently fairness, in the minds of the Boston Bruins, is the equivalent of a real hard rain on their parade – and the entitled mentality they have gotten accustomed to is overdue to land, unlike the band, as hard and fast as a lead balloon.

In their minds, Boston may believe they are “getting over the suspension attention”, but that sounds like more of the same old hard-headed, wishful thinking.

Marchand exclaims that he is not going to change his game.

Julien defends low bridging - "If guys start protecting themselves that way that Marchand did, maybe guys would stop taking runs at other guys, because that's the consequences you end up paying for taking runs at guys too."

In Lucic’s own words, the Bruins seemed to be playing with the working knowledge that “the microscope is on them”, but now that Shanahan’s “binge” is over, the Bruins are looking forward to getting back to their big bad business. Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty insists “It should be back to business as usual for the Black and Gold now that they’re getting removed further from their supplemental discipline binge in January.”

Let’s add in a re-quote for good measure…

“The players say they won't change their ways due to a little league attention.”

Cue…forget it.

Boston, you poked the Canucks, you poked the Habs, you poked the Sabres, you poked the Flyers, you poked the Rangers… and you also poked the Sheriff. You seem to be suggesting that Shanahan’s discipline was a binge or a passing fad… That sounds like the confidence of patronage, but perhaps is confused with (withering) entitlement.

The Bruins can suggest that they are doing too much thinking on the ice - and that comment certainly has comedic and entertainment value, but the same certainly can’t be said about their statements off the ice – thinking too much does not characterize them at all. But setting aside all the jesting for a moment - the Bruins are a team I have always wanted to see get the monkey off their back but I think all the "starch" they are talking about is actually making them a worse hockey team. When you get down to it, the idea that they need to play Flyers Broadstreet hockey is actually a misconception and making it difficult to respect their success. I personally think they would be an even better team if they abandoned this identity of the big bad guys, got back to their own team's identity, and played more disciplined hockey as I think in that sense they are becoming their own worst enemy. The theories that suggest otherwise may actually underestimate their defensive game and their counter-punch offense.

The denial that they have actually earned their reputation doesn't seem like a wise shortcut to getting back to winning hockey - it seems like more of a sideroad - and in the climate of change in an NHL that doesn't need to sustain extra injuries as a result of flagrant hits, the Bruins would probably be a lot better off to stop underestimating their ability to win without crossing the line into "starch" and intent to injure, and stop suggesting they are unfairly being put under a microscope.

But go ahead and get back to “business as usual” - don’t think too much - keep poking every team you face, and the Sheriff – if you think that is in your interests (I disagree) - we could all probably use some more comic relief anyway… at least everyone but the next player you ‘protect’ yourself/take a run from behind at - unfortunately it’s probably not so funny to them, their team and their fans… But go ahead and keep testing Shanahan’s intelligence – I doubt he will have to “think too much” about what to do about it.

oldnews

It's that time of year when fans compile hockey's equivalent of their Christmas lists, lobbying their GMs to make the deadline moves that they think will make their team better, while the unfolding playoff races force NHL GMs to watch each other intently, deciding whether to add, to hold, or to fold...

Where the Canucks are concerned, most fans approved of the results of Mike Gillis' acquisitions at the trade deadline last year, as Chris Higgins and Max Lapierre proved to be valuable last minute additions. It would have been hard to expect more - the loss of two defensemen in the Finals is not something a GM can anticipate, or necessarily hope to have a contingency plan for - at that level of competition, and after such a depleting run, the Cup simply wasn't in the cards for the Canucks.

But this year Canucks fans are primed once again for an exciting playoff run, and after last year's experience, the most popular items on fan's wish lists seems to be a defenseman. For some, a top 4 guy is necessary in the event of injury, for others a depth defenseman would be sufficient, while many feel the Canucks have as much depth on the blueline as any team in the NHL and don't need to make any additions. Other people would like to see the Canucks acquire a top six forward, while many feel that a gritty depth guy for the third or fourth line would do. Again, others feel that there are enough forwards in the system to provide the depth needed. When it comes to specific players, the guys at the top of the defenseman wish list are players like Shea Weber, for all the obvious reasons, but any move to acquire a player like Weber would involve moving multiple chips, and no matter how hard you try to arrange them, in Vancouver's case, it is difficult to see them falling into place. But you never know - and such is the allure of the trade deadline. Some people seem to have high expectations, but most people in Vancouver don't appear to expect major moves, and would like to see a less expensive acquisition where key roster players would not necessarily have to be involved. Hal Gill is the type of solid complimentary player that dominate most of those discussions.

When it comes to forwards, some have expressed that they would like to see a guy like Corey Perry or Brendan Morrow in a Canucks jersey - but again, the offers that the Ducks and Stars are likely to receive for those players make it difficult to imagine those trades being a reality or possibility in Vancouver, and the cap space required would mean that the Canucks would likely have to rearrange the core of their team. Not a lot of people truly want to see that happen. We will see whether this year's trade deadline represents a buyers or sellers market, but with so many teams in contention and fighting for a playoff spot it looks like the competition to acquire key pieces might drive the prices high... The Canucks have little cap space, so a high priced or rental acquisition is far more likely for a team like Detroit, who have $5 million cap space to work with. When it comes to gritty depth forwards, some Canucks fans have set their focus on a player like Travis Moen, at a $1.5 million cap hit; the price to acquire a depth forward is something most fans can live with, and the Canucks would have the depth to afford.

There is a contingent of people who feel that the Canucks are fine all around just as they are - they look at the fact that the Canucks have players like Alberts, Sulzer, and Tanev ready to step in on the blueline, and prospects like Sauve and Connauton developing behind them. At the forward position, they point to guys like Bitz, Reinprecht, Oreskovich, Mancari, Duco or Pinozotto as capable depth/fourth line candidates, with skilled forward prospects like Jensen and Schroeder developing in the Canucks system.

The most heated debate has obviously regarded the question of whether the Canucks should trade Cory Schneider to acquire a player that may help the team win now. The "problem" in this sense, is a wealth of depth, with the additional prospects Eddie Lack and David Honzik in the system, and Schneider's pending RFA status. There has been seemingly endless talk of moving Schneider to acquire an impact forward or defenseman, but Schneider's cap hit of only $900,000 would require that he is packaged with other players in order to create the extra cap space required to absorb an impact player's cap hit. Anyone listening knows that Ballard and Raymond are almost always parts of that discussion, but one has to question the value of much of what has been urged in the media - and the majority of our CDC whims, likewise, are probably worth tuning out.

There seems to be a relative balance between those who want to attempt to upgrade the blueline or forward lines and those who feel that the potential of those upgrades are debatable, and not as important as keeping the goaltending tandem in place, one that gives the Canucks so much stability on the redline. I disagree with the urgency to move Schneider, and the idea that the Canucks could be left empty handed if they wait too long... I am in agreement with those who want to keep Schneider, retaining the Canucks formidable tandem, one that takes considerable pressure off both Luongo and Schneider, and alleviates a whole lot of injury anxiety. I would also like to see the Canucks re-sign Schneider if that proves a possibility. I imagine Mike Gillis will have a fairly good idea of what Cory will want to do in the future - and no doubt will not be blindsided the day Schneider becomes an RFA. If the new CBA is generally consistent with the expiring one, the salary cap might raise in the range of what Schneider's new salary will be... If not, there is still no urgency to move him now - and knowing what the new CBA will look like will help inform that decision. If the cap does not continue to raise, teams may have to reconsider their long term plans. Regardless, teams that are looking to make a playoff run this season are probably not going to value Schneider as much as teams looking to build a team in the longer run, to win next year or in the years to come. I like what appears to be MG's position - that there is no hurry to move Schneider. Some people would like to see Luongo dealt, while keeping Schneider, but I see that as a decision that is best reconsidered once the Canucks have a better view to the future CBA, and with this playoff season in hindsight. There is time and a number of options, and for now, the depth and stability in goal takes considerable pressure off of either goaltender, and could well be the single most important factor in the Canucks' chances to win the Cup this year.

I generally find myself in the camp with those who like the existing balance and depth of the Canucks, and have positive expectations that this team has great character and potential to win this season; I also generally don't appreciate excessive rumouring about trading existing roster players. adding a guy like Gill would be nice, but I still like our chances with the defense we have. The development of Alex Edler and Cody Hodgson have made changes and additions to the Canucks roster less than urgent to say the least. The result is somewhat of a luxury - the ability for Mike Gillis to wait and see. With no glaring needs, he can hold his cards close to his chest, and wait to see if injuries change the needs of the Canucks. When Gillis acquired Booth - without having to give away any picks or prospects, or additional cap space - the move gave the second line more speed, youth, and arguably a player who better fit the Canucks top 6 forward needs than Samuelsson did. Having made that move, Gillis has reduced his dependency on trade deadline contingencies, and has selfishly left fans with slim pickings to debate and complain about - some people can always find problems, but generally, there is nothing resembling consensus, and nothing lasting has managed to persist in the complaints department. Complaints have for the most part consisted of pointing the finger at the last guy to give the puck away, the last guy to go six shifts without scoring, or the guy who is perceived to not be 'tough' enough... Most of the controversy surrounds contracts and RFA status. The health of Chris Higgins, although not referred to as frequently as other trade discussions, may, at this point, be the most relevant issue as the Canucks head into the trade deadline.

In the end, the result of all the debates about what the Canucks should do, seem to be somewhat of a stalemate. I can say that in the many years of following this team, and as good as the team was last year, I have never had more confidence in the existing roster, nor in the ability of management to assess and respond to the needs of the team. The Canucks had more needs going into the trade deadline last season - Mike Gillis' additions of Higgins and Lapierre were not blockbuster moves, but were not inconsequential to say the least. This year, the Canucks are more experienced, and deeper, including on the blueline despite Ehrhoff's departure, with Edler more than filling his role, and a number of young players developing into solid options. I don't necessarily agree with those who are alarmed and feel that the Canucks "Cup window" of opportunity is short. The Cup window can be short for teams who mortgage their future to make a run, or who come by their strengths largely by chance, but the Canucks have a good balance of depth and age representation. The Canucks will have some difficult decisions to face, but good teams always do. Teams like the Detroit Red Wings don't expect to win every year - but they plan to remain competitive and give themselves a fighting chance - they do so with an exceptional ability to assess talent and generally make the most of their picks and signings. Despite a core of veterans, and perenially picking near the end of the pack, they don't seem to suffer from the fear of the closing window sydrome, and somehow manage to continually retool their team. The Canucks retooled their management team a few years ago, seem well positioned to compete with Detroit in that sense, and appear to have a view to the future that is balanced well with their intent to win in the present.

Many of us on CDC tend to engage in what seems like compulsive trade talking - some of the proposals make sense, some are pipe-dreams, some seriously underestimate what we have, and some overestimate what is available - but we just can't help ourselves...anticipating the trade deadline and the playoffs simply makes us do it.

Who wouldn't love to see Shea Weber in a Canucks jersey - if the Canucks were to make a change to their core, a deal involving Weber might be hard to argue with, but at a $7.5 million cap hit, his contract is equal to those of Hamhuis and Edler combined - hard to jump at, particularly with CBA uncertainty, and not necessarily in keeping with the structure that the Canucks have built. Weber is one of those guys you would have to give up a whole lot to acquire, and would make it more difficult or impossible to re-sign Edler, Burrows, and Higgins whose contracts expire at the end of next season. Regardless, I don't see Nashville dealing him, particularly to Vancouver - and that is a debate that has been overdone on CDC, one I don't intend to add much to.

When it comes to acquiring a top six forward, I have always liked Brendan Morrow, but at 34 years of age, he would not factor that far into the Canucks future and at a cap hit of $4.1 million...where would the Canucks make the cap space? If the price was right, he would be a nice surprise ... and who really knows until the deadline arrives, but it is probably an understatement to say that a move like that is not expected, and an addition like Morrow also requires subtraction. Talks of Bobby Ryan being available are also a surprise (at a cap hit of $5.1), and even more surprising, Dustin Brown (at only $3.5) but again, the Canucks don't seem to be planning to be make those kinds of moves. There are rankings of the top 25 players available out there, but those rankings don't necessarily make a great deal of sense - for contenders near the salary cap (or buyers in general), what matters most is dollar for dollar value and fit; rankings on that basis would probably make more sense than a list with the big names available at the top.

Ok, this is the part where you all get to be grateful that I am not the Canucks GM, and only a blogger, while your team remains in the trusty hands of Mike Gillis.

I have already said that I am generally in favour of the Canucks staying put, but if there is one player that could reasonably be acquired, I would prefer the Canucks avoided the big names with large cap hits; instead, at the top of my wish list would be Jordan Eberle, for a number of reasons. In addition to being a young, productive, clutch player, Eberle also has another year left on his contract at only $1.2 million before becoming an RFA; for a contending team near the cap, it is hard to imagine a better combination of marquis qualities and dollar for dollar cap value, in the time period most consider Cup potential to be quite ripe. If offering a top notch defensive prospect like Connauton and a pick could make Eberle a Canuck, I would likely jump at a deal like that, but I think despite Edmonton's shortcomings on the blueline, it might take more to pry him loose, and it is always difficult as a fan to speculate what kind of player Connauton is, without much chance to see him play. Regardless, I think it would be worth finding out what it would take... A painful worst-case scenario package might involve Eberle and a pick from Edmonton, in exchange for Ryan Kesler - two guys who are about as certain in quality as they come, but if a different deal could be done that would obviously be preferable...

There are a number of reasons I think an Eberle/Kesler deal could be a good move for both clubs, however, and none of them have to do with under-rating the value of Ryan Kesler, or wanting to see him traded. Kesler is a cornerstone of the Canucks, and suggesting a move involving him is likely to result in most people feeling that a cognitive evaluation is in order. Kesler has four years left on his contract at a cap hit of $5 million - a very reasonable contract - but Kesler also has a no trade clause that comes into effect at the end of the season, and the existence and timing of that NTC might have implications where the future of Kesler and Cody Hodgson are concerned. If that were not the case, he certainly would not enter any part of a trade discussion, but Edler and Burrows are also due for raises following next season, and if it comes down to having to choose... As much as I like Kesler, Edler and Burrows are also two guys that are as important to the Canucks as a pair of identical Swedes...

As much as I strongly disagree with all the complaining/debating about Cody Hodgson's ice time at present, and see the Canucks depth at centre as a positive luxury, at some point in the near future the possibility of a bottleneck may actually become a legitimate issue. Obviously moving Kesler or Hodgson are both unattractive options, but if a move eventually must be made, one option that would make is easier to stomach would result in a line with Eberle on Hodgson's wing and a bunch of cap space to use in the meantime. Even as a worst case scenario, I think it is still worth seriously considering, and may be a good pre-emptive move, depending on who could be acquired to fill the extra cap space.

While the move to acquire Eberle would seem high risk if Kesler were required to make it happen, particularly when the Canucks are contenders, I'm not in agreement with the "small window of opportunity" theory, and I feel that Eberle is an exceptionally low risk for a young player. He has about as much composure, intelligence, and intangible upside as any young player I can remember. As impressive as Cody Hodgson was at the World Juniors, Eberle, likewise, was a standout, and both are, not surprisingly, proving themselves invaluable at the NHL level. There is simply something uncanny about Eberle that always seems to appear - he just has a mark of positive fate about him, and if there are young players you could probably depend upon to step up in the playoffs, I would wager on him and Hodgson. The fact that he has been so productive this season may have put him in the class of an untouchable, where he previously seemed to be blending into a crowd of emerging stars in Edmonton, but he might just be worth the one player or package of prospects it may take to make him a Canuck. As much as I like Kesler's line, I can't think of a better linemate for Cody Hodgson than Jordan Eberle - they would be an heir apparent line (or perhaps the Air Canada line), equally teeming with character, and the next best thing to an actual pair of twins....

Of course the timing is sensitive - in Nashville, Kesler looked ready to start dominating again, he has put up a five game scoring streak, and the Canucks have a great opportunity to make another cup run with Kesler being a key component. There are few guys with his size, speed, hunger and skill who play a two-way game. Perhaps with the depth and goaltending tandem the Canucks now enjoy, the question of what to do about the future should be put off until the off-season, and a slight amount of the future sacrificed to make a run now, while so many Canucks are in their prime. On the other hand, Hodgson appears as though he is not going to relent, and if the obsession that already exists over his ice-time is any indication... it could get positively ugly. Are we be looking at another Luongo/Schneider dilemma in the form of Kesler/Hodgson? Worse things have happened to hockey teams. Ok, fine, mortgage the future instead - but get that Eberle kid no matter how many prospects and picks it takes....Connauton and Schroeder, or Sauve, Schroeder and a first...whatever.

Acquiring Eberle, who has another year left at a cap hit of $1.2 million (before becoming an RFA), for Kesler (hypothetically of course), would create $3.8 million in cap space - space that Gillis could do a whole lot with in preparation for another playoff run. Brendan Morrow, for example, is a $4.1 million cap hit, while Tuomo Ruutu is $3.8 million, and if the Canucks added an expiring contract, they would still be well positioned to re-sign their key players at the end of next season. Part of the difficulty is that we have yet to see the Canucks firing on all cylinders this season - yet they remarkably sit near the top of the NHL. Like last season when they had so many injuries on the blueline, this season has seen continual challenges for the second line. Are they simply that great and deep this year, that they can "slump" their way through an incredible 10 game streak with a record that almost every team in the NHL would die for?

The game in Nashville was almost enough to snap me out of this whimsical thinking, particularly seeing the Kesler versus Nashville version of the Selke centre, and insist that not a single move should be made. In my mind, it is only the future that raises any questions of major moves, and Eberle is the type of young cap-affordable player you could convince me to make changes for. Eberle is a comparable talent to Kesler - Kesler is a two-way force and one of the premiere centres in the NHL, and having Cody in the third spot makes for great matchup advantages, but with the type of depth the Canucks have, combined with not having to face top defense pairings every shift, who knows what Eberle's potential could be?

If the additional cap space is factored in, a deal involving Kesler could be in the Canucks interest in the long run, and perhaps even a win in the short term. The implications for this season make that type of move risky enough that it might be practically impossible to take. Of course it would be preferable to move other contracts, but the likelihood of acquiring a yound (underpaid) player like Eberle from a developing team with no urgency to make moves might be fairly unlikely. A move for Eberle would give the Canucks an extra year to make room for a new contract - if in the meantime an expiring contract for a player like Morrow could be added (using a pick in the Eberle deal as a significant chip?), I'd have to think our chances at a Cup might be at least as good this year as they currently are. As difficult as it would be to see Kesler leave, imagining players like Eberle and an additional power forward in a Canucks jersey is quite easy on the imagination. What is not easy is imagining how much pressure a GM must feel when they make such moves... or the task that Alain Vigneault would face...

Gillis has the difficult luxury of some tough decisions ahead of him - I have faith he will handle those decisions better than the organizations that have risen and fallen in short order in the current salary cap environment... That is the irony of stockpiling too much talent - they grow out of your ability to pay them all and play them all... and moves eventually have to be made. This core, that has grown up together in Vancouver, might be best to keep together as long as possible. Teams like Anaheim and Chicago postponed those moves to after their Cup victories, but then experienced a considerable drop-off in the depth of their clubs. It might make sense to propose a salary cap break/partial exemption where teams with players they have drafted and developed in their system are concerned, when it comes time to resign them, but that is another issue entirely.

As vital as Eberle is to Edmonton, you'd have to think that the chance to add a young defenseman as part of a package, or Ryan Kesler, to their young mix of talent might prove irresistable. Adding a young star like Eberle may be a wise move for Vancouver - if they had to give up a roster player to do so, it would then allow them to add another quality player with the additional cap space. While most teams are going to be very reluctant to move a young player like Eberle, Edmonton might be convinced to be an exception, considering they have so much young talent up front, but are thin on the blueline, while the Canucks have a few excellent prospects. If Ryan Kesler was absolutely necessary to make a deal happen, he is also pretty much exactly what the Edmonton Oilers (and every team) need. Edmonton is facing some serious turnover in their veteran and leadership core. Smyth, Sutton and Hemsky (an assistant captain) are UFAs, their other assistant captain Whitney has a year left on his contract, and other than RFA centre Sam Gagner, Edmonton has a rookie centre in Nugent-Hopkins, and then a lack of depth at that position, with Belanger at age 34, and 21 year old Anton Lander.

Kesler has been compared to Mark Messier... while I felt his game more resembles Trevor Linden's, perhaps the Messier comparisons could be prophetic... At 27 years old, Kesler is coming into his leadership prime and seems to want to be a captain - something that I personally feel is not likely going to happen in Vancouver. Perhaps he would make a good successor to Shawn Horcoff? As good as the kid lines look in Edmonton, there is somewhat of a gap between them and their veteran leadership - a player like Kesler, with a great balance of experience, leadership, skill, grit, determination, work-ethic... at only 27 years of age, is exactly what the Oilers ordered. And there are worse destinations than the up and coming Oilers. But would Edmonton be willing to make it worth the Canucks' while? In my mind, if a team wants Ryan Kesler, they better have a player named Eberle and a future to offer... Is there a way of acquiring Eberle, while keeping Kesler and keeping eveyone happy with Hodgson's ice time in the future? I imagine Gillis, AV and the team have this one figured out... Perhaps trading Kesler is a non-starter, and his NTC and Cody Hodgson can coexist? Regardless, I'm not giving up on Eberle.. what is it going to take?

Well, there it is - another fan's wish list - and like Santa, I am sure Mike Gillis cares what each and every one of us wants at the trade deadline....right? Ok, work your magic... The difference of course being there is only one 'Christmas tree', so like it or lump it, Oil or coal for 'Christmas', "we are all Canucks" and we will all be getting the same thing. We have almost everything we currently need, so shopping for Vancouver fans might actually be an enviable task... But whatever...I am a Canucks fan and I'm getting used to getting what I want, so get out there and get us that Eberle kid to play with Hodgson... That's all I ask.

oldnews

With Brendan Morrisson set to face his former team in Calgary, one has to wonder if the fact he will be wearing a Blackhawks jersery this evening indicates that Jay Feaster has given up on the declaration he made when he acquired Cammalleri - that the Flames were intending to make a run at the playoffs

This move has simply added fuel to the question - what is the rhyme or reasoning behind Feaster and the Flames plans? Are they buyers, sellers, are they riding an intelligent line in between, or are they outsmarting themselves?

The player acquired for Morrison, Brian Connelly, is a smaller (5'10', 186lbs), skilled defenseman - a 25 year old undrafted prospect who had 36 points in 44 games heading into the AHL all star game. He may be ready to play at the NHL level - if so, depth as well as the ability to move the puck are things the Flames need on the blueline. But the Flames have not called him up, and they are also thin at the centre position - with the departure of Morrison, you have to like their chances of making the playoffs even less.

Feaster has gone on the record saying that the move frees up a bit of cap-space to potentially use at the deadline, but if Connelly is in fact called up to Calgary, the difference between his $525,000 and Morrison's $850,000 is not that significant, and if he is not called up, the Flames are down a roster player for their run at the playoffs. Morrison, needless to say, is a centre with a lot of experience and a solid two-way game. Yes, moving the 37 year old Morrison makes sense if the Flames don't have a reasonable chance of making a run this year, but that has not been a message that Feaster had been willing to send, at least not in words. Likewise, his actions have not been so clear.

It was nice to see Morrison land in Calgary after the Canucks opted to go with Manny Malhotra a couple seasons ago - but to see him dealt to a bitter rival that seriously disrespected him after he suffered an injury on a hit from Hjalmarsson last season... not the best of outcomes from the perspective of a Canucks fan who has always liked Brendan Morrison. Let's hope this move somehow works out for Morrison, (who ironically, has expressed enthusiasm that leaving Calgary gives him a chance to win), but not the Chicago Blackhawks. Morrison has had an injury shortened season, but is healthy and producing at the pace that made him a steal for the Flames last season. When Schneider stoned Brendan after giving the puck away in Tuesday's matchup with the Hawks, it prevented the impact of that trade from being felt immediately in Vancouver. But honestly, my doubts about the move have nothing to do with how it may impact the Vancouver Canucks, and everything to do with wondering whether the messages coming out of Calgary have any coherent meaning.

Forgive me if I am still having a hard time figuring out what Feaster is up to, but since becoming Calgary's GM his moves have been....indecisive at best. Feaster has signed Krys Kolanos in the interim, a guy with 19 points in 79 NHL games over the last decade, to a two-year two-way deal to stop the gap the Flames have at centre. Feaster has pointed out that the Flames lack depth at centre and that it is difficult to acquire NHL qualtity centres - no one is giving them away... The Morrison trade may turn out to be a good one for the Flames in the long run, but one has to wonder if the timing isn't terrible. What message does it send to the Flames dressing room? It wasn't long ago they were given a vote of confidence in their ability to make a playoff run. Morrison has been a blessing to the Calgary Flames, and perhaps he has provided another if Connelly turns out to be a contributor for the Flames. But why make this move this far in advance of the trade deadline, when the Flames were only 3pts out of the 8th spot? Was it to make room for Krys Kolanos? No - Kolanos has been signed to a two-way deal. Is Kolanos going to give the Flames a better chance of making the playoffs than Morrison would have? If Morrison is good enough to step into a role on a contender, the answer to that question would have to be doubtful at best. If Kolanos is a viable trade-off, perhaps they could have used both of these guys for their "run". Perhaps Kolanos can rekindle his career after a hard luck ride has left some of his best years in the wake. But regardless, would waiting until the trade deadline approaches not have given Feaster more options and a better idea of his teams' likelihood of making the post-season?

Feaster's statements at the time of the Cammalleri deal gave the impression that the Flames were not sellers. This move seems to indicate the opposite. What this move does not allow is for the Flames to take advantage of Morrison's strengths in the meantime, and it certainly didn't give the rental player bidding process any time to develop. Feaster gave away a valuable short-term asset who represented very little cap hit (325,000 over the minimum). Morrison had 43 points and was a plus 13 last year in only 66 games (on a less than average team) - how many players are there in the NHL with those kinds of numbers, while making $850,000?

For contending teams up against the cap, that is a pretty attractive dollar for dollar value. It was difficult to make sense of the Regehr deal, and the Cammalleri deal. The only thing that will seem capable of making this deal make sense is if Connelly is able to have a relatively immediate impact, or if he is a prospect that was simply too valuable to pass up the opportunity to acquire. One has to wonder if either of those are the case, and if Feaster jumped the gun and undersold Morrison. Connelly has not been called up to the Flames - if the message that the Flames intend to make the playoffs is still the case, it has certainly been strongly contradicted by this move. Kolanos' signing once again puts the Flames at the maximum 50 players under contract limit. If they actually intend to add again at the trade deadline, they will have to subtract first in order to do so. Time will tell if the Morrison/Connelly move was a good one - it is usually difficult to say who the winner will be in a deal, but the losers? You have to wonder how the Flames veterans like Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff feel about moves like this? At this point, again, it looks like one step forward, one step back for the Flames, and the message out of Calgary is still confusing, to say the least.

oldnews

Cory Schneider - the Boston-born Canuck goaltender, has offered his opinion on Tim Thomas' decision to abstain from the White House visit.

Schneider, like Thomas, is an American citizen, but identifies with his country in a different way than Tim Thomas does, and when asked what he thinks, he expressed as much. Schneider, a young, emerging star with the Canucks, obliged the media scrum that has engaged in a feeding frenzy over Tim Thomas' conscientious objection to attending the White House. Cory expressed an opinion that is popularly held on the issue - that he felt Thomas could have taken an hour and attended the ceremonial event. Schneider's opinion is not going to hurt Tim Thomas any more than all the other opinions that have been expressed - they may however, add a little heat and another dimension to the Canucks-Bruins rivalry.

It is worth noting that the Vancouver papers were anxious to solicit an opinion from Schneider, and the description he "blasted" Thomas came from a Boston source, NESN - sources which no doubt saw some value in the opportunity to fuel the Canucks-Bruins rivalry.

Here's how Schneider was quoted in the Vancouver Sun:

“Every person is entitled to their rights, that’s the point of the constitution,” Schneider said. “You can have free speech, free religion, politics and all that stuff. So it’s absolutely Tim’s right. His beliefs are his own and that’s fine. It’s just the timing is a little odd. If your entire team is going, it’s about the team to kind of put your own agenda aside and maybe just show up in support. Obviously he believes strongly in his political views, but, as an American, I think we all have a little bit of respect for the position of the president. Whether you like the guy or not, he’s the president of the United States. Tim has made a great living and a great career in the United States and I’m sure he’s benefitted from tax-paying dollars and every other right that as an American citizen we all enjoy. It’s a little bit of a slight to sort of forget all that and choose to do this.”

Here's how Schneider was quoted in the Province:

“I’m not that religious but if I had the chance to meet the Pope, it’d be pretty cool,” Schneider said. I don’t believe in everything the Catholic church does, but I’d still show up to the Vatican and say Hi to the Pope. I have no problem with his personal beliefs, but (Thomas) can suck it up for an hour, say Hi and be with the team, and avoid all of this. Respect the (Presidency). He plays for Team USA and he has no problem making millions of dollars in the USA but he can’t go say Hi to the President. You get a lot of benefits living in the US and he should have little bit of respect for that. It’s just the timing. It’s poor timing. It’s about putting your own agenda aside to do something with the team whether you like the guy or not.”

For people who agree with what Thomas did, Cory's comments aren't necessarily reason to disrespect the young goaltender - he too had the right to express his opinion. Perhaps Cory did not satisfy some people's expectations that he be a critically minded, dissenting and politically motivated American citizen. Being a Boston native, obviously media were looking for input from him. Thomas made a decision to abstain - Cory would have gone - fair enough. People don't always agree - not exactly shocking material despite the sensationalized description that he "blasted" Thomas. The result sparked quite the debate on CDC. I personally don't expect Schneider nor Thomas to speak as though they have post-doctorates in political theory - that does not mean that they do not have their right to their opinions and to make their decisions based upon them. Nor does it mean that we should assume that either of them are less than highly intelligent. These are opinions that have been expressed, they are not stated like facts - they are both entitled to them, and there is nothing wrong with either of them speaking their minds. Schneider suggested that Thomas could "suck it up for an hour", which wasn't really his call, but otherwise the tone of what he said sounds fairly apolitical.

We might see Schneider's comment in a different or opposite way to those of Thomas' - as a team-mate stepping in to share in the scrum. Given the heat that exists between Thomas and Luongo, Schneider may be to seen to be stirring the pot a little, while Luongo chose not to comment on the political circus. Schneider doesn't have to remain moot - perhaps there was a slight motivation or opportunity to 'backup" his team-mate, when Luongo wasn't particularly motivated to join in this debate. We may even see it as a tactical move in the hockey version of psychological warfare between heated rivals, and fair enough, given the Bruins penchant for scrumming it up. Or perhaps Schneider's comments were motivated instead by the fact he is a young individual who loves his country and the benefits of being an American, despite its faults. Some may applaud Schneider for expressing his acceptance of the state-of-things, and isolating Thomas further, some may ask whether it really helps to further isolate people who appear alienated by their government, or to uncritically accept the USA as-is. Whatever people may think, Schneider and Thomas have expressed their American identity in different ways - in the end, both have a responsibility to themselves to do their best, and I would be willing to bet that is what they were both doing. Many people have seemed inclined to consider Thomas an evil simpleton - but I find that kind of dismissal more offensive than his objection to attend the White House. Thomas is a complicated human like the rest of us - and no doubt if any of us were to sit down and talk with him at length, we would agree on many things and disagree on many others. We don't really know what Thomas main concerns are - we can make assumptions, but his statement wasn't that definitive and he has avoided participating in an even greater debate. He is not simply a coward because he chose to handle the difficult circumstances as he has - he has undoubtedly thought long and hard about how to manage the tight situation he felt he is in.

We can make assumptions about Schneider as well, but he too only had so much to say on the issue. For the most part he seems to be obliging popular media expressions on the issue - some people don't agree with what they feel is an endorsement of the good-life in America, while others appreciate that he sees his country in a positive light and is doing his best to look on the bright side of things. Regardless, I appreciate that Cory spoke his mind (it would be interesting to know whether he was seeking to, or prompted) - and I appreciate that Thomas did so as well - there is nothing wrong with those who the general trend may suggest are "unqualified" to have opinions, go ahead nevertheless and express them. In my opinion the thing that is most problematic in all of this, is the intolerance - that they should dare say something political. I don't watch hockey to hear about politics and I have expressed that before, but when politics appears to, or arguably steps into the arena of sports, athletes are as entitled as anyone else to have their two-bits in the larger dialogue (if that dialogue is still permitted). In the end, there is an endless amount of debating that can take place over all the issues in question - some want to engage in that, and others don't. Sometimes the dialogue breaks down, and dips into disdain and mean-spirited arguments - and listening to each other ceases. It happens. But hopefully we can surface for air, let the differences be tolerated and continue to engage with issues without descending into further tearing away at the fabric of our societies. When we do get around to playing games again, the unifying elements of sport might be appreciated as much as the competition, and everyone better for it. As Carey Price stated, the Bruins will be ok, because they are winners. I would add that win or lose, the same can be said of players in the NHL in general, even if only one team in the end is generally perceived to be winners. It would be nice if politics turned out to have a similar quality, because in politics we can't really afford to have only one ultimate winner.

As far as I am concerned, neither Schneider nor Thomas should be vilified for speaking up. Apparently a lot of people think that Schneider should not have spoken his mind. Who know - he may regret participating in the scrum, or he may stand by what he said. I've read that Tim Thomas has been nominated the "worst person in the world" as a result of his stand. That is quite a conclusion. It seems to me to be incredibly intolerant and definitely no more intelligent that what either goaltender has said. Was Thomas' conscientious objection and a short statement all that it takes to earn such a distinction? If the general concensus is that hockey players should just shut up about stuff like this, and leave the talking to the media and the politicians... I find that kind of conclusion entirely unconvincing (particularly in a country where actors and wrestlers have crossed over into political office). Is that the state of official (in)tolerance? Are the professional media and politicians the only people entitled to political opinions? Clearly Thomas has not harmed the standard of tolerance at all, nor has Cory Schneider in disagreeing with him. Ironically, as things stand in the USA, hockey players may actually contribute to raising the level of the debates.

oldnews

If there is one thing the local media can be counted on to do, it is find a Canuck to dump in Vancouver's doghouse, one of the most active in the NHL.

That doghouse was vacated recently by Keith Ballard who stood up for himself on a couple occasions, and combined with improved play of late, has bought himself some time as Vancouver's wet blankets search for someone else to grumble about.

Jason Botchford has stepped up and re-nominated Mason Raymond as the whipping boy version of flavour of the week. Win or lose, it never seems to cease. According to Botchford the time is now to find out "Who loves Raymond" and shop him around the trade block to see what kind of return he can bring the Canucks.

I would be willing to bet that Jason Botchford has heard the predictable "botched this, botched that" thing a million times in his life. Probably for him about as far from unexpected as a comment could get. That is how I feel about the Vancouver sports media's compulsive doghousing of the Canucks - it seems like I've heard it all my life.

"There were stories written about how he learned to score goals as a kid in Cochrane, Alta., with the help of a Border Collie who retrieved his shot pucks out of a net for him....The dog's name was Champ Since those stories, however, Raymond has been more dog than champ."

That metaphor leaves a real bad taste in the mouth. There are alot of us in Vancouver who actually love Raymond and to suggest that his play has declined to dog status is hard to stomach. Yes, it may seem like we have given him all the grace period he could expect - a whole 24 games since returning from his broken back. Botchford is not simply dogging on Raymond though. His issues run back before the injury and he did note some positive things - the fact that Raymond is a hard working player with exceptional speed, and like his dog Champ no doubt had, Raymond has a great disposition. To argue that he doesn't fit that well into the lineup or that he is "redundant" is one thing, but I find it hard to take those arguments at face value when the commentary goes beyond hockey talk, as so often takes place in the Vancouver media, and into tones that sound downright mean-spirited.

In fairness to Botchford, his main point is that he can't accept Raymond's scoring pace, and can't help but conclude that Raymond has to go. According to Botchford "too often, his stick is where scoring chances go to die." It is not personal - it only sounds a little bit so.

If it weren't for such a long prolific history of Vancouver media complainers, it might be easier to roll with this kind of commentary. It's certainly not my intention to single out Botchford or suggest that he get traded to the Columbus Dispatch (newspaper) - his peers have set this standard for the past few decades. When it comes to quality sports journalism, we have low expectations in Vancouver, due to a longstanding tone that has bordered on continuous whining and vitriol. It wouldn't be fair to criticize Botchford without pointing out that he has stepped into a culture of professional complainers - it is changing, but slowly.

I appreciate that the bulk of what Botchford was saying refers to the on-ice dynamics of the Canucks, and that his points are intended to raise the level of debate regarding the team, and what could be done to improve it. Even if the comments don't result in the moves he would like to see, there is the possibility that calling a player out might have the positive result of pushing him to produce - and clearly Botchford wanted to see Raymond get his tractor in gear, but has given up waiting. It's just that the density of the criticism seems a bit much.

Botchford has addressed some of the context of his spent patience with Raymond, but to say that Booth has emphatically replaced Raymond may be over-stating things a bit. Botchford likes Raymond's tools, but not his instincts, nor the fact that he is not the type of player to take his game into the dirty areas in front of the net. Raymond is not a power forward - fair enough, but who ever expected him to be?

"When Raymond is on the third line, he tips the scales. There's too much finesse and not enough thumping in the Canucks lineup. It's not only because of what he brings, but it's how he changes the players around him. Take Hansen, who has played several games like he's simply retired from going into corners. He admittedly is hitting less, and is less physical, because he is trying to better suit Raymond and Cody Hodgson."

First of all, I have no complaints about the way Hansen plays any game - Botchford seems to be working too hard to make his point at Raymond's expense. If Hansen is playing a less physical style of hockey, that is not Raymond's responsibiltiy and I doubt Hansen would agree with taking his comment about adapting to various linemates, and coming to that conclusion. Hansen has changed his game now that he plays with Hodgson and Raymond as opposed to Malhotra and Torres. He has become more of a scoring threat, and the rate at which he sets up plays has increased impressively. Hansen was encouraged to contribute more offensively - and his 13 goals and 25 points reflect that what was suspected about his potential was in fact the case. The third line may not play with as much grit, but has had a handful of games recently where it stands out and makes the difference. It lines up against opposition third defense pairings and is far more capable of exploiting them than last year's version - in fact the third line may be the biggest difference maker for the Canucks thus far this season. It may not play with as much grit as last year's version, but is anything but a slouch defensively, and the kind of scoring potential it has shown is arguably a lot more valuable than crashing and banging opponents. With all due respect to Botchford and the trend that assumes toughness is the most valuable asset in the NHL, I think a third line that can score like most second and some first lines is about as valuable a thing as there is in hockey.

Raymond's lack of scoring has been over-stated as well - he is producing at a 40 point season pace. He had a 25 goal season two years ago - last year he scored 15 times while missing a dozen games. He is on that same pace again this year, despite, as we all know, taking one for the team in last year's playoffs, in the form of a career threatening broken back. The Canucks have had sustained injuries to Booth and Kesler as well - the second and third lines have scarcely had a chance to develop momentum and chemistry thus far this season. Raymond is still a plus player, his outstanding potential thankfully does not seem to have been reduced by his tragic injury, but he seems to be receiving an undue amount of criticism for his inability to produce at a rate of players earning far larger salaries. Perhaps instead of complaining about him we should consider him and the Canucks fortunate that he seems capable of getting back to form. Running him down publicly is not going to increase his trade value, nor his confidence, but those are things the Vancouver sports media has never seemed to bother to take into consideration.

I don't want to over-react here, and expect the Vancouver media to walk on eggshells or shift their centre of gravity and become a bunch of homers mindlessly endorsing the home team. But it certainly seems like a media market that has been out of whack for a long time - and aside from Don Taylor and the Sportsnet crew, Vancouver media has had a bad attitude for as long as I can remember - a strange combination of high expectations and low contributions. Perhaps I am being too sensitive and the Raymond dog story has made me sentimental. Perhaps the Vancouver media has an intelligent strategy here - maybe constantly running down the home team results in a reverse psychological effect that angers us fans and motivates us to identify with the players even more strongly. If that is the case/strategy - credit for a job well done. If it backfires, what we are left with is frustrating in-fighting, and divided loyalties, as there always seem to by players who are just not good enough for the high expectations of our world class media. Perhaps the perpetual it's-not-good-enough thing is meant as a motivator, but it has had more the feel of of a drag that looms over Vancouver more consistently than rain clouds. If it weren't for Don Taylor et al, it would be hard to imagine how things would have evolved.

To say that we need a power forward is one thing - to run Raymond down so thoroughly in the process is another. But hey, Botchford certainly doesn't have an exclusive on that - it's what we do in Vancouver. We pay so much attention to the minute little imperfections that we don't let the game or the players breathe - at all. But omehow our never-good-enough team manages to compete with the other powerhouses in the NHL. It is worth noting that every team experiences the same human limits - even the Zetterburg's and Datsyuk's of the NHL have off days, even off months. Here's a quote from three months ago...

"The trouble with the Detroit Red Wings during this six-game losing streak starts at the top. Quite simply, their best players have been their worst players. Henrik Zetterberg has been an atrocious minus-nine in the past six games. Former Selke Trophy winner Pavel Datsyuk has been minus-six, Niklas Kronwall is minus-seven, Johan Franzen and Dan Cleary minus-five and even Nick Lidstrom is minus four."

It happens. In Vancouver, our impatience is unrealistic. And we talk about some of the best players in the world like they are...not good enough for us But what has our media and our fanbase really earned?

General Managers are generally not in the habit of disclosing or talking about trading their players - it does far more damage than good, so it is difficult to actually get information out of NHL GMs. So media go to other sources to fuel the speculation - the problem being that what that generates is a public debate that doesn't really serve the team or the players, and thus, ironically, the fans. Botchford quoted Ray Ferraro, his source in the speculation that Raymond may be on the way out - "Mason would have to be obtuse not to look around and see if they're going to make a deal here." But we all know it is Mike Gillis who makes that decision and the speculation no doubt does not help him do his job, or help him get full value for the players that some people want to see moved. It really just gives us something to chomp over while we wait for actual news.

I like Ray Ferraro. It's true - he can be snarly, and perhaps he had a bee in his bonnet the other day as a result of placing second to Pat Verbeek in the TSN all-time "little ball of hate" panel. But he is a really good hockey commentator. There was a time when his name was made into a verb - "Ferraroed" - it was used to descibe the state of having been ripped into - to get Ferraroed meant to get criticized harshly. His name is no longer used that way, and Ferraro has defiinitely moderated. He is passionate about hockey and has been able to translate that into consistently offering a high quality of information to those of us listening. Over the past few years he has gone from a guy that always seemed bitter, always seemded to be hindsighting plays to scold a player and tell us what should have been done - to one of the better commentators, with a sense of humour, and a very incisive hockey perspective - actually he is now one of my favorites.

I hope that part rubs off on his Vancouver colleagues despite this latest episode. I have grown tired, like many fans engaging in the Canucks.com discussion boards, of having players run down and into the doghouse pending a desired trade. There may be some credibility to these latest suggestions that Botchford is making, but it doesn't really serve us fans to hear that stuff, particularly if the player in question winds up remaining with the club - and alot of us want him to. In that case, it just interferes with the fans who identify with that player, and that after all, is what it is all about. In the end, we want to love and support our team. If we look at the teams with the greatest traditions - the Montreal Canadians (granted they also have a very active doghouse,and I doubt that helps), the Detroit Red Wings - those teams resisted doing things like changing their uniforms. That is because it is about identity - it is about continuity and you don't mess with a good thing. In the days of old, players didn't move around as much - they also didn't make a hundred times as much as the rest of us, but that is another matter. Fans identify with the team and the players, and the less unnecessary running down of our players, the better it is for team and fan identity and our collecitve morale. I'm not suggesting teams make less trades or that we don't debate them - but the media doesn't always have to be so negative and critical. For some reason it seems almost subconscious or compulsively so. We have come to expect it. It might be in vogue to hate, but we love our Vancouver Canucks, and a whole lot of us love Raymond. Mason Raymond is actually a damn good hockey player and he seems from here to be an even better person. Let's try getting off his back - it may help him get better, even faster.

oldnews

I've been reading commentary regarding the Tim Thomas "snub" of the White House, and I have to say there is certainly a wide range of opinions expressed, including people who are not rushing to conclusions about Tim Thomas. It might be easy to do so given the tidal wave of media condemnation - let me be clear up front - there are things I don't mind about Thomas (he seems proud and at times very likeable), and there are things I don't care for about Thomas (he seems cocky) - and I don't know what category his decision falls into. Who really knows - for most of us, they are impressions from afar. Generally I am not a fan - he is not the easiest guy to like from a Canucks perspective, but the fact he abstained from the White House tradition, and the reasons he stated for abstaining are not really the important thing here. What matters is what Don Cherry thinks of this...?

Jokes aside, yes, the reasons Thomas gave are political (and even if he contradicted himself - he has the right to his political beliefs) and no, they do not entirely explain what he thinks or why - and that is fine. Who really knows that much about Tim Thomas at this point? He said just enough to explain why he refused to go, and he has the right not to attend the function. Some people find it offensive that he didn't accompany his team-mates, and they have their reasons. Other people find the fact that athletes are expected to attend White House events to be equally offensive. Is this a "reasonable promotional activity"? That is arguable, and there is no point in trying to force Tim Thomas to consider it so. Some people feel he should suck it up and go to a promotional/political photo-op, and that the event isn't really political - others feel that photo-ops have no place in sports the moment they take on any political implications, and by it's very nature the White House can be seen to have political implications.

I am not a fan of teams posing at the White House, or out-of-place politicking or nationalism for that matter - those are my personal opinions, and I don't think Thomas declining the invitation went much further than the invitation/obligation itself does. Some athletes see it as a privelege - I tend to agree with the comment of the member who would rather meet Sami Salo than visit the White House. Likewise, I am not impressed when I see the Prime Minister at hockey games - but I am not offended either. I don't feel his frequent appearances at hockey games should be given attention - or that a politician should be using hockey games to garner identification with their person, party or office, or to try to gain votes - but a politician who likes hockey has the right to go to hockey games.

Some people are assuming Thomas is a "racist" because of the names of his children or because he didn't meet with Obama. Thomas' statement suggests that he wouldn't have gone regardless of who the president is or what party is in power. Conclusions that suggest otherwise are assumptions. Thomas stated nothing racial, nor particularly partisan - he made a few vague references to the founding fathers that were not elaborated upon, a comment about government being out of control (most of us understand that, and again he didn't elaborate to any great extent), and about property (for those of us that work hard to make ends meet it's increasingly difficult to relate to athletes who make millions and millions playing the games they love - and then protesting about property?) But if Thomas doesn't like how much he is taxed or how his tax dollars are spent, and/or takes issue with a number of other social and economic issues, he has the right to express his concerns He did not oblige an invitation to an event he felt compelled to avoid - people can get their backs up, but objecting to his decision is really not all that reasonable itself. Some people might assume that he is a man of principle - others that he has too much pride and disrespect.. All we really know is that Tim Thomas did not want to go for ideological reasons, so he didn't.

I don't feel that playing hockey for an NHL team should obligate an individual to attend an arguably political event. For some people it seems innocent enough - but for Thomas apparently it meant a lot more. Regardless, Thomas was not refusing to do his everyday Bruins public service and attend a function at a children's hospital. He refused to attend an event at the White House, a place that invokes a whole range of political opinions and beliefs. Would people have preferred he went and, true to himself, could not hide his displeasure, or engaged in a political rant? People might assume he is using this as an opportunity to make a political statement - but the problem is that Thomas was invited as a Bruin, he did not solicit an invitation. Some people may think that his act magnified all kinds of questions - others may think he did his best to minimize them. Perhaps the Bruins would have preferred a different justification for his absence, but Thomas obviously wanted to express his discontent with his government, without delving too far into it. Regardless, each individual is entitled to their perspective, and agree with it or not, Tim Thomas made a personal and political decision based on his.

I think it is important to reserve judgement - not until later - just reserve it period. Thomas offered a few sentences and wanted to leave it at that. People hold beliefs, people change their mind, people say things we find intelligent, people say things we find stupid, some people apologize, others remain hard-headed, some people know what they believe in, while other people are confused... If we are fortunate, we are always learning, changing - it is a lifelong process of 'editing' ourselves. Who knows what Thomas privately thinks, but he did not say anything offensive and he did not do anything offensive - he simply exercised his right not to attend what he saw as a political venue or event, and he expressed his reasons in a political statement that hints at his personal ideological leanings, but was not in itself offensive - and he made the point of including that his statement is non-partisan. This does not make Thomas a hero, nor a zero. He is an NHL goalie - who doesn't care for things that are done in the White House. Perhaps it should simply be respected and left at that. Live and let live. As some people pointed out, Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein did the same thing, and Owen Nolan made a similar decision in a similar circumstance, not wanting to recognize the Queen. To each his/her own. All I know is that my perception of Thomas has not changed - I would still love to see him give up a lot of goals every time he faces the Vancouver Canucks. As much as I have come to dislike the Boston Bruins behaviour recently, and would like to see their on-ice success abated, this is politics, not hockey. One of the things about sport that many of us love, is that it can transcend politics. Visiting the White House is a tradition that could be considered as superfluous as Super Bowl winners declaring that they are going to Disneyland, one that Thomas didn't want to be part of. Fair enough.

One last thing - I want to quote a comment from a CDC member "Tim Tebow" who I think expresses the counterpoint to mine -

"Class acts are usually just players or people who unanimously represent themselves with respect for all. What I mean is the Bruins...who showed up despite not being Obama support[er]s showed class.

I can give another example. Religion and science clash just as hard as politics. Say a scientist invites a pastor to his super bowl party. Maybe they are neighbors or something. Do you think it would be classy of the pastor to say I am not going to this event because I don't believe the same thing as that guy even though the event has nothing to do with beliefs and the topic will never come up at it? IMO it's just petty. People are different a lot of people have different views and different opinions. If you start over analyzing and turning your back to people over stuff like that even when it comes to innocent harmless events you're being petty. Especially when you have the same goal as the guy you're complaining about.

IMO when a human completely refuses to ever have any contact with a person under any circumstance it means they have no respect for that person.

At the end of the Canucks Bruins cup finals the players shook hands despite all the bad blood and it's a sign of sportsmanship and respect. If a player ever refuses to do it and skates off it's seen as a lack of respect and classless. Same deal in every sport. That is a microcosm of this. Unrelated to politics Thomas doesn't have any respect for Obama, can't see him, can't talk to him, can't shake his hand under any circumstance even when Obama is complimenting him. IMO that is and always will be classless and counterproductive.

Even in politics progress doesn't come from ignoring each other. Progress comes through communication and respect."

oldnews

The argument in Mark Spector's "NHL's Toughest Customer" goes something like this.

"..a true disturber like Vancouver's Alex Burrows. It is the existence of these players — moreover, their proliferation — that has men like Burke pining for the abolishment of the instigator rule. Long gone is the ability for a heavyweight to grab that player and beat him senseless."

You have to hand it to Spector; he doesn't just simplistically reduce the blame to the instigator penalty - he also attributes some to the revolutionary management decisions of the Detroit Red Wings. He could go even a step further, but I'll get to that later. Spector started out with a softer targetting of the Wings and Mike Babcock, but makes a fade move in the end to try to suggest that Babcock's approach has lead to even more unfortunate consequences - forgive me for paraphrasing here, but basically, in a nutshell - the Vancouver Canucks and Burrows.

"That the visitor can’t ice a heavyweight at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit is old news. With the last change and no heavy in his bench, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has done as much damage to the heavyweight role as any rule change, simply by sending quicker, skilled players over the boards and letting the puck drop. But since the retirement of Kirk Maltby, Babcock does not employ a true disturber like Vancouver’s Alex Burrows."

That Spector publishes ineffectual pieces of bitter hockey journalism, and has a penchant for directing that bitterness at the Vancouver Canucks is also old news. Spector evidently doesn't like Burrows, the Vancouver Canucks, nor the team they are modeled after, but again, I'll get back to the irony of that later, and leave the weak equation of Maltby to Burrows aside as well. Beyond the obvious axe Spector has to grind, there is the question of 'policing' in the NHL, which was handled with the common nostalgia and lack of rigour.

The 'argument' runs along these lines...

"The cost of safety, many believe, is injury. As Burke so famously said on Jan. 5, it is now the rats who are taking over the game.“That’s the irony of it, right?” began Los Angeles general manager Dean Lombardi. “That guy who Burkie calls ‘The Rat,’ we end up protecting him, because he doesn’t have to answer for anything."

Is it really that simple? If Shanahan calls, I'll bet the "rats" will have to answer the phone.

Regardless of the role of enforcers however, the NHL itself needs to get tougher and take care of it's share of the policing.

Burke expressed his "fear that if we don't have guys looking after each other that the rats will take this game over." Burke did not say that "it is now the rats who are taking over" or have taken over, but instead is giving a caution that they will - if guys don't look after each other. This in my mind is what separates Burrows from the guys Burke would seem to be talking about. What Burke is saying seems like fairly sound team-player thinking, but what all this means remains without a context and is still relatively abstract. Did Burke clarify who the guy he calls "The Rat" is as Dean Lombardi and Spector suggest? I believe he was referring to "rats" - plural - I have yet to find a reference where Burke identifies a "Rat" [let alone names Alex Burrows]. But that doesn't stop Spector from turning this whole issue into an opportunity to "Rat" on Alex Burrows. Is there anyone in the NHL who needs to be looked after for fear that Alex Burrows is going to hurt them? I don't think so.

I'd be interested to hear what else Bryan Burke would have to say about all this, but until then, I find Spector's attempt to fill in the rest on his behalf to be pretty weak.

Another famour Burke had something to say about rodents as well - "By gnawing through a dike, even a rat may drown a nation." Edmund Burke

Spector seems intent to keep gnawing away at Canucks but really, it is in vain.

A few of Burrows finest qualities are his persistance and perseverance, but he is far too busy being productive, scoring goals, killing penalties, and adding up his pluses to waste his time gnawing at dikes. But this question of guys looking after each other... who might Burke be talking about?

I am not going to speak for Brian Burke as Spector has virtually taken the liberty of doing - I think that is disrespectful and should be left to Brian Burke. Lets look at some of the context that we can consider. Burke drafted a couple of kids named the Sedins, who don't have an enforcer standing behind them. It is just as easy or perhaps easier to imagine that Burke was talking about punching a particular Sedin in the face, repeatedly, and referring to the fact that no one 'grabbed that player and beat him senseless' - as it is to assume he was referring to a player like Burrows. Burrows doesn't low bridge or head hunt the Sidney Crosbys of the NHL. He doesn't run marquis goaltenders, and he does not have an enforcer to hide behind. The Sedins, their linemate and generally the team as a whole leave 'policing' and applying the rules/laws of the NHL to the officials - if that does not happen, true, the Canucks don't have an enforcer to resort to. I don't think that is a management decision that can be considered responsible for players disrespecting opponents. To try to blame Red Wings hockey or the Canucks for the proliferation of cheap shots in the NHL is ridiculous.

To apply the term "rat" to the Sedins' line-mate is to turn the issue into something Burke himself did not express. Who knows - Burke may still have a significant amount of admiration and respect for the Sedins - perhaps he was fuming as much as the rest of us, watching them get disrespected the way they do. After all, he was talking about "guys looking after each other." It sounds like the contexts he is referring to are ones where players like the Sedins are targetted, or Ryan Miller - ones that were not responded to in kind. We would have to get more feedback from Burke before we go naming people on his behalf. Are the "rats" the guys running around free to injure opponents with cheap shots, or are they anybody whose personality Spector despises? Burrows might not be the most beloved players outside Vancouver, but regardless, he is one of the best, most underpaid, versatile, hardworking players in the NHL and it would be a far stretch (actually it is ridiculous) to suggest that he plays the game with the intent to injure his opponents. Ron MacLean may dislike Burrows - Burrows may have a reputation as someone who talks back, but running around injuring people is not Burrows' m.o - not even remotely so.

Based upon Burke's actual words, I would have to think that Spector suggesting that Burrows is "the Rat" is a case of revising reality to suit his particular hate for Burrows and the Canucks. It is hockey opinion/commentary reduced to trolling, and he is trying to use Burke's words to inflate his inflammatory conjecture.

There is also a rather odd political bent to this policing debate and Spector's article. “Basically, the state has taken over (policing of the game). Kind of like socialism.” We don't necessarily need to get into debates about what socialism is, but generally I believe it is actually associated with the state taking control of the economy (and the means of production). You might argue that the NHL is already flirting with that, or is a 'mixed economy', and that it did so for the good of the league, for competitive parity, and the stability of their small market franchises, but debating the salary cap and the rest of NHLonomics is not the point here. I'm at a loss to think of a country, democratic, socialist, or whatever, where the state isn't responsible for policing.

"In hockey’s socialism everyone is exposed to injury on an equal basis, on irresponsible acts carried out by players like Raffi Torres and Daniel Carcillo. Rather than the injury being reserved for the (expendable) heavyweight or the (deserving) protagonist."

First of all - the idea that the enforcer is "expendable" should really be subject to some rethinking. Second, the protagonist is identified by the fact he has already injured another player - by definition, the injury cannot be reserved to them. The idea that it is 'socialism' that is replacing the enforcer is overtly ideological, and an attempt to dismiss a reasonable concept - that law enforcement be executed by actual police (ie officials and Shanahan) - by attaching an 'evil' or unsavoury label to to it. In the context of escalated incidents of intent to injure, overStated comments equating NHL discipline with 'socialism' could certainly seem motivated to soften that discipline by putting a 'Big Brother' label on it.

If hockey is indeed Canada's game, let's look at this a different way. Canada is a constituitional democracy where the state is also responsible for policing. What would the enforcer model look like if applied to Canada? In Canada, we consider ourselves a rule of law society. We have a constitution, criminal code, etc. We have police officers that enforce the law - they are part of the state - the part called the executive. We have a judiciary as well - the concept being an independent third party that is responsible for adjudicating disputes. What we don't generally encourage is DIY justice or taking policing into your own hands. This can just as easily be called conservatism as it can socialism. If we took the Constitutional Republic of the USA, or Parliamentary Democracy in Sweden, etc the same relative structures apply. Apparently the structure that Canada is built upon is not good enough for those people in the NHL who advocate an enforcer model, which can just as easily be compared to lamenting the days of lawlessness and the wild west as it can the reinstatement of enforcement or policing. Oh that's right - the NHL is lawless now, because the enforcer is disappearing. The problem with that concept is that the enforcer is a player, not a police officer. It sounds plenty virile and honorable, referring to good old enforcer times, but few of us are satsified with that solution beyond the nostalgia and the initial sentimentality.

Instead of the rule of law, Spector would seem to be lamenting the days of having someone "to grab that player [burrows] and beat him senseless". But the player he is talking about is not one of the ones known "to carry out irresponsible acts" which injure opposing players "like Raffi Torres and Daniel Carcillo." He is adding Alex Burrows into that mix and it definitely has a tasteless quality to it.

"Rats" getting mere suspensions may not be good enough for some people - but the alternative is generally quite problematic, ineffective, and leads to a logic of retribution. A suspension may not satisfy our blood lust when our favorite player lies on the ice with a concussion following a dirty low bridge - but can justice and deterence really be provided by one of the interested parties? Or is it the responsibility of the third parties that we have entrusted to make certain acts such as low bridging stand out as unacceptable? This problem facing the NHL and the power struggle that is developing clearly has different implications for different teams. Obviously, the tough and risk taking Boston Bruins favour less NHL policing and more on-ice policing. Similarly, the Los Angeles Kings seem to be expressing that they are leaning in that direction as well, and Spector is happy to oblige them. The Detroit/Vancouver style hockey no doubt has a greater interest in suspensions being more significant, so that acting like a "rat" in the actual sense of intending to injure, is punished to an extent greater than the cost to the player suffering the injury and the team sustaining their loss, and that an enforcer is not required to mete out unsatisfactory 'justice' in the absence of actual third party policing. .

As the debate runs currently, people like Spector, overstating his complaints about penalties and suspensions, and harkening back to the good old days, can easily be seen to be enabling "rats" every bit as much as the instigator penalty or the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks.

Moreover, hating or disliking a player for whatever subjective reasons you come up with does not substantiate your teams' right to "grab that player and beat him senseless." Spector can go ahead and hate Burrows - people in Vancouver don't care - the love for him in Vancouver will always balance any hating out, and will never turn the clock back and take away his Game 7 overtime "dragon slayer".

As a Canucks fan named "dupers" put it in his or her comment - "Why would you say burrows is employed as an agitator, have you seen what he does for the canucks or have you never watched even one of their games, he plays on the top line, the pp and the pk .I think what you are calling agitating is beating the other player to the puck regularly, i suppose that might be agitating to the opposition."

The problem for people who play the instigator penalty card, is that there have always been players who resort at times to intending to injure an opponent. In the old instigator-penalty free NHL, the injury still couldn't be reserved for the heavyweight or protagonist. Marchand's low bridge on Sami Salo would not have been prevented by an enforcer. It might have been answered by an enforcer getting in Marchand's face, and in turn a Bruin such as Thornton or Chara stepping in to protect Marchand, a heavyweight bout results... and then justice was served? Sorry, but after the dust settles, the protagonist has not been deterred, and people still want suspensions for cheap shots - that still seems like the best way to create some actual deterrence.

"When the moment arises that some old fashioned policing is required — as it did one night in Buffalo earlier this season — there is no one player on the ice whose job it is to take Milan Lucic to task for running Ryan Miller." Even if a team like Buffalo has an enforcer in the lineup, at 3 to 5 minutes a game, the likelihood of the enforcer being on the ice at that moment is somewhere between 1 in 12 or 1 in 20, and if Lucic can handle himself, or is not intimidated by an enforcer, then the implication is that he is essentially free to run MIller.

There is however someone to take Lucic to task - it is sort of a relatively new concept, but his nickname is the Sheriff, and he has been given the authority to dispense justice of another form. "Rat" behaviour becomes seen as brat behaviour, and given an appropriately long "time out" - and Shanahan takes the time to explain exactly why. If we want to find the source of the escalated disrespect, perhaps we don't have to look much further than the hyping and hating, combined with the let-er-go mentality that complains about officials imposing order in the game - letting-er-go is allowing games to degenerate into gong-shows.

Call it "socialism" if you want to use ideological terms, but complaining about suspensions is every bit as implicated in protecting the "rats" in the NHL, if not more. Shanahan has the power to actually deter "rat" behaviour far more than any enforcer ever did - he has the power to prevent many of the liberties that are currently being taken due to the vacuum of actual justice in NHL hockey (and perhaps the vacuum of respect is part of the result). Call the changes in the NHL 'socialism' if you want, but the analogy is weak and it is over-Stating a Big Brother kind of thing that does not even remotely represent what Shanahan is doing.

I was under the impression that the current structure of the NHL is not "socialist", but if people are concerned about Big Brother, perhaps they should propose a solution - one might be to poll all the stakeholders in the NHL - the results could be binding, to ensure democracy - to see if the current system is a repressive one, where policing should be taken out of the hands of the Sheriff and officials and left to the biggest player on the ice. Call that 'freedom' if you will.

"Rule changes remove policing from the game, and inevitably, the policemen themselves". Spector's argument is just plain nonsense - it is based on the idea that policing can be done by players - or can only be done by players. It is perplexed thinking. What other league requires enforcers in order to have law and order? What other sport even allows that kind of thing? The enforcers may be thinning out - the policemen (officials and Dept of Player Safety) are still there - but the loudest mouths in the media want them restrained. Certain people keep complaining about the officials doing their job - doing things like calling penalties, taking too much control of the extra-curricular liberties and intent to injure that the "rats" are taking advantage of. They complain about law-abiding Sedins scoring too frequently on the powerplay, and hence 'ruining' the game. It's like arguing for affirmative action for cheap shot artists, or they won't be able to compete.

Spector has written an article about policing and "rats" and has noticeably managed to drop a number of names, including Burrows, who has never been suspended, but interestingly, none of the names Spector drops happen to be Brad Marchand. Instead of applying the term "rat" to a player who is probably the most obvious candidate at the moment, who punches a Hart winner, in the face six times after the whistle, going unpenalized - who, emboldened by the lawlessness, also resorted to a low bridge against a similar clean, class-act law-abiding player named Sami Salo... it is quite interesting that Spector chose to leave that absence in his "rat" discussion. Instead, Spector strikes up a concord with Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, and LA Gm Dean Lombardi, and sings the praises of the tough guys on the Bruins who ironically, in the end, also wind up enabling "rat" behaviour. The complaints about discipline, penalties and 'socialism' keep coming, despite the fact that Marchand expressed that he didn't expect to be suspended, at least not for five games, for his low bridge. It would seem that the exact opposite of Big Brother is the case - Marchand felt free to engage in cheaps shots. Now he is back in Boston's lineup while Sami Salo remains out with a concussion - no enforcer could change those facts - and Big Brother is hardly repressing him/preventing him from 'protecting' himself. The "Ironing" here - the Doublespeak is not coming from the State.

Spector's interest in naming Burrows, on the other hand, is quite curious. People trying to focus the hating on particular guys are obscuring the importance of a fair and objective disciplinary process - it is reduced to a process of naming the target of the hate, the guy we would like to see "beaten senseless." The problem with the NHL is not Alex Burrows however - and conversely, it is also not simply Brad Marchand, or any other individual - it is far more general than a handful of "rats" - the disrespect in the game might be nearing a crisis for the NHL. The solution is certainly getting highly contested. It is interesting to note the interests of those coming out against the NHL disciplinary process, but difficult to consider it well thought out - Spector can posture from the high ground of imaginary days of old all that he wants - from here it just looks like he is rhyming in on the Doublespeak chorus.

Most of us can appreciate and respect the tough aspects of the way the Boston Bruins play - not many teams wouldn't want Chara in their lineup. I will never quite understand what the Ottawa Senators were thinking, but nevertheless the guy Spector touts as the toughest guy in hockey doesn't have all that much to do with his article. Toughness is fine - it is the frequent line crossing into intent to injure in the NHL that everyone is taking issue with. Lobbying the hockey world to prevent "socialism" and to keep suspensions and penalties from changing the game is a bunch of gobbledygoon.

I have come to expect no less from the Spector, who has clearly been embittered by the years of suffering from hazy nostalgia, lowered expectations, and envy, ever since the centre of the hockey universe moved out of Edmonton ages ago. Given the fading away of the wild west, the idea of applying the rules may even be revolutionary. If there is no longer DIY just-us, and actually a rulebook in place, it might be time to let the officials and the Sheriff, in fact expect and empower them, to do their jobs. You never know; the result as we like to call it in Canada, might just be a little more law and order. It would appear that other non-socialist leagues and countries have resorted to this model as well, with greater success than the enforcer model.

As Tanti put it in their response to Spector : "What the league needs to do is actually have consistent and fair rules and enforce them the same way at all times. Then, there will be neither rats, nor enforcers, just hockey. If you wish to call that socialist, I suggest you review your grade 10 Socials Studies and learn a little about governments."

When you break it down, the contradictions coming from the enforcer just-us advocates might be this simple - one minute the point is made that penalties and suspensions are not capable and not a desirable way of stopping the "Rats" - the next minute a mere two minute instigator penalty has been held responsible for causing the virtual extinction of enforcers.

"[Grabbing the "Rat" and beating him senseless] doesn’t happen. And when it does, the penalties and suspensions are so costly, it surely won’t happen again the next time." Again, Spector is really stretching/overstating to try to make a point - that penalties are too heavy handed. But stiff penalties and suspensions for fighting? Have I been missing something? This simply does not occur in the NHL. "Fight all you want, they say, but we’ve got a penalty and/or suspension to fit almost every bout." he argues. Spector's point practically reaches pure nostalgia, abandoning reality entirely. A penalty and/or a suspension for every bout? Yes, every fight results in a five minute penalty, but can anyone remember the last incident of a player receiving a suspension for fighting? For the most part they are back on the ice five minutes later. Spector is bordering on unsportsmanlike conduct with this stuff - he is clearly embellishing. There is also some shotty logic here, mixing up cheap shots and fighting. The theme of not letting reality get in the way of his perception seems to run throughout. The issue does not come down to a debate about fighting - the issue - "Rat" behaviour, is not really caused by, solved by, nor enabled by fighting. Fighting is geneally two guys consenting to "go". Cheap shots are something else entirely and the presence of fighting has never stopped them. The "stiff" suspensions have been for head hunting and low-bridging, and how "stiff " those suspensions are is a contested issue. They could arguably get a lot stiffer. Suspensions pending the return of the injured player would certainly make guys think twice before taking liberties. Personally I do not find it justice when the protagonist's suspension is shorter than the period the injured player misses, and Marchand returns to the Bruins lineup while Salo continues to suffer from a concussion.

How about some good old Canadian style law and order - I mean, how about the new, revolutionary idea of official law and order in the NHL - a penalty for punching people in the face after the whistle, and a suspension for cheap shots risking or intending injury? That might ruin the game though. Marquis players being injured doesn't hurt the game - protecting them with rules and enforcing them apparently ruins the game - too much policing from Big Brother.

In the end, it is almost sad to hear all this stuff coming from Spector, a dyed-in-the-wool Oilers fan. Forget the Canucks or the Detroit Red Wings. Is there a team that has done more to cause this shift towards "sending quicker, skilled players over the boards and letting the puck drop" than the Edmonton Oilers? The Oilers are the originals where this is concerned - they were a team that had a single enforcer in their lineup, in an era where their closest rivals could practically fill out every position on the ice with enforcers. Am I exaggerating? Maybe a little, but not really. Just to be clear - the 1985 Calgary Flames had 8 players with more penalty minutes than either Shawn Thornton or Chara had last season. The Oilers generally had a single enforcer - for one reason - to protect Wayne Gretzky (Kurri, etc). If they could have managed without Semenko (or after him, McSorley) they almost certainly would have, but it was after all, still the 1980s. The Oilers were hated for playing a style of hockey that you might even call a kind of precursor to the Red Wings or the Sedins' wizardry of today. The Gretzky, Kurri, Coffee, Messier, etc Oilers were playing a skill and speed game. Were Gretzky and Co. not the guys who made 4 on 4 hockey a contested issue in the NHL, as 4 on 4 play was alleged to give the Oilers an unfair advantage? They were pretty much the Detroit Red Wings/Vancouver Canucks of the 1980's. They had a little toughness, but they certainly didn't win with toughness - they played keepaway - and outside of Edmonton, they were generally hated for it. To hear Spector lobbying the way he is out of Edmonton has an air of sheer hypocrisy to it.

But that was then, and this is now, and Spector, stuck in the age of the struggling Oilers, conveniently forgets their fine history, and spends his present projecting his envy and frustration at Vancouver instead. I remember those Oiler teams of his glory days - they had a player named Ken Linseman - with a nickname that has been thrown around a lot lately. He was a two-time Oiler who won a Stanley Cup there. No enforcer ever grabbed Linseman and beat him senseless. That stuff never happened - there was no golden age of enforcers randomly beating on players - enforcers fight enforcers or guys who feel like stepping up. Spector's fantasy about the day when someone would have grabbed Burrows and beat him senseless is nothing but yellow journalism (with black trim) - infected by the trend of hating in the current NHL.

Who Spector thinks the "NHL's toughest customer" is, or sharing that he has a hockey crush on Zdeno Chara (or that he asked for a Bruins #33 jersey for Christmas for that matter) - is really not interesting. Who really cares who Spector fancies? What is important is who the NHL's toughest customer should be. The answer to that, in my opinion, is a Sheriff with a reality-based concept of justice - an independent third party with a strong sense of fairness, and the will to enforce that a little more respect be shown on the ice. Shanahan might be that man. "The cost of safety is injury" argument is convoluted reasoning, and along the same logic lines as war is peace, or lawlessness is justice. One thing seems clear - the players policing themselves model has not been working so well. If the NHL can get around to letting the Sheriff and the police/officials to do the policing, they might actually be able to define that the law is respect, and that they are responsible for, and serious about enforcing it.

oldnews

The Cammalleri deal - another Flames brain-cramp?

Popular opinion seems to be that the Flames got the best player, hence they won the deal, and that Habs Gm Gauthier made a hasty, hair-trigger trade (as the Habs can be prone to do) in response to Cammalleri's critical comments, but once the dust settles, I think it will become clearer that it was the Flames who lost their bearings, and are clearly lacking direction. Oldnews? Yes, this deal is a few days old, and I am slow out of the gate, but I am going to go against the armchair GM grain anyway and suggest that the Flames got torched in the Cammalleri deal.

The Flames apparently think they are ready to make a run at the playoffs now, but they are showing no signs of being able to compete with the Canucks, let alone the other 10 teams in front of them. I think you could sum up their current state of mind in a single word; denial.

Making a run might seem more exciting in the present than making changes, and getting worse in order to get better isn't necessarily the course of a genius. But look at the Ottawa Senators - things didn't look so good for them when they started making decisive moves, but they did it in an intelligent way, and you might say that in a short period of time, they have already gone from considerably worse to considerably better than Calgary.

Calgary's plan, on the other hand, is more than a little confusing.

Most people debating this trade seem to be underestimating Rene Bourque - it is almost automatically assumed that Cammalleri is a better player than Bourque, who has had two consecutive 27 goal seasons and with 13 goals this year, is on that same pace. That is no less than you can expect from Cammalleri. In fact, Cammalleri has averaged 27.2 goals a season in his career, and is on pace for a 20 goal season. Bourque adds 23lbs to the Habs up front, whose small forwards have been a big question mark (despite being a goal from dispatching Boston last season). Something else to consider - Bourque put up those numbers while not necessarily being the go-to guy, on a team short of centres.

As flashy as Cammalleri can be, I wouldn't call this trade a steal by any stretch of the imagination, particularly when you factor in the salary cap hit. Bourque, at $3.33 million, is slightly more than half the hit that Cammalleri is. Don't get me wrong - I am not doubting Cammalleri's flash and he definitely has a big game and big goal quality to him - but people seem to be underestimating Bourque, and what you can do with a 2nd round pick and $3 million in cap space. As an example, Mike Gillis converted a 3rd round pick and undrafted free agent Evan Oberg into Chris Higgins, at $1.9 million, who was stellar in the playoffs, does far more than score, and is on the same pace as both Cammalleri and Bourque's average 27 goal season, despite struggling with an infection. That is not to say you can simply replicate deals like the Higgins trade, and it always depends on timing, a good assessment of the player you are getting, and health, but you do have to make the majority of your moves work favorably or winning isn't going to be likely. The timing might have seemed right for Calgary, but was it really?

As with all trades, time will tell, but at this point, the more i look at this, the more it seems that the Habs took the better risk, particularly when you take each team's needs into consideration.

Did the Flames need another winger? Wingers are arguably the strength of the Calgary Flames - where they are weak is at centre, and depth on the blueline - but that didn't stop them from tying up $6 million in another winger. I might have taken Cammalleri off Montreal's hands as well - if the Habs took a comparable contract off of mine, and he fit with my needs better than the player(s) on the way out. Is that the context of this trade for Calgary? I don't think so.

It has been suggested that Cammalleri, aside from the Flames, was the other winner in this deal, managing to get himself out of Montreal. But to be sent to an 11th place team that is further from contending than the Canadiens are; I would tend to look at that as more the case that Montreal was punishing him, sending him to a franchise that is headed... where? Bourque walks into an underachieving Montreal and will be relatively loved for a number of reasons. Cammalleri walks in expected to be the element that pushes the Flames into playoff contention. Good luck with that. Calgary might be a better team than their record reflects, but that is certainly debatable. Whether they improve depends entirely on what they have yet to do - Feaster still has most of the work ahead of him, and as far as I am concerned, he just backed himself into more problems. He has less assets and less cap space to work with. The west is full of teams better than the Flames, with one in their division behind them, their closest rival, who have far more young talent and a brighter future.

But I am glad they can still see blue skies in Calgary. Perspective is everything.

Acquiring Cammalleri would have made more sense if they were consistently trying to improve the club in the present. However, it seems to me they had a fire sale where Robyn Regehr was concerned. Now, despite adding Hannan, they find themselves thin on the back-end - the assets they have to acquire a blueliner were already thin, and now thinner - and the cap space? They had to wiggle around to make room for Cammalleri. Playoff hockey, if they can patchwork their way into the playoffs, despite some major holes at centre, and a thin blue line, tends to result in an injury or two, which Calgary is not prepared to absorb, anywhere in their lineup.

If they had taken a position that they are not stepping backwards in order to move forward, then this move might have made more sense, but the one step backwards, one step forward is leaving them where they were. Some people are figuring that a second round pick is not that big a deal - those are people that are not building a team to win in the future, or the present, as that 2nd round pick could be used to land a quality player from an also-ran at the trade deadline. I have heard Feaster complaining that he has been hamstrung by unmovable contracts and a lack of assets. He just moved another asset, with a pretty favourable contract, and a 2nd round pick, to get a pretty lofty contract in return, and a 5th round pick. Ramo vs Holland is a question that time will tell.

Feaster has received some praise for managing to get rid of a few contracts (through waivers and the questionable trade of Regehr), but then comes the declaration that the Flames are looking to win now. If you are ready to win, perhaps all the blame that has been laid on Daryl Sutter for the situation the Flames are in should be tempered, because if you win anything in the present, you will be winning with pretty much the team Sutter built. But here is the problem - the Flames weren't winning before, and where are all the upgrades? Sorry, but how clearly does Calgary need this spelled out? The Flames may not have gotten worse, they might even have gotten a fraction better, although I would disagree with that. They have some great players, loyal fans, and certainly have the strength of stubborn denial in their corner. They added a player in the area they were strongest - on the wing. Maybe they are ready to make a run now...

Am I missing something?

Some people have been praising Feaster, claiming the Flames have gotten younger. They made a move trading Robyn Regehr (32 yrs old) that I am still scratching my head over, giving up a 2nd round pick in that deal as well, in order to land Byron and Butler. A heavy price to pay to get rid of Kotalik's contract. Feaster then managed his best coup so far as Calgary's GM, bringing in Hannan (32) at a bargain price. So some credit there - he managed to bring in a solid guy - no younger, but at less of a cap hit. They moved Bourque and brought in Cammalleri - who is 6 months younger than Bourque. They waived Hagman and brought in a few others guys they claimed off waivers - these would be the other significant changes to their club and the age of its players. Other than Giordano, Bouwmeester and Glencross, (28,28,29) their other core players are in their 30s - Iggy 34, Jokinen 33, Tanguay 32, Morrison 36, Sarich 33, Kipper 35... Hey, I'm not down on veterans - but the story out of Calgary doesn't add up. True - it is not easy to add quality centres or defensemen - no one is giving them away - but in the absence of filling those needs, you are still the Sutter-era Flames, and in my mind, perhaps have even taken a few steps backwards. If his brother wasn't still in Calgary coaching the Flames, you'd have to wonder whether Daryl isn't watching these developments with a little amusement in the wake of all the criticism he took.

Beyond their top 4 or 5 d-men the Flames have a lot of question marks (and if you ask me, Bouwmeester probably belongs on that list of the most overpaid and over-rated players in the NHL). Calgary has used 11 defensemen, but that does not necessarily indicate that they have depth on the blueline. The Canucks also had to use umpteen defensemen last year, but they stayed in first place the whole time, because they had depth, not just because they could find 11 guys to put jerseys on. So how well have the Flames absorbed the injuries they have suffered? Well enough to be tied for 11th place. Calgary may develop depth, but have it? I can't agree with that, although evidently Feaster thought so, or he wouldn't have dispensed with Regehr. Unless, of course, at that time, he wasn't expecting to win right away, whereas now, they are ready... Bad move in my opinion, even if you were rebuilding -even worse if you are wanting to win now. To get Byron and Butler, a 4th round pick, and relatively small for a d-man at 196 lbs - a very gentle way of putting it would be to say that I am not sure Calgary got much in return for what they gave away in that deal. I'm not claiming the Flames don't have any good young defensemen - it was Feaster who offered that they are thin in depth on defense.

If Feaster keeps it up, other GMs will be moving him up their speed dial list.

At centre, beyond Jokinen and Morrison (again, a combined 69 years old) you have Horak (who has 9 points), Backlund (8 pts and -9), Byron (3 pts in 18 games), while Jones, Bouma, and Nemisz have played a combined 8 games. Not going to strike fear into any of the teams they are chasing. Maybe these guys will be better in the future, but don't look ready for a run at the playoffs.

The Canadiens on the other hand, picked up a solid guy with a French name and a reasonable contract, 2.7 million in cap space, and upgraded from a fifth to a second round pick.

Doug MacLean joked with Feaster on Sportsnet, asking him how he could do that to Gauthier, a friend of his? I 'm not sure Feaster did something "to" Gauthier - I find it more convincing that he did something "for" him.

I'd be willing to bet that Gauthier, sitting in the hot seat in Montreal, considers Feaster more of a friend now than ever - maybe even a true friend, one willing to make a sacrifice when he really needed it. Pardon the sarcasm here, but you gotta hand it to Feaster - he has expressed that he didn't have a lot of cap space, good contracts, or chips and draft picks to work with, and yet he dug deep and found a way to give up a few (more). When he needs him, I'd bet Gauthier will still be happy to make the call.

oldnews

Mike Gillis was asked to comment on the standoff - without having seen the video, he didn't like Gallagher's chances - giving up 40 pounds to Thornton.

First of all - the issue - was it "unethical" for Thornton to challenge Weise after Weise had fought Horton? Weise, according to comments he made, asked Horton to fight and Horton obliged him. Horton had suffered a concussion in the SCF, but Weise noted that he wasn't trying to take advantage of Horton, and given Horton's toughness, it was not surprising that he would oblige. By the same standard, it is fair for Thornton to challenge Weise. Weise vs Horton was certainly not a mismatch - neither Weise nor Horton appeared worse for the wear, other than perhaps a measure of temporary exhaustion. I don't agree with Gallagher invoking a contested enforcer code of one fight per period, but I also didn't think Horton needed protection after the fact. Regardless, Weise had shown a willingness to fight, and Thornton can't be blamed for challenging him, but was that what actually happened? Weise does not have to fight in that instance, but his body language was definitely confusing and indicating that he was not backing down. It almost appeared as though something was said by the official - Weise acted like there was either an intervention, or he was changing his mind about fighting Thornton.

On a certain level, Weise is not an "enforcer" and not really in Thornton's class. There aren't many guys left in the NHL who are. You had to feel for Weise watching that game, being the guy who was trying to step into this gap of toughness between the teams, trying to equalize things somewhat. Andrew Alberts stood his ground and fought Thornton when he played for Carolina; Alberts doesn't lack size, but wasn't really in Thornton's class either, and Thornton clearly won that fight. Thornton is a guy who, at this point, has perhaps the strongest balance of the ability to fight, as well as skate and play the game. Some enforcers might be having a hard time keeping up with the speed and skill that is evolving in the game, but players like Thornton aren't effected in the same way. Rypien had a similar quality of extreme toughness combined with good speed and skills. Thornton may have less contenders left in the league, but whether he fights or not, he plays a role virtually every team in the league wants - speed, size, and grit - he's a guy who gets over 100 penalty minutes a year at the same time as being a 10 goal scorer. He's not terribly modest either, and obviously brings some swagger to the Bruins bench.

But this is where the story gets interesting.

Boston play-by-play coverage of the game could be heard blasting off on Dale Weise, as if he is a power-coward for not fighting Thornton. It was said that that was the kind of thing that made the Vancouver Canucks the most hated team in the NHL. Ironically Weise was not with Vancouver when they were given that branding, but that is another issue, as well as the question whether that is in fact true - it might be accurate in Boston, Chicago (and maybe Toronto), but if you went to Tampa Bay, the opposite would be the case (although that is a very quiet market), as would also be true in Montreal (but most people don't understand their language) and lots of other cities in the NHL. Overall, I doubt that claim would stand up if tested in an actual sociological way.

When Gallagher asked why a team that has no real fighters is the most hated, the host of Comcast SportsNet New England's Sticks and Stones suggested that it is because they don't stick up for themselves.

If you have a look at the Boston WEEI Sportsradio Big Bad Blog however, the story gets a lot clearer, ironically, thanks to Brad Marchand.

“I’m going to clear it up for everyone who’s listening,” Marchand said. “It was actually a really sneaky play by Thorty. Weise was trying to fight McQuaid, who was standing behind Thornton on the point. McQuaid was going to fight him. So, Weise was yelling and saying, ‘Yeah, let’s go, let’s go.’

“Thorty just figured that at that point he’d drop his gloves and surprise Weise. And the ref just kind of heard Weise yelling ‘Let’s go’ and thought he was talking to Thorty and conning him into a penalty. Thorty kind of surprised him when Thorty dropped his gloves. Weise had no idea Thorty was going to do that.”

Added Marchand: “Him and Quaider know each other a bit from the minors and I think junior as well. They might have went at [it] there.”

As it turns out, Thornton was apparently stepping in between two other guys who had consented to "go" - not necessarily a third man in thing, but makes it very clear why Weise was surprised and didn't drop his gloves with Thornton - there was no consensus; in fact the consensus was between Weise and McQuaid.

Interesting; if Thornton was aware what was going on, he wasn't exactly forthcoming with that information.

Evidently, Weise didn't deserve the barrage of insults, at all.

If you then read the comments on that blog, you will also find -

"Is it just me that believes Marchand should not be sharing these stories with ppublic? Wonder how Thornton will receive this relevation!"

To allow the whole incident to develop as though Weise were a coward? I wonder if it was Weise who told this story in the process of having to defend himself, leaving Marchand to either clarify things, or lie, or if Marchand offered this on his own? Anyhow...for Marchand to temper the misinformation about Weise, well, that came as a bit of a surprise. Perhaps he should follow suit where his low-bridging of Sami Salo is concerned.

If you then read the comments on that blog, you will find the funny stuff.

"Typical Canadian team. They learn to avoid a fight before they learn to skate."

This is the problem with having the Stanley Cup south of the border year after year, and why it is lost on cities like Boston. That guy probably doesn't realize where all the best players on the Boston Bruins, with a couple exceptions in goal and one big one on the blueline, come from.

It reminds me of a story my father-in-law told me when he was living in Denver. He is a wonderful story-teller, something I definitely am not, but I will try to do the story justice. He is from Saskatchewan - an American friend in Denver was engaging in a little 'trash talk' for fun, claiming that despite Canada thinking it is the best at hockey, all the best hockey players in the NHL were American. My father-in-law asked what he meant by that - his American friend insisted that he should look at the Detroit Red Wings as an example - what about that fellow Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings? He thought that because Howe played for Detroit, he must be from Detroit. My father-in-law shared with him that Gordie Howe is actually from Floral, Saskatchewan. His friend didn't believe it - couldn't believe it. There was no Google in those days to resolve the question quickly, but needless to say, there are a lot of great hockey players from Saskatchewan, despite the fact they have never had an NHL team. That is another story in itself, no thanks to Harold Ballard, but Google NHL players from Boston and compare them to Saskatoon, or Vancouver - Canadian cities could ice teams as good as the US National team. I realize that comment was referring to Canadian teams in the NHL, but regardless, Thornton is from Ontario - people from Boston aren't necessarily very hockey literate. The best player in the NHL born in Massachusetts is the Vancouver Canuck who got the win in Boston on Saturday. The city of Vancouver has spawned players like Joe Sakic, Paul Kariya, Brent Seabrook, Peter McNab, Glenn Anderson, Andrew Ladd, Darcy Rota...extend it to BC and you can add guys like Steve Yzerman, Cam Neely and Mark Recchi to that list. The Stanley Cup belongs in Canadian cities more than it does places like Tampa Bay, Carolina, or Dallas. Google players that were born in those cities.

This is part of the reason why the hating aspect is getting carried away. Lucic is from Vancouver, Mike Gillis played in Boston, Schneider is from Boston, etc, etc. The hate is taking on a life of its own, one that in my mind, is taking away from the game itself. It is a game. These are cities and teams - they are not nations, or even real identities. The idea of hating or equating Canadian teams in general as teams that don't stand up for themselves - that is about as ignorant as hockey commentary could possibly get. I understand the Bruins needs to hype the sport in order to get attention in their market - they have the Patriots, Celtics and Red Sox to compete with - but the method is simply bad hockey 'karma'.

I have to admit, there was a time when the Vancouver sports media were possibly the worst in the business- the endless chipping away at the home teams that guys like Neil McRae and Gallagher engaged in never seemed to cease. I also have to admit however, that as annoying as I found Gallagher, he has improved with age, despite the fact he may not have been at his best when Thornton, again, surprisingly jumped in, in this case in the discussion on Comcast SportsNet New England's Sticks and Stones.

The Vancouver sports landscape shifted fundamentally with the emergence of Don Taylor and the ground-breaking Sportspage. The Canucks always had good radio coverage, but aside from that, the newspapers and talk-radio always seemed to be running everything down. It was the absolute opposite of Boston, where media seem rabidly in favour of their home teams. In Vancouver, nothing was ever good enough; the irony was that the level of sports journalism wasn't setting any standards that left them deserving any championship teams. Don Taylor deserves a lot of credit for creating a different tone, and from Sportspage to Sportsnet, Vancouver has benefitted ever since. To hear Gallagher standing up for the Canucks like that erases a few less favourable memories.

oldnews

The beat goes on in Boston - they are upset about the Marchand suspension, and they are posturing and protesting. Despite the fact that virtually everyone in the hockey world, even Don Cherry, considers Marchand's low bridge on Sami Salo an unacceptable cheap shot, the Bruins keep on keeping on.

Marchand over-reacted to an inconsequential bump with Salo on the boards moments previously, attempting to punch him in the back of the head a few times before eventually low bridging him. To deserve this, Sami Salo, uh, that is the mystery question. Boston thrives on over-reacting, but what was it that Marchand was over-reacting to? Truth is, they don't really need any incitement to over-react - it seems like more of a strategic thing. The story goes that Marchand was 'protecting' himself from an inconsequential body check like he had moments earlier, but again, he saw Salo coming the entire time, and instead lined up a predatory cheap shot. This incident is actually not very different in nature from Marchand's punk punches thrown at Daniel Sedin. I suppose Boston would have complained about incident as well if it had resulted in a penalty. They maintain their right to engage in extra-curricular shots at will, and bank on their greater ability to injure their opponent when the game steps over the line and gets out of hand. Marchand has shown a pattern of instigatiing, punching and taking cheap shot liberties against key, veteran players that he knows are disciplined, respectful and do not engage in fighting, let alone attempting to injure their opponents.

The Canucks have decided to move on and focus on the tasks at hand - their upcoming games and Sami Salo regaining his health - as opposed to continuing to engage in the distracting Brad Marchand drama. Iain's MacIntyre's comment that the "Canuck players and staff were suspiciously muted" was both surprising and a little strange. MacIntyre might be a journalist, but it is hard to sympathize with him here; I mean, does he really need more to work with? I think the Canucks decision to resist engaging endlessly in the sideshow is the right thing to do. They've had back-to-back games to prepare for. Boston can continue to complain and expose themselves all they want. They are not stupid, but they definitely seem to be lacking some perspective.

On the other hand, who can blame them? This kind of lobbying has worked for them thus far. When other teams try to go about having their interests heard, is that propaganda? It is understandable why Boston is upset. If they can no longer resort to these kind of antics - a couple punches in the back of the head, followed up with an indefensible clip... are they going to have a more difficulty winning games, as they have come to depend on these extra curricular liberties in order to gain an edge against their opponents?

I find it annoying when it is suggested that the Bruins play old time hockey - I don't remember old time hockey being so full of cheap shots.

Claude Julien chose to pose today as though his feelings have been hurt - the sarcastic "I guess we are stupid" thing that he did is signature Boston Bruins. Julien comes out and makes the claim that Salo was taking a run at Marchand, etc, etc. The whole narrative was pretty laughable. When asked what he thought of the comment, Alain Vigneault said "that's stupid...that's a stupid comment." Vigneault did not say Julien is a stupid person or that that the Bruins are a stupid organization. This is an important distinction. The difference between saying "you are an idiot" as opposed to "you are acting like an idiot" is not only a subtle difference; it is the difference between identifying, defining or naming someone in a negative way, and describing a negative behaviour. Vigneault made the distinction, a respectful one. Likewise, what Bieksa actually said was that the Bruins tend to do some stupid things. Some media guys may like to rephrase comments - for example - Bieksa's comments were framed to Brad Marchand as though Bieksa said that the Bruins play a stupid style of hockey, which changes the issue, looking to incite a newsworthy response, but not really representing Bieksa's point. The issue changed from a cheap shot, to a stupid style of hockey, a different issue. For Vigneault to say that Julien's claim that Salo was taking a run at Marchand was a stupid comment was fair. It was a stupid comment. It's not credible for Julien and Boston to continue to carry on avoiding the actual context and resorting to this "I guess we are stupid" passive-aggressive thing. Instead of simply saying something to the effect that the act and the injury was unfortunate, Boston is continuing to disrespect Salo and "defend"/"protect" themselves. Salo is the injured party here, not these guys who are acting all sensitive about their intelligence.

The implication that low bridging is acceptable is stupid; to allow it would lead to a whole lot of injuries, bad blood, and games reduced to gong shows. As noted, the NHL was clipping this in the bud. Marchand did the same thing to Daniel Sedin last year, and got away with it. He and Boston have chosen to take that for granted, as if an indication that Marchand could continue resorting to low bridges. That low bridging should be allowed in the NHL is a position with absolutely no credibility.

Vigneault, the Canucks and most of the rest of us know that the Bruins are intelligent - that is part of what makes their sense of entitlement come off so offensively. Arrogance comes to mind long before stupidity. The Bruins resort to a style of hockey that, as long as dirty hockey is allowed by NHL officiating and the Bruins have the most violent team, is more strategic for Boston than it is stupid. It is only stupid if the interests of the league as a whole, and not just the Boston Bruins, are considered. At that point, it becomes problematic and costly - the entertainment value is over-valued and not necessarily positive, and the cost to the players and team personnel is high. Play tough hockey, but when it comes to defending your right to take cheap shots, that is not tough hockey - it is sheer arrogance.

Boston's GM could be heard complaining about "propaganda" out of Vancouver, and that Marchand is the victim of an inconsistent standard in this suspension. This is also in-credible. The Bruins initiated the debate by going public with their string of petty rationalisations - Marchand is small, he was defending himself, Salo was taking a run, etc. But don't let the truth get in the way of your story. And then call what other people are saying "progaganda". To complain after the suspension, that Marchand had gone to the league in the off-season for clarification regarding the borderline hits he engages in, is weak. The fact that he went to the league is interesting. Was it for dramatic effect? It is highly unlikely the result of such a meeting was permission to continue to engage in low bridges. Who knows how Boston sees these kind of things, but they seem to be implying that Marchand got permission from the NHL to low bridge. This is the kind of sense of entitlement that would be expected from spoiled brats, but from NHL players? 'Seeking clarification' does not give you a blank cheque to low bridge; that is ridiculous. Who told Marchand that low bridging it permitted? There isn't much clarity to Boston's claims of clarification.

There is a common theme or pattern here; Boston crosses the line, Boston gets away with it, Boston then considers it their right to cross the line, Boston pushes it even further, Boston plays the victim when they take their liberties too far. Boston has low bridged before, Boston makes comments defending this low bridge, the response to those comments is that the comments, like the low bridge itself, were stupid, Boston is the victim of propaganda. Boston blames the suspension on propaganda - Boston maintains their right to low bridge. Boston has been wronged. Boston will go on being Boston.

Sami Salo is the injured person, with a concussion from a low bridge. Marchand didn't expect much of a suspension.

Boston was apparently either expecting patronage, or seriously insulting Shanahan's intelligence. Personally, I think suspensions like this should have an open-ended element, for example five games or greater, pending the extent of the injury, but for now, I appreciate Shanahan for stepping up and feel his reasons for judgement and explanation of the context was accurate. In the wake of the Gregory and Colin Campbell conflict of interest, Campbell's documented attempts in the past to influence officials in his son's favour (via emails to director of officiating Stephen Walkom), the NHL needs to rebuild its' credibility and the perception of objectivity. Boston can talk about propaganda all it wants, but that leads to the topic of politics, one they should probably avoid. I didn't agree with the leniency shown Lucic - if you want to use the term "taking a run", then what Lucic did to Miller is a context where that phrase probably applies. But in this incident, I think Shanahan took a few steps forward for the NHL, and called the Marchand cheap shot what it was.

I'm like most hockey fans - I like the way Marchand plays the game, when he is actually playing the game, except when he resorts to undisciplined, cheap-shot hockey, which he does far too frequently. On-ice officials should not be letting Marchand throw multiple punches in the first place, at anyone, let alone Hart and Art Ross trophy winners - it is no wonder Marchand feels entitled. It is an embarrassment to hockey to permit veteran cornerstones of the game to be disrespected like that. NHL officials make a joke of themselves when they permit it. It would be inconceivable in other sports. It is bad advertising, and bad business to allow your 'stars' to be reduced that way, let alone condoning bad sportsmanship.

Marchand apparently doesn't feel the need to rethink anything, evidenced by having been smart enough to win the Stanley Cup, but his comments today didn't quite have the same impact as similar comments made by Patrick Roy, and the context in which they were made was obviously entirely different. Marchand insisted today that he has no intention of changing the way he plays the game, that he will continue to "protect" himself, and that all players need to. Wise comment after wise comment. Perhaps this is what Bryan Burke is talking about when he cites the necessity of having players who exercise retribution, preventing B-rats from running around ruining the game? I think it is important for the NHL to exercise responsibility and avoid leaving it to players and teams resorting to plan B, and that means supporting Shanahan when he applies tougher standards of justice.

At first, I was fairly satisfied with the five game suspension, but now I am rethinking that, wondering if it wasn't enough. Boston apparently figures as long as they call it "protecting" themselves when they intend to injure their opponents, the rest of the hockey world must be wrong.

Marchand injured a class-act veteran with a cheap shot and is acting like he could care less.

Apparently he intends to continue testing Shanahan's (and NHL officials') judgement in the future.

oldnews

In the wake of his low-bridge cheap shot, Marchand managed to fan the flames, adding a little extra incitement to his punk antics.

The story out of Boston today is that Marchand is just a little guy who was trying to protect himself.

The undisputed dirtiest team in hockey conduct themselves as though they have the right to over-react to everything, without consequence. In this case, Claude Julien and Brad Marchand are maintaining the right to 'protect' himself from a common body check by resorting to a low bridge. It is not surprising that they have stooped to this kind of posturing - it is consistent with their sense of entitlement. But they probably would have done better to buck up.

The Department of Player Safety, or whatever the NHL calls Shanahan, should add a few extra games to Marchand's suspension for trying to rationalize what everyone can plainly see was a very dangerous and obvious low bridge. The injury to Salo, whether it came from Brad Marchand or Bryan Marchment, was a low bridge - a cheap shot. Bryan Marchment injured many opponents with what became universally recognized as a clear intent to injure. The likenesses go beyond their names - Marchand is earning a reputation that is practically interchangeable.

Marchand has shown, once again, that he has no respect, does not take responsibility for the implications of his actions, and repeatedly feels entitled to resort to cheap shot antics. Clearly he is emboldened by all the big guys behind him and the impunity the Bruins have come to expect. Just moments before the cheap shot, the rest of the context provides telling evidence. Any other professional sport would send a very clear message to this guy. The NHL needs to properly deter this kind of degeneration of the game. For a veteran class act like Sami Salo to suffer a career threatening cheap shot like this has become far too commonplace. It is no surprise that Marchand didn't own-up. The NHL has not set a standard where obvious discipline is expected; so this kind of strategic squirming around and feigning innocence can be expected. Instead of apologizing, Marchand and Julien resorted to apologism, giving some pre-emptive and informal pseudo-'testimony', trying to weaken the impact of a disciplinary process.

That they think resorting to this strategy will help their case exemplifies the lack of respect and effective disciplinary process in NHL. The NHL is a league, made up of teams - the Boston Bruins are not a stand-alone corporation - their interests are no more important than those of the other teams. In the end, the league shares a collective interest, something that seems lost in the power politics of the NHL. Until the NHL starts handing out appropriate discipline, guys like Marchand will continue to further water down the NHL's lack of integrity, and worse, continue to put other people's careers at unnecessary risk on a daily basis. The alternative recourse, leaving justice up to DIY enforcers, was never really effective, and no longer considered legitimate. The NHL has become a league where punk antics are in-vogue - the time for the NHL to step up is long overdue. A suspension pending Sami Salo's return would not be so ineffective. If players were equally risking their own careers in the process of risking those of others, I doubt the level of respect in the NHL would dip so low.

Discipline for prevention - the point is not to punish Marchand, as much as it is about prevention, and fairness to the injujred party, in this case Salo. There needs to be a fair meter where consequences are a matter of consensus. If/when players can't police themselves or respect their opponents...there needs to be more equalization, otherwise the majority of the costs are to the injured player, and the leverage to ensure more respect is weak or absent.

If I were to have this debate with the Boston Bruins, they are likely to agree when it comes to the Rome suspension for his hit on Horton, and perhaps disagree when it comes to Marchand and Salo. The same would be true of Canucks fans who might agree that Marchand should sit out as long as Salo is injured, but perhaps not when it came to Rome's suspension for the remainder of last years' Finals. Most of the debates reside between these subjective positions.

Salo was flipped 270 degrees by that low bridge, and the angle that he landed on the ice could have resulted in a variety of injuries.

Rome was suspended for the duration of the playoffs last year when he injured Horton. I had to agree with that suspension - not because I think Rome intended to give Horton a concussion, but because he hit Horton late and the result was an injury. Whether such a decision was consistent is another issue. The "intent" can be intangible and doesn't matter so much. Rome took a risk that had a costly result for Horton.

What Marchand and Julien are saying is not credible, and regardless, it is what Marchand actually did that matters, and the result that is the problem, not what he is claiming his mindset was.

The point here is that the standard needs to have consistency to gain legitimacy.

The concept is present at all times on the ice, in the form of the third party, the officials. When the injury or penalty extends beyond the implication or bounds of a two-minute or five minute penalty, that is where resolution in the NHL has been problematic. In addition, some of the existing rules within those bounds - five minutes for fighting for example, which is scarcely longer than the period between rounds of boxing - the leniency is remarkable relative to other professional sports.

If a team wants to have the right to engage, slash or scrum after every whistle, then they need to go through a process of changing the rules of the NHL to reflect that those are no longer considered slashing, roughing (or delaying the game). Otherwise, play hockey by the rules of the game, or prepare to be penalized and stop complaining about the amount of penalty calls, particularly in a game full of liberties like yesterday's; it is pointless.

Who can doubt that the NHL needs to find a way to reduce injuries? There is arguably a high enough rate of injury within the rules and before the whistles.

The 'hate' is getting out of hand - are sports supposed to be about hate? Competition, determination, teamwork, skill, strength, speed, management, strategy, development, SPORTSMANSHIP, respect... but hate. Over hockey? What is the point of lamenting the loss of respect if the hype is inciting hate?

oldnews

B-Ruining the game...

Boston came out feeding the hate, and dragging the game down to a snail's pace - evidently they feel that gives them their best chance to win. That in itself is very interesting. It is as though they have seen the truth unfold in full speed hockey, and they didn't like it, so they resort to a sideshow.

"The hate was on full display." John Shorthouse commented at the end of the first period.

"Wolf pack mentality by the Boston Bruins" - Nick Kypreos.

If the Canucks are the most hated team in hockey, it is because Boston has the most hate to give.

The way they play the game, Boston makes the wave of penalties absolutely necessary and force the hand of the officials - if officials resort to the rulebook, there are practically no skaters left in the game by the end of the first period. Who is ruining the game? The received logic is that the officials ruin the game when the exert control over the sideshow, but in this context, Boston is ruining the game; the officials only start to participate in that if they start "letting it go", the implications being that a war breaks out and few are left standing; and hockey becomes second fiddle to punk antics. Boston literally over-reacts to everything - this is how they set the standard low for their own conduct, with consistent over-reaction, of which only some can be called, and they are hair-trigger sensitive to what they will tolerate from their opponents, setting off such over-reactions. Aside from forcing imbalanced official impact in the game, it is actually a rip-off for those of us who want to watch hockey. We are used to 60 minutes of hockey and instead we see about 5 or 10 minutes of it. By the second period the official's heads are in a spin and they practically become complicit, because to call everything would actually make the game a backlog of powerplays. They lose their ability to make even an icing call. The B-ruining of the game is off the tracks; the game is 2-1 with 6 minutes remaining in the second period, and it is on life-support. Shockingly, it is on the border of boring - at this point, the life is all but out of the Boston Gardens.

This is not very good for the durability of the athletes involved, who are expected to perform for a hundred games and provide the entertainment that fans want.

There might have been 30 seconds of consecutive skating at some point, but otherwise, it is garbage hockey. Very little flow; a persistent feeling of dust settling in the air. It is almost as though the Boston Bruins are over-compensating - they aren't that bad of a hockey team. But they are on a hair-trigger - perhaps trying to avoid being shut down the way they were in 3 games against Vancouver last year. Boston won the Stanley Cup, but instead of the air of champions, they are carrying themselves like like they lost, with a chip on their shoulder. The reckless abandon they resorted to may have paid off when the finish-line was in sight in the SC Finals, but in game 42 what it spells for the NHL is unsustainable.

It just goes from anger to tragi-comedy. The bottom line is that the intent to injure is literally escalated 10 or 100 fold and the lack of respect is fanned. All the tough posturing and cheap shots taken by Boston is a contradiction - they are trying to command respect using disrespect. In my mind, they won the Cup despite the antics. Would they be a better hockey team if they were more disciplined? Boston ironically is a very dramatic team - despite the posturing, they are prone to their share of diving and embellishment and whining about calls. The result is reductive for the game and the NHL - it becomes impossible to respect them as their persistent intent to injure threatens to take too many key players out of the game. That is simply bad for the game for a number of reasons, not least of which is that as a spectator sport, people want to see key players playing - when a team so regularly and willfully disregards the safety of players, it makes it very difficult to appreciate their success the way we would a Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, or Ray Bourque.

So the question that comes to mind, is this actually strategic for Boston? Boston is behaving like Vancouver are the Champions. Perhaps there is something to that.

Surprise... Marchand just stooped even lower - an obvious intent to injure and cower from a body check, against one of the true class acts in the NHL, Sami Salo. If the Canucks have lost Salo, win or lose, this game will come at too great a cost. In an injury prone sport, Boston sets the standard of crossing the line. It doesn't make sense or respect.

Garbage is being thrown on the ice to dispute the call, but that only makes literal the kind of hockey Boston was already throwing on the ice.

The actual hockey almost scarcely matters at this point - it results in at least a serious injury a game and a suspension or two (or three) - add that up = B-Ruining the game...

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"Bowness is going through the gum."

John Garrett captured it perfectly.

He was referring to how angry and outspoken Canucks assistant coach Rick Bowness was behind the bench during today's whatever-that-was that played out at the Boston Garden. A gong show.

The game is over. The Canucks were vindicated but at what cost?

The aftermath? The body count? At this point, who knows.

Well done, Boston - you didn't even get a point out of it.

The same building that taunted a player with a broken back in last year's SC Final, today could be heard protesting Marchand's cowardly injuring of Sami Salo.

The only point you make is that the Stanley Cup was lost on you. A poor loser is one thing. But a bad winner?

What a sense of entitlement.

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Schneider has earned the start.

He has been consistent, he is a legitimate starting goaltender, he has been patient in his development, and he deserves the vote of confidence and the opportunity to play where he grew up. It is a little surprising how many people seem distracted by the negative feedback regarding this decision, and doubts about Luongo or confidence in him, instead of simply getting behind their other grade A goaltender.

The decision is not about Luongo, not about a lack of confidence in him, not about his alleged aversion to pressure, not about 'protecting' him. It is confidence in Schneider and the respect to play him in a marquis game - he is not just a guy you play against weaker opponents. This is not a surprise and not really worthy of a debate. It is a show of confidence - the Canucks can beat anyone with either goalie in net. The fact that Luongo is playing well right now doesn't change the fact that Schneider has earned his starts, and not merely in backup circumstances. The only protection that comes to mind where Luongo is concerned would be in preventing Lucic from taking a run at him the way he ran Ryan Miller, but that is just a comment in jest - Schneider is not expendable either.

This is not about showcasing Corey Schneider on the big stage or trying to raise his trade value - everyone already knows how good he is, especially the GMs in the NHL. One start against Boston is not going to raise or lower his value. He is not a trade chip - he is a cornerstone of the Canucks future. He is one of the last players I would let another team get their jersey on - as far as I am concerned, the more conservative Gillis is in trade talks regarding Schneider, the better.

The opponent, the Boston Bruins have had two competing starting quality goaltenders for some time now. Tim Thomas is considerably older than Luongo, therefore trading Rask has been less of an issue than his counterpart Schneider in Vancouver, but the fact that retaining two top notch goaltenders has worked well for Boston doesn't exactly lend credibility to the insistence that Schneider must eventually be moved. Would Tuukka Rask rather have played elsewhere or won a Stanley Cup?

There is no reason that a tandem can't work well in Vancouver and in their best interest in the long term. A goaltender who plays 20 or 30 games a season spends considerably more time on the ice than most skaters in the league, and generally has more say in the outcomes.

The best managed teams in professional football have a starting quality backup quarterback. Not many teams can recover from losing their starter - take the Indianapolis Colts as an example. Few teams enjoy the stability in goal that Boston has enjoyed - the Canucks are in precisely that kind of position - and in additiion, are younger...

Giving Schneider this start in this context is the right thing to do.

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The Bruins are tough, the Canucks need to get tougher... simple and reductive perhaps, but sports commentary is repetitive and can certainly lack critical thinking at times.

Los Angeles mimicked Boston's strategy in their last meeting with Vancouver and managed a win, and(despite the fact the Canucks dispatched them in the playoffs last year) the question became an issue again.

So on the eve of the SC rematch, once again what everyone is wondering seems to be whether the Canucks are tough enough.

Is the timing of Toronto GM Brian Burke waiving Colton Orr a coincidence, or was he perhaps hoping to free up a little salary and term thinking that Mike Gillis might give in to the pressure and bite off the year and a half left on Orr's contract at a million a year? As much as I like Brian Burke, I doubt this was a waiver-favour offering to his former team, and I am also a little bemused by his contradictory rant about rats taking over the NHL. He has the power to keep an enforcer in his lineup - he was claiming that his hand was forced by the new NHL, but that came off as perhaps some smoke and a mirror or two. Popular thinking seems to be that Sean Thornton tough-guyed the Bruins to a Cup last year, but clearly Burke isn't buying that, and no one else in the league stepped in to take Orr's salary off the Leafs payroll. I often disagree with Burke's perspective, but very rarely with his decisions.

Here is a piece of irony for all you Sedin haters - Brian Burke is second to no one when it comes to toughness at the GM position. I will never forget his statement when it came to the drafting the Sedins - 'Nobody is leaving with these kids except me.' The rest is hindsight, and it looks pretty good from where the Canucks stand. Here is another gem from Burke..."Sedin is not English for punch me, or headlock me in a scrum." If NHL officials continue to allow "rats" to be "rats" perhaps Burke may have a point - but in my opinion, the NHL permits punk behaviour and it should be held accountable, not amateurishly left to enforcers and DIY justice.

The Bruins are SC Champions, yes they are a good team, and yes they have been beating up on a lot of teams this year, but I am still going to suggest that they are getting too much credit. They were one shot from being ousted in the first round last year by the team with the smallest forwards in the NHL. The Montreal Canadians did not have Boston on the brink of golf by resorting to team toughness.

Perhaps Boston is tough - with Chara, Lucic, Thornton, and Boychuk in their lineup... but beyond these guys, they aren't any 'tougher' than any other team; every team has some tough players and all teams have finesse players - when you get down to it, "toughness" is less tangible than people seem to think.

The Bruins strength lies more in the fact that they play two way hockey - they win faceoffs, they have goaltending, they are very good in the plus minus department - they play defence first, and it is always easier to maintain defensive consistency than it is offensive. Offense develops as a result of playing good defense.

Their strengths are obvious, their weakness, maybe less so - but despite the blowouts they manage, they can have trouble scoring.

Sometimes the puck just goes in for you, and the finals last year was good timing for Boston.

Normally I wouldn't so much have minded their success, but they did it against Vancouver, and they resorted to some punk antics in the process.

I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb here and say that winning the last game has left them a little over-rated.

If you look at the series as a whole, the losing team managed only 5 goals in the seven games. Boston was the losing team in 3 of those games, and were shut out twice, managing two goals in their other loss. Vancouver, particularly when they had Hamhuis and Rome in the lineup, certainly had the ability to stifle Boston's efforts to score.

Edler may not be a "tough" guy, but he can knock you out of the time zone if you aren't alert enough. Hamhuis may not be as big and obvious as Chara, but he subtley smothers people and is every bit as important to the Canucks as Chara is to Boston. Aaron Rome is quietly a very solid, under-rated defenseman who makes quick, short and effective first passes. Bieksa, well who can doubt his toughness? Sami Salo doesn't need to be "tough" - he does everything else well, and is anything but soft on the boards. Andrew Alberts plays a physical style of defense. Ballard is certainly capable and throws a mean hip-check. Aside from throwing punches, the Canucks don't lack toughness on the blueline. The only other thing some people seem to think the Canucks lack is a power forward, but Kesler is no slouch in comparison with the other power forwards around the league. You can bring in a guy to react to taunts and knock someone's block off, but then you still have to get back to outscoring them. Having an extra skilled skater instead can also pay off.

Perhaps this question of team toughness never would have surfaced if Rick Rypien were able to play in last year's playoffs - I doubt Marchand would have punked around if he would have had to face Rypien - a player in his weight class who regularly fought guys in Lucic's, a guy Marchand no doubt would have cowered in front of. But the loss of Rypien was a lot more tragic than it may have seemed at the time, and ran much deeper than his absence from the lineup.

I am going to go out on a limb again and say that another absence was equally underestimated - and it had nothing to do with toughness. Mason Raymond is a very under-rated player - whether he is scoring or not, he simply adds an element of chase that, regardless of who else is skating at the time, he is the best on the ice at. The Sedins are great players, but Burrows makes them even better. Kesler is a great centre, but in my opinion Mason Raymond makes him a much better player and it is rarely recognized - his speed is not just a threat, it can also be suffocating defensively. When Booth was added to the lineup, people were practically forgetting Mason Raymond. His return to health, and continued return to form makes the Canucks a much better team.

The Canucks don't need to be doubting, or looking at any other team as holding a formula for their weak spots - the alarms being sounded regarding their alleged lack of toughness are over-stated and for the most part, short-sighted.

Thanks, but no thanks - this team will do just fine.

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I suppose Joe Thornton thinks that pestering the Sedins is going to help him shed his reputation. Acting like a punk as a shortcut to gaining respect - at the expense of Henrik Sedin - is not surprising and not very original. Instead, Thornton was just embarrassing himself. He may get a few laughs from people who lack an appreciation of context, but when you get down to it, here is a guy who has earned the criticism he has faced and these kind of antics are not going to change that. Thornton is no tough guy and posturing the role is not going to reverse the fact that he is perceived as the one of the biggest and yet softest players in the NHL.

Perhaps it is human nature to try to project/displace that kind of thing - when Thornton called the Rangers soft, the irony was probably not lost on anyone. Tortorella responded appropriately. Who is Joe Thornton? What has he won? Thornton should just "shut up".

When it comes to fingering a Sedin, the same truth rhymes with excessive volume. Taunting guys that you know are not going to respond is actually kind of pathetic. He has gotten off his game, but it was still surprising to see Thornton stooping that low. Tough guys stand up to tough guys. If you want to seem tough, try gaining respect by facing off with a tough guy.

Some people seem to think this crap "works" against the Sedins. How well did it work in last years' playoffs? The Sedins walked all over San Jose. Ben Eager tried to do what many think Sean Thornton did for Boston - it backfired in his face - bigtime. Joe Thornton was acting like an idiot and the Sedins continued to torch San Jose, perhaps then more than ever. If Thornton was under the impression last night that this is a viable 'strategy', he was acting on a short memory and bad information - but I think it is just a lack of respect and lack of discipline more than anything else. What appeared to "work" for the Bruins last year had much more to do with the fact the Canucks were missing Hamhuis and Rome and were thinned out on the blueline, than being the result of a whole lot of officially permitted punking around. Any team that is missing a third of its blueline is also going to have trouble maintaining its offensive game. The Sedins don't do what they do by themselves - they are part of a five man unit which is part of a team, that complements each other. The Bruins success had a lot less to do with acting like punks and more to do with facing a depleted opponent - as well as a reversion to absentee officiating that suited their borderline play.

Let's face it, if Joe Thornton were not a Canadian, if he was, say, Swedish, he would probably be the most vilified and emasculated player in the NHL - even more so than he already is. Instead he gets a kind of waiver, a kind of poor Joe will come through eventually kind of thing, poor Joe is misunderstood. He plays for team Canada, so he does get a chance to taste victory in big games; but in my mind Canada wins despite him. There are many great Canadian players, two way players, that deserve to wear the Maple leaf ahead of Thornton. Here is a guy that has a huge frame and a great deal of natural ability. If he played with the type of passion most players have, and had the kind of mental toughness it takes to win, he would be truly dominant, but it doesn't come naturally to him; instead he appears to be playing angry. He is a centre - he should be a massive asset to his d-men as it is his job to get back, get behind his own net and be the third man that makes the breakout happen faster. He does do this... sometimes. I'm not suggesting Thornton needs to get tougher - but he does give the impression that there is a vacancy or something missing in his game - I can't quite describe it, but aside from the anger thrown in of late, his game is generally kind of mopey.

Here is some irony for you - Thornton could be a great player, in the class of a Mats Sundin - a physical Swede who always showed up (at least while he was a Leaf) - but Thornton has nowhere near the grit and determination of Sundin - and he has spent his whole career on vastly superior teams to those that Sundin played on. Instead he is just ho-hum Joe. I am not particularly impressed by his character, but I do feel for the guy, particularly as the chip on his shoulder grows. But acting like a punk and sticking his finger in the face of one of the most respectful men in the league, repeatedly, is just plain weak. If he thinks this kind of juvenile nonsense will get him some relief from criticism by gaining him access into a fraternity of pseudo-macho-Sedin-haters, it is sad.

Some people seem to be under the impression that Thornton, despite losing in 5 games to the Canucks, had a breakout performance in the playoffs last year. He was more assertive than in the past, but he has set the bar so low that 3 goals, 14 assists and a minus 5 in 18 games is a vast improvement. It is a long way from gaining him a reputation as a great leader and the kind of guy you want to lead you into the playoffs. He is a lifetime minus 28 in the playoffs. Hey Joe, before you go fingering the Sedins, you have a significant amount of climbing to do, and if you ever make it, fingering other guys will become unnecessary. Maybe you think you are a bigger man than the Sedins, perhaps on some level you resent them... whatever it is, you should rethink it.

Thornton, of all people, should show them some respect. They play a similar style game to his, but at a much higher level, with more consistency, and are much more dignified in the process. Where the Sedins are concerned, the criticisms don't stick, they haven't allowed chips to grow on their shoulders, and they have continued to excel in their style of hockey. With Thornton it is the perenial sense that he is capable of performing better, waiting for the 'real' Joe to emerge. Perhaps it is just the case that what you see is what you get - a case of unrealistic expectations.

The Sharks have some rethinking to do as well. Who can doubt that the biggest problem the Sharks have is that the guy wearing the "C" is not really the best choice to be their leader. The fact that Patrick Marleau is not the captain of the Sharks is a joke they keep playing on themselves; it is the biggest bottleneck in the way of their success. There is a guy you want to be front and centre - there is a class act who quietly leads by example. There is a player I would want to see in a Canucks jersey. Thornton... at this point, I honestly wouldn't give you a 5th round draft pick for him. He is looking less and less like a character guy, and more and more like a caricature. Take some of the load off Joe Thornton and give the "C" to a real leader - Thornton just doesn't seem cut out for that role, any more than he is cut out to posture as a tough guy. It is sad and no one buys it - he is reducing himself to coming off as a punk who is projecting, and the kind of crap he is resorting to is at the point of requiring intervention. Last night just confirmed that Thornton should have listened to Tortorella's retort.

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Was Ehrhoff the guy the Canucks could most afford to lose?

Christian Ehrhoff's decision to leave the Vancouver Canucks may have hurt at the time; in hindsight however, Mike Gillis deserves credit for his decision to let him go rather than offering mountains of money and a long term. The irony of Ehrhoff's decision is that (aside from all the money) it may weaken his career far more than it hurt the Canucks, and cost his new team quite a bit for a long time. Where the Canucks are concerned, the loss looks like it may actually be a gain.

The Canucks didn't get off to a blazing start this season; nevertheless, they have climbed back into first in the division, and the departure of Ehrhoff hasn't exactly been a trending issue.

The key beneficiary in these developments is obviously Alex Edler, as well as the depth guys who now play a greater role. Edler is the fourth highest scoring defenseman in the NHL; but perhaps even more important is the fact that at the same time Edler is a significant upgrade defensively over Ehrhoff. It is still relatively early in the season, but at this point, Edler, Bieksa, and Hamhuis all have as many points as Ehrhoff - and Bieksa and Hamhuis are the Canucks shut down pair. Sami Salo is only two points behind Ehrhoff, but has scored twice as many goals, and stand-up defenseman Aaron Rome has lit the red light as often as Ehrhoff has. When it comes to two-way play, every player on the Canucks roster has a better plus/minus than Ehrhoff - and perhaps surprisingly, the same can be said of the Buffalo Sabres as Ehrhoff is struggling with a team worst minus 11.

While it was easy to like what he added at the other team's end of the ice, considering the Canucks depth on the blueline, including having solid guys like Alberts, Tanev and Sulzer available when needed, it is hard to consider the Ehrhoff loss to in fact be a loss. To be fair however, he played like he was suffering from a shoulder injury in the post-season last year, and who knows if he has been healthy thus far this year.

On the other hand, I believe Ehrhoff expressed that his move to Buffalo would improve his "Chance to Win a Cup" - at this point, it looks like his decision might cost him another chance, and that he seriously under-estimated his team-mates in Vancouver, who deserve a lot of credit for that peak in his career. Without them around him, he just doesn't look like the marquis defenseman he appeared to be. Again, it is early in the season, but the chance of a Vancouver/Boston rematch in the Stanley Cup looks much more likely than Ehrhoff making another appearance. Ironically, without him, the Canucks may have an even better chance of reversing the result.

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Hey Bolland! Who's your Patty?

You have to admit, Dave Bolland probably has had the most significant moments of his career against the Sedins and the Canucks. Three consecutive meetings in the playoffs and it is bound to happen once or twice. Bolland is probably feeling a little inflated of late as his Hawks are playing better than the team that limped backwards into the playoffs last year and then had a few flattering results in a series in which the Canucks, for the most part, thoroughly dominated Chicago and finally dispatched them.

Maybe that's why Bolland had Vancouver on his mind, despite the fact they haven't met and won't meet for quite some time.

His Hawks were busy facing the Conference leading Minnesota Wild; meanwhile Bolland was preoccupied with distant redheads.

Who can blame him? The western conference does revolve around the twins. The fact that Bolland admitted in his comments that he resorts to something other than hockey, and jokes about it, says it all. He doesn't really believe he can stop them by resorting to hockey - he resorts to pestering, and let's face it, he is good at it. It may work at times, but it is generally considered the same thing regardless of what sport you are talking about - it is unsportsmanlike conduct. Bolland takes a blank cheque and 'exposed' himself in his comments.

The thing is, after talking that kind of trash, he has put himself in a tough position. He has to stop them - if he manages to, he is merely picking fights with sisters, if he doesn't, he was beaten by people he called sisters. Ironically, it's not the kind of stuff that gains you a great deal of respect. Dave Bolland is definite competition for Sean Avery, to take the lead in the fraternity of pests. Don't get me wrong - I don't as a rule dislike players like Esa Tikkanen, Claude Lemieux, Darcy Tucker, or Matthew Barnaby. It tends to depend on whether they are on your team or not.

Bollands' comments didn't stop at his penchant for taunting, though - he went into a few areas that the twins chose not to engage with.

I agree with Alain Vigneault, and I'd bet if you polled a thousand women and asked whether they would rather have Sedin genes or Bollands', I think you'd find them all in bed with the twins, whether they have red hair or not.

The most redeemable thing about Bolland is that his name rhymes with Ohlund. It's understandable if Bolland was expressing a little latent Swedophobia - chances are deep down he really just wishes he were Swedish.

The Sedins may even sleep in bunkbeds. That was kinda funny. But it then begs the unfortunate questions about what and who Bolland sleeps with. It just leads into areas and images we don't want invoked.

What is wrong with being sisters anyway?

Hey Bolland; who's your Patty?

These kinds of shots at the twins are getting so predictable that you have to wonder if there are any creative trash talkers left. The twins are constantly a target, but the reduncancy and apparent dislike for them has achieved a level of oddity and makes you wonder what it is that is so threatening about them? The twins are certainly not punks - they have outscored most of the great players, including tough Swedes like Mats Sundin and Holmstrom, and great finesse players like Mats and Markus Naslund. They are extremely disciplined, they show up every night, they play injured, they carry themselves with humility despite being as good as anyone on the planet, they respect their opponents, and they give back to the community in a way few people do. The shots might be a little funnier if there wasn't this continuous, strange underlying denial of their manhood, bordering on offensive. When the Sharks did this to their team-mate, McGinn, it takes on a different meaning. like a hazing. But in the context of the Sedins and Sweden, the chauvinism falls into a meanspirited rut that has been dug over the years in the tracks of hockey talk in this country. There's a mentality amongst many Canadians that somehow finesse players, as Swedes are stereotyped to be, don't really play Canadian style hockey. But the greatest players in Canadian history, players like Gretzky, Bobby Orr, or Guy Lafleur, were skill-finesse players. As a commentator for TSN put it, if the twins were Canadians, they would be national heroes. People puffing up their chests at their expense has gotten stale.

When you get down to it, I don't think Bolland was intending to be an a**hole - he may have just been giving in to peer pressure. It is unfortunate, because I was under the impression that Bolland was a classier player than that, who is effective at playing his style of game against top-notch opponents - but this reduced that to a playground kind of space.

When Bolland said he wouldn't let the Sedins on his team, that much was believable - I don't think he would endure the competition very well. They would drop him down another line, to the third or fourth... and his genes would be in relatively reduced demand.

But, I have a lot of respect for Bolland and the Hawks (despite their weak tough talk) and don't mean to offend - it's just a little chit for chat.

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