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Jason's Canucks Blog

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Jason Chen

Hello again!

It feels like forever since I've been back. Last year, I left this "Bleeding Blue and Green" blog (special thanks to Derek Jory for the opportunity, should he ever see this) after the website overhaul and started my own blog, Armchair Hockey. Check it out if you have a chance! There's some more recent stuff about the Rick Nash trade sweepstakes, the Kings-Flyers relationship and more.

The Canucks pick 26th this year, and unfortunately for them it's a strong year for defensemen but not much to speak of in terms of forwards. The Canucks need more offensive punch up front, especially on the wings. I suspect this draft will be more for teams looking to plug lineup holes, since very few prospects (perhaps only Yakupov and maybe Murray or Galchenyuk) have the talent to be considered franchise players.

Regardless, check out my 2012 mock draft to see who the Canucks might pick!

It's been quite a walk down memory lane. Here's some of my favourite posts from years past.

Public enemy number one

Theo Fleury was right but got the year wrong. The Canucks were bounced in the first round in 2012, not 2011. Regardless, the new team with a huge target behinds its back is now the LA Kings. There's no question about that one.

Keep an eye out for Joe

I highlighted some of the top NCAA prospects, including the Canucks' own Joe Cannata, you should keep an eye on. Here's a update:

- Dumoulin is foregoing his senior year at Boston College and just inked a three-year entry level contract. Faulk finished with 22 points in a pretty impressive rookie campaign. Along with McBain and Ryan Murphy, the Canes now have a deep blueline and is my reasoning for them taking a forward at the draft.

- Cam Atkinson and Jason Zucker got call-ups to the big club and both are tabbed to be regulars next year. Both are quick and dangerous goal scorers when given the opportunity.

- Jon Merrill (NJ) and Danny Kristo (Montreal) will likely head back to the college ranks. Both are still unsigned. Merrill is making his way back into the Wolverines lineup after going through some off-ice issues that resulted in a suspension from the team.

- Chris Kreider needs no explanation.

Best team ever?

I stand by my belief that the 2010-11 Canucks were the most talented bunch assembled in franchise history, and also the best chance they had at a Cup. I thought we had a much weaker group this year and there's lots of holes to fill up front for next season.

What's wrong with swagger?

In which I supported the antics of PK Subban and Linus Omark, while pointing out that super classy guy Henrik Sedin does the same once in a while. It's fun, it's entertaining, it's good for the pro athlete to exude confidence and cockiness like that. For a young player, having that high confidence with a coach that supports that kind of attitude (not Jacques Martin) can do wonders.

30 players to watch

By far my most favourite post to write every year.

A (long) update:

Bobby Ryan is now a bona fide first line winger; Bogosian's one of the game's hardest hitters; Horton hasn't scored 35 for the B's yet; Myers had an injury setback; Giordano is still better than Bouwmeester; McBain is coming along nicely; Hjalmarsson has been underwhelming; Quincey is back on Detroit; Russell is now a Blue with less pressure; Niskanen has been great for the Pens; questions still abound about Filppula; Hemsky can't stay healthy (again); Kulikov is the Panthers' most dangerous offensive defenseman, not Campbell; Schenn was key for the Flyers; Burns is now in San Jose; Subban is regarded as the league's young elite; Colin Wilson will crack 50 points next year (fearless prediction); Greene has been good but not nearly as he once was; I'm convinced Josh Bailey is done; Zuccarello-Aasen has returned to Europe with an NHL out clause; Karlsson is a Norris nominee; Giroux is a top ten talent; Turris looks rejuvenated in Ottawa; Paul Martin has been a rock; Demers regressed; jury's still out on Berglund; Hedman was one of Tampa's most reliable; I think Phaneuf's playing his best since Calgary; Raymond's tenure in Vancouver is likely over; and Carlson's Washington's best.

Jason Chen

5 Things to Watch

It's playoff hockey time, my favourite time of the year. It's the time of year when lying on the couch watching playoff hockey at 4 PM and opening up the window for a nice breeze constitutes as "enjoying the nice weather." Whatever, with the MLB regular season and both NBA and NHL playoffs starting this might as well be my winter hibernation.

And lo and behold, the greatest time of the year has also given us the best possible matchup in the first round - and it's certainly not because I think they're the shakiest team going in (that's Los Angeles from the West and Philadelphia from the East for me). I want the Blackhawks because I want to kick their butts. There is no question that the Canucks are the best (regular season) team this year and with Salo, Edler, Bieksa, Hamhuis, Ballard, and Ehrhoff all healthy, our confidence should be at an all-time high.

When the Canucks do beat them (in 5 games, no less), it'll be a little less satisfying because their big "Boogey Man" from last year is hitting the courses early with the rest of the Atlanta Thrashers. It just wouldn't be as sweet a victory without Dustin Byfuglien looking dejected on the Blackhawks bench, but a series win is a series win, and the Canucks will have the final trump card.

<img src="http://www.vancouversun.com/sports/2995856.bin?size=620x400"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">

Other than the Boston-Montreal series (way too many storylines, the best being Price vs. Thomas), no other series has the potential to be more historically significant in a rivalry than this one. (I guess you could count Philadelphia-Buffalo, who will meet for the 9th time in history, but some of those series have been duds). Consider the consequences: if the Blackhawks manage to upset, they WILL have Vancouver's number. A 2 vs. 3-seed series could go either way, but if an 8 seed upsets the league's best team, they walk into the second round with sky-high confidence (which is also a reason why when lower seeds upset in the first round they tend to win in the second too). If the Canucks win, they are now the league's best team without any supposed weaknesses. Only Detroit will be viewed as a potential weakness but only because of their pedigree and reputation and goaltending's an issue. San Jose might be a really tough opponent too if they could bring the same intensity to brought in their final regular season tune-up but their depth doesn't hold a candle to the Canucks'.

Either way, it's going to be an interesting series, blowout or not. Here's 5 things to watch for:

1. Roberto Luongo enters this series as the X factor (again and again) and this time's there's really no excuses – the Canucks have given him the rest during the season he obviously needed to stay fresh. He's said so himself, he's playing the best hockey of his career. Alright, Roberto, show us what you've really got. You may have a gold medal around your neck but we want the parade. And for the record, I don't think Luongo's leash is very long (if things go really south there's no way you don't play Schneider even though he is a rookie).

2. Who steps up their game for the Hawks? The depth isn't there and other than the usual suspects (Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp) their best offensively gifted player is Michal Frolik who has 3 goals in 28 games. Tomas Kopecky will stir up some trouble but he should be easier to handle since he's about 50 lbs. lighter than Byfuglien. It's nothing a Kevin Bieksa-stare can't handle.

3. The only guy I've seen who's always been able to really get the Sedins off their game is Dave Bolland. Unfortunately, along with Troy Brouwer, both are unlikely to dress for the series opener. Bolland has a concussion and with those things it's always dicey. Like I said, if the Canucks win it won't be quite the same, but they're still the Blackhawks, no?

4. Maturity is often the issue with Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows and by distancing themselves from any extracurriculars Kesler cracked the 40-goal barrier. There were times though, where you could see the old Kesler start to creep back, especially when his wingers weren't making the plays or when things weren't going right for himself. It's going to be a pressure packed series and there will be all the more need for Kesler and Burrows to stay on an even keel. (As an aside, my two picks for the Hart are between Daniel and Corey Perry, but I also think that Kesler's the team MVP. How does that work? How does the second-best player on his team be considered for the Hart? Honestly, I don't even know. I can't really explain it until you watch a Canucks game. Also, shouldn't the Canucks should given an award to Mr. Kesler for his little sit-down with Ryan? Without him, no 41-goal Kesler.)

5. That's compared to the Hawks, who sounded more relieved to be just in the playoffs. They didn't bring their A game against Detroit (with shaky goaltending) and they had to count on Marc Crawford and the Stars to choke (who didn't see that coming?) to make it into the top 8. Some of the players couldn't even watch the game. When that happens the players are more relieved than psyched to play in the playoffs. If the Blackhawks can go from "happy to be there" to "brand new season" mode before game one they will be much more competitive. The Hawks entered last summer as a team with a lot of swagger and confidence. That's definitely not the story anymore. Can and will the Canucks take care of that?

For more hockey stuff visit my new (still kind of under construction) site Armchair Hockey. Click for my Eastern Conference Preview, Hart, Jack Adams, Selke, Norris, and Masterton picks. Western Conference Preview and Vezina, Calder picks coming soon.

Jason Chen

"I'm going to go out on a limb here and I'm going to say that the Vancouver Canucks will not make it out of the first round... no matter who they play," says Theo Fleury.

Soon after Fleury made those comments, he was lambasted on Twitter (@TheoFleury14) and accused of being a misinformed troll. Ah, the beauty of social media and the Internet. Now, before everyone here starts getting their pitchforks and lanterns in a city-wide manhunt, let's step back and discuss this.

First, while I disagree with Fleury's prediction, he has made it clear that he's going against the grain. There's nothing inherently wrong with that - it would've been akin to saying that Boston U would've upset Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament. You're going to get laughed at, and Fleury clearly knew what he was going to get, but it's not out of the realm of possibility. If the Canucks did indeed bow out in the first round, doesn't that make Fleury a genius? Like it or not, he makes some great points in his argument. He even concedes that the Sedins' skills are mind-blowing.

Second, if there's anybody's opinion about this matter that you should respect, it's Theo Fleury's. Very few players have made it to the NHL with a size disadvantage and even fewer have played with the same amount of fire Fleury had back in his heyday. He's an Olympic gold medalist, a Stanley Cup winner, and overcome substance abuse and depression. He's been on league-leading teams, teams that have choked, and teams that have won. If anyone knows about fighting a battles, win or lose, it's Fleury.

Expectations are sky high in Vancouver - anything short of a Cup title and the President's Trophy this squad will win won't mean anything. The ultimate prize is still the Cup, so whatever happens between Opening Night and the last game of the playoffs is just all white noise when all is said and done. Jason Botchford isn't sure why there's been so much criticism directed at the Canucks, and more specifically, Roberto Luongo, but it's clearly because the Canucks have never, even been in this position.

Think about it. Which team is the most criticized in the MLB? The Yankees, because they're a historically great team with an insane payroll that isn't a reflected on the field. The NBA? The Miami Heat, because LeBron James and his buddies teamed up and have formed one of the most talented nucleus in league history and promised 6 championships yet still struggle to stay atop the East. The NFL? The New England Patriots, because Tom Brady's pretty boy image was front and center along with their historic 16-0 season.

The Vancouver Canucks are the best team in the NHL. They sit comfortably atop the league standings and boast the league's best special teams. Luongo is statistically having one of the best seasons in his career. Make no mistake - the Canucks are public enemy number one in all 29 other arenas in the NHL. Every single team wants to beat the Canucks. They're going to get picked apart by fans, experts, GMs, and coaches because they're the team to beat. They're the litmus test. And one of the easiest bones to pick with the Canucks? The fact that they've been blown out by the Hawks in two consecutive years, and in both years Luongo has been less than stellar. Pressure to win in the playoffs comes from regular season success. It's the logical step. What people want to know are the ones at the top. It's an exercise in social psychology as it is about sports. The reason why so many top teams choke (Washington) is because there's much more pressure on them to perform. And so many upsets happen every year (Montreal) because there's less pressure. Some teams thrive off pressure, some don't. So far, it's pretty fair to say the Canucks don't.

Some people in Vancouver are up in arms because they can't take the criticism. Well, now we know how the Sharks felt the past couple of years and we know how Sidney Crosby feels on a nightly basis. You want to know why nobody picks apart the Red Wings' game even though Jimmy Howard really isn't that good, Jonathan Ericsson has hit a wall in his development, and Tomas Holmstrom refuses to fight? Because they've won Cups.

Stop whining about not getting enough respect. Suck it up, play hard, and win the damn thing.

Jason Chen

Certain Canucks players and fans may not be so quick to make bold statements, but here's mine: write it down, the Vancouver Canucks are your 2011 President's Trophy winners. No other team in the NHL has cracked the century mark and the Canucks are already 5 points over. Now that's settled, I want to shift you attention to the big March tournament. No, not the one where Mike Krzyzewski's helmet-hair and Kansas' Morris twins are the prime time feature. The OTHER NCAA tournament, the one with Canucks goaltending prospect Joe Cannata.

<img src="http://www.merrimackathletics.com/images/mice/2007-09_Images/2008_vs._BC/Joe_Cannata_3.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Cannata was drafted in the 6th round, 173rd overall in the 2009 draft, the 13th ranked North American goalie and a product of Boston College High School and the US Development Program, where he led the U-18 American squad to a championship at the Five Nations tournament. Now in his junior year with the Merrimack Warriors, who play out of North Andover, MA, Cannata has led his team to the school's first NCAA Division I birth since 1988. It's quite a feat considering the staying power of more well-known hockey programs like Michigan, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Boston U, Boston College, and North Dakota.

With 25 wins, a 2.44 GAA and a save percentage north of .910, Cannata has been the Warriors' MVP all year. Like Steve Nash during his days at Santa Clara, the two unheralded athletes have led their mid-level programs to NCAA berths, and considering how many schools are part of the NCAA family, it's quite a feat, surely one that won't go unnoticed by Mike Gillis.

There's been questions about the Canucks' future in net, and with Cory Schneider's strong play some have been brave enough to put forth the notion that the Boston College product should be Vancouver's no. 1 netminder. But these types of questions and headaches are the ones GMs love to have, and that's not mentioning that the Canucks have a promising Swedish import in Eddie Lack, currently polishing his craft with the Moose. Like Schneider, Cannata is a Massachusetts native and NCAA product. It seems as though the Canucks may have found their goaltending goldmine.

For a complete list of drafted players in the tournament and the 16-team bracket, click here. Merrimack will play ninth-ranked Notre Dame Irish in the first round, highlighted by Riley Sheahan, a Red Wings pick that may eventually turn out to be a solid third-line checking centre.

Other players to watch:

Carolina's Brian Dumoulin (Boston College) and Justin Faulk (Minnesota-Duluth), two of the higher ranked prospects in the Hurricanes system whose playing styles translate very well to the NHL game.

Columbus' Cam Atkinson (Boston College), drafted 157th overall in 2008, the 5'8" winger has some of the best wheels and hands in the college ranks. With his second consecutive 30-goal season for the Eagles, some scouts compare him to Boston College alum Brian Gionta, who scored 30+ goals three times for the Hockey East heavyweight.

Detroit's Riley Sheahan (Notre Dame), who will face Cannata and the Warriors in the first round. While he doesn't do anything particularly well, he's a player that projects to be an effective NHL player given a couple more years in the NCAA and Grand Rapids.

Los Angeles' Derek Forbort (North Dakota), who I think is the reason why the Kings were so willing to part with Colten Teubert in the Dustin Penner deal. The 15th overall pick in the 2010 draft, the 6'5" defenseman plays both ends of the ice very well.

Minnesota's Jason Zucker (Denver), who flew way under the radar in the draft and was plucked by the Wild 59th overall and represented USA at the most recent World Jr. Championships. Zucker, only a freshmen, has potted 21 goals this year, compared to Cam Atkinson, who had less than 10 in his first year.

Montreal's Danny Kristo (North Dakota), who was Zucker's teammate at the WJC. The Habs have always been pretty good at finding NCAA talent (Ryan McDonagh, Max Pacioretty, Louis Leblanc) and Kristo is no different.

New Jersey's Jon Merrill (Michigan) is one of the most highly-touted prospects in the NCAA. Those who the Devils gave up a lot to get Kovalchuk forget that their pipeline isn't that bare - Merrill's mobility and puck skills are top notch and Jacob Josefsen, Mattias Tedenby, and Alexander Vasyunov are slowly making their way into the big leagues.

The Islanders' Blake Kessel (New Hampshire) is Phil's younger brother, but unlike Phil he's a defenseman.

The Rangers' Chris Kreider (Boston College) is a guy you have to watch. The big, burly power forward can score at will, and with 10 goals in two years for USA at the WJC he's already tied with Modano and LeClair and trails only JR's 13 and Gionta's 11. He was recently named MVP of the Beanpot Classic, an annual matchup between Boston U and BC.

Ottawa's Loui Caporusso (Michigan), one of the few seniors to watch who will undoubtedly make the jump to Binghamton next year.

Pittsburgh's Beauregard Bennett (Denver), better known as 'Beau', is seen as the long-term solution to Crosby's wing.

St. Louis' Jaden Schwartz (Colorado College), who is one of two Schwartz brothers that makes up 2/3 of the Tigers' top line. I thought Schwartz was the best forward for Canada at the WJC until his injury when Ryan Johansen stepped up, but despite his small size Schwartz is a can't-miss prospect.

Toronto's Jimmy Hayes (Boston College), who has 20 goals this year and joins an impressive crop of NCAA forwards in Toronto's system that features Christian Hanson (Notre Dame), Tyler Bozak (Denver), and Jerry D'Amigo (RPI before leaving for Kitchener).

My readers (... however few) will know that I'm a big fan of NCAA hockey. Well, that's my shameless plug for the tournament but at least there's a Canuck in there, which really doesn't happen all that often. C'mon, wouldn't you have loved to see what kind of player Kesler was when he was at Ohio St.? Or how fast Mason Raymond was compared to his peers at Minnesota-Duluth? Or even see if you think Kevin Bieksa would've made the NHL after watching him at Bowling Green?

Jason Chen

Wanna Play?

Like Trevor Gillies and his antics in the Penguins brouhaha, the league's negative headlines have far outweighed the good. Case in point - Sidney Crosby has now missed two months with a concussion and is now unlikely to return this season, and while that topic has dominated Maclean's covers and sparked talk of amending the rulebook in this week's GM meetings, the best story this season has been the playoff race. Never before do I remember such a close race in the West and two such intriguing storylines with the Leafs and Devils. But one thing's for sure: the Canucks will have to have a colossal collapse and the Wings would have to catch fire if the want to claim the West title. The former is unlikely to happen.

This means that the Canucks enter the post-season as the number one seed, locking up home-ice advantage for, perhaps, the entire journey. With so much media scrutiny, so much pressure, and so many past meltdowns, you can't help but think that the Canucks are looking ahead to who they might face. They probably aren't, since they're such a level-headed team, and are concentrating on finishing the season on a high note. But of Minnesota, Anaheim, Nashville, Calgary, Dallas, and Phoenix (excluding Chicago and Los Angeles, who both have 7 wins in their last 10 and are most likely to finish in the top 5), who does Vancouver match-up the best? The worst?

It is becoming increasing unlikely that the Wild will make the playoffs, but if they do, it'll present the Canucks with one of the most interesting match-ups. it's no secret - the Canucks stink at the Excel Energy Center in Minnesota, save Cory Schneider. The Canucks are tough at home and if they sweep the first two games then it's all fine and dandy. The only story that really matters is what to do if Luongo struggles. It's unlikely to happen for the 2011 Vezina-nominee (yes, I said it) but having such a strong backup eventually creates goalie controversies to varying degrees.

The Ducks have a chance if they have Jonas Hiller, another would-be Vezina-nominee had he not been sidelined with vertigo, in the lineup. Dan Ellis may be hot right now and Ray Emery may be a feel-good story, but even with the addition of Beauchemin the Ducks just don't have enough depth up and down the roster. If the Canucks can play a clean game and keep Teemu Selanne off the powerplay and keep the Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry line from dominating, this should be an easy series.

The Predators have not won a single playoff series in their history and it's not going to happen this year if they face the Canucks. Even with the unheralded Pekka Rinne, like the Ducks, the Preds just don't have the depth. The Shea Weber-led defense may frustrate the Canucks but the lack of scoring oomph in the Preds lineup may be even more frustrating for Barry Trotz. Let's not mentioning that the Preds will be playing 5 defensemen instead of 6 due to Shane O'Brien's constant bouts of Roxy flu.

Of all the teams mentioned, Calgary scares me the most. They have a good goalie, an experienced blueline, and the ultimate warrior in Jarome Iginla. They've been a completely different team since Darryl Sutter was fired and are now playing the kind of hockey everyone expected them to play. They've got enough grit, size, toughness, and skill to at least make this a series. David Moss and Rene Bourque provides some good depth. The only questions here are the Canucks' health on defense and Calgary's poor matchups at centre against the Canucks.

The Stars were in danger of missing the playoffs a couple weeks back after Brad Richards went down with an injury and the team was sent into a mini-downward spiral. Since then, the Stars have 6 wins in their last 10 and are trending up. Alex Goligoski was a good pickup for a team lacking offense from the blueline, even if the price was a little high. Marc Crawford is behind the bench and on squads that he's coached that don't feature Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, he's only made it past the quarterfinals once. There's nothing on this Dallas team that really scares me - except for a potential writhing Mike Ribeiro suffering from extreme "back pain." There's just enough drive from Brenden Morrow and Langenbrunner and skill from Benn and the very underrated Loui Eriksson to cause the Canucks some trouble, but remember that in head-to-head matchups this year the Canucks swept the season series outscoring them 20-5.

Phoenix is an interesting team. They've got a great coach, good goaltending, a mobile defense headlined by Keith Yandle, and a crop of forwards that gets the job done without an elite forward. If Ilya Bryzgalov gets hot, and we've seen this happen with many, many undeserving Cup finalists, watch out. But that's about it.

But here's the REAL low down. When Kyle Wellwood returned with the Sharks, he was quite vocal about the experience and maturity level in the Canucks' dressing room, saying that there's still "lessons to learn." In a way, he is right - the Sharks look much better right now than I've seen in years past and the Capitals enter the post-season as a virtual unknown because of their new commitment to playing defense. Both teams have choked in the playoffs rather dramatically.

Upsets over the number one seed in the first round are rare in any sport, but for the past two consecutive seasons, it's happened in the NHL. In 2009, the President's-winning Sharks were upset by the Ducks despite the Sharks setting franchise records in wins (53) and points (117). In 2010, the Habs defeated the President's-winning Capitals in the first round despite the Caps' awe-inspiring 121 regular season points. Both the Ducks and Habs featured hot goalies - Jonas Hiller had shutouts in Games 1 and 4, perhaps the vital games in any series, and everyone knows the Jaroslav Halak story. This is why Phoenix may pose the biggest threat if Ilya Bryzgalov, or even Miikka Kiprusoff, gets hot. The Canucks are set to shatter their franchise record of 105 points and could very will finish the season close to around 115 (7 wins in 11 games - not impossible).

Jason Chen

Gillis Adds Grit

So at the end of the day, still no Zenon Konopka. That's unfortunate. I really think he could've helped. But Mike Gillis had the most productive deadline day of his career, bringing in veterans Chris Higgins from Florida and Maxim Lapierre from Anaheim. On a day in which little activity was anticipated, in part due to the large number of trades that occurred weeks before the deadline, Gillis accounted for 1/8 of all total trades. This despite Vancouver supposedly being one of the quietest teams. How do these two players change the overall makeup of the team?

<img src="http://www3.pictures.zimbio.com/gi/Toronto+Maple+Leafs+v+Florida+Panthers+aokOrc1maZil.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Chris Higgins, #20

The former Yale University product was selected 14th overall by Montreal in the 2002 draft, a year that produced very few impact players. The 2002 class produced only four all-stars (Rick Nash, Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Semin, and Cam Ward) and Higgins is only one of four players to have scored more than 100 career goals. However, Higgins' offensive struggles in recent years has been well documented, having been traded three times in the past two years, having been part of the deal that sent Scott Gomez to Montreal and Olli Jokinen to Calgary. While his 20-something goal-scoring days are over, Higgins is still a big-bodied forward with good skating ability who is able to play in the top nine.

Maxim Lapierre, #40

Lapierre is an agitator, a fourth-line centre that brings speed and tenacity to the lineup. Another Montreal pick from the 2003 draft, Lapierre was instrumental in the Habs' upset of Washington last year. His speed, size, and general physicality caused problems in the offensive zone. But like Burrows and Kesler in year's past, Lapierre's antics, chirping and diving (he was once penalized for it in a playoff game) to name a few, began to limit his effectiveness as a hockey player. His (somewhat public) feud with Jacques Martin over his diminishing playing time earned him a ticket out of town, where even the grumpy Randy Carlyle couldn't harness him (Lapierre played 3:09 in his last game as a Duck and had started out on the third line). But like I've said before, if Gillis was to acquire a player, he better run it by Vigneault because there's no point in acquiring a player if your coach won't play him. That won't happen here with such an established veteran locker room presence with a clear focus on winning the Cup, and not to mention that Vigneault was once Lapierre's junior coach.

Of course, lost in the shuffle is former Minnesota-Duluth star MacGregor Sharp (what an awesome name), who was acquired along with Lapierre from Anaheim. If Minnesota-Duluth rings a bell, it should: Mason Raymond was a Bulldog for two years, as was Evan Oberg, who went to Florida for Higgins. Current NHLers Jason Garrison (Florida) and Matt Niskanen (Pittsburgh) are also Minnesota-Duluth products. While Minnesota-Duluth is not exactly known as a NCAA powerhouse, it has become one of the better programs today, currently ranked 11th according to US College Hockey. However, Sharp is not expected to have a significant impact for Vancouver or Manitoba.

And what did the three players cost us? A minor leaguer in Joel Perrault, two 3rd round picks, and Evan Oberg, who has since been leapfrogged by Chris Tanev, Lee Sweatt, Yann Sauve, and perhaps Kevin Connauton on the depth charts, making him expendable. You can certainly say that Gillis got great value, not sacrificing anybody on the current roster or significant prospect in the pipeline to nab two NHL veterans.

But what about Marty Reasoner and Zenon Konopka, two players featured heavily in the Canucks' rumour mill? Well, there are reports that since Reasoner's wife is expecting soon, it didn't seem right for Tallon to deal him. Kudos to Tallon. And Konopka? The early rumour was that the Ducks were about to acquire the big centre but balked at Garth Snow's 2nd round pick asking price, which, to say the least, is idiotic. And we continue to wonder how and why Snow still has a job.

<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/images/upload/2011/01/107894055_std.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">While Lapierre will most certainly become a fixture on the fourth line, finally giving the team stability in that spot, the more interesting case is Higgins. He certainly has the ability to put the puck in the net but so do Mason Raymond and Jeff Tambellini and Mikael Samuelsson, but it's not the ability that's in question, it's the consistency. Higgins isn't the most consistent player by any means but at least he gives Vigneault other options after a clearly frustrated Kesler was trying to keep his mouth shut after a painful loss against Boston. Higgins can line up on the left wing on the second line with Samuelsson on the right, or even on the third line alongside Malhotra should Raymond or Tambellini re-find their touch. Given Higgins' size and physicality, it should relieve a little pressure off Kesler's shoulders, who has taken a beating every night on the powerplay and neither Raymond nor Samuelsson are as willing as Kesler to mix it up in the corners. That's not mentioning that Vigneault has lost so much faith in the rest of his lineup that Kesler's TOI/G has soared to over 22 minutes a game (including 26+ vs. Montreal) for the last six games. Even Sidney Crosby only averages around 22 minutes a night.

But for the moment, Kesler will have to continue to keep his mouth shut because Higgins is still two weeks away from playing due to a fractured thumb. With the acquisition of Higgins, I hope Raymond hears the message loud and clear: score or sit.

EDIT: Looks like Lapierre will be wearing 40, not 24.

NOTE: I feel like I've been getting away from blogging about the Canucks, and since this is a Canucks site, I need to get back on track. For a breakdown of all the big deals, visit www.armchairhockey.net or follow me on Twitter @jasonchen16. Thanks for reading.

Jason Chen

Going Forward

The trade deadline is tomorrow and in all likelihood the Canucks will not be making any changes. It's understandable, given the status quo with the Canucks atop the league with a healthy 15-point lead over second-place Minnesota in the division. This team boasts some really high-end skill, but given the recent performances of Mason Raymond, the on-and-off play of Mikael Samuelsson, and the general ineffectiveness of the bottom six save Tanner Glass and Manny Malhotra on most nights, you have to wonder if this team is deep enough offensively to win the Cup. I'm not trying to be negative nor am I pushing the panic button, but it certainly a legitimate question to ask.

When I envisioned the Canucks winning the Cup, I had imagined that Cody Hodgson, Jordan Schroeder, or some young player on a rookie contract would play a significant role on the team. Given how there is now more emphasis on building through the draft with the CBA, no team can win the Cup without significant contributions from cheap players. When the Blackhawks won, Patrick Kane (3.725), Jonathan Toews (2.8), Andrew Ladd (1.55), Brent Seabrook (3.5), Dustin Byfuglien (3) and Duncan Keith (1.475) all had cap hits under $4 million. The same goes the 2009 Penguins with Evgeni Malkin (3.834) and Jordan Staal (2.2). Even the runner-ups share the same trend: the 2009 Red Wings had Henrik Zetterberg at a $2.65 million cap hit and Johan Franzen was earning a shade over $1 million while the 2010 Flyers featured a breakout from Claude Giroux. The point is, you need cheap players to significantly outperform the value of the contracts. The players I've listed can easily double or triple their original value on the open market. It's not enough for a $3 million player to produce $4 million-type numbers. You need a Zetterberg or a Toews, who both were under $3 million, to give you $6 million-type, MVP-type production to win. Since it's very unlikely that a veteran can outplay the value of his contract due to their relatively older age and lack of upside, the only way to get such "value contracts" is to deploy cheap yet effective young players.

Looking up and down the Canucks roster and salary structure, nobody on our current roster fits the bill except Alex Burrows, who is currently struggling. Everyone is at or close to market value and nobody's going to significantly outperform the value of their contracts. Particularly concerning are the forwards, where it often feels as though the Canucks don't have any weapons other than the Sedins and Ryan Kesler. Nobody else scores on a real consistent basis and the Canucks are so close to the cap that adding a significant forward without losing a roster player is out of the realm of possibility. Mike Gillis has already gone on record to say that he doesn't want to move anyone. That's also another way of saying that should anything go wrong, the Canucks will have to look for the answer internally.

<img src="http://cache4.asset-cache.net/xc/90321829.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF878921CC759DF4EBAC47D06676A481A1E3B5C1F1C3E993EFDEA9D9664B3929E18EEB79E30A760B0D811297"class="imageFloatRightFramed">In steps Cody Hodgson. The highly touted prospect's cap hit is just $1.67 million and I think he does have the ability to make some significant contributions. It may not be this year, but he is signed until 2013. However, it's ridiculous to even think that he can make any sort of contribution, or even begin to, if he's stapled to the bench and playing five minutes a night. How is Hodgson, or any player, going to improve playing five minutes a night? That fourth-line centre spot has been a joke all season (anyone miss Ryan Johnson yet? I do), featuring a handful of call-ups in Alex Bolduc, Mario Bliznak, and Joel Perrault and players playing out of position with Jeff Tambellini, Raffi Torres, Glass, and even Raymond. I'd rather have Hodgson playing significant minutes in Manitoba and bring up a player who is a short-term solution. If not, Gillis better go out and grab someone... like Zenon Konopka. But, of course, Gillis will have to go through Vigneault first, because there's no use acquiring a player Vigneault ultimately is reluctant to use (Ballard).

Vigneault is notoriously stubborn, and more often than not he's right, but how long is he going to stick to his guns? The thing with Vigneault is, if he doesn't like you, he's not going to put you in a position to succeed, which makes the odds for the underdog even worse. Even though Max Pacioretty didn't approach the situation the right way in Montreal, he was certainly right when he spoke out against Jacques Martin using him in the bottom six. A talented offensive player, Pacioretty knew he couldn't succeed without playing in the top six. It's a logical argument - you put scorers in your top six and checkers in the bottom six. So what, exactly, does playing Hodgson exclusively on the fourth line accomplish? Sergei Shirokov showed some great hands with Kesler but by the end of the next game he was on the fourth line again. Keith Ballard, who has some nice offensive instincts a kin to Jovanovski's in his ability to jump up on the play (I swear I'll stop the comparison someday), gets less powerplay ice-time than the decidedly average Aaron Rome (0:31 to 0:15 per game - granted, Ballard doesn't have a slapper but still). Tambellini is better than Raymond in a checking role with his physicality, but despite Gillis and Vigneault singing his praises he refuses to move Tambellini from the fourth line.

By putting Kesler on the top powerplay unit (not even Vigneault's own idea) the Canucks have the league's powerplay, but the second unit is also suffering. Burrows and Raymond, two (fairly) regulars on the second unit, have just 5 PPG combined (they had 12 last year), one less than Henrik's season total. The Canucks feature three of the league's top 15 scorers this year (costing roughly $17 million combined) but the offensive depth of the team suffers for it.

So this brings me to my next point. There's no point in trying to keep Christian Ehrhoff beyond this season. This ridiculous rash of injuries to our blueline aside, with Ballard, Hamhuis, Edler, and Bieksa, who I would re-sign, is a pretty good four-man group growing forward. It's comparable to Pittsburgh's Letang-Orpik-Martin-Michalek group, which I would say may be one of the deepest four-man groups in the league. Seeing as how Seabrook and Byfuglien both signed deals worth more than $5 million per season, the market value for Ehrhoff is extremely high. If he isn't willing to take a salary around $4 million, there's no point in keeping him because this Canucks squad needs another legitimate top six forward. Samuelsson is not the answer and it's becoming increasingly clear that Raymond is not either, despite me having him pegged for 30 goals before the season. Kesler's frustration is written on the wall. It couldn't have been clearer last night. He's tired of carrying the second line. Of course, this doesn't mean Ehrhoff's going to be dealt at the deadline. Far from it, but depending on how well Ehrhoff and the team performs in the playoffs, he could be a huge trade chip at the draft on June 24.

For more hockey material, visit my new website, www.armchairhockey.net or follow me on Twitter @jasonchen16. Thanks for reading.

Jason Chen

Christmas for the hockey fan is coming soon. As the deadline approaches, several teams have started to jump the gun. This is the first time I remember deals being completed several weeks before the deadline. Some of the big names have already been moved while I imagine others are waiting for the market to settle down. With Ottawa and Toronto both getting a head start on selling their assets, I don't imagine there will be a lot of big trades on deadline day but that won't stop the TSN crew from re-hashing the same trades for about six hours. To save you some time here's the breakdown on the trades so far.

February 9 - Toronto trades Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim for Jake Gardiner and Joffrey Lupul

People think Lupul's a salary dump, and he is for Anaheim, since at $4-plus million a year he's just too expensive as a third-line winger. That being said, he's going to be a huge lightning rod for Leafs fans. But Lupul can still score. Like Keith Ballard, this entire season has been a transition year for Lupul, who's practically missed an entire year due to various injuries and a serious infection. Don't write him off yet. Cody Hodgson (the Canucks parallels will stop, I promise) was written off by many after the entire controversy over his bulging disc last year but when he scored his first NHL goal people were all too ready to jump back on the wagon. In Beauchemin, the Ducks get an experienced defenseman back on a blueline that is completely devoid of any sort of depth and who played his best hockey under Randy Carlyle. Gardiner's an interesting piece. I remember when he was drafted - your prototypical strong-skating defenseman that would be valued in today's NHL. Gardiner's averaging a point per game in his third year at Wisconsin, but that's hardly a barometer for any kind of success. His own coach, Mike Eaves (father of Patrick), admits that he's got work to do before he makes the NHL. Hard to tell if his collegiate success would translate to the big leagues - Patrick Wiercioch, a second-round pick from University of Denver by Ottawa, was a similar big-bodied, able skater averaging a point per game, but has only scored 6 points in 48 games for Binghamton.

February 9 - Florida trades Alexander Salak and Michael Frolik to Chicago for Jack Skille, Hugh Jessiman, and David Pacan

I love this trade for Chicago... puke. Michael Frolik is the most talented player in this deal, just edging out Salak. I don't imagine we'll ever see Skille live up to his seventh-overall potential (Kopitar, Marc Staal, and Stastny were still all available) but he's got the potential to be a second-line winger, although he might be much better suited for a third line role. For a team that's lacking depth, Frolik's a good pick-up for Chicago, able to relieve some pressure off Toews, Kane, Sharp, and the oft-injured Hossa. The scales would really tip in Chicago's favour is if Salak pans out. He played one season in the AHL last year before returning to Sweden on a loan to Farjestad BK, where he's been the best goalie in arguably the second-best league in the world. But let's take that with a grain of salt - this is the same Swedish Elite League that hailed Jonas Gustavsson as "The Monster" and was the league's best goalie. (What does that tell you about the NHL?)

<img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/53/Mike_fisher_predators.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">

February 10 - Ottawa trades Mike Fisher to Nashville for 2011 1st round and 2012 conditional picks

Of all the trades that have been made, this has been my favourite. Did anyone notice how fired up Fisher looked last night in a Predators jersey? Did anyone notice how packed the rink was? Shades of Mike Fisher circa 2006-08, folks. Not only did the Preds get a very good player in Fisher, who will most certainly excel under Barry Trotz, with the possibility of Carrie Underwood appearing in more games it immediately sparks more interest. There's not much competition - the Memphis Grizzlies bleed money and the Tennessee Titans just recently fired long-tenured coach Jeff Fisher and cut ties with supposed franchise QB Vince Young. I asked ESPN's Pierre LeBrun over Twitter about Underwood's presence and he said that it "definitely" will raise the profile of the Predators. Fisher's fired up - he's in a city that his wife loves and on a team that wins games with a style of play that's very similar to his. (When this whole Fisher/Underwood in Nashville thing works, and honestly, this union might as well come from a Disney movie, at the rate hockey pros are reeling in high-profile entertainment stars, when do you think that Gary Bettman will start enforcing a "celebrity" clause, in which the player has to play for his girlfriend's hometown team? That means Mike Comrie heads to Hollywood - or Dallas? I believe Hilary Duff is from Texas and Comrie's a player I can see Marc Crawford using - and would prevent future dumb trades like Calgary sending Dion Phaneuf and Elisha Cuthbert, both Albertans, to Toronto for some pucks and a waterboy in Matt Stajan.)

<img src="http://phillysportscentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/kris-versteeg2-e1297880213906.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">

February 14 - Toronto trades Kris Versteeg to Philadelphia for 2011 1st and 3rd round picks

You probably can't get a better deal than that for a player miscast as a top-line forward. The shifty Versteeg is a great depth player and would excel on a team where he doesn't have to be solely responsible for setting up Phaneuf's cannons or trying to find Phil Kessel. All Versteeg needs is a swift kick in the butt, and not from Ron Wilson, who's mixed signals should probably be translated into some sort of manual. (Did he really mean what he said when he thought Jeff Finger was good against Joe Thornton? One of life's greater mysteries). And Peter Laviolette's smart, giving Versteeg his much-wanted #10, and as athletes know it's a little more special when you get to wear your number, and by starting him on a line with Mike Richards and Andreas Nodl, two of the most competitive players on the Flyers' roster. Laviolette's hoping the work ethic rubs off on Versteeg and I think it's going to work.

February 18 - Ottawa trades Brian Elliott to Colorado for Craig Anderson

Someone explain this trade to me because I don't get it. Let's compare the two:

Elliott: 13-19-8, .894 SV%, 3.19 GAA, 3 SO, RFA '11, age 25

Anderson: 13-15-3, .897 SV%, 3.28 GAA, 0 SO, UFA '11, age 29

How the heck do the re-building Sens improve on this deal? There's absolutely no return at all in this deal. Anderson, who I lauded as a great value signing by the Avs two years ago and then cautioned against fantasy owners overrating the guy this year, walks as a UFA on July 1. The two goalies are obviously struggling, but would you trust a 25-year old or a 29-year old to get better next year? It's a no-brainer, it's Elliott. He has more long-term value and he's a RFA, meaning that the Sens could very well get another year from him. But Anderson? He's not even better than Elliott this year. The only redeemable facet of this trade for Ottawa is if Anderson re-signs with them, but again, wouldn't you rather have Elliott, who has more upside, to tend the pipes? Honestly, Bryan Murray couldn't have gotten a third or fourth-round pick for Elliott? C'mon, man!

<img src=" Rich_Peverley_Thrashers3.gif?max_width=3

February 18 - Boston trades Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler to Atlanta for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik

I have no idea why Nashville gave up on Rich Peverley, one of the more underrated centremen in the league. It's too bad he plays a position that can be so diluted, but he wins well over 50% of his face-offs regularly (55.5% this year) and has the ability to put up 40 points easily. He's a great pick-up for Boston, who asides from Patrice Bergeron, doesn't have a centreman capable of winning more than half the face-offs he takes. Valabik's a huge defenseman, but he's probably more well-known in Vancouver as being the guy who made the mistake of challenging Rick Rypien, thinking he had an easy win. Playing alongside fellow countrymen Zdeno Chara should allow him to learn a thing or two about playing in this league, but when you have cement feet you can only go so far. Also, I'm glad Blake Wheeler ended up in Atlanta. Here's a guy who outright said "no" to Gretzky and Phoenix, completely pissing Gretzky off, a major hockey no-no, then signs with an Original Six franchise thinking that it might be better for his profile. Well, as they say, karma's a b...

February 18 - Toronto trades Tomas Kaberle to Boston for Joe Colborne, 2011 1st round and a conditional pick

Can we declare Boston as the winners of the trade deadline already? They essentially got Peverley, Kaberle, and Chris Kelly for Joe Colborne, who still may or may not turn into a bust (odds are he doesn't). While I still think Philadelphia is the more talented and deeper team, the Bruins aren't going down without a fight. The Bruins still don't have a legitimate scoring threat after losing Kessel (yes, Kessel's a scoring threat - let's not underrate him just because he's a Leaf) and it's quite likely they'll finish the season with just a single 30-goal scorer (team leader Lucic is 6 away and Horton has 14, which means we really should give up on the dream that Horton would ever become a first-line power forward) while Philadelphia will have two snipers (Briere-28, Carter-26) and Mike Richards. But Kaberle does bolster an anemic powerplay (18.1%, 14th) while the Flyers lag behind at 17th. And also I think Peter Chiarelli has the entire southern Ontario region at gunpoint.

<img src="http://nucksiceman.com/wp-content/upLoads/2010/10/Cory-Schneider-fantasy_g_schneider_3001.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">And just so we can end this post on the Canucks, can I just say how absolutely terrible we've been looking out there? The lack of NHL-calibre ability on the blueline is one thing, but this team just doesn't have any jump. It looks like Kesler's hurting a little and I haven't seen a Sedin-esque Sedin cycle in a long time. And that's not mentioning that Christian Ehrhoff is making dumb plays and coughing up pucks like Bryan McCabe. We didn't deserve to win against St. Louis or Nashville last night and Cory Schneider stole a game in Minnesota. You can't win games like that in the playoffs. Sooner or later you'll find out that goaltending can only take you so far before your players have to start putting the puck in the net on a more regular basis. And, really, it's a legitimate question, but if the Canucks meet the Wild in the first round, how long of a leash do you give Luongo before you put in Schneider? If the Canucks split the two home games (possible) and the Wild win their first at home (possible), do you go back to Luongo or play the odds with Schneider? Hmmm...

Jason Chen

Bush League

I love hockey fights. They should stay in the league. But there comes a time when it goes too far and hockey becomes a petty, score-settling, free-for-all that becomes an absolute disgrace to the best game in the world. That Islanders-Penguins tilt last night was the prime example.

Did it all start with Wednesday night's Bruins-Habs match-up that resulted in 14 goals and 12 fighting majors, now known as the

in Boston? I thoroughly enjoyed the first two and half periods of the game. Carey Price and Tim Thomas' fight was laughable but neither team really came in danger of really hurting each other until close to the end of the game when the Habs got jumped. I'm not exonerating either team for what they did, but what did Greg Campbell think he was accomplishing by fighting Tom Pyatt? What were Shawn Thornton and Johnny Boychuk trying to accomplish by fighting Jaroslav Spacek and Roman Hamrlik? It was an 8-5 game at this point with just 49 seconds remaining in the game. The game was obviously over.

Then came the Islanders and Penguins http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puMana_bq1o. Even if you factor in the context, a pissed off Islanders team that's absolutely tired of becoming the butt of the league's jokes, facing a Penguins team that knocked out starter Rick DiPietro in a fight (a fair one, mind you), the whole fiasco set the Islanders' reputation back at least another five years. Try climbing out of THAT hole.

I get where the Islanders are coming from. They're headed to yet another lottery pick, ownership is bleeding money, they get almost zero support from their fans, there's been talk of relocation, and there's been few bright spots the past fifteen years. You have to be crazy to not think that coach Jack Capuano isn't playing that "us against the world" angle like Pete Carroll. The franchise is frustrated and took their frustration out on a Penguins squad when their failures as a franchise should be burdened by poor ownership and management.

Whatever sort of "revenge" the Isles were seeking for Brent Johnson punching out DiPietro in a fair fight should've ended with a middleweight fight between Craig Adams and Michael Haley and a heavyweight matchup featuring Eric Godard and Trevor Gillies. That should've been the end of it. The Islanders were up 3-0, rare territory for them, but instead of trying to win the game it became an absolute gong show. Max Talbot, who's hit on Blake Comeau sparked the entire penalty parade, wasn't clean, but it wasn't dirty either. Comeau didn't have the puck and Talbot came in at an angle that could be argued as the blindside. Regardless, the Islanders didn't like that.

In a 6-0 game the score has been settled. The Islanders were blanked 3-0 in their last match-up against the Penguins and have two fighting majors already. But Matt Martin thought it fitting to creep up behind Talbot and sucker punch him. It was eerily similar to the one Todd Bertuzzi landed on Steve Moore seven years ago (more on that in a bit). As many concussions caused by missed head shots and boarding calls, a sucker punch is worse. It's the biggest gesture of disrespect in a league whose players have a tradition of policing themselves. It was already ugly then and it got even uglier.

I'm not sure exactly what sort of impact the Islanders think Trevor Gillies can bring to a game but one thing's for certain: you don't win hockey games with a 32-year old journeyman who's scored never scored more than two goals in any professional season and makes a living with his fists. Dan Bylsma deserves some blame here because I don't think Capuano would've dressed Gillies had Eric Godard been scratched. Regardless, I thought it was absolutely gutless of him to go after Eric Tangradi, a player ten years his junior who, despite his 6'4", 220 lbs. frame, is actually known more for his offensive game than his physicality. It was pretty clear that Tangradi was shaken up by a high hit from Gillies yet Gillies felt it necessary to start turning Tangradi into a punching bag. Even after Gillies was sent off the ice he had the nerve to stand at the gate and continue to talk trash while the Penguins' trainer was tending to Tangradi. You know right then and there that Gillies was out there looking to hurt, not to play hockey.

What's more ridiculous was rookie Micheal (that's not a typo) Haley, after taking down Talbot, skating all the way to the end of the rink to challenge Brent Johnson, Johnson's second fight in as many starts. If Mike Richards thinks PK Subban's trash-talking and general disrespect for the game and its veterans was bad, I'd love to hear him sound off on Haley, who, like Gillies, has made a name for himself with his fists rather than his skill. I understand that young players who can't score to want make an impression and think they have to drop the mitts to catch the coach's attention, but that's negative attention the Islanders don't need. A young rookie like Haley, who begins the game mouthing off an establish veteran like Adams, ignores the referees after taking down Talbot, and then skates half the rink just to challenge another veteran goalie in Johnson, won't win any brownie points.

The Islanders want respect, and to do that you need to win games, but what good memories the Islanders have of in a 9-3 drubbing of a Cup-wining team were completely erased. This game won't be known as the game the Islanders started to gain some respect, but rather a game in which a young, rudderless team got their priorities mixed up and gave hockey another black eye. The whole thing was bush league. But let's not put the blame entire on either of the organizations. Should the league had seen it coming? Perhaps, but there's only so much the league can do in regards to referee assignments and warnings before their jurisdiction ends at the edge of the ice. But the league really has an opportunity here to really throw the book at both teams.

Martin's sucker punch requires the most attention because it was certainly pre-meditated. He was eying Talbot, who the Islanders felt wasn't punished enough already, the entire way. Analogous to Bertuzzi's case, Moore had fought Matt Cooke earlier in the game but Bertuzzi was obviously dissatisfied. If Bertuzzi's actions led to an indefinite suspension, which ultimately ended up being close to a one-year ban from competitive hockey, then I fail to see why Martin shouldn't be suspended for the rest of the season. Both games were in blowouts, the Islanders up 6-0 at that point and the Avs holding a similar 6-goal lead in a 8-2 game in the third period. Anything short of that and Bertuzzi looks like a martyr. He's the ultimate poster boy for a league that really picks its spots when it comes to suspensions. Haley and Godard will both have suspensions forthcoming.

Both teams should be fined for failure to control their respective teams. The NHL shouldn't publish articles that praise the Islanders' pugilistic methods either with opening sentences like "The New York Islanders exacted the NHL's version of revenge on the Pittsburgh Penguins." Call it what it was - a complete disgrace. Whoever wrote that article needs to give his head a good shake and pack his bags for another profession.

It also doesn't help the atmosphere when fans at Nassau were cheering "Crosby sucks!" the entire time, a cheer that's now synonymous with any anti-Penguins sentiment. It was the loudest I've heard Nassau in a long time but for all the wrong reasons. The Islanders were a joke entering the game and now a bigger joke after it. John Tavares can say whatever he wants but even if he does someday find himself having the same scoring touch as Mike Bossy, nobody's going to respect a guy who fails to differentiate between "entertaining" and "ridiculous." First the Evgeni Nabokov fiasco and now this. Will it ever stop for the once-storied Islanders? An owner who knows nothing about hockey but likes to call the shots in Charles Wang, an aggressive and hot-tempered but ultimately under-qualified GM in Garth Snow, and a lack of veteran presence in the locker room is a recipe for disaster. 34-year old Radek Martinek was the oldest Islander to play but he's never been one to count on for leadership. If the Islanders want to get serious about winning they better change that locker room culture. And fast. It's almost out of control.

"Respect" is a word that's been tossed around way too much these days. It's a concept that I think has really evolved into something else that means entirely different than what it meant fifty, thirty, or even ten years ago. Let's shelve that word for the time being because it's obviously missing in today's game and not worth talking about until the players get their heads screwed on straight.

Jason Chen

Breaking Point

The biggest news out of Vancouver tonight isn't the Canucks' suffering just their fourth regulation loss on home ice. It's potentially the loss of Dan Hamhuis to a concussion on a team that's looking to finish strong down the stretch with an already battered blueline. This rash of injuries to the Canucks' defensemen is something I've never, ever seen before. It seems as though once one defenseman comes back, another gets hurt. They're just dropping like flies. It's not like the Islanders losing Rick DiPietro, Nathan Lawson, and Kevin Poulin in succession. It's happening to a team that already had tons of depth on the blueline and needs a strong six-man defensive group to win games. Let's digest what's happened the past week or so.

First, the injury to Keith Ballard. It was a slewfoot. Was it intentional? It's hard to tell, but given the outcry by the Vancouver media on that play you'd think Milan Michalek was the next coming of Bryan Marchment or Darius Kasparaitis. It's pretty one-sided journalism in a hockey-mad city, but here's what Michalek said according to the Toronto Sun: "He went to hit me and we kind of collided together... I was falling down and I grabbed him... I didn't want to hurt him, I didn't want to do anything." This is something a Jordin Tootoo, Matt Cooke, or Steve Ott would never say, and it's not like Michalek's a dirty player either. Keep in mind Ballard gives up about 3 inches and 20 pounds in that match-up. It wasn't an obvious slewfoot. Compared to

or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DN99_E0tLhg, Michalek's looks tame. I think Michalek was trying to get free from Ballard and when both players pulled their feet just gave out and gravity did the rest. Was it suspension worthy? No, because I think there was any clear intent to injure, and in reality a lot of slewfoots happen when two players get tangled and try to jostle for position, but a holding penalty could've been called.

<img src="http://i64.photobucket.com/albums/h164/jchockey/getzhammer.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">And then tonight the Canucks lost another key piece in Hamhuis on a http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9DhHejqQcg. To all those who think Getzlaf should be suspended, don't be silly. For those thinking it was a head shot, it clearly wasn't. I've watched the clip numerous times and Getzlaf didn't leave his feet or stick out an elbow to hit Hamhuis. John Garrett (let's face it, he's a Canucks homer) is clearly wrong because Getzlaf left his feet after contact. This isn't http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=322zqTkL0-c. However, it was a bad hit and it should've been a boarding call at the very least. But Hamhuis did see Getzlaf coming around the net, which is why he played the puck up the boards and not around the net, and turned his back to a 6'4", 220 lbs. player who isn't afraid to shy away from the hitting aspect of the game. What really did the damage was Hamhuis' head hitting the boards. Seeing how Hamhuis reacted, I'm pretty sure he has a concussion, even if Alain Vigneault says he "seems fine." Concussions are tricky and as I've said in previous posts, the big picture is the playoffs, which means that even if Hamhuis feels the slightest discomfort he should be held out of Saturday night's tilt against Calgary.

That's two veteran defensemen down for a month while Alex Edler is recovering from back surgery. That leaves Kevin Bieksa and Christian Ehrhoff as our top two, who will most likely be separated to even out the pairings, and Alberts and Rome rounding out the top four. Sami Salo is set to come back on Saturday, but I can't imagine him logging 20+ minutes in his first game back, despite lighting it up in the AHL on his conditioning stint. But Calgary may force Vigneault's hand if Chris Tanev, expected to be the sixth defenseman, isn't having a strong game (even though he's been good) or the Canucks are down and a powerplay opportunity presents itself. Ehrhoff and Samuelsson are expected to remain on the top powerplay unit while the second unit may feature two righties with Bieksa and Salo, perhaps with Tanev taking a shift or two.

What appeared to be the Canucks' biggest strength heading into the season, strong defensive depth, has quickly become depleted, even if the farmhands have been performing admirably. With Lee Sweatt out with a broken foot, the Canucks can't afford another injury to their blueline. Ryan Parent, acquired from Nashville for Shane O'Brien, has struggled all season and in my opinion has completely lost his confidence, having just one point in 24 games with the Moose. Evan Oberg has eight goals in the AHL and appeared in two NHL games last year, both of them decidedly average, but may have been leapfrogged by Kevin Connauton, who excelled with the Vancouver Giants with 73 points in 69 games after transferring from Western Michigan and has 10 goals with the Moose. Are the Canucks at their breaking point?

The Canucks have got some really nice bounces this year, but that's not taking anything away from the Sedins, Edler, Ryan Kesler, and Roberto Luongo, all of whom have been spectacular. But sitting 9 points ahead of second place Detroit in the West and first in the league puts the Canucks in an interesting position. In years past, the Red Wings have often been the measuring stick for teams seeking playoff spots, and in those games the opposition very often ratchets up the intensity. The Canucks are clearly the team to beat this year and the ultimate litmus test. With 27 games to go this final stretch will be very interesting to watch and we may find out what this team is really made of. This will be the Canucks' toughest test.

Jason Chen

Deadline Targets

As promised, my rundown of potential bodies that could be moved at the deadline:

Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Toronto, $6 million; Tomas Vokoun, Florida, $5.7 million; Pascal Leclaire, Ottawa, $3.8 million

Given that all three teams are out of the playoff race, it would be wise to deal the three starting goaltenders for the future. Giguere is unlikely to return next season, and although he is still the best (excuse me while I hold my judgment on James Reimer) and most experienced goalie on Toronto's roster, he is not the future. The same goes for Vokoun, but his play has been much better than Giguere's. The Panthers already have a highly-touted prospect in Jacob Markstrom, who has a .907 SV% and 2.98 GAA in his first AHL season, but if Dale Tallon thinks Vokoun can be a good stop-gap and a mentor to Markstrom, who is clearly their future no. 1, then I have no qualms if they don't deal him. But Vokoun is the best goaltender on the market and teams looking to add some goaltending insurance (Philadelphia, San Jose) could use him. The ship has sailed on Leclaire, whose career has been plagued with injury and inconsistency. If Bryan Murray can get a mid-round pick for him, he'll pull the trigger and hold a 3-man audition for next year with Brian Elliott, Robin Lehner, and Mike Brodeur.

Bryan McCabe, Florida, $5.75 million; Tomas Kaberle, Toronto, $4.25 million; Eric Brewer, St. Louis, $4.25 million

<img src="http://dev1.capris.net/TotalProSports/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/tomas-kaberle.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">My bet is that regardless of whether or not the Blues make the post-season, Brewer is available at the right price. McCabe is currently out with a broken jaw and has been on the IR since mid-January, which means he'll be back soon. The Panthers captain is, like Vokoun, not in their long-term plans and along with Kaberle is the best puck-moving defenseman on the market. However, neither McCabe nor Kaberle have had any NHL playoff experience since 2004, when both were on the Leafs. Nashville (14.8%, 24th), Phoenix (16.1%, 22nd), Boston (16.8%, 21st), and Philadelphia (17.4%, 17th) could all stand to improve on the man-advantage.

Chris Phillips, Ottawa, $3.5 million; Steve Montador, Buffalo, $1.55 million; Jan Hejda, Columbus, $2 million

Phillips may want to stay in Ottawa, but at age 32 his window for winning is closing fast. He has 97 games of playoff experience under his belt but no title. It's hard to see the long-term Senator leave as a rental, but that may end up being the reality. If the Sens want to rebuild, Murray doesn't have a lot to work with and Phillips is the best trade piece he has, despite the horrendous +/-. In past trade deadlines, defensemen come at a much lower price than forwards (Brian Campbell was traded for Steve Bernier and a first rounder vs. while the Thrashers got two regulars, a prospect, and a first rounder for Marian Hossa, both 2008 trades), but Murray could easily net a first rounder for Phllips. The best bang for your buck is probably Montador, who is the only Sabre logging more than 20 minutes a game to have a positive +/- at +9. He's a good depth defenseman and well-rounded enough to log minutes on the powerplay and penalty kill. Hejda is another defenseman who can give you quality minutes on the penalty kill and will come relatively cheap. However, having been in Columbus for most of his career (4 seasons, and given today's sports economy this means he's going to change addresses soon) he has just 3 playoff games under his belt.

Alexei Kovalev, Ottawa, cap hit: $5 million

<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/senators/images/upload/2009/11/091111_alex.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Kovalev deserves a paragraph of his own. One of the most inconsistent and enigmatic players in recent history, the ultra-talented Kovalev is a waste of space in Ottawa. That being said, he could thrive with the right team. He's certainly not a player that you want to build your team around, but with the right players he's a great point-producer. There aren't many teams that would take a chance on him, given his reputation as a floater and his salary. The best case scenario is that he gives his new team an automatic boost on offense and the worst case scenario is him becoming a healthy scratch. There's really no in-between. Whether a team wins or loses on their deal with Kovalev will depend on what they give up for him. It seems like Kovalev needs a team with a very loyal (almost antagonizing) fanbase (Rangers and Habs, Penguins not so much) to spark his play, but you could argue that Ottawa is the only team he's played for that doesn't have much of a history.

Jason Arnott, New Jersey, $4.5 million; Cory Stillman, Florida, $3.5 million; Tim Connolly, Buffalo, $4.5 million

Lou Lamoriello is in a rut right now because the Devils are on a hot streak and it sends a bad message if they start dealing their assets now, but the reality is that they're 16 points out of a playoff spot. Having already traded Jamie Langenbrunner, the Devils may be looking to deal Arnott, who is their only significant impending UFA forward but has a no-movement clause. At 37 years old, Stillman can put the puck in the net and has a manageable salary since most NHL salaries have been paid out by the end of February. He could be the really sneaky good pick-up at the deadline, with two consecutive Cup titles under his belt ('04 Tampa, '06 Carolina) and in the latter year he was second in team scoring with 26 points in 25 games. However, Stillman has only played in 4 playoff games the past 5 years. Connolly is another intriguing deadline acquisition. I have a hard time believing that the Sabres are willing to commit another contract to the talented but oft-injured centre. He'll be a good pick-up for a team looking to boost their powerplay, but I don't imagine the market will be very good for Connolly since the bar just isn't set very high with Kovalev.

Radek Dvorak, Florida, $1.7 million; Chris Higgins, Florida, $1.6 million

Mike Grier, Buffalo, $1.5 million; Rob Niedermayer, Buffalo, $1.25 million

<img src="http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/2010/11/22/niedermayer_rob_487_381.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">The Panthers are six points out of 8th in the East, but they could very well be the biggest winners at the trade deadline with five players making this list. But the Panthers really are showing the signs of becoming the next Washington Capitals, making some very adept picks. Remember it was Tallon who assembled the Blackhawks group and if he can package his players, he might be able to land a pick in the first three rounds. The Panthers have been drafting really well lately, having gotten World Junior standouts in Erik Gudbranson, Quinton Howden, Nick Bjugstad, two late cuts in Keaton Ellerby, Jon McFarland, and home run imports in Dmitry Kulikov, Jacob Markstrom, and Evgeni Dadonov.

Buffalo may also stand to lose two key veteran players, both of whom are more attractive than Florida's pair. Grier has 94 playoff games under his belt and has made the playoffs in five consecutive seasons. He won't score any goals but he's a worthy pick-up for teams looking to add some PK and bottom six depth. The same applies for Niedermayer, who can play all three forward positions and has a better resume: five consecutive playoffs including three years with 10+ game playoff runs, including a Cup title with Anaheim in 2007. The Sabres have recently changed ownership (transaction pending) with Tom Golisano selling the team to Terrence Pegula, but there have been some conflicting reports about the future of GM Darcy Regier, who some claim has become too complacent with his job while others have continually praised his work.

If the Canucks were to make a move, Niedermayer could be a target. His salary seems manageable if we can create some cap room, especially now with Keith Ballard out, or we can move a body. He's got some Cup experience and it's been rumoured in the past that both Scott and Rob would love to return home to BC. I don't think any move for the Canucks is likely but Niedermayer's a player I wouldn't mind inquiring about.

Are all of these players being moved at the deadline? Impossible. Are there some I haven't listed? Of course - guys like Kris Versteeg, who still have years remaining on his contract, may get moved, but considering cap space is a premium, there aren't too many teams willing to take on long-term commitments, especially considering the current CBA is going to expire soon yet again. There are too many market factors at work here but these are players that I can think make an impact for their new teams. Since there is only one team that can win the Cup, my belief is that deadline trades end up not making a heck of a lot of difference, especially since the two Western favourites (Vancouver and Detroit) and Philadelphia (my East pick) either don't have enough cap room or are unwilling to tinker with their chemistry, and so are not going to be players at the deadline.

Jason Chen

Trading Places

The trade deadline is approaching. It's a little less than a month away, just 27 days left before frantic phone calls are made and triggers pulled too fast. It's my second most favourite NHL-related time of the year, just behind July 1, because I get to whine, complain, yell, laugh, praise, and wonder how close Pierre McGuire can creep up to Darren Dutchyshen before Dutchyshen completely loses it on live TV (I swear it's going to happen someday). It's also a great reason for me to stay home, glue my butt to the couch, and watch TSN until my eyes melt. So exciting.

<img src="http://2010vancouver.ca/mikegillis.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">But are the Canucks even major players this year? Given that the Canucks are first in the West and in virtually no danger of falling out of the top eight, the team is obviously a buyer. But this is a team that never has been major deadline players under Mike Gillis. Over the past two trade deadlines, only three trades have been made, all of them last year. In Gillis' first season, the Canucks' last trade before the playoff run was a minor league swap (Mike Brown for Nathan McIver, who was waived by the Canucks the day before and claimed by Anaheim). It was never believed that the Canucks would be major players anyway, having signed Mats Sundin on December 18 and thus having little cap room to do anything else. To Gillis, signing Sundin was the equivalent to a trade deadline blockbuster, but without having to lose any long-term assets.

Last year, the Canucks made three separate swaps, the only substantial piece being Andrew Alberts (the others by Yan Stastny and Sean Zimmerman), who was much maligned last year but has improved tremendously this year. Are we in store for another low-key trade deadline? I don't think there's any reason to suggest otherwise. The Canucks are interesting in adding pieces, not losing them (those Ehrhoff trade rumours are ridiculous and not worth discussing, and Schneider's staying), and while the pipeline is now replenished with some attractive pieces, it doesn't seem as if Gillis is willing to part with any particular player. Despite rumours of Cody Hodgson being on the move, I think largely fueled by a public semi-feud between the two camps regarding Hodgson's back injury, i would be shocked if Gillis gives up on his first ever draft pick. It was a pick that Gillis himself believed was a step in a new direction, a direction that shied away from "safe" picks which had been so common with Brian Burke and Dave Nonis, to players that had the right high-end mixture of talent and character.

Losing Alex Edler to back surgery was a big blow but even by placing his remaining cap hit on the LTIR it doesn't open enough space for the Canucks to acquire anything substantial anyway. Like Sundin, the return of Sami Salo could be considered the Canucks' big deadline acquisition. In the playoffs, there is no salary cap, and if Edler and Salo can return by the opening round, the Canucks' six-man group, as noted before the season started, is the league's deepest.

<img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/79/Zenon_Konopka.jpg/220px-Zenon_Konopka.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">But that doesn't mean Gillis shouldn't work the phones to plug two glaring holes: a injury-free, regular fourth-line centreman and a veteran player with plenty of playoff experience. Ideally, the two holes can be plugged by a single player, but if Gillis had to pick it should be the former. While experience is considered a luxury, it sure can be overrated. The team has already established its leadership group going forward and will rely heavily on the Sedins, Kesler, and Luongo to show what they can do to avoid another second-round exit. The Sedins will now enter the playoffs with over 60 games of playoff experience each and with few substantial roster changes over the past two years, most of the current Canucks will already have over 20 games and two separate playoff runs under their belts.

So who can fill that fourth-line role? Not many. The first requirement is that the player be an impending UFA. It's important to acquire a player that is not signed beyond the 2010-11 season unless it's a two-way deal, which gives Gillis an escape plan should a rookie (Hodgson, Schroeder, Bliznak, Bolduc, etc.) be favoured for a roster spot next year. The second requirement is that the player has to win at least 50% of it's face-offs. While the Canucks do have three of the league's best centremen, having a dependable fourth will help. In the grand scheme of things the Canucks may not necessarily need him to win, but every play counts in the playoffs and it might give the team a better night's sleep if they didn't have to use Tambellini or Glass in a defensive zone face-off after an icing call.The only player that fits the bill, as Ben Kuzma has noted before, is the Islanders' Zenon Konopka, a big, strong fourth-line centre who is ranked sixth in the NHL if face-off %. Konopka's been on my radar for awhile as a fourth line player with some major sandpaper (250+ PIM last year) but his face-off ability is something that has gone under the radar the past two seasons, in large part because he was under-utilized by Rick Tocchet in Tampa Bay. He'll cost a mid-round pick, a minor price to pay.

But how busy the trade deadline will be depends entirely on the market. There are four obvious sellers (Edmonton, Ottawa, New Jersey, and the NY Islanders) but none have any real attractive pieces, the most high-profile being Alex Kovalev, but he comes with a major red flag and seems destined to finish his career in the KHL. There are another four teams (Columbus, St. Louis, Florida, and Buffalo) that have an outside shot at making the playoffs but probably won't and will most likely be sellers at the deadline as well, especially Florida, which is slowly beginning it's rebuilding process. There is, of course, Toronto, who really should be a seller by this point already but haven't declared so, perhaps out of some misguided sense of self-worth, but have a great trade piece in Tomas Kaberle. That leaves 21 teams that are potential buyers. That's a lot, but we can narrow down the list even more.

There are three teams that cannot afford to add salary due to ownership issues: Dallas, Phoenix, and Atlanta. There are two teams that have traditionally been non-buyers, Nashville and Carolina, who may be major players only if ownership gives the green light (unlikely).

<img src="http://www.timescolonist.com/sports/1566473.bin?size=620x400"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Vancouver and Detroit are in a good position to finish in the top two spots in the West but don't have any cap space to add anybody from outside the organization. Like I said before, Salo's return is Vancouver's big move and Detroit would love to have Pavel Datsyuk and Dan Cleary back.

Pittsburgh and Boston are headed towards the postseason but have little cap space to work with, which means Ray Shero probably won't find a winger for Crosby (again) and the Bruins are already pretty deep.

San Jose, Chicago, Calgary, and Montreal are in danger of not making the playoffs. All four teams already have or currently trying to create some space for deadline deals. San Jose (Torrey Mitchell) and Montreal (Cammalleri, Markov) may have space to work with due to injuries, while Chicago (shuttling Nick Leddy back and forth from AHL) and Calgary (waiving Ales Kotalik) are making personnel changes. It's a TBD situation for all four but it'll be difficult.

The Wild, Flyers, Rangers, and Capitals can perhaps add one extra body of note. The Capitals may choose not to make a move considering that Alex Ovechkin is "saving himself" for the playoffs (not buying the theory) and the Rangers eagerly await the return of Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan.

The Ducks and Kings have roughly $4 million in cap room, giving them some good options, and both teams could use more help. My bet would be on the Kings to make the big splash but given their disappointing season thus far you have to wonder if Lombardi should stand pat and give the current Kings a vote of confidence and emotional boost.

If my math is correct, that leaves two teams: Tampa Bay and Colorado. Greg Sherman is one of the league's most secretive GMs and who knows what he's up to, but my bet is that he doesn't do anything substantial. He's obviously a very smart GM and it would be wise for this young Avs team to grow together as a group in the playoffs. His only noteworthy deadline deal last year was swapping young players (Wojtek Wolski to Phoenix for Peter Mueller and Kevin Porter) and not acquiring a seasoned veteran, one of which (Scott Hannan) he has already dealt this year.

That leaves Tampa as the real, true, major buyer at the deadline. It's been a fantastic season for Steve Yzerman and company and they seem destined to win the Southeast. A great season with tons of attention on superstar Steven Stamkos and stable ownership means that their pockets will be looser. But they have to be careful. Nothing erases memories of a good season faster than a quick exit in the first round (ask the Thrashers, who finally made the playoffs as the Southeast champs in 2007, made a huge deal of acquiring Keith Tkachuk, but bowed out in 4 games after being outscored 17-6 and become the butt of everyone's jokes again) so the Lightning would be wise to avoid this pitfall.

Coming soon: a look at the players most likely to be moved.

Jason Chen

After lighting the mood in the city in a 7-1 drubbing over Dallas and then having 5'9" Lee Sweatt, affectionately nicknamed "Rudy," score the winner on his first shot in his first game in a 2-1 win over Nashville to tie Philadelphia for first in the league, the big news out of Vancouver today is the unfortunate loss of defenseman Alex Edler to back surgery.

Edler has been, in my opinion, the best and most consistent Canuck blueliner this year. I thought he's been so good this year that he was my second choice for the Norris, ahead of All-Star Kris Letang. He's a very quiet player who plays a quiet yet steady game, no doubt a reason for the lack of media attention. Playing on the west coast doesn't help matters either, but he leads the west's top-ranked team in points, ice-time, and blocked shots among defensemen.

<img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2008/12/120908_edler_b.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Edler was held out of last night's game vs. Nashville because of back spasms, thought to have suffered on his open-ice hit on Jamie Benn vs. Dallas. However, Edler is now going under the knife for microdiscectomy surgery, which is a type of microdecrompression spinal surgery usually performed on herniated discs. While the general post-surgery recovery time may vary, it is usually between 2-4 weeks before regular, normal activity can be resumed. Since Edler is a hockey player, that recovery time may be longer, perhaps up to 2 months, although the exact time frame will not be known until the surgery is performed. Edler has never played a full 82-game season.

With Edler held out of last night's game, Christian Ehrhoff, Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, and Kevin Bieksa all logged more than 23 minutes of ice-time, with Chris Tanev logging 11 and Lee Sweatt with a shade under 9. Expect that trend to continue, as Alain Vigneault will surely rely heavily on his four veterans post-All-Star break. With one of Vancouver's trigger men on the point gone, the onus will fall on Samuelsson, who may be moved up to the first powerplay unit on the point opposite Ehrhoff. Hamhuis and Bieksa will be on the second, giving the Canucks another left-right shooting blueline combo. Ballard led all defensemen in total ice-time last night but logged just four seconds on the powerplay and was the only blueliner to record a minus, but he has a real opportunity here to show Vigneault what he can do. If not, Tanev and Sweatt, both good skaters and have shown adept at moving the puck, may get looks over him.

With Edler gone, it doesn't necessarily mean Sami Salo will be back soon. The pressure for him to return has increased, but it would be unwise to rush him back before he's ready. The Canucks enter the All-Star break in good position, with a 5 point lead over second-place Detroit and a 15-point cushion on Colorado. The worst thing the Canucks can do is rush Salo back and risk losing him to re-aggravation or another injury before the playoffs. The long-term picture here is the postseason, and if that means losing the Presidents' Trophy (very possible) or the third-consecutive division title (very unlikely), then so be it. For now, we'll just have to see what Chris Tanev and Lee Sweatt can really do.

EDIT: Iain MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun believes the injury may cost Edler up to 3 months. It's possible, but that could be the safe prediction. It is my personal opinion that Edler will be ready for the first round of the playoffs, and maybe even before that.

EDIT #2: The hit itself was awkward, with both Edler and Benn colliding and falling over in awkward angles. The Stars have now announced that Benn is out indefinitely as well because of the hit.

Jason Chen

Wait, What Slump?

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

<img src="http://www.puckagency.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Mikael-Samuelsson-Vancouver-Canucks.png"class="imageFloatRightFramed">If you're talking individual slumps, then you might have something there, but let's put everything into perspective. Stats are the most misleading aspect of sports. Nothing beats watching players and a game with a naked eye. If you're watching it live, even better. Sports scouting is not done through statistics. (Unless it's baseball, but that's a different topic altogether). It's certainly helpful and at least gives you an idea of how the player is performing, but by no means does it tell the entire story. A 20-goal scorer in the NHL, on average, will score a goal about once every four games. That's not bad, but remember that's the average. Since most scorers in the NHL are streaky and feast-or-famine type players, if that player scores a hat trick in one game, the law of averages say that he has a good chance of going the next twelve games or so without a goal.

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

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

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

<img src="http://tenderslounge.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/evgeni_nabokov.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Okay, enough Canucks. Let's move ahead. I've had some time to digest the Evgeni Nabokov situation. The whole fiasco is a complete microcosm of why the Islanders still stink: management constantly overrating their value. What do I mean? I mean that Garth Snow thinks Long Island and a decrepit Nassau Coliseum is an attractive place to play, even though Manhattan and the much more storied Rangers are across town. This is a guy who was convinced he had a legitimate shot at signing Ilya Kovalchuk. That he thinks Nabokov, a player who has clearly earned enough money and is much more interested in a lengthy playoff run, would want to play for a team that's headed towards the lottery is lunacy. Is it even in the Islanders' best interests to play veterans and try to win games? The Islanders can't flip him back to Detroit (or any other team) for a pick because Nabokov would have to clear waivers again (he won't). Neither camp is moving and so the Islanders have suspended Nabokov. Dumb. The Islanders are supposed to be geared towards their youngsters. They don't need this distraction and what does this tell Islander players of their current situation when a guy who couldn't find a suitor during the offseason won't come play? Nabokov made it clear his intention was to play for Detroit, and from the information I've gathered, the Islanders didn't bother calling ahead and gauging Nabokov's interest in joining them. There were reports that Nabokov had hung up on Snow on a phone call (after he was claimed), but only because Nabokov didn't realize it was Snow. Does that sound as fishy to you as it does to me? It's not like Snow's brand new to the scene. Snow's quickly garnered a reputation as a very aggressive and sometimes confrontational GM. When he found out Nabokov wasn't coming you don't think he could've went into Bruce Boudreau-mode? If I were Nabokov, I'd hang up on him too. I'm not trying to start rumours or conspiracy theories, but that's just the way I envision it went down. By all means, Snow played within the rules, but that doesn't mean it's not a dumb move (see also: Lowe, Kevin and Penner, Dustin).

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

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

Jason Chen

Ups and Downs

Google "Canucks slump" and you're going to get an avalanche of news reports about how the Canucks have had trouble scoring after being shutout twice in three games prior to last night's game vs. Colorado. Isn't it amazing how the media can just pick this team apart? I'm not absolving myself for ripping into this team once in a while, but when I do it's usually for more pragmatic or philosophical reasons. The only time I would rip into this team is if they don't put in the effort I know they can. Teams get shut out, the best ones and the worst ones. It's not a slump and we're not struggling. We're just simply going through the ups and downs of any other regular NHL season.

<img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/4c/fullj.d2c28721d90cd846aae33df7084b590b/d2c28721d90cd846aae33df7084b590b-getty-102843497am012_vancouver_ca.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Had the Canucks had trouble scoring against the Avs, or put in another lacklustre effort like at Excel, I would've been (sort of) ready to jump on the slump bandwagon. But in between the two shutout losses I think everyone's sort of forgotten that we beat Washington 4-2. I wasn't able to watch the game, but from what I heard we weren't bad and a much better overall effort than against the Rangers. Although, to the Rangers credit, they played excellent hockey, a defensive, grinding style that John Tortorella's effectively used this year. (If Tortorella wants to be considered for the Jack Adams, losing Brandon Dubinsky for 3-4 weeks with a fractured tibia is the ultimate test. If the Rangers can still stay afloat without Dubinsky give Tortorella all the credit).

The Rangers stuck to their game plan and executed it to perfection. Despite the Canucks firing 31 shots at King Henrik, the big chances only came when Vigneault had pulled Schneider. Most of the shots were relatively easy for the Swedish netminder and he had lots of help from his defense. Even Lundqvist said so himself: "...they didn't get that much. We had a couple of big blocks here and there." (And for those of you who read my previous Mid-Season Awards post, I bet you Girardi played a big part in some of those!) It was a one-goal game and it could've gone both ways. Both goaltenders were excellent but the Canucks were simply outplayed. It happens. Nothing unusual here, nothing that would indicate to me that the Canucks are in a slump.

Then that awful game at Minnesota. Schneider was once again in net and I thought he was great. Of the four goals two came on breakaways and John Madden scored an easy tap-in from three feet when the Canucks defense completely forgot about him. Schneider's SV%, .840, was not indicative of how well he played. Two of Minnesota's biggest goals were scored on special teams, the opening PPG by Brunette and the third, a SHG by Matt Cullen that gave Minnesota a more comfortable lead and seemed to suck the energy out of the Canucks. We fired 32 shots at Anton Khudobin, who is starting in place of injured netminders Niklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore, and while I thought the Canucks' effort was better than the one at MSG, we still didn't look particularly dangerous. Let's also not forget that Khudobin has been lights out since his call-up: 2-1, .942 SV%, 1.59 GAA. It's no fluke, in Khudobin's two starts last year he was unbeaten with a .979 SV% and 0.87 GAA. Again, despite being shutout, I don't think this qualifies as a slump.

Now Colorado. What a game last night. I'm a regular poster at www.canuckscorner.com, although not as frequently as in years past, but I noted that this Avs team should be a team that the Canucks might have a little trouble with if they met in the first round. The Avs skate extremely well and are relentless. The Canucks may be a mobile team and much better at moving the puck but we had trouble keeping up to their footspeed. John-Michael Liles was particularly effective with his speed and Matt Duchene was all over the place. And, oh yeah, we weren't shutout, scoring three times, twice on the powerplay that was the result of fantastic puck movement and quality scoring chances.

We lost the game because Luongo was average and Raffi Torres took two dumb penalties, the first an interference on Philippe Dupuis that led to Milan Hejduk's goal, and another holding call early on the third period that gave a well-oiled Avs PP another chance. I would've benched Torres for the rest of the game after that interference call. The Canucks had gained so much momentum from Sergei Shirokov's highlight goal but that needless Torres penalty just completely killed it. Completely. And then instead of redeeming himself he comes back early in the third and takes a hold. What was he thinking? Again, giving that we had some great chances, peppered Craig Anderson with 40+ shots, scored three times, twice on the powerplay, I don't see any signs of a slump.

<img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/8d/fullj.709db74e2528be4d55a9dd9ea32164fc/709db74e2528be4d55a9dd9ea32164fc-getty-102982596dp008_vancouver_ca.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">There were three things I took away from the Avs game, asides from re-affirming the fact that the Avs' speed could be a problem. First, Shirokov was fantastic. One reason why he's been so good: he's always moving. He opens up new lanes and angles by moving his hands when he's got the puck and moving his feet when he doesn't. He was our most dangerous player all game and it really made me wonder why Vigneault used his so sparingly in the third and on a crucial PP late in the same period on a Paul Stastny interference call why he still went to a struggling Raymond and snake-bit Tambellini on the second unit. Wouldn't it have made much more sense, considering how the game was going and which players were responding, to at least give Shirokov some ice-time there? It was a crucial powerplay and I think Vigneault blew it. Second, Chris Tanev looked tentative, but good. He made a nice play, if a little lucky, in breaking up that 3-on-1 before getting up, losing control of his body's momentum, and then falling on his butt. He's a guy that I can see log regular NHL minutes down the road, but not before another year or two in Manitoba. It's been awhile since Canucks fans have gotten excited about players in the pipeline and there are plenty to keep an eye on. Third, Kevin Bieksa was fantastic. Asides from one boneheaded giveaway I thought he was great defensively, breaking up at least 3 plays, all without any fanfare. He's played himself back onto the top 4 and won't be moved for Salo, if he even comes back. Henrik giving Bieksa that 'A' has done wonders.

The Canucks have gone 2-4 in their past six, and only in one of those losses did I feel like we really deserved to lose, and that was against Minnesota on the road, which is always a tough match-up. We could've won that Detroit game had Jimmy Howard not stood on his head, the Rangers' loss came in a lack of effort and a well-executed gameplan by Tortorella, and that Avs game could've easily gone either way. Not exactly what you'd expect from a first place team but not exactly what I'd call a slump, but just a little up-and-down. This is traditionally the toughest stretch of the season, where players start getting injured and hurt. If you want to talk slumps, talk about Edmonton's 0-for-40-something powerplay. ... Actually, that's not a slump, that's... I don't know. I'm lost for words on that one. A slump is when a supposedly good team, like the Kings, go 2-8 in their last 10 and fall out of playoff contention. The Canucks? Still 6-2-2 and first in the conference. Two shutout losses in three games does not mean a slump. Got it?

Jason Chen

Mid-Season Awards

It's mid-season! We officially past the half-way mark a week ago, but the All-Star weekend is unofficially considered the midway, where players can rest and relax for a weekend before preparing themselves for what eventually becomes a 20-game grind to the death for playoff spots. But it's also the best time of the year, because 1) I get to do lists, like this mid-season awards post, and bloggers love lists, and 2) we're 45 (!!!) days away from the trade deadline... which means I get to do another post about potential trade baits (stay tuned). But let's not get ahead of ourselves... here are 3 nominees for each of the major NHL awards.

Hart Memorial Trophy

3. Sidney Crosby. The best player, by a sizable margin, in the league. There's no one else in his class, but his case may be hurt with his concussion. These things are iffy, and considering that he played another game after he was clearly concussed by Dave Steckel at the Winter Classic (I called it... there's no way he wasn't if you watched how slowly he got up... and then missed his shift when the Pens played 5-on-5 with an empty net), so if he misses an extended period of time, it really hurts his case. While the Pens still have Malkin and Staal, Crosby is the key cog in that lineup and given the major lack of depth, this Pens squad just isn't as good without him. That goes without saying. But how much of a difference does it make? Take away the Pens' 12-game win streak where Crosby went on a Gretzky-like tear, and the Pens are a .500 team at best (15-14-4, 4-4-2 in last 10).

2. Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The only wrinkle is that the Hart has never been shared before. Could we make an exception for the Sedins? While they may not be the highest scoring brothers duo in league history (Bobby and Dennis Hull, Maurice and Henri Richard, and of course, Wayne and Brent "4 Points" Gretzky), their chemistry with one another is unmatched. And you gotta feel for Dan, right? First, Henrik makes an ASG before him, then wins the MVP, Art Ross, and is named captain. Henrik's been proven he can play without Dan, and I'm sure Dan can play without Henrik, but together they're practically unstoppable. (To be fair, if the NHL had to pick one Canuck, it should be Kesler. For the sake of Dan's sanity. You think Mrs. Sedin makes more cookies for Dan during Christmas?).

<img src="http://media.mmgcommunity.topscms.com/images/d4/a9/8736e28f4c849229df82d794c799.jpeg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">

1. Steven Stamkos. He is the runaway MVP. The Lightning currently hold top spot in the traditionally Washington-dominated Southeast Division, and this division is no longer the joke of the league. Florida, the weakest with 42 points, sits 11th in the East. While Marty St. Louis has been a huge, huge part of Stamkos' success, he's been carrying the franchise and sits second in league scoring with 57 points. It's almost amazing that Stamkos is +9 (so much for that he-can't-play-defense theory, which I've tried to debunk since day one), even though the Lightning have allowed the third-most goals in the East with 137, which is also 6 more than they have scored as a team. Take away Stamkos' 31 goals and their GF total (100) sits third-last in the conference.

Vezina Trophy

3. Carey Price. After every win at the Bell Centre, Price must be thinking, "how do you like me now, Montreal!?" If you're looking for a feel-good story of the season, Price is one of those. After being unceremoniously booed in last year's playoffs, Price came back better than ever. His record may not be shining, with 21-15-3, but his SV% is .919, and anytime you're finishing the season at the .920 mark you're having a great season. Major points for really bouncing back, and for a franchise that has so much pride and tradition his cocky, I'm-better-than-you attitude has really helped him along in the toughest hockey market in the league.

2. Tim Thomas. He's everyone's obvious choice and for the most part he's been flat out amazing. Of goalies with at least 20 starts, he has the fewest regulation losses with 4. His 1.88 GAA and .943 SV% has been tops in the league all season and has regulated Tuukka Rask, believed by many to be the B's starter this year, to the bench. It's amazing what he can do at his age and his

remains one of the best I've ever seen. He saw that puck all the way. It wasn't dumb luck.

1. Jonas Hiller. Only Price has played more minutes but Hiller has better numbers, and Hiller's also played 400 more minutes and appeared in 9 more games (40 in total, tops in the league) than Thomas. That should seal the deal. His numbers are nothing to sneeze at either: his .927 SV% is tied for third in the league and his 2.43 GAA is 12th. Instead of Chara, Seidenberg, Stuart, and Ference, Hiller gets Visnovsky, Lydman, Mara, and Lilja. Which defense would you take? It's a no brainer. That and the Ducks still currently sit 6th in the West. Could you imagine the Ducks without him?

It's been a great year for goalies, but the Habs (defensive system), Bruins (defensive system), and Ducks (just no defense) rely on their goalies much more than other deserving nominees, like Luongo (great team), Ondrej Pavelec (Enstrom and Byfuglien), Jimmy Howard (Nick Lidstrom), Jonathan Quick (good team), Fleury (great defense) and a whole slew of others. I don't remember another year in which good goaltending has been so prevalent. It's going to be a fun race to watch if the Tim Thomas bandwagon doesn't blind everyone.

Calder Memorial Trophy

3. Corey Crawford. He was once a highly-touted prospect in Chicago's system, (drafted 52nd overall in 2003, the second goalie taken after Fleury was taken first), and forgotten by everyone when Antti Niemi stepped in. Now that both Huet and Niemi are gone and Turco is clearly over the hill, Crawford's single-handedly saved the Blackhawks' season, with the team losing Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Jonathan Toews to injuries at various points throughout the season. Among rookies with at least 25 starts he leads in wins, SV%, and GAA. Not more you can ask for.

2. Jeff Skinner. This kid came out of nowhere. He's undersized as a NHL centre, so he's been forced to move to the wing. His 15 goals are second on the team and he's a plus player on an average team. If he wasn't there, it'd be all Eric Staal, and Staal can't carry a team. He's provided some extra offensive juice and lessened the pressure on Staal. The fact that Skinner plays in Carolina hurts him because he's been a much better player than more heralded players like Hall and Eberle.

<img src="http://nimg.sulekha.com/sports/thumbnailfull/logan-couture-2009-11-5-21-13-11.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">1. Logan Couture. I wrote a while back that the Sharks are actually an above average team posing as a Cup contender. They have one good line that's constantly broken up because they can't score on a consistent basis, a defense that has Niclas Wallin, Kent Huskins, and youngster Jason Demers logging regular minutes, which means Todd McLellan has to rely heavily on 34-year old Dan Boyle (27 minutes/game). They're getting disappointing seasons from Joe Pavelski (9 goals, -12) and Devin Setoguchi (7 goals, -13). The lone bright spot is Couture, who wins more than 50% of his face-offs, and leads his team in plus/minus (+9) and goals (19), 5 of which are game-winners. And this is a team with Marleau and Heatley, mind you.

James Norris Trophy

As usual, this is the hardest category to figure out. This is the part where I disagree with everyone, and everyone disagrees with me. There's too much of an emphasis on offensive output for this award (which explains Mike Green's two nominations) and not enough focus on all-round, actual defensive play (which is what the award is about). You can't look at one singular category, be it points, blocked shots, hits, or ice-time. You have to look at how good he is at BOTH ends of the ice (so no Hal Gills or Willie Mitchells) and how well he plays within his team's system. It's hard to do because the only way you can truly tell which defencemen make a difference in their own zone is by watching them. Having not watched every single team enough times, I can't tell you definitively which player is the best, but I can tell you which ones should be considered. And Mike Green is about 832 spots down the list.

3. Kris Letang. The numbers speak for themselves: 7 goals (11th), 33 assists (1st), +20 (3rd), 84 hits (26th), team PK 87.4% (1st). Letang's putting up fantastic offensive numbers, but what about defensive play? It's been good, but not Norris-material. Even on the PK, it's Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek who get first taps on the shoulder. If there was one offensive defenceman who gets consideration, it should be Letang.

2. Alex Edler. Before flamers start yelling "homer pick!!!" let's (try) and look at this subjectively. Is Edler's game complete? Definitely, probably the most complete out of all Canucks defencemen, who has the league's 4th ranked PK. Does Edler figure in on said PK regularly? He averages 2:08 TOI/G on the PK, and considering that Vigneault has the luxury of spreading that time around, that's not an insignificant amount. Bieksa averages about 30 seconds more and Hamhuis about 50 seconds more. Tangible stats like hits and blocked shots? Check and check - Edler's 71 hits is third on the team and 76 blocked shots is first. And offensively? 27 points, +10, 4 PPG. Let's not mention that along with Ehrhoff, Edler has been key to the Canucks transition game, possessing an excellent first pass and skating ability. Case closed.

1. Dan Girardi. How about that? The Rangers are light on skill but they have plenty of players who play hard, like Callahan, Dubinsky, Staal, Drury, and even Gaborik. But perhaps the most indispensable defenceman under John Tortorella? #5 in blue. The Rangers' PK is ranked 9th in the league and a big reason for that is Girardi. In order to showcase how good he's been this year, let's compare him to all the other candidates, with leaders in bold.

<img src="http://i64.photobucket.com/albums/h164/jchockey/BLOG.jpg"class="imageFloatCenterFramed">

Sure, Girardi's offensive game isn't as polished, but he's averaging close to half a point per game, and only 24 defencemen last year had more than 40 points. Girardi's SH TOI/G is 12th in the league (leads Rangers with Marc Staal) and 13th in hits and 2nd in blocked shots. But how vital has he been to the Rangers? Expressing his hits and blocked shots as a percentage, Girardi accounts for 25% of all Rangers' blocked shots and 13.7% of all Rangers' hits, who are by a significant margin the most physical in the league. That's astonishing. That means 1 in 4 blocked shots by the Rangers are by Girardi. In comparison: Edler (12.5% of all blocked shots), Letang (8.3%), Lidstrom (10.3%), Byfuglien (5.3%), and Enstrom (13.1%).

The popular pick is Dustin Byfuglien, but again, this award is about defence too, so the fact that Byfuglien averages only seven seconds (7!!!!) on the PK per game should automatically disqualify him. Atlanta also allows more than 3 goals per game and has the third-worst PK in the league. Byfuglien for Norris? Please. Giving it to Tobias Enstrom would make a lot more sense, but there are still better candidates. The other hard cut was Nicklas Lidstrom. Believe me, this was so, so, so difficult. Pedigree? Yup. Points? Yup. Team? Ehhh, not so much. The Wings' PK sits 16th in the league (which surprisingly is never at the top of the league - 10th last year, 25th year before), while the Pens, Canucks, and Rangers' PK have been much more effective. That's not mentioning that Lidstrom is an uncharacteristic -1 in plus/minus, and his career low of +9 was ten years ago.

<img src="http://nimg.sulekha.com/sports/thumbnailfull/daniel-girardi-2009-10-12-22-41-21.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Jack Adams Award

3. Guy Boucher. The Lightning have been flailing since their Cup win in 2004 and literally dropped off the map. You didn't hear about them unless it was close to draft time because they held the first overall pick in 2008 (Stamkos) and second overall in 2009 (Hedman). Now they're becoming relevant again. While the Capitals may still have the reputation as the Southeast powerhouse, Tampa Bay now leads the division with a two point differential and Atlanta is close behind. Boucher's system has unleashed the Bolts' offense, an offense that ranked 4th worst in the East last year. He's one of the few coaches that have made a smooth transition to the NHL after coming over from Drummondville (QMJHL) and Hamilton (AHL).

2. Peter Laviolette. Laviolette's blessed because he has so much to work with. What other team can have Danny Briere (24 goals) on their third line? The Flyers have six forwards with more than 30 points and both James van Riemsdyk and Nikolay Zherdev have double-digit goals. You could make the argument that any decent coach could turn this team into a division winner, but what Laviolette has excelled at is playing the goaltending carousel. He made the curious decision to start rookie Sergei Bobrovsky on opening night and rode him until he got cold. Now Brian Boucher's the starter and he's on a tear. Credit Laviolette for having such a great feel for his goalies (2.62 GA/G, 10th), a big reason why his team's done so well.

1. Alain Vigneault. What a change this year's been for Vancouver. One of the most penalized and pugilistic teams in the past, the Canucks went from 15.5 PIM/G (26th) last year to just 11.5 (11th) this year. That means more 5-on-5 ice-time for the Sedins, and surprise, surprise, the Canucks even strength GF/GA ratio of 1.34 sits third in the league, trailing Philadelphia and Boston. The Canucks own the league's most potent powerplay and a top 5 penalty kill. This is the finest job Vigneault has done in Vancouver to date, and he's had some very good seasons here.

Frank J. Selke Award

<img src="http://blastmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/kesler.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">3. Manny Malhotra. Recently, he's managed to gain a bit of a cult following. The league's best face-off man also leads the the league's fourth-ranked PK in ice-time, with 2:45 per game. He is not the Canucks first-line centre, nor is he the second-line centre, yet he takes the most face-offs out of anyone on the Canucks, taking 30.4% of the team's total. Only Atlanta's Rich Peverley (30.6%) and Toronto's Tyler Bozak (31%) take a bigger percentage of their team's face-offs even though they're not a fixture on their respective teams' top line. His 46 blocked shots is third in the league amongst forwards, trailing only Mike Fisher and Adam Burish, but Malhotra's takeaways (27) is almost equivalent to Burish and Fisher's total (30). If there's any gripe about Malhotra, is that he is a minus player on the road. A Selke winner shouldn't have that wrinkle.

2. Mike Richards. A staple in the Selke category for years to come, Richards is a good shot blocker and never gives up on a play. That he's a +11 despite playing against the opposing team's top line and/or top pairing is quite the accomplishment. By taking away those match-ups, that has allowed Laviolette to play Briere and Jeff Carter against weaker lines and pairings, a big reason why Philadelphia's scoring is so spread out. That's major points for Richards and something that isn't reflected through stats. Only Blair Betts and Darroll Powe average more SH ice-time than Richards per game, but neither have shorthanded markers, of which Richards has 2. The only problem? The Flyers' PK is ranked 17th in the league and Richards is posting his lowest face-off percentage in his career (48.2%).

1. Ryan Kesler. Is there anyone else? Datsyuk's bid for a fourth straight Selke will end this year, meaning that Bob Gainey's record will remain intact. Offensively, Kesler's done it all, on pace for a 40-goal season and just two shy of his career high. His 69 hits ranks third on the team behind Hansen and Glass, his 44 blocked shots is just two behind Malhotra and fourth-best in the league, wins 57.4% of his face-offs, and his takeaway-giveaway ratio of +22 is the best on the team. He should've won the award last year and he should win this year. (For those thinking about a Selke/Hart double whammy for Kesler, only one player has done it in NHL history: Sergei Fedorov in 1994).

There are three other players that I considered: Jonathan Toews, Ryan O'Reilly, and to a lesser extent, Nicklas Backstrom. These three players' defensive games are extremely underrated, especially Backstrom's, who has been constantly mislabeled as a one-dimensional playmaker despite being quite polished in his own zone. The arguments against these players is that Chicago and Colorado's PK are fourth-last and second-last in the league, respectively, and Backstrom doesn't play enough on the PK each night (just 1:33 per game) to be really considered, despite top-notch marks in FO%, % of team face-offs, hits, and blocked shots.

And there you are, the mid-season awards! Given the Canucks' strong season, and if they continue this pace, I wouldn't be surprised if the Canucks clean up at this year's awards.

Thoughts? Comments? Flame away, readers!

Jason Chen

Sore Losers

Growing up in a hockey-mad city, I idolized the Canucks. As a kid, you don't pay as much attention to wins or standings or special teams efficiency, and although the adrenaline rush of watching your team win is unmatched, you're always rooting for a single player. But given the economics of the league, players are drafted, signed, traded, waived, or bought out, coaches and GMs are hired, fired, and re-hired. For me, the appreciation of a single player was enough to keep me interested. When I attended Canucks games, which weren't many, considering I'm not a season-ticket holder and single game tickets can be pricey, I was watching one player and one player only: Trevor Linden. I can honestly say that I've never, ever left a game early, and I always made my dad stay until the three-star selections. It was a huge delight for me to see Linden skate in a mini-circle and give a wave to the fans, if only it lasted less than five seconds. You cheered for your favourite player, even in tough losses. So it is particularly disappointing for me to hear that the Canucks have now grown a tendency to not come out during the three-start selections.

Back in May, I ripped the Canucks for not saluting their fans after the Blackhawks ended the Canucks' playoff run on home ice. This is what I wrote:

"Vancouver fans are no stranger to disappointments. After 40 years of futility we've seen just about everything. But never have I ever seen any Canucks team fail to salute the fans after the end of the season. That perhaps was the most frustrating part of the game. Sure, most fans booed and with the way the Canucks showed up to this game I wouldn't want to stick around the rink any longer than I should, but there are fans who still cheer for them through the tough times and who still genuinely care. Vancouver's a passionate hockey town and for the team to ultimately disrespect their fans like that is discomforting. The majority of the fans left the rink with a sour taste in their mouths but that's no excuse to not acknowledge the support Vancouver fans have given the team all year." (May 12, 2010)

<img src="http://mattgunn.files.wordpress.com/2007/05/game4lost_ducks.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">I understand the bitterness after a loss. Everyone's experienced it before. Words are harder to put together. Movements are slower. You're in disbelief, then your shoulders drop and you wonder what you could've done better, then you start getting angry, wondering why you weren't good enough, having been eliminated in a similar fashion the year before. I get it. But what I don't get, is why these professionals can't suck it up and give their fans a little wave of thanks.

There are many fans who don't care - a win is a win, and after all, it is a team game. But there are also many who do care. There are a lot of kids today who wait to get an extra glimpse of Henrik, Dan, Kesler, Luongo, or whoever. If 18,859 people walk out of Rogers Arena not caring about the three stars, the players should still come out and give that one person remaining in the stands a salute. It doesn't mean a lot to us because we don't care, but there are still those who do, and given the prices these fans pay to come to games, it's not too much to ask.

On January 5, I ripped Luongo on Twitter for not coming out after being named the game's first star in a 3-1 win. It was quite obvious to me that he was upset at losing his shutout with only 10.3 seconds to go in the game. "I'm a competitor and I want to stop them all and I was a little disappointed that one went in at the end," Luongo had said after the game, after declining an on-ice interview when he was named the game's first star after stopping 43 shots. Wait. Was Luongo actually so bitter that he lost a statistic that he refused to come out and acknowledge the fans? Could he be that selfish and petty? I sure hope not.

But sure enough, after losing to Detroit in a 2-1 shootout loss, the Canucks once again failed to come out. Luongo and Ballard were named two of the three stars but neither came out. I can understand why players don't come out during road games, like Jimmy Howard, because this isn't their hometown crowd, even if there are plenty of Red Wings fans in the stands. So in both wins and losses, the Canucks just don't come out. It's not like being named a star isn't worth anything - the Canucks' Molson Cup award is annually given to the player who is named one of the three stars most over the course of the season. Luongo won the award three consecutive times, from 2006-2009. I don't get it.

Then, Iain MacIntyre reveals to us that the Canucks have "... a loose, long-standing policy against asking their players to return to the ice after losses. Ballard, in fact, didn't even know until [MacIntyre] told him that he'd been named a star and was horrified at the possibility fans might think he had disrespected them." Kudos to Ballard for actually feeling guilty about the whole thing, but what kind of organization does this to their fans? When did the Canucks become such prima donnas? We understand that the Canucks' first goal is to win and quite (unfairly) both the organization and fans think that a Cup title will all of a sudden exonerate all of the past miscues. Not really.

Jason Chen

Best Team Ever?

<img src="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_JkKg_dKJQO0/S7k_bUctgwI/AAAAAAAAAk4/oR2sWN5UJ74/s1600/NHL-President%27s-Trophy.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Sitting at the top of the league with 55 points in 38 games, the Canucks are in an unfamiliar territory. Always considered a division favourite and top 5 team in the West, having not lost a game in regulation since December 5 vs. St. Louis and going 11-0-2 afterwards, a slim lead over Colorado has expanded to 10 points and 1 game in hand and the Canucks are now the heavy favourites to win the Presidents' Trophy, the first in franchise history. It's unfamiliar territory for a franchise not exactly known for winning, but with a stunning effort in a 4-3 road win over San Jose in a playoff-like atmosphere, even the most cynical fan is asking himself if this is the best Vancouver Canucks team ever assembled. The blue and green are en route to a franchise-record third consecutive 100+ points regular season finish and also a third straight division title, but neither of the previous squads had cracked the 50-win barrier nor advanced past the semifinals. Is this the year that everything changes in Vancouver? Most teams will be over the halfway mark by the end of the week so now's a good time to break down the roster and see what the Canucks have in store for the rest of the year.

Had Daniel Sedin been healthy all season last year, 2010 could've been the season the Canucks finished first overall in the West. Chicago had just three more wins and San Jose two more, and could Daniel have made up that difference? Definitely. If Henrik was good for 113 points, then Daniel was good for at least 105 as well. They're ranked 4th and 5th in league scoring, with Henrik having a one-point edge. They've been the most consistent point-producers in the NHL since the lockout, but the big difference this year is that they have been unbelievably good on the road. Henrik has 320 home points vs. 302 on the road in his career, but this year has 28 of his 50 points on the road. Daniel has 303 at home and 293 on the road, but has 31 of his 49 points on the road. It's a little unfortunate that neither player will ever win MVP if both remain healthy, because there's just no way to decide which is more important than the other (perhaps Henrik, but only slightly). Just to don't ask the Sedins to play on Wednesdays - the Sedins' combined career +/- based on the day of the week: Sundays +26, Mondays +34, Tuesdays +69, Wednesdays -2, Thursdays +38, Fridays +32, Saturdays +77. And what does that tell us about them? That they suffer from middle-of-the-week-itis, just like everybody else, except that they're really good at hockey.

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While the Sedins have been the engine driving the league's second-ranked offense, clicking at 24.8%, Ryan Kesler has been undoubtedly the team's MVP. He's on pace for 41 goals and plays more than any other forward. He's second on the team in shorthanded ice-time and first in powerplay ice-time (yes, more than the Sedins). In my mind, he's a franchise centre in the Mike Richards mold. If you were to build a team, after taking an elite point-producing centre and locking down your first line, nobody is better than Kesler on that second line. Nobody. Will he reach 40 goals though? I'd wager no, but continue what he's been doing away from the puck - 60 hits, 41 blocked shots, 32 takeaways, 57.3% faceoffs won, discipline - and he's a lock for the Selke. Anything short of winning would be a complete travesty and the whole city should mobilize and march on Gary Bettman's house in protest.

We knew that Manny Malhotra was a great in the circle, but did it warrant a three-year deal worth $7.5 million with a limited NTC? I guess since good face-off guys are so hard to come by, especially ones that can play a regular shift, unlike Zenon Konopka or Yanic Perreault, it's certainly worth it. For a team that depends so much on puck movement and puck possession, Malhotra was totally worth it. He wins 63% of his faceoffs, and is just 0.2% of the league from Dave Steckel (a hugely under-appreciated, under-valued player). It's no fluke - he won more than 60% in San Jose last year and 58% the year before in Columbus. He's found a market where he can thrive, not having to shut down the opposition's top line or worry about putting the puck in the net. The Canucks' PK ranks 5th in the NHL and has just allowed one shorthanded goal. The only gripe I have with Manny? While he wins more than 60% of his face-offs both at home and on the road, he has just 4 assists in 20 games and -5 on the road but 13 points in 18 home games and +6. It's nothing new though, Malhotra has always been much, much better at home than on the road, something that is worth keeping an eye come playoff time.

Any Stanley Cup contender needs a strong supporting cast. Alex Burrows was sidelined early in the season and struggled with timing early on but has found his groove - he has 6 points in 6 games, and while the argument could be made that any player could play reasonably well with the Sedins, nobody does a better job on this roster than Burrows. Both him and Kesler made concerted efforts to tone down their extracurriculars, but Burrows doesn't have the respect of the league. Dan Boyle was noticeably irked by his high-sticking penalty because Burrows still has a reputation for being a diver. That's not going to help in the playoffs when special teams is a true premium. Like Burrows, Raymond's just coming back from injury but even on the fourth line he hasn't missed a beat, scoring a goal in his first game since breaking his finger. While I pegged Raymond to score 30 goals this year, he's unlikely to hit that total but he will have a chance to turn heads in the playoffs, where a much more physical game has clearly derailed his play. He has just 7 points in 22 career playoff games.

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Jeff Tambellini, Tanner Glass, and Jannik Hansen are three key players in the Canucks bottom six (along with Malhotra) that are keys to the Canucks' success. Tambellini's found a team that caters to his particular talents. The Canucks move the puck well, which allows Tambellini to show off his speed along the boards, and they pass the puck around a lot (almost too much, sometimes) and he's not afraid to shoot the puck. He's a great triggerman for a team that doesn't have a lot of shooters up front. He's also shown a willingness to take the body, with 50 hits in 28 games. He's far from your average one-dimensional offensive player. In Raymond's absence, his offense was more than adequately replaced by Tambellini, who has since been demoted to the fourth line upon Raymond's return. Hopefully Tambellini doesn't get demoted, because he's a good player to have on your roster. Glass is a true blue-collar player. He's the reason why teams don't need any Darcy Hordichuks or Raitis Ivanans anymore, because he can skate, hit, fight, and handles the puck well enough to pin the opposition defense. Hansen is a speedy forward, absolutely vital on our PK with his puck pursuit and he rarely gives up on a play, if ever, but like Raymond he struggles in the playoffs with just 4 career playoff points. How good is Hansen? Take away the offensive side of Kesler's game and the two are quite similar: JH 77 hits to RK's 60, JH's 24 takeaways to RK's 32. It's fun watching these three guys play, even if they're not the most exciting (until Tambellini picks a corner coming down the right wing) or most talented.

The two forwards I have the most trouble watching are Mikael Samuelsson and Raffi Torres. For a guy who needs to shoot the puck a lot to be successful, Samuelsson doesn't hit the net much even when he shoots (31 missed shots, 2nd to Dan). At 34 he won't be hitting the 30 goal plateau anymore and while he's currently 4th in team scoring he could finish 7th or 8th by the end of the season. He's better off on the third line because he's an atrocious passer and marginally better stickhandler. Torres is just streaky. He plays with an edge that is there one game but absent in the next. If the Canucks want to go deep these two players have to hit their hot streaks at the right time. The Canucks benefited huge when Samuelsson went on a tear with 8 goals in 12 playoff games.

And what can I say of arguably the league's best defense that hasn't been said already? The Canucks are first in the league in goal differential, quite a feat considering that none of our blueliners are elite material. It's certainly an offense by committee, not like in Pittsburgh with Kris Letang or Boston with Zdeno Chara. Ehrhoff and Edler have combined for a +19 rating and 48 points. The two skate very, very well and jump up in the play at the right times. They're so underappreciated (more on that later) that you can't imagine what sort of attention they'd be getting if they played for an East team. Moving forward, given our cap space, you wonder if we can really retain Ehrhoff, who's an UFA at the end of the year.

Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard have both made Canucks highlight reels with their patented hip checks, with each at least upending an opposition once a game. I've actually been most disappointed with Hamhuis - perhaps it's because my perceptions of him as a more physical defenceman playing alongside Shea Weber and Ryan Suter - but he plays more like Willie Mitchell without the ridiculously long stick and has better mobility. I'm appalled at times with some of his giveaways and his blocked shots total, just 29, is less than one per game. This entire season may be an adjustment season for Ballard, so the best has yet to come, but he's our best shot blocker and the way he jumps up into the play (sometimes ill-advised and too deep), really reminds me of Ed Jovanovski. His 4 points aren't reflective of his offensive capabilities and Vigneault has used him rather reluctantly on the second powerplay unit, instead opting for Hamhuis.

Kevin Bieksa was a big name in the rumour mill to begin the season but he's solidified his status as a top four guy in our lineup. No one else on our defense plays with an edge like he does, except Alberts, but Alberts doesn't have the same mobility or offensive weapons. The imminent return of Sami Salo raises some interesting questions because of the Canucks' cap bind, and while Bieksa was rumoured to be on the block to make room for the hard-shooting Salo, he's quickly become an untradeable asset again.

If we can somehow get Salo into the lineup without sacrificing Bieksa or a forward, could you imagine what would happen? This team already leads the league and they're going to get even better. The Canucks were noticeably better with Salo in the lineup last year and it gives us a chance to get rid of Rome, who serves little purpose other than to give the other five defenseman a breather or two. As awkward as Alberts looks with the puck, he's one of our most physical defenceman. Honestly, I just can't wait to get rid of Aaron Rome. I don't think he brings anything to this team that we don't already have but you had to admit he's a huge upgrade over Eric Weinrich, Ossi Vaananen, or some other extra defenceman plug we manage to get for a pick at the deadline.

The biggest reason for our success? Our away record, which at 7 games above .500 is an extra 14 points for a team that plays average hockey on the road. The reason? Roberto Luongo. Last year's road record: 13-14-1, 3.07 GAA, .894 SV%. This year: 8-5-2, 2.59 GAA, .907 SV%. Luongo's still a far superior at home than on the road, but his stats have improved. It's not where the Canucks would like it to be, since his home record is a staggering 10-3-1, 2.25 GAA, .926 SV%, but you hope that Luongo can at least find a happy medium at home and on the road when all's said and done.

<img src="http://www.lphs.ca/image/players/PavelBure-close-up.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Is this the best Canucks team ever? I certainly think so. In terms of top-end talent nothing beats the Mogilny-Bure duo, but they were never healthy at the same time and the team couldn't win any games. Mogilny's best year as a Canuck, his first, with 55 goals and 107 points, was wasted with Bure appearing in only 15 games and an atrocious Kirk McLean in net. We have a splendid first line, a spectacular second-line centre, a bottom six that can hit, skate, and score, a very capable and mobile defense, and a goalie who still has some good seasons in him. The Canucks are tops in the league in every single relevant category: 25 wins (t-1st), 8 losses (1st), .724 point % (1st), 3.42 g/g (1st), 2.45 ga/g (5th), 24.8% PP (2nd), 85% PK (6th), 56.3% faceoffs (1st). The worst part about all these league leading stats? The Canucks still don't get any respect. As of today, the Canucks' rank in all-star voting by position: forwards Henrik (23rd), Daniel (24th), Kesler (52nd); defencemen Hamhuis (25th), Ehrhoff (36th), Edler (38th); and Luongo (10th)

The only wrinkle? Of the 24 times the Presidents' Trophy has been awarded, only 7 have gone on to win titles. It's clearly not a barometer for postseason success but we're looking pretty good right now.

Jason Chen

30 Franchises

The NHL is experiencing an influx of exceptional once-in-a-generation talent. There's no doubt about that. Looking ahead to 2011, several teams, specifically Calgary and New Jersey, are searching for an identity, looking for a way to sneak into the playoffs, and if not, rebuild their team. Jarome Iginla and Martin Brodeur's best days are over, and with their impending retirements or departures within the next couple of years, the two franchises are looking for players to fill the void.

When finding that franchise player, it really depends on how you want to build your team. Some teams like to build from the net out, while others put more emphasis on a forward or defenseman. I've torn a couple hairs from my head trying to compile this list and with the amount of talent to pick from it's difficult after the first three picks. To make my life a little easier, I've split the list up into three sections: goaltenders, defensemen, and forwards.

To kick off the new year, let's look at the league's 30 best franchise players, with a major emphasis on age, leadership, and future potential, but keep in mind, this is not the current best 30 under 30, but the future best. Read on to find out which Canuck makes the list.

GOALTENDERS

30. Steve Mason, Columbus (age: 22, drafted 3rd round, 69th overall in 2006)

Never a highly touted prospect until he won gold with Canada at the World Juniors, Mason was selected in the 11th round by the London Knights in the OHL draft. After compiling a 77-20-2 record over his final two seasons with London and Kitchener, Mason no longer had anything to prove at that level and signed with the Jackets, appearing in 3 games for AHL-affiliate Syracuse, posting an incredible 1.63 GAA and .937 SV%. It was a small sample size, but with starter Pascal Leclaire sidelined with injury (no surprises there) the Jackets called him up and haven't looked back. A fantastic rookie season, 33-20-7, 2.29 GAA, .916 SV%, led to a Vezina nomination and a Calder Trophy. Like most young players Mason has struggled in his second season. Regardless, Mason remains one of Canada's best upcoming netminders.

29. Cam Ward, Carolina (age: 26, drafted 1st round, 22nd overall in 2002)

The unassuming Saskatchewan-born goalie improved his win totals from 30 to 37 to 39 in his first three seasons as a starter before being sidelined by injuries last year, posting just 18 wins in 47 games. Like Hiller, Ward's a proven winner: he's the first rookie since Patrick Roy to win the Cup and the first rookie since Ron Hextall to claim Conn Smythe honours. If there's any knock against Ward, is that he's inconsistent and his save percentage - a career save percentage of .905 going into this season - is back-up material at best. However, there's enough past history and talent there to pick him as your franchise goalie.

28. Henrik Lundqvist, NY Rangers (age: 28, drafted 7th round, 205th overall in 2000)

That King Henrik was drafted in the 7th round tells you how unheralded he was until he led Sweden to a 4th place finish at the World Juniors in 2001, a tournament that rarely sees Sweden finish high (excluding the last 3 years in which the Swedes captured silver twice and bronze once, the last time the Swedes medaled was in 1996, and since the tournament's inception they've only captured gold once). Playing for Frolunda in the Elitserien, Lundqvist was named the league's MVP with record-setting statistics: a minuscule 1.05 GAA, .962 SV%, 6 shutouts, and a shutout streak of 172 minutes and 29 seconds. He became the first goalie to win 30 games in his first five seasons in the NHL and has single-handedly managed to keep the Rangers in playoff contention every year despite an often anemic offense pre-Marian Gaborik.

<img src="http://cmsimg.detnews.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/bilde?Site=C3&Date=20090513&Category=OPINION03&ArtNo=905130394&Ref=AR"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">27. Jonas Hiller, Anaheim (age: 28, undrafted)

Often overlooked because he plays in California under the shadow of four spectacular forwards (Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan, Selanne) and a defenseman on track for a career season (Visnovsky), Hiller is one of the league's most underrated goalies. He always has a save percentage hovering around .920, an incredible mark to maintain throughout a career. While his goals against has risen since his rookie season, it is more a reflection of Anaheim's porous defense, which makes him arguably their most valuable player. That's not mentioning that Hiller's a competitor and a proven winner, having won the Swiss league championship three times and the Spengler Cup twice. He's an outstanding big game goalie, having ousted the Presidents' Trophy-winning Sharks in the opening round in 2009 and stopped 44 shots in a 3-2 shootout loss to a heavily favoured Canada in the Olympic preliminaries. If age was not a factor, Hiller would be at the top of the list.

26. Carey Price, Montreal (age: 23, drafted 1st round, 5th overall in 2005)

The 2005 draft, which produced Sidney Crosby, Bobby Ryan, Anze Kopitar, Jack Johnson, Marc Staal, TJ Oshie, and Tuukka Rask in the first round alone, only three players from that draft have been made All-Stars. Crosby's the obvious choice, and if you guessed Kopitar as the second then pat yourself on the back. The third? None other than Price, the only Canadien whose play can easily sway Montreal into either another Richard Riot or an Eastern European all-night rave. (Granted, that All-Star game also featured Mike Komisarek, but still.) When Price is at his best, which admittedly isn't as often as anyone would like, he can arguably be the best goalie in the league. He's more talented than Mason and Ward and younger than Hiller and Lundqvist. Take him.

25. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles (age: 24, drafted 3rd round, 72nd overall in 2005)

It's a shame that Connecticut native Quick plays out West, potentially killing any chance of a Price-Quick rivalry. Could you imagine? Both 2005 grads, an east coast American in a booming California hockey market and a western Canadian in an unforgiving hockey market. The future netminders of USA and Canada. The implications could be huge. The names themselves couldn't be any easier to make up headlines for. Price dwarfs Quick in terms of trophy case material, but it's tough to say which goalie's cupboard will fill up faster. I will concede that Price is the more talented goalie, but to make up for my homerism I will say that I would bank on Quick to give me more quality starts than Price over a full season. He just seems more level-headed.

24. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh (age: 26, drafted 1st round, 1st overall in 2003)

Before his diving, Championship-winning save on Nicklas Lidstrom in game seven, Fleury was a known choker. It wasn't because he wasn't good, but he had a penchant for losing big games in the worst way possible (think Bryan McCabe style). At the 2004 World Juniors, Fleury led Canada to the gold medal game for the second straight year, this time against USA. There was a lot at stake for both teams. Canada had not captured gold since 1997 and settled for silver after losing to Russia in front of a hometown crowd in Halifax. The Americans had not medaled since 1997 when they lost to Canada, so it was very much a redemption game, and tack on the fact that USA had yet to win gold in the tournament's history, there was a lot for them to prove. With five minutes remaining in a 3-3 tie, a cleared puck was rolling towards Fleury with Patrick O'Sullivan bearing down on him. Even though both Canadian defensemen (Braydon Coburn and Brent Seabrook) had already closed in on O'Sullivan, Fleury went on the offensive. His ill-advised attempt to clear the puck hit Coburn square on the chest and the puck bounced in, giving the Americans a 4-3 victory and their first World Junior gold. The second gut-wrenching came in 2008 Finals. With Henrik Zetterberg flying down the left wing, Fleury stopped the initial shot but lost the puck in his pads, which had snuck behind him and lay still in the blue paint. Fleury immediately leaned back into a snow angel in an attempt to cover the puck, only to end up sitting on it and propelling the puck into his own net. That goal was the eventual game-winner. But all bad memories were cleared after that big Lidstrom stop, and while Fleury may never be a great regular season goalie (his two winningest seasons saw him post sub .900 SV%), at least he's proven that he can get you to the big game and perhaps win one or two... if you can also stand losing one or two.

(For those who hate on the World Juniors, you're really missing out. The WJHC has recently gained an unfair reputation as a meaningless tournament and merely a chance for Canada to stroke its own ego on the international stage. That's not true. Before winning five straight golds, Canada was on a seven-year gold-less draught and their 15 total golds is followed closely behind by the Soviet Union/Russia's 12. That's not mentioning that if you want to get a head start on which prospects to watch for in the upcoming drafts and camps, the World Juniors is the tournament to watch. These teams regularly field NHL-calibre talent. Josh Gorges, Kevin Klein, Tim Brent, Dan Paille, Jeff Tambellini, Brent Burns, and Max Talbot are the forgotten players on that 2004 squad with Fleury. Even more fun is discussing which players look like busts, like O'Sullivan. My bust pick from last year's squad? Patrice Cormier. Willie Desjardins absolutely picked the wrong leadership group and it cost him. And any time you're picked by the Devils, unless you've got high end talent or a well-developed defensive game, you're going to see very limited NHL time before your 23rd birthday.)

DEFENSEMEN

(What!? No Ryan Miller? You must be crazy! That statement depends on who you ask, but Miller is 30. He has one more Olympics left in him and by then he may not even start. By all means his 2009-10 season ranks among the best of all-time in the modern era, but it was the first time he entered 'elite' status, and as quickly as he claimed it he has lost it. I would take all the other guys I've listed over him for future potential.)

23. Dion Phaneuf, Toronto (age: 25, drafted 1st round, 9th overall in 2003)

Even though Phaneuf has not played as well as anyone in Leaf Nation would like, he still hasn't the potential to become a franchise blueliner. He's a hotheaded, Type-A personality player, which is great when things are going good and not so great when things are going bad, and those swings are exaggerated and magnified in Toronto. He's everything you'd want in a game-breaking player: a big shot, big hits, and attitude. But he's also everything you don't want in a tight game: a short fuse and a tendency to lose focus, resulting in missed assignments and bad giveaways. You could roll the dice with him, as Brian Burke obviously has by trading for him and naming him captain, but just knock on wood every game.

22. Erik Johnson, St. Louis (age: 22, drafted 1st round, 1st overall in 2006)

Often heralded as the better of the two Johnsons on the American blueline, you can't help but wonder how much better he would've been had he not missed an entire season to injury. Johnson played just one season at Minnesota before making the jump and his transition was seamless, scoring 33 points in 69 games in his rookie season. Already part of the young leadership core moving forward, Johnson follows a line of big impact St. Louis defensemen, which has featured Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger in the past. He has neither MacInnis' big shot nor Pronger's nastiness, but he's a defenseman that does all things very well. But this season, with injuries to the offensive front (TJ Oshie, David Perron, Andy McDonald), EJ's played has seemingly regressed, with just two goals thus far. I felt he was outplayed by Jack Johnson in the Olympics and Alex Pietrangelo this season.

<img src="http://kingscast.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/johnsonx.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">21. Jack Johnson, Los Angeles (age: 23, drafted 1st round, 3rd overall in 2005)

I wasn't sold on him at first - I saw him as a Phaneuf-like clone, a big kid with immense talent and punishing checks but zero intelligence - but after watching him in the Olympics, he changed my mind. He drew criticism from Terry Murray for his penchant for getting out of position, a tendency Murray felt Johnson had developed because Michigan coach Red Berenson had allowed him to play as a rover. But he's been much better since, no doubt aided by the presence of some savvy veterans (Jarrett Stoll, Rob Scuderi) and humbled by more talented players (Drew Doughty). He was great offensively with Michigan, but it was an underdeveloped part of his game that didn't show until last year when he broke out with 36 points. His best days are still to come.

20. Duncan Keith, Chicago (age: 27, drafted 2nd round, 54th overall in 2002)

It took three years for Keith to crack the Hawks roster, even after moving from Michigan State to Kelowna to accelerate his development (he wasn't getting as many minutes as the Hawks would like, as the Spartans had John-Michael Liles ahead on the depth chart). He spent two more years in Norfolk (one due to the lockout), accumulating 51 points over two seasons. By the time Keith broke into the league, he was 22 years old, but he was ready. He averaged over 23 minutes a game in his rookie season, almost unheard of these days. His transition to the NHL has been slow and steady and should serve as a shining example of how to develop players taken after the first round. A player like Keith has at least another 10 years in the tank (his extension was for 13 years) so his age isn't as big of a factor as someone like Phaneuf, who plays a very physical game and has quite a bit of NHL mileage for a 25-year old.

19. Shea Weber, Nashville (age: 25, drafted 2nd round, 49th overall in 2003)

If Nashville's jettison of Tomas Vokoun, Scott Hartnell, and Kimmo Timonen sent the franchise back three years, losing Weber alone this summer could send them back five. Of all the defensemen listed here, Weber is the one with the most leadership potential. He's steady, logs big minutes, plays in all situations, shoots the puck from the blueline better than anyone in the West not named Lidstrom, and strong enough to clear anybody from the net. He's a guy I would love to see the Canucks go after, even if that means having to cut a forward, Kevin Bieksa, and Christian Ehrhoff loose. Weber may not be the guy who makes the game-winning play, but he certainly is a guy who can prevent it.

18. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles (age: 21, drafted 1st round, 2nd overall in 2008)

There's no question Doughty is the most likely player after Lidstrom to win consecutive Norris Trophies (if not for his defensive play, then certainly his offensive). He's not overly big or particularly intimidating in the defensive zone, but once the puck's on his stick, watch out. Nobody has better offensive instincts for a defenseman than him. There's really no telling what his ceiling is, because whenever he's written off as the spare part he surprises everyone by earning MVP honours. He has the most upside out of any player in this group and while he doesn't have that galvanizing leadership aura, it doesn't matter, because neither did Bobby Orr.

FORWARDS

17. Jason Spezza, Ottawa (age: 27, drafted 1st round, 2nd overall in 2001)

I struggled putting Spezza on this list because if you named the top 15 centres in the league right now, it's hard to figure Spezza into the conversation without someone telling you how many costly turnovers he makes in a game. But the fact remains: Jason Spezza is one of the best playmakers in this league. Only Joe Thornton has arguably better hands for a player bigger than 6'3". What sold me? 90 points in 68 games in 2006, 87 points in 67 games in 2007, and 92 points in 76 games in 2008. Playoffs? 14 points in 10 games and 22 points in 20 games in playoff runs past the first round. Those are elite numbers. His talent is there, and he's a remarkable goal scorer when he wants to be, and that comes with a good linemate. Losing Heatley hurt him, but in this league it's much easier to find a player who's willing to shoot the puck than a player who can really dish it (ask Rick Nash or Phil Kessel). His play is lackadaisical at times and he'll try the same spin-o-rama backhand pass at the side of the net enough times that you wonder why defensemen haven't picked up on it already, but he's a legitimate number one centre.

16. Rick Nash, Columbus (age: 26, drafted 1st round, 1st overall in 2002)

Nash is a player with the reputation of a prolific scorer who may never score 50 in a season. As an offensive player, Nash is the prototypical power forward, big, strong on his skates, soft hands, but by that token Nash is quite a one-dimensional offensive player. Charging to the net works for Nash because few defensemen in the league can handle his size, speed, and skill while skating backwards, but ask Nash to be a playmaker or stand-still shooter and his game falls apart. It's hard to see Nash's game develop any further, but he is the league's best power forward and will give you a chance to win games. He's a player that can get you into the playoffs but not necessarily be the Conn Smythe performer.

15. Paul Stastny, Colorado (age: 25, drafted 2nd round, 44th overall in 2005)

Statsny may never put up 100 points in a season, but he's a player that doesn't have to score a whole bunch to have an impact on the game. My pick as the next captain of the Avalanche after Adam Foote's retirement, he's a player that, like Mike Richards, has a galvanizing ability. He's very easy to like and follows in the footsteps of Joe Sakic, who was mentored by Paul's father, Peter, back in the Quebec Nordiques days. You couldn't ask for two better mentors. He's remarkably consistent, a factor that must be taken into consideration for a franchise player.

14. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington (age: 23, drafted 1st round, 4th overall in 2006)

Because the Caps are so rotten defensively some nights and in the playoffs, I think Backstrom is unfairly grouped with players like Mike Green, Alex Semin, and Alex Ovechkin as guys who can't play defense. Bruce Boudreau has the luxury of sitting Backstrom in key defensive situations because he's got such a wealth of veteran depth players that can do the job (Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble, Jason Chimera, Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley) but that doesn't mean Backstrom's a slouch. He's one of the few Swedish forwards that is unusually fearless when it comes to blocking shots and my number one centre better be able to play both ways.

13. Zach Parise, New Jersey (age: 26, drafted 1st round, 17th overall in 2003)

It's a shame that Parise's season is essentially over, because I was really looking forward to how he would respond with Ilya Kovalchuk under the fold for an entire season. He's a player that rarely, if ever, complains, and it would be such a blow to the Devils if they can't re-sign him this summer. Very few wingers are franchise players (currently and in history), in part because of their position, but Parise certainly bucks that trend. We saw Parise score 45 and notch 94 points and that range is probably his ceiling, but it's certainly a very good one and he's entering his prime.

<img src="http://assets.nydailynews.com/img/2009/10/30/alg_gaborik.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">12. Marian Gaborik, NY Rangers (age: 28, drafted 1st round, 3rd overall in 2000)

With two Rangers making the list, you'd think they'd have an easier time making the playoffs and winning games, but then you remember that Gaborik's made of glass. When you talk about the league's most dangerous goalscorers, Gaborik is frequently left out of the conversation, but when healthy, this guy could take a good run at Ovechkin and the Richard. If you can score 42 in the Wild's system and then 42 with the Rangers with no legitimate playmaker, you're good in my books. And for all his goal-scoring glory, asides from his rookie season, Gaborik has never finished a season with a minus rating. If you can stomach at least one of three seasons in which he plays less than 50 games, he's your franchise player.

11. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington (age: 25, drafted 1st round, 1st overall in 2004)

Yes, a former 65-goal scorer, Art Ross, Pearson, Hart, Calder, and Richard winner doesn't crack the top 10 in my list. Like I said, if this was a list on the 30 best players in the league, you'd have to be a major Pittsburgh homer to not have this guy in your top 5. But despite all the highlight reels and hardware, ask yourself this question: since Ovechkin's rookie season, has he improved, at all? The answer's no. He's just as adept at picking corners and shooting pucks as he was since his rookie season, and given his production this year (a lot of bad luck, really) you might even say his play has regressed. He's not very versatile in that you can't use him on the PK or on the right wing where he struggles because he can't cut across to his forehand. He certainly doesn't make his teammates any better, at least not on a Henrik Sedin/Crosby/Toews level, and that's a major drawback. His individual play is unmatched, but his teams have never fared well in the playoffs and has as many golds ('03 WJC, '08 WC) as 6th place finishes ('04 World Cup, '10 Olympics). He's a very, very marketable player and absolutely electrifying, but you just can't picture him winning the Cup.

10. Eric Staal, Carolina (age: 26, drafted 1st round, 2nd overall in 2003)

The second pick in a star-studded draft, Staal's just one of many big power forward centres Canada has to offer. But even with a Cup ring, I was never sold on him. First, he's an incredibly streaky scorer. He has 8 points in December, but 21 in November, including a 5-point effort. Second, he still can't win face-offs to save his life. Brandon Sutter struggles in the circle due to his inexperience and Jeff Skinner is too undersized to play the middle, so the majority of the draws are taken by Staal, and his 753 draws taken ranks 5th in the league, but he wins just 44.5% of them. He's lost 418 face-offs, a league high, and to put that in perspective, Crosby has lost only 4 less but taken 181 more draws. That's a major red flag - that Staal can enter his sixth NHL season but see no improvement at all in the circle. Third, while Staal has put up good numbers in the playoffs, he never would've won that Cup had it not been for Ward's play and Rod Brind'Amour's presence. However, like Nash and Getzlaf, Staal has that rare blend of size and skill that you can build a team around.

9. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim (age: 25, drafted 1st round, 19th overall in 2003)

Like Eric Staal, Getzlaf still hasn't figured out to win in the circle. I don't know what's with this big 6'4", 220 lbs. forwards but they can be so weak on the draws. They just can't figure it out. Some of the league's better face-off men, Nicklas Backstrom, Paul Stastny, Rich Peverley, and Manny Malhotra, aren't very big. For a big guy with such soft hands it still perplexes me how Getzlaf still doesn't have a single 30-goal season. His career high in the WHL? 29. His NHL high? 25. With a long-term stint on the IR coming up with nasal fractures, he's unlikely to crack those numbers this year. With assist totals like 58 and 66 you'd think he was trying to make a run at the Joe Thornton's title for "big man with softest hands." But Getzlaf's not a perimeter player - he was an absolute wrecking ball for Canada with Perry and Nash, and a willingness to take whatever role's given to him makes a good captain and franchise player.

8. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh (age: 24, drafted 1st round, 2nd overall in 2004)

What does Malkin have that Ovechkin doesn't? Face-off ability and a stronger work ethic. If you could really pinpoint the Canucks' success this year, it's their dramatic improvement in the circle and one of the best transition games I've seen in quite awhile. Ovechkin certainly has the better pedigree, but we saw how Malkin carried the team without Crosby. He has a Cup and a Conn Smythe, two things that will always trump whatever individual award Ovechkin gets his hands on. The thing with Malkin is that he's easily distracted and takes some really bad penalties, but that's something that always gets better with more experience and maturity. If there's another reason to pick Malkin ahead of Ovechkin, it's that Ovechkin's stock seems to have stalled while Malkin's at least trending up, albeit slightly.

7. Mike Richards, Philadelphia (age: 25, drafted 1st round, 24th overall in 2003)

How fitting that one of the league's most soft-spoken yet hard-working players plays for Philadelphia? Of all the comparisons that these young players have drawn, Crosby-Gretzky, Ovechkin-Bure, Doughty-Orr/Bourque, Richards-Clarke makes the most sense. Once Richards put that orange jersey on, you just can't see him in any other uniform. A two-way forward who doesn't have high-end offensive or defensive skill, but what he lacks in talent he makes up for with a tireless work ethic and a relentless drive to win. He's extremely versatile in that he can score goals or be a shut-down centre depending on the task, and with such a deep Flyers team, no matter what the situation, Peter Laviolette is going to go to Richards every single time. He probably won't lead your team in scoring but when the playoffs start he's a sure-fire bet to be in Conn Smythe talks.

<img src="http://www.dobberhockey.com/dobberpics/ryan_kesler.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">6. Ryan Kesler, Vancouver (age: 26, drafted 1st round, 23rd overall in 2003)

With the way he's playing right now, you wonder what his ceiling is. 35 goals? 40 goals? Kesler's a player that you constantly have to re-evaluate every year because every year it seems like he makes a marked improvement in one area or another. Originally thought to be a third-line checking centre, then a second-line centre with limited offensive upside, he's now a worthy franchise player. His ranking may be high, but he's outplaying Richards, Getzlaf, and Staal. It's amazing what a little smartening up will do to a player, and Kesler's just that. He works harder than anybody else on the ice, much like another former fan favourite here, and he has a developed a tendency to come through in the clutch with some real blue-collar plays. You can tell he's really enjoying his time here as a Canuck and while Hank may one day hoist Lord Stanley Kesler's the one that will claim Conn Smythe honours. Is his ranking high? Maybe, because no player is as good as he seems on a hot streak and as bad as he seems on a cold streak. But really, is there anything Kesler's doing right now that makes you think he's a fluke?

5. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles (age: 23, drafted 1st round, 11th overall in 2005)

Between him and Doughty, the Kings have at least half a dozen long playoff runs in the future. Mixed with the right veterans and an equally young supporting cast (Dustin Brown, Wayne Simmonds), the Kings may topple the Canucks and Red Wings one day as the West powerhouse. He had a good showing in his first ever playoff appearance with 5 points before bowing out in the first round. Like Staal and Getzlaf he's not particularly strong in the circle, but he's not as weak as the other two. It helps that Stoll wins 60% (!!!!) of his face-offs and puts a little less pressure on Kopitar. Of all the big forwards he may be the most skillful goal scorer and the smoothest skater, two things that really work for him in the new NHL.

4. Matt Duchene, Colorado (age: 19, drafted 1st round, 3rd overall in 2009)

Duchene and the Avs were a match made in heaven - a young player who idolized Joe Sakic and the Avs growing up and enough optimism to not get the title of first overall pick get to him. If that 2009 draft was re-done, Hedman, Tavares, and John Moore probably would've been the guys whose stocked have dropped the most. He's fast, speedy, competitive, and a player who has his head screwed on right. He's in a good hockey market with a good coach and a great core of players with Stastny, Ryan O'Reilly, Chris Stewart, Peter Mueller (when he regains his form), JM Liles, and Kevin Shattenkirk. He doesn't need to rejuvenate a jaded fan base on Long Island or spark interest in Tampa Bay. He's a great player in a great position to succeed. It goes a long way when a franchise has a history and tradition of winning the right way.

3. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay (age: 20, drafted 1st round, 1st overall in 2008)

In retrospect, perhaps the Lightning's ill-advised hiring of Barry Melrose as coach was good for Stamkos, but it showed that this was a player who wouldn't get beat up physically or mentally. Good for the Lightning to cut him loose soon after realizing their mistake and Stamkos has made some incredible strides in his third year, even after 51 goals and 95 points. His ceiling? Potentially 60 goals, the first to do so since Ovechkin, and 110 points, easily accomplished if his assist totals match his goals. He's smart enough to the play PK in the future and he's already a force on the PP, possibly even more dangerous than Ovechkin because his shot's more accurate. He's a sure-fire captain and eventual Cup winner.

2. Jonathan Toews, Chicago (age: 22, drafted 1st round, 3rd overall in 2006)

Again, like the 2009 draft in which the best player went third overall, if the 2006 draft we re-done, Erik Johnson and Jordan Staal wouldn't have gone 1-2 (a cautionary tale - when going with a franchise forward or defenseman, always go with the forward). At age 22 Toews has won just about everything that's there to be won. He won't have another year like 2010 when he captured every single significant trophy because it takes a lot of luck for those opportunities just to present themselves. However, like Pavel Datsyuk, Toews may never be a prolific goal scorer (but he will have the reels to make you think he does) but he plays the strongest two-way game in the league. He's excellent in the circle and is already on the way to becoming one of the greatest captains in NHL history.

<img src="http://www.hockeyhermit.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/sidney-crosby.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh (age: 23, drafted 1st round, 1st overall in 2005)

What can be said about the greatest player of our generation? He's improved every year, like Kesler, but by an exponentially greater scale. He whined too much in his rookie season and aside from a string of f-bombs on HBO's recent 24/7 episode (great series, by the way) he's now more level-headed. He passed too much and so he scored 51 goals. He wasn't great in the circle but now he's one of the league's best. He had some bad turnovers but now he's one of the hardest players to knock off the puck. There was talk not too long ago where people wondered if Stamkos was in Ovechkin and Crosby's class. That question was poorly phrased. It should be whether or not Ovechkin and Stamkos were in Crosby's class.

Before you poo-poo on my list (at the very least, I think these picks are defensible) there were a ton of players that weren't quite franchise material, but certainly very, very good player material. Here's the list of players who couldn't quite make it, for various reasons.

Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Patrick Kane, Evander Kane, Lucic, Eberle, Taylor Hall, Seguin, Vanek, Tyler Myers, Brandon Sutter, Tavares, Okposo, Seabrook, Chris Stewart, Voracek, Brassard, Loui Eriksson, James Neal, Niklas Kronwall, Jimmy Howard, Sam Gagner, Hemsky, David Booth, Mikko Koivu, Brent Burns, PK Subban, Pekka Rinne, Zajac, Erik Karlsson, Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux, Kyle Turris, Kris Letang, Pavelski, Backes, Hedman, Alex Semin, Varlamov, Neuvirth, Kovalchuk, Rask, Derek Roy, Bogosian, Kessel, Halak, Dustin Brown.

Jason Chen

Gift Wrapped, Sir?

I must admit it's weird not seeing mounds of snow on the streets in December, seeing how as I have spent the majority of the past four winters in Nova Scotia. But either way, it's the season of giving. So, in honour of that, here are your 20 worst trades in the NHL since the lockout! In chronological order! Hooray!

August 3, 2005. Edmonton trades Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka, and Doug Lynch to St. Louis for Chris Pronger.

The advent of the salary cap and a potential new ownership meant the Blues had to shed salary to make themselves more financially attractive. Brewer remains in the Blues organization and is their current captain but isn't expected to last beyond this season. Woywitka shuttled between the AHL and NHL for some time and is currently in the Stars' organization. Lynch, a former second round pick, has played the last three years in Austria. Pronger would sign an expensive five-year extension and was a smashing success with the Oilers in his first season, leading them to the finals.

August 26, 2005. Minnesota trades Zbynek Michalek to Phoenix for Erik Westrum and Dustin Wood.

The Wild saw Michalek, who was undrafted, in 22 games and decided he wasn't worth their time before sending him to Phoenix. What a decision that turned out to be. Westrum played only 27 games at the NHL level and has been playing in Switzerland for the past couple of seasons while Wood never saw time in the NHL. Michalek spend five productive years in Phoenix, leading the league in blocked shots one year and guiding the Coyotes to their first postseason appearance since 2003.

<img src="http://www.bestsportsphotos.com/images/t_20631_07.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">November 30, 2005. Boston trades Joe Thornton to San Jose for Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart, and Wayne Primeau.

This trade eventually cost then GM Mike O'Connell his job. O'Connell, to be fair and honest, wasn't a bad GM - Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci were both drafted by him - but he often butted heads with owner Jeremy Jacobs, who refused to open his pockets to retain their prized free agents like Sergei Gonchar and Brian Rolston. The Bruins were struggling at the time, and perhaps misguided by his anger towards ownership, he traded Thornton for three depth players. The trade sent the Bruins back five years. Thornton would go on to notch 92 points in 58 games with the Sharks and win the Art Ross that year. Primeau and Stuart lasted two season each before departing and Sturm was recently sent to Los Angeles for free. Interestingly enough, O'Connell is currently the Kings' Director of Pro Development.

December 5, 2005. Philadelphia trades Patrick Sharp and Eric Meloche to Chicago for Matt Ellison and a 3rd round pick in 2006.

Ellison played just 7 games for the Flyers over two seasons before moving onto Milwaukee in the AHL and then the KHL for the past two seasons. Meloche did not play a single game for Chicago and is suiting up for his fourth season with Straubing in the DEL. Sharp, however, has become one of the leaders of a young Blackhawks franchise. Unable to find quality playing time on a deep Flyers roster, Bobby Clarke gave him a chance by shipping him to Chicago, where he has become one of the league's most versatile and intelligent players. Sharp's 11 goals in last year's playoffs was tied for the team lead with Byfuglien. Sharp is shooting for his 5th straight 20-goal season.

June 23, 2006. Florida trades Roberto Luongo, Lukas Krajicek, and a 6th round pick to Vancouver for Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan Allen, and Alex Auld.

For all the hate Dave Nonis has drawn in this city, this should be the deal that negates everything. Luongo, as we all know, is an elite goalie with an Olympic gold medal. Bertuzzi was never quite the same since the Steve Moore incident and lasted just 7 games in Florida before being swapped for Shawn Matthias. Auld was horribly miscast as a starting netminder and the steady but unspectacular Allen remains the only souvenir for Florida in that trade. Oh, and that supposed throwaway 6th rounder? Turns out the Canucks got a pretty decent prospect. You might've heard of him. Sergei Shirokov?

<img src="http://miamisportsblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/luongo.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">June 24, 2006. Toronto trades Tuukka Rask to Boston for Andrew Raycroft.

Probably angry that Vancouver was making all the headlines around the league, John Ferguson, Jr. and the Leafs panicked and made a goalie move of their own, moving promising netminder Rask for former Calder winner Raycroft. To be fair, the Leafs had another netminder in the system, Justin Pogge, but he turned out to be a bust. Raycroft is now a career journeyman and backup, and while Rask is stapled to the bench due to Tim Thomas' otherworldly play, he is arguably the most promising goalie in this league.

February 3, 2007. Boston trades Kris Versteeg to Chicago for Brandon Bochenski and a conditional 5th round pick in 2008.

This was a trade that flew completely under the radar, perceived to be a rather insignificant minor league deal. Versteeg has since been moved to Toronto, but he was a key cog in the Blackhawks' makeup and was a vital secondary scorer with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. For a team that doesn't have a lot of high-end offensive skill, the Bruins would probably like a re-do for this one. As for Bochenski? After teasing fans with 13 points in 20 games playing alongside Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, he had trouble sticking with NHL clubs and despite being a very talented AHL scorer (33 goals in 35 games once), he now plays in the KHL.

February 27, 2007. San Jose trades Josh Gorges and a 1st round pick (Max Pacioretty) for Craig Rivet and a 5th round pick in 2008 (Julien Demers).

At the time, it was a good trade for San Jose because the Sharks were ready to win now and Rivet gave them one good year, with 35 points and 104 PIM. But it's these kind of deals that have really cost San Jose, who are struggling to keep up with their younger and better stocked Pacific Division opponents. Rivet was traded to Buffalo for two second round picks (Bill Wrenn in 2009 and the other sent to Carolina, who took Mark Alt) and, most likely due to injury, has seen his play nosedive. Meanwhile, Gorges has become one of Jacques Martin's most dependable defenseman and regularly plays against top opposition and logs 20 minutes a night. Pacioretty has yet to find his place in the NHL but he's a player with good offensive potential with 32 points 27 AHL games and 3 points in 3 NHL games this year.

<img src="http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/01cFg5M41QfN8/340x.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">June 18, 2007. Nashville trades Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell to Philadelphia for a 1st round pick.

You can't entirely blame David Poile for this one. The Preds were going through ownership trouble amidst accusations of financial fraud with minority owner William Del Baggio, and could not retain any of its stars, despite at one point being able to land Peter Forsberg for a playoff push. The Flyers quickly locked up the two players and both have been vital to the franchise since. The two players combined for 28 points in last year's postseason. But the real kicker for me is that the 1st rounder the Preds acquired was their own and had been traded to Philadelphia last year for, you guessed it, Peter Forsberg. Perhaps the only redeeming fact is that the Preds used the pick to select former Giant defenseman Jonathon Blum, and I know better than to question the Preds' scouting department when it comes to blueliners.

February 26, 2008. Tampa Bay trades Brad Richards and Johan Holmqvist to Dallas for Mike Smith, Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Halpern, and a 4th round pick in 2009.

Unable to foot the bill for their star players' salaries, the Lightning elected to part with Richards, who was in the third year of a 5-year, $39 million contract. Diminishing point totals scared management into action, but you'd think for a former 91-point player they could've gotten a better deal. Smith hasn't posted more than 14 wins a season in his career. Jokinen was later traded for a bag of pucks. Halpern is now in Montreal and that 4th rounder was later sent to Edmonton. Meanwhile, Richards posted yet another 91-point season last year and should the Stars elect to deal him, they'll certainly get a better haul than what Tampa got for him.

July 1, 2008. Edmonton trades Joni Pitkanen for Erik Cole.

The Oilers should've seen this one coming. Cole scored 30 goals in 60 games the year Carolina won the Cup, but dropped to 29 and then 22 before the Oilers snagged him. His tenure in Edmonton lasted just one disappointing 16-goal year before he was shipped back to Carolina, where a slew of neck injuries has really affected his production. Cole's point production the last five years since 2006: 61, 51, 27, 15, 16. Pitkanen, on the other hand, has emerged as one of the league's best unheralded puck-moving defenseman, having notched 46 points last year and with 18 in 29 this year is poised to hit that 40-point mark again.

<img src="http://cache3.asset-cache.net/xc/77804113.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF878921E86F5CE8BE5D78FB39989BC62F51603617BBE599935116B54EB022E0AB10AD13"class="imageFloatRightFramed">July 4, 2008. Tampa Bay trades Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich to San Jose for Matt Carle, Ty Wishart, a 1st round pick in 2009, and a 4th round pick 2010 (James Mullin).

Boyle had just signed a six-year, $40 million extension in late February, but just four months later ownership decided that his contract was not economically feasible and forced him to wave his no-trade clause. While San Jose's playoff woes have been well-documented, Boyle has been one of the best offensive blueliners in the league, posting two consecutive 50+ point seasons and 18 points in 21 playoff games with the Sharks. Carle suited up for just 12 games in Tampa Bay before moving on to Philadelphia, Wishart is still developing in the AHL, and the 1st rounder was packaged to Ottawa for Andrej Meszaros, who had 33 points and -18 rating over 2 seasons in Tampa, despite totals of 39, 35, and 36 in the three previous seasons with Ottawa.

December 14, 2008. Anaheim trades Andy McDonald to St. Louis for Doug Weight, Michal Birner, and a 7th round pick in 2008.

For now, Saku Koivu will do, but before that the Ducks had an awful time trying to find secondary scoring. McDonald and Getzlaf formed a fantastic 1-2 punch down the middle when the Ducks won the Cup in 2007, but figured Doug Weight, six years older, was the better option. The Ducks' 2008 campaign didn't last past the first round and Weight left for Long Island. Birner has since returned to Finland and the Blues eventually re-acquired their 7th rounder in a separate deal and drafted Paul Karpowich. McDonald has 154 points in 199 games (0.77 ppg, vs. Koivu's 0.65 ppg) for the Blues. Getzlaf's current point total is nearly double Koivu's and the Ducks continually rely on their big line of Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan.

February 7, 2009. Carolina trades Wade Brookbank, Josef Melichar, and a 4th round pick in 2009 to Tampa Bay for Jussi Jokinen.

Jussi Jokinen wasn't adjusting well to life in Tampa Bay, with just 16 points in 46 games in his first full season with the Lightning. Arguably the league's best shootout player, Jokinen netted 30 goals for Carolina last year playing alongside Eric Staal, and while he's off to a slow start this year he's still third in team scoring. As for Tampa? Neither Brookbank nor Melichar are in the system, and that pick was later traded to Toronto for Richard Petiot (no longer with Tampa), only to be forfeited by the league due to a dispute over Jonas Frogren's contract. So, really, the Canes got a 30-goal scorer and showed off the Leafs' infinite front office wisdom for free. I'd say that's a pretty good deal.

<img src="http://www.spox.com/de/sport/ussport/0903/Bilder/christian-ehrhoff-san-jose-sharks-nhl-514.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">August 28, 2009. San Jose trades Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich to Vancouver for Daniel Rahimi and Patrick White.

Nonis will be remembered, quite unfairly, as the GM who went off the board and chose Patrick White in the first round in 2007. After Nonis was fired and Mike Gillis stepped in, it was made apparent to him that White, who had scored only 13 goals in 81 game over two seasons at Minnesota, was not in the Canucks' long-term plans. The Sharks were in a cap bind with the acquisition of Dany Heatley and were forced to jettison Ehrhoff, who had hit the 40-point plateau for the first time in his career. Ehrhoff finished his first campaign with Vancouver with 14 goals and +36 with over 22 minutes per game. Rahimi has since returned to Sweden, unlikely to return, and White has just 1 goal so far in his senior year.

September 12, 2009. Ottawa trades Dany Heatley and a 5th round pick (Isaac Macleod) to San Jose for Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek, and a 2nd round pick.

Bryan Murray had his hands tied with this one because Edmonton truly offered a better deal, one that centred around Dustin Penner. Cheechoo was already a shadow of his former self and the 2nd round pick was later flipped to the Islanders for Andy Sutton, now with Anaheim. Michalek, the younger brother of Pittsburgh's Zbynek, is a big, bruising winger, but has just 7 goals in 31 games this year. He's struggling big-time and can't even provide secondary scoring the Sens desperately need. Heatley, on the other hand, was one goal shy of 40 in his first season as a Shark last year.

September 18, 2009. Boston trades Phil Kessel to Toronto for a 1st (Tyler Seguin) and 2nd round pick (Jared Knight) in 2010, and another 1st round pick in 2011.

In defense of Brian Burke, I don't think anyone predicted the Leafs to finish second last. The jury's still out on this one but with another trying season that 1st rounder in 2011 looks to shape up to be a top 15 pick for an already deep Bruins squad. Seguin, despite being a healthy scratch lately, has wowed with his speed and hands, while Kessel continues to labour and is on pace for just 27 goals. Toronto's 75 GF is only higher than New Jersey and the Islanders. The scales in this trade could still in the Leafs' favour, especially if Seguin or the 2011 1st rounder doesn't pan out, but the chances of that happening are quite slim.

January 21, 2010. Calgary trades Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom, and Keith Aulie to Toronto for Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers, and Ian White.

In a trade that features marquee talent, the team getting the most talent always wins, so score this one for Toronto. Stajan and Hagman are the only remaining Flames from that trade and while both have been quietly producing the team scores too few and far between and rank 2nd last in the West. While "Neon Dion" hasn't fared much better in Toronto, he's by far the most talented player out of this group and Keith Aulie, as I've said before, is an absolute keeper. Keep in mind Toronto's one the youngest teams in the league and they're trending up, unlike Calgary.

June 24, 2010. Chicago trades Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, and Akim Aliu to Atlanta for Marty Reasoner, Joey Crabb, Jeremy Morin, New Jersey's 1st round (Kevin Hayes) and 2nd round picks (Justin Holl) in 2010. July 1, 2010. Chicago trades Andrew Ladd to Atlanta for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a 2nd round pick in 2011.

We all know how this happened. As much as Dale Tallon was instrumental in building that Cup-winning squad, he was also terribly inept at handling the cap and didn't file RFA paperwork on time and, as a result, had to overpay to keep his team together. He was fired for his blunder and Stan Bowman was left to clean up his mess, inevitably leading to a mass dump of players to Atlanta, who had just hired Rick Dudley, Tallon/Bowman's assistant in Chicago, as GM. Reasoner was later swapped for Jeff Taffe while Crabb left for Toronto as a UFA when the Hawks still didn't have cap room to keep either. The Thrashers, meanwhile, have a blueliner garnering Norris talks in Byfuglien (33 points in 34 games), named a new captain in Ladd, and have serviceable depth with Sopel and Eager and a decent prospect in Aliu. The Thrashers sit atop the Southeast Division, a place where the Caps had been comfortably sitting for the past 3 years. The Hawks? Currently sitting 8th in the West with 14 losses, third most in the West, and in danger of following in the footsteps of Edmonton and Carolina, both teams who finished in the Finals yet missed the playoffs a year later.

<img src="http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/0c9f0M9dRg3Je/x350.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">November 30, 2010. Washington trades Tomas Fleischmann to Colorado for Scott Hannan.

The Avs were moving in another direction, and as a fast and speedy team the cement feet quota had already been taken up by Adam Foote. The Caps were loaded with talent but still couldn't figure out how to play defense, and with the emergence of centres Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault, Fleischmann was expendable. The trade made sense for both teams but it couldn't turn out any more lopsided. Since moving to Matt Duchene's left wing, "Flash" has re-found his offensive game, putting up 11 points in 9 games and named the NHL's second star of the week. Despite snapping their losing streak against Ottawa, Hannan hasn't provided the defensive presence the Caps were looking for and is a woeful -9 in 9 games.

And there you are, the 20 worst trades since the lockout. There have been some big ones, including the Marian Hossa-Dany Heatley, Jay Bouwmeester, and two more Chris Pronger trades, but in those trades I felt at least both teams have been able to walk away with something substantial. Even the Antoine Vermette trade netted the Sens a decent prospect in Robin Lehner. No trade is fair - there's a reason why some teams continue to struggle while others remain consistently good. I was tempted to touch on the Ilya Kovalchuk trade, but it wasn't the trade that killed the Devils, it was that extension over the summer.

Tracking the picks that have been moved over the years has been a real pain, but here's an interesting tidbit I found. I was originally going to include the Edmonton-Anaheim deal that sent Pronger to the Ducks but I held back because of this little nugget. In exchange for Pronger, the Oilers received Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, Anaheim's 2007 1st rounder, 2008 2nd rounder, and another conditional 1st rounder. The 2007 1st rounder was sent to Phoenix, who selected Nick Ross, and the 2008 2nd rounder was sent to the Islanders, who took Travis Hamonic. The conditional 1st rounder would be awarded on the condition that the Ducks reach the finals. (I vaguely remember an article that said Oilers brass were rooting for the Ducks so they could get that extra first rounder.) Anyway, the Ducks did make the finals in 2007 so their 2008 first rounder, 22nd overall, was given to the Oilers. And who did the Oilers end up picking? Jordan Eberle.

Hope you enjoyed this post.

Happy holidays, folks.

Jason Chen

Hockey players have always stood out from basketball, football, and to a lesser extent, baseball players because they carry themselves on and off the ice with a certain demeanor. Some call it boring or calculated, while others say they're humble and down-to-earth. Some of the greatest leaders the NHL has ever seen, including Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman, and Bobby Orr, were very soft-spoken players who did more with their stick than their mouths. They were professional and knew their place in the league, respected the veterans, and realized that there was a time and place for everything. Having said that, PK Subban and Linus Omark have all recently attracted a lot of negative attention with their swagger.

But, seriously, what's wrong with that?

Subban has always been a very confident player. It was the reason why he made a seamless transition from a four-year career with Belleville to Hamilton, where he won the Presidents' Award in his first professional season for his outstanding accomplishments. After logging a team-high 25 minutes against the Oilers on December 1, in which the Habs blew a 3-1 lead and lost 4-3 in overtime, Jacques Martin decided to make Subban his scapegoat and proceeded to make him a healthy scratch for 3 games, all Habs wins. It was Subban's fault that Sam Gagner so easily sidestepped him en route to a shorthanded beauty and a lackadaisical pass to Mike Cammalleri, who also should've been at fault, that led to the Dustin Penner winner. But which rookie doesn't make mistakes?

<img src="http://flyersorangecrush.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/0subban_0.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Elliotte Friedman used his 'Price Theory' to rationalize Subban's exile, but I think that Price Theory is absolute junk. Price's game fell apart and there were questions about his work ethic. As far as I could tell, the only mistakes Subban made were in that game. Sure, he talks a lot of trash, but so do two very good players on the Canucks. Mike Richards obviously lost a lot of respect for Subban because he ran his mouth too much, but if that's the reason why Subban's sitting then the Habs are doing nothing but hurting Subban's game. What had become a trademark of Subban's game, enormous talent and a mouth to go with it, disappeared when he returned to the ice against Detroit. It was so obvious that Subban was overthinking the game, trying to stay within the boundaries Martin had drawn, that he became ineffective, and it didn't help matters when he was -3 against the Leafs a night later. Let's get one thing straight: Price was benched because he was awful for a long period and to win games the Habs were better off with Jaroslav Halak that year (as a side note, even though he was heavily criticized Price put up better numbers last year than he did the year before, but if you don't win games you get vilified in Montreal). Subban should've been benched and called out for his play in that Oilers game. But to tell this kid that what had made him so successful on the ice is the wrong way to play sends the wrong message. The Habs went 3-0 without Subban in the lineup, but in the process they potentially killed this kid's season and development.

Like Subban, Linus Omark is a confident player whose reputation precedes him, especially after

made him a YouTube sensation. Omark isn't a very well-rounded player, but he's got great hands and give him room around the net and he'll make sure the puck goes in, and after what he did in Sweden you can't fault Tom Renney to pick the rookie as one of his shooters. Well, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnsngTNeGTg, and all he did was do a spin-o-rama at center ice before faking a shot and slipping it into the net. After the game, Martin St. Louis wasn't too happy about it and accused Omark of disrespect and showboating. A lot of hockey pundits agreed, and to them, I say: "What!? Are you crazy!?"

Let me first remind everyone that this is the same guy that pulled off the

in a shootout once that caused as much controversy as Omark's goal. Not only is St. Louis being hypocritical, he's also being a sore loser. Omark did what he did best - he put the puck in the net. As gimmicky as that spin-o-rama at centre ice was, he got the job done, didn't he? That move may have been unnecessary, but I also wouldn't be surprised if that put Dan Ellis off guard. The moment Omark pulled off that move he instantly made himself unpredictable. Ellis probably didn't have a very comprehensive scouting report on Omark and was probably reading deke all the way and that spin-o-rama just sold it. The shootout was meant to entertain fans and Omark did just that. If the Lightning weren't happy about Omark's goal maybe they should've won that game in regulation. If Omark didn't score, this would be a complete non-issue. Stop whining, Marty.

<img src="http://cache2.asset-cache.net/xc/85898170.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF8789215ABF3343C02EA54885FC7A2A8F6E4AD040BA0C0C7507895D4FECAFC04AA11091E30A760B0D811297"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Breaking into the NHL is difficult and most young players have their ups and downs, but often the most successful players are the ones who are confident in their abilities. We don't have to look too far to find better examples. When Daniel and Henrik broke into the league, they were physically unprepared for the rigors of the NHL play and schedule, and after less than stellar rookie seasons I think they were questioning themselves if they had left MoDo too early (yes, they did). It wasn't until it became quite obvious that the days of the West Coast Express were over that they really stepped up their game. I don't think it was a coincidence at all that when Markus Naslund dipped from 32 goals and 79 points to 24 goals and 60 points in 2006, both the Sedins broke out and hit the 70-point plateau. It was then that they realized they could play and the Canucks were counting on them in the future.

Their play wasn't all that different - they could still find each other telepathically and no matter who you put on a line with them, be it Wade Brookbank, Trevor Linden, or Taylor Pyatt, these guys found ways to score. They were confident in their abilities. They weren't the sisters anymore. I must admit, I was quite critical of them, even during the 2005-06 to 2007-08 seasons when they put up three consecutive 70+ point seasons. I thought they were statistically good, but had only led the Canucks to the playoffs once in three years and in their only postseason showing they were average at best. But there was one play in particular, and it wasn't of the highlight reel variety, that told me the Sedins were ready to compete.

The Sedins are often victim of extra shots and after whistle scrums and for the most part they don't retaliate. Players with confidence and swagger don't back down. I'm not saying the Sedins are easily intimidated, because they're not, but they've never been in-your-face players. It's a trait that I like in hockey players and it's all about body language. I've never seen Subban shy away from a puck in the corner, a hit, a risky play, or a bigger player. I don't think there's a shootout move that Omark wouldn't attempt. But on December 27, 2009, the year that saw Henrik capture the Art Ross and the Hart Memorial in June, I knew the Sedins had arrived. How? After being totally abused by Dion Phaneuf alongside the boards, Henrik got up, headed towards the net, corralled the rebound and scored. That's resiliency. But the swagger? Immediately after the goal, Henrik went up to Phaneuf and just nearly made him cry. Watch the http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gx0MYvc-eiY.

So, I ask again. What's so wrong with swagger?

Jason Chen

A Conversation...

The Canucks finished November with a 8-4-1 record, but there was one game everyone had their eye on: Saturday, November 20, a nationally-televised matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks. While Chicago may have lost several pieces to Atlanta and other teams, they were still the team that had eliminated the Canucks two years in a row from postseason play. The Canucks were overcoming two straight losses, a tough 4-3 OTL in Buffalo, extending their winless streak at HSBC Arena to seven-plus years, and a 3-1 loss to the Penguins, which was supposed to be a preview of two potential Cup finalists. The Hawks were coming off a 7-2 loss to Calgary the night before. It certainly was a 'measuring stick' game, a test of resiliency between two very good teams. The result? A 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Chicago, an absolute shellacking in which Roberto Luongo was chased yet again, though at times through no fault of his own. The performance, if you could call it that, raised questions of whether this Canucks squad was truly ready for the same challenges that await them in the playoffs. To answer these questions, my friend Matt Sze (pronounced 'zee'), a fellow blogger who runs SzeSpeak: The Thinking Man's Blog has kindly joined me for this discussion.

JC: The Hawks showed great resiliency by bouncing back from a terrible loss in the second night of a back to back. The Canucks followed up that effort with another loss against a hot Phoenix team. Resiliency is a key component of any good hockey team and in both games the Canucks just didn't seem to have any legs. Attitude reflects leadership, so the age-old question is, was Henrik the right choice as captain? It's no secret that for most North American kids, the ultimate dream is winning the Cup. For many Europeans, it's winning Olympic gold.

MS: There was no other choice. Kesler's too young and plays an emotional game, something that can work against him. I'm not so sure Daniel was a good pick to wear the 'A' but Bieksa was a great choice. He has had a long tenure with the Canucks and provides some much-needed fire from the back end. And in regards to that Cup vs. Olympic gold argument, I don't buy it. All athletes are wired the same way - it doesn't matter what the prize is, athletes play to win. As former NFL coach Herm Edwards said, "you play to win the game." Getting to the pinnacle of any sport requires hard work, so to criticize the Sedins or anybody for lacking the desire to win is unfair.

JC: I'm going to have to disagree, because I still think it makes a difference... Maybe I'm just a traditionalist and perhaps Lidstrom was just an anomaly... But what about Alexandre Daigle? The guy famously said he played hockey purely for the money.

MS: Well, he didn't become a number one overall pick on talent alone, but he made some bad life decisions that eventually led to an unspectacular career.

JC: The Canucks have been eliminated two consecutive years by the Hawks. Because Luongo and the Sedins are the best players, they have taken the brunt of the criticism, and a lot of it isn't unfounded. It seemed as though fortunes would be reversed in last year's playoffs, but the Sedins then vanished for stretches. Can our top players elevate their play?

<img src="http://cache2.asset-cache.net/xc/73882764.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF8789215ABF3343C02EA54831A838CD875A9477EF75E5B296482BCE804B3618D4BA3975"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">MS: I don't think Luongo has ever demonstrated that he could elevate his game, except in that 2007 series against Dallas, his first ever playoff appearance. He may never elevate his game to that level again, but most times it's the other guys, the supporting players, that step up their games. Patrick Kane is a key player for Chicago, but prior to that Finals against Philadelphia it had mostly been Jonathan Toews, and Kane ended up with the series winner. When Pittsburgh won the Cup, it was Max Talbot who scored the game-winner. Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, and Talbot all raised their games.

JC: So what's the difference between those players who can elevate their games and those who can't? Is it emotion? Attitude? I think one of the reasons Henrik was so successful last year was because of his swagger. He had that "yeah, I'm the best player in the league" attitude. When Daniel came back, it seemed to have disappeared.

MS: Right now - emotion, attitude, swagger - Henrik doesn't have it. But in the regular season I don't think there's any need for it. It's going to build up. The only guy that does show some swagger is Bieksa. The Sedins are quiet players. I think Henrik giving Bieksa the 'A' is a challenge for him to get back to his former level. Those 42, 43 point seasons may be an anomaly but he's still an effective player when his head's on straight.

JC: So who's the X factor for the Canucks in the playoffs?

MS: Well, obviously it's Luongo. For me, it's two players: Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen. We know that Raymond's got great speed and can put the puck in the net, but but he hasn't elevated his game in the playoffs yet. (In 22 playoff games he has only 7 points.) The other is Hansen, because he has the feistiness needed to make things happen in the postseason. I remember back in that Dallas series, Stars fans were going, "who is this guy?"

JC: Gillis made an honest attempt to make this team better this offseason. If there's anything I noticed this year, it's that this team is so much faster. Speed kills, but we don't know how that will translate to playoff hockey.

MS: We are faster and bigger, but I don't think we're grittier than we were last year. Torres isn't really an upgrade hitting-wise over Steve Bernier. Malhotra's an upgrade over Wellwood but he's not the sort of guy who'll just lay guys out. We really won't know the playoffs. The playoffs are tighter defensively but the Sedins are good playoff players because they won't necessarily create the room, but they can certainly find the open areas. They make space with their playmaking, not their physicality. They're 30 years old - still relatively young - and are still learning how to play better with each passing playoff series.

JC: Alright, the real questions. Do the Hawks have our number? Vigneault hasn't announced who is starting Friday vs. Chicago, but I think you can't not start Luongo. Starting Schneider is a clear white towel message.

MS: Ohhhh. Not right now, but certainly last year. We've been blown out only once this season. If the Canucks put up a good fight, what else do you want? Maybe the Hawks will be better in the season but come playoff time their lack of depth will hurt. Vancouver was vastly overrated last year. We were the underdogs in that series - the four best teams were Detroit, Chicago, San Jose, then Vancouver. The thing about the West is, any team can beat any team. The level of parity is so high, if you're off your game one night it can result in a disaster. If there is a mental edge, it's what they've done in the past. The Canucks have to continue to ride Luongo but also depends on how he losses the game. The team collapsed as a whole. Losses means the team has to look at itself as a whole, not just the goalie, unless there were some flagrantly bad goals. The Canucks have one of the best sports psychologists on staff. Chicago's lower in the standings. The Canucks should be better.

JC: What about the Wings? We usually play moderately well against them.

MS: No, they don't have our number either. We play the Wings tough, all the time. The Canucks just recently won 6-4 against them. That being said, the Wings are still the best team in the West, and in a 7-game series I'd still take the Wings because their best players can elevate their game. So far, the Canucks' players haven't. Guys like Dan Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom, and Johan Franzen are good in the regular season, but great in the playoffs. Kesler, Burrows, and Raymond weren't so good last year. Let's not let the Sedins off the hook - they should elevate their game too, but I do think they were better than Naslund and Bertuzzi. Depth is key.

JC: If you look at some of the league's best playoff performers - Crosby, Mike Richards, Datsyuk, Zetterberg - these are guys who play in all situations of the game. The Sedins don't kill penalties. Part of the reason is because they don't have to, and also by blocking shots you're risking injury, but the upside is that when your team can't find their rhythm, you can get your best players more involved in the play. If I were to build a team, I'd like to have a franchise player I can play in every situation.

MS: The Sedins not playing PK doesn't hurt them. If they're not on the ice because the team's constantly killing penalties then the team has to be more disciplined. The Canucks aren't built around 2 players, and that gives the Sedins the opportunity to really focus on one thing (scoring). The Sedins are great talents, but the Canucks don't have a standout talent like Ovechkin or Crosby. There is no shining star. The Canucks are built like a football team - you need everyone to perform their specific role for them to succeed. If special teams can't produce then you hope the depth can hold up.

<img src="http://cache1.asset-cache.net/xc/86020661.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF8789215ABF3343C02EA54809ADCC78F7DA45A9E4E03DA6F564D905B4F7DACE93165AFCE30A760B0D811297"class="imageFloatRightFramed">JC: One thing I really noticed that year was the lack of net presence. Chicago had Byfuglien, Ladd, and Eager in Luongo's face the entire time. The Canucks have trouble against the Blues because David Backes is cemented in front of the net.

MS: I agree, and that's my only bone to pick. It certainly adds yet another dimension to our potent attack. We lack that physical element. We're bigger, in fact, we always have been, but I don't think we're grittier than before. Torres can be a perimeter player sometimes too. We are missing a David Backes type. It's demoralizing for teams to have someone in front of the net you can't move. The Canucks defense was torn about by Byfuglien. Edler wasn't strong enough, Bieksa had the strength but not the frame. I think that's why Alberts could surprisingly play a big role on this team when it comes to clearing the crease. Look what Andy Sutton was able to do in Ottawa. He put players flat on their butts all the time.

JC: It almost feels like this team is built for the regular season than the playoffs. If you look at how the Flyers were built last year, them going deep shouldn't be all that surprising. They had great veteran leadership and a great mix of size, talent, and grit. I picked the Flyers to upset that year because I knew they could go far.

MS: I'm gonna play the devil's advocate and say it depends on who they play. Against almost all the teams they're good. The Canucks have trouble with Chicago, and I know that contradicts with what I said previously, but you just don't know how this team will fare against this version of the Hawks in the playoffs. Last year, Quenneville totally outcoached Vigneault. I think, line for line, other than that top line with Zetterberg and Datsyuk, we have the advantage in regards to the other 9 forwards, so I like how we match up against the Wings.

JC: Let's talk Luongo, since he's the biggest X factor. I don't like his contract, and there are people who are already saying Luongo's overpaid, but he's still one of the better goalies in the West. What do you think?

MS: Luongo's play has slipped but I think Kiprusoff's play has slipped more. A quarter of the way through the season, my top 5 West goalies are: Bryzgalov, Hiller, Backstrom, Quick, and Halak. But in the playoffs everything changes. I don't like the Luongo extension either - it's pro-rated, but I think if we could get him just a shade cheaper at around $5 million we might be able to afford to keep Bieksa. He brings an element no other defenseman on our team does and maybe he does need a change of scenery but we need players like him in the playoffs.

JC: Vigneault says the window for this team to win is between now and 1 or 2 years down the road. I tend to agree with him. Canucks in 5 years - how many Cups? 1? 2? None?

MS: I have to disagree with Vigneault. I think the window longer than that. Edler and Raymond are still young. The Moose is well-stocked. Granted, Luc Bourdon's untimely death set this franchise back a little, but it's more like a ten-year plan. Ideally, our top players will be ready to make a significant impact in 5 years. Look at the Red Wings. From 1980 to their Cup win in 1997 (their first in ages), they were eliminated from the playoffs 11 times, and only 4 times did they at least reach the Conference Finals. When you're building a team you're going to fail a lot in the beginning, because that's the feeling you have to know to succeed later on. Vancouver has no tradition of winning and that works against them. Vigneault is no Scotty Bowman, but at least the consistency is there. Would you rather be successful long-term or be a potential one-hit wonder like the Hawks with their cap issues? They still have yet to sign Seabrook and could only afford Marty Turco. Don't get me wrong, Chicago could still end up being competitive but it will be difficult. Maybe it's because I haven't lived through 40 years of disappointment, but we have to be patient. As long as we draft well, we'll stay competitive. It wasn't too long ago people were labelling Hodgson as a bust, but history has shown that the World Jrs. MVP, and it should've been Hodgson, no doubt, go on to have good NHL careers. (Past winners include Eberle, Malkin, Ovechkin, Parise, Cammalleri, and Iginla).

The Canucks and Blackhawks face-off Friday night. We'll have to see what kind of team we really have.

Jason Chen

We're a quarter way through the regular season and like any other NHL season, there's been plenty of surprises, both good and bad. Let's recap.

If you had told me the Flyers would finally unearth a top 15 netminder in Sergei Bobrovsky, they would've been my pick to win the Atlantic. Michael Leighton is skating again but both him and Brian Boucher would find an uphill battle to unseat the Russian netminder with a 12-3-2 record and sixth-ranked .926 SV% for goalies with at least 10 games played. I noted that Claude Giroux was a star in the making but what he's done this far has exceeded my expectations.

So how about that Carey Price!? No longer am I somewhat hesitant to voice my support for the BC native who was picked by the Habs to be their franchise goalie and he couldn't have chosen to break out at a better time. Not having to look over his shoulder for Jaroslav Halak has helped him tremendously, but all he needed was just some time, to mature and soak in everything. And you know when Price turned the corner? When he showed his unwavering support for Halak in the playoffs last year. That type of off-ice maturity bleeds on to the ice. Forget about Marc-Andre Fleury, who's an overrated regular season goalie, Price is the future netminder for Canada. He beats out Cam Ward and Steve Mason for that spot.

<img src="http://www.nhlsnipers.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/277-Stamkos-Game-Photo-3.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Even as unreasonable a Steven Stamkos fan I am, what he's done this year boggles my mind. He's not going to score 82, or 76 to tie Teemu Selanne and Alex Mogilny, but my bet is that he scores 60. He's the best sniper I've seen since Brett Hull (even looks like him too) and even though he prefers that left face-off spot he can score in a variety of ways, unlike one-trick pony Dany Heatley. But everyone should've seen this coming. The World Championships are often overlooked because of the playoffs, but Stamkos really stood out with 7 goals in 9 games in the 2009 tournament. While both Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin are both adept at scoring goals, they're really fun to watch and compare because they're so different. Ovechkin's a bull - he'll do everything at high speed with raw talent, skill, and strength, but he'll also do the same thing 20 times even if he's failed the previous 19 times. Hal Gill really showed us how they could shut down Ovechkin by taking away just one of his moves. Stamkos is a different. He's a much more finesse sniper.

One of the few teams that has really surprised me is Atlanta. I thought the biggest piece Chicago would miss would be Dustin Byfuglien, but it's actually Andrew Ladd that has been the key cog in Blueland. You'd think that losing your most talented player in Ilya Kovalchuk would hurt, and they were better last year with him in the lineup than without, so that Rick Dudley and Craig Ramsay have turned this franchise around in such a hurry is really encouraging news. Dudley, who was with Chicago last year, clearly knew which players he wanted to target. And finally the franchise is putting some confidence in Ondrej Pavelec.

Don't let Boston's eighth rank fool you - they've played less games than everyone else and are currently in a slide, but this team is much better than its record suggests. Nathan Horton, with 8 goals in 22 games, is on pace for 30, the most since 2007. A healthy Milan Lucic gives this team an even more physical dimension and he's proving that he's a legitimate top six winger. Tuukka Rask has only one win (no fault of his own - Boston has scored just 12 in his 7 starts) but Tim Thomas has come back more determined than ever. If you need any proof that a good backup is key, just look at what Boston's been able to do, and to a lesser extent, the Jackets' Mathieu Garon, the Rangers' Martin Biron and Vancouver's own Cory Schneider.

Are we finally seeing the Cam Ward that we saw (quite unfairly, actually) win the 2006 Conn Smythe? Ward's been posting the best numbers in recent memory. His goals against is trending down and his save percentage is trending up. Ward turns 27 in February, the prime of his career but it may be all for naught if the Hurricanes can't find more breakout players like Jeff Skinner. Drayson Bowman, Jamie McBain, and Zach Boychuk, all highly lauded prospects, haven't had the same impact. It's hard to see Ward's numbers get even better than they already are now because Carolina's just not a very good team.

Ryan Miller isn't the best goalie this year and that shouldn't surprise anyone. It's so hard to predict which goalie is going to the best in the league ever year. There was a time when Martin Brodeur dominated every category but he's on the downside of his career so it's wide-open. Case in point. League leaders in SV%: Thomas, Garon, Ondrej Pavelec, Price, and Brent Johnson. Wins: Price, Jimmy Howard, Bobrovsky, Michal Neuvirth, and Thomas. I guarantee you no one had those goalies at the top of their lists in their fantasy draft (except maybe Howard). If Darcy Regier can turn this team around he and Lindy Ruff will stay, but owner Tom Golisano is under some pressure.

<img src="http://images.ctv.ca/archives/CTVNews/img2/20101111/600_maple_leafs_lose_101111_430241.jpg?2"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Florida's been another nice surprise this season. Tomas Vokoun has been spectacular as usual (9-8, 2.44 GAA, .923 SV%) on a team that can't score. Their highest scorer, Michael Frolik, has 13 points and Stephen Weiss still hasn't stepped up his game, which I thought he would with Horton's departure. It's nice to see that the Panthers, like the Canucks with Jeff Tambellini, has given proven AHLer scorer Mike Santorelli, formerly of the Predators organization, a chance to stick with the big club.

I used to hate having to watch the Leafs every Saturday night, but now I quite like it. Despite what people may seem to think about their lack of effort, I really think it's just a lack of talent. Sometimes it's visible, but most other times they're just plain bad plays and bad giveaways. Phil Kessel may be taking lots of flak for not scoring but it's not hard to see that he plays hard every shift and it's not really his fault he gets knocked on his butt every other time. All teams need to do to shut down the Leafs offense is to contain Kessel. The Leafs don't have a centre to dish him the puck or a strong winger to create some room for him. Most nights it looks like he's carrying the offense all by himself because Kris Versteeg clearly isn't comfortable being to a go-to guy after playing second fiddle in Chicago. The Leafs have improved, despite that awful Kessel deal, since Brian Burke came in. End of story.

As long as Kovalchuk is in a Devils uniform, that franchise is going nowhere. It's not so much that he's a bad player, he's really talented, but it's that contract. If that deal costs the Devils Zach Parise, it'd go down as the worst gamble in NHL history. While Lou Lamoriello still has some pieces in the organization, the Devils are certainly trending down. Martin Brodeur isn't what he's used to be and there's no heir apparent. Jeff Frazee isn't ready yet. Even when his team's struggling, Kovalchuk hasn't changed his game to suit the Devils' system. This inability to adapt or change isn't something that's applied to Kovalchuk, but to a lot of Russians. Ovechkin's gotten better at what he does but he hasn't added to his repertoire like Sidney Crosby or Stamkos has. It's also why I'd take Crosby over Ovechkin any day - because I know Crosby will always strive to be a more complete player (and also because he's a centre).

St. Louis will only go as far as Halak takes them. When Halak's head is in the game he's great, but once in awhile he'll just implode and let in 7 goals. With TJ Oshie out for the long-term, there hasn't been anybody who's stepped up their game. Patrik Berglund has responded nicely after clashing with Andy Murray last season but Brad Boyes has just 5 goals, David Backes has 13 points, and Andy McDonald, a good centre but miscast as a number one guy, is the team's leading scorer. The team needs to find the consistency that has to be present to win in the West - the Blues go 3 wins to start November, then allow 29 goals in 5 games, then win 3 straight after that.

If there's any team that will challenge Vancouver for the division title in years to come it's Colorado. Does anyone see a little Joe Sakic in Matt Duchene? That draft couldn't have worked out any better for the Avs and Duchene and in three years they may be the scariest team in the West along with the Kings. They need that franchise goaltender but the pieces are all there - Kevin Shattenkirk, Paul Stastny, Chris Stewart, Ryan O'Reilly, and Duchene.

Five years down the road, should Dean Lombardi not put his team in some sort of cap headlock, the Kings are going to be the team to beat in the West. A franchise player in Anze Kopitar, a future fab four with Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Colten Teubert, and Thomas Hickey, and a franchise goalie in Jon Quick. They've got a good mix of veterans right now and would be a dark horse to win the Cup despite their inexperience. Dallas may have the division lead right now but the Kings will be so far ahead by the end of the season they won't be able to the Stars in the rear view mirror.

Is there any other team that is as misinformed as the Sharks? I feel stupid for picking the Sharks to win the Pacific (albeit barely). The Sharks are a non-Cup contender posing as one. Their defense was porous to start the season and since Marc-Edouard Vlasic can't move the puck to save his life it's now just Dan Boyle, Doug Murray, and four other guys. The Sharks, even with Joe Pavelski, are a one-line team. As much as Todd McLellan wants to mix up the Big Three, he's continued to have to force the trio back together because they can't get anything going without one another. The goaltending is suspect and even though you don't need an elite goalie to win the Cup, you can certainly lose a season with two underperforming goalies. There's just no depth on this team.

<img src="http://therattrick.com/files/2009/08/48154_Flames_Bouwmeester_Hockey.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">I've also never seen a player with a worse brain to talent ratio than Jay Bouwmeester. This guy can skate like a wind but thinks like a brick. Really, sometimes the stuff he does just makes you question your own sanity. He's paid franchise player money when he clearly can't play like one. As long as he is the anchor of the Calgary defense, and he has to because he's paid the most, they will never win a Cup. My guess is that by the end of the year the Flames will dump Darryl Sutter and ironically name Jay Feaster, the former Lightning GM who defeated the Flames in 2004, as GM. I'm guessing Brent gets another year because a lack of good personnel isn't exactly his fault.

I think this is one of the few times i've praised East teams more than West teams and what we're witnessing is a shift in power. it's probably more apparent this year than ever. All the years of the East being inferior to the West is no more. The East has stockpiled so much talent over the years and slowly their patience is being rewarded. All of the league's young stars - Crosby, Malkin, Backstrom, Stamkos, the Staals, Price - are in the East. While the West may have more parity, more and more the good teams are separating themselves from the teams that still haven't adjusted to life in the cap era.

Trophy Tracker:

Hart: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay

Vezina: Tim Thomas, Boston

Calder: Jeff Skinner, Carolina

Art Ross: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh

Norris: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit

Lindsay: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh

Adams: Guy Boucher, Tampa Bay

Selke: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit

Richard: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay

But, wait! Where's Vancouver, you say? Well, they get a blog post all of their own and I think it's going to be a dandy, one that (hopefully) gets some good discussion going. Stay tuned!

Jason Chen

All-Joke Game

<img src="http://www.fan590.com/images/teams/NHL/All-Star-Logo_NHL-2011.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">The NHL just released it's 100-player All-Star Game ballot. And it's an absolute joke. I wonder why the NHL comes up with these lists anyway. It's chock full of players with big salaries but little talent. It's full of players whose best days are clearly behind them. There are so many snubs I don't even know where to begin. No one really cares that the captains get to pick their teams this time and there's little intrigue, other than wondering who the NHL fat kid a.k.a. the last pick will be. As long as the All-Star Game counts for nothing the game will always be a shallow display of the talent the NHL has. As always, I will be abstaining from the voting process and doze off midway through the skills competition.

I'm going to make the NHL's job easier and just hand them the roster right here. Keeping in line with the minimum one representative per team rule, here are my All-Stars... 15 games into the season... in the classic East-West format.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Centres

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes

Derek Roy, Buffalo Sabres

Right Wings

Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs

Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers

Left Wings

Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals

Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils

Andrew Ladd, Atlanta Thrashers

Defense

Mike Green, Washington Capitals

Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta Thrashers

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

Bryan McCabe, Florida Pathers

James Wisniewski, New York Islanders

Goaltenders

Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins

Michal Neuvirth, Washington Capitals

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Centres

Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

Brad Richards, Dallas Stars

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Right Wings

Chris Stewart, Colorado Avalanche

Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks

Dany Heatley, San Jose Sharks

Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets

Left Wings

Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings

Loui Eriksson, Dallas Stars

Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks

Defense

Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings

Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

Shea Weber, Nashville Predators

Ed Jovanovski, Phoenix Coyotes

Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames

Ryan Whitney, Edmonton Oilers

Goaltenders

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues

Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild

The All-Rookie team:

LW Tyler Ennis, Buffalo Sabres

C Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes

RW Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers

D PK Subban, Montreal Canadiens

D Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks

G Michal Neuvirth, Washington Capitals

Apologies to:

Nicklas Backstrom - Sid and Stamkos are locks and Staal and Roy are the only players playing decent hockey on their respective teams.

Lubomir Visnovsky - Blame the minimum representation rule. Had it not been for Giordano and Whitney this guy should be in there. He's single-handedly holding down the blueline in Anaheim

Jarome Iginla - He's on the downside of his career.

Pavel Datsyuk - Not enough spaces and should have a spot but you can't notice that he hasn't been as effective this year. Still early though.

Dan Boyle - See Visnovsky.

Daniel Alfredsson - Blame Kessel and Callahan

Justin Williams - He's been good but averages just 15 minutes a game and isn't the best player on his team.

Jimmy Howard - It's either him or Backstrom and Minnesota lacked a representative

This roster is more about performance rather than talent. The minimum representation rule handcuffed me a little and some deserving players didn't make the cut. Mark Giordano and Ryan Whitney aren't all-stars but they are the best players on their respective teams right now although Giordano hasn't been as good as he was last year. Shea Weber and the Preds flew out of the gates but have been pedestrian since and he's -6 but he's got the pedigree. It's easy to pick Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal, or even Brandon Dubinsky as the Rangers' all-star but Ryan Callahan is their most important player. James Wisniewski leads the Islanders in points, continuing the trend set by Mark Streit, who is incidentally on the ballot. Erik Karlsson is a future stud and has been their best blueliner to date.

See? Quick and painless. Cowabunga.

My picks. Agree? Disagree?

Jason Chen

After a 6-2 trouncing of Ottawa, the Canucks continue their eastern swing and face the struggling Leafs in a prime-time match-up Saturday nigth. A convincing win over Pascal Leclaire and the Sens improved the Canucks' road record to 3-4-1, just one game below .500 but compared to the Canucks' home record of 6-0-1, it's like Jekyll and Hyde all over again. Last year, the Canucks had the league's best home record (30 wins, tied first with Washington) but was among the worst on the road among playoff teams (19 wins, third worst among the 16 playoff-bound teams). The Leafs are struggling offensively, with just 32 goals scored, second worst in the league and only ahead of New Jersey. In an effort to jumpstart the offense the Leafs have called up top prospect Nazem Kadri but a saviour he is not (yet) and it is very, very likely that the Canucks will earn their fourth road victory. Here are some things to keep in mind:

<img src="http://www4.pictures.zimbio.com/gi/Nazem+Kadri+NHL+Rookie+Tournament+Toronto+pnZkhYfgvVml.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">I'm not as optimistic as others when they say that the Leafs are one centre away from being offensively competent. While "Magic Hands" Kadri is indeed a top prospect, the Leafs don't have anyone in their system at any level that will develop into an elite NHL forward. Phil Kessel is a spectacular goalscorer, but he is not a player you build your team around. Kris Versteeg seems to lack the jump he had in Chicago, and I reckon it's because he's not used to being the focus of opposition defenses, given that in Chicago the top pair was always assigned to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but also to Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. It doesn't help either when Versteeg is such a perimeter player. The lack of offensive presence led to Brian Burke calling up Christian Hanson over Kadri in late October and it's hard to fault his logic. The Leafs were getting shots on net but lacked the physical presence up the middle to create space and time for their wingers and Hanson, at 6'4" and 228 lbs., is much bigger than the 6'0", 188 lbs. Kadri. The reason why the Leafs' fourth line of Mike Brown, Colton Orr, and Mike Zigomanis/Hanson is so successful is because they put so much pressure on the opposition defense with their physical forecheck and aren't afraid to go into the dirty areas.

Offense will probably be the most discussed topic for Toronto but lost in the shuffle is Keith Aulie, a prospect received from Calgary (the piece that really tilted the deal in favour of Toronto) in the Dion Phaneuf trade who was called up along with Kadri. If you don't know who Aulie is yet, you should. The WHL is known for producing great defensemen and Aulie spent his entire major junior career with Brandon. Drafted 116th overall in 2007, Aulie didn't turn many heads... that was until he was paired with Tyler Myers for the 2009 World Junior Championships (the year Canada won its fifth straight gold and Cody Hodgson led the tournament in scoring, only to lose the MVP award to John Tavares) and became the tournament's best shut-down pair. At 6'6", the lanky blueliner has a pterodactyl-like wingspan but once he's filled out his frame, along with Luke Schenn they could form the league's best shut-down 1-2 punch.

Even if you include Ryan Kesler's two-goal effort in Ottawa, the Canucks' secondary scoring has been absolutely atrocious on the road. Granted, Kesler's outburst may have finally opened the floodgates but both Mikael Samuelsson and Mason Raymond have yet to score on the road and have only combined for 4 assists and -9, atrocious stats that you won't find unless you look on the last page of the road +/- category. With no Dion Phaneuf, who remains sidelined with a leg injury, look for Alain Vigneault to try and get his second line going. The Sedins, as always, have been consistent both at home and on the road, and with Alex Burrows finally 100% that line will once again rank in the league's top 5.

<img src="http://www.vancouversun.com/sports/3797222.bin?size=620x400"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Vigneault elected to not make any lineup changes following a shutout loss to Montreal in which the entire team played poorly, thereby declaring that it wasn't just one player's fault for their performance. Coming off a convincing win makes lineup changes even harder to justify but since Keith Ballard's exile to the pressbox, giving the Canucks their first $4 million healthy scratch and the first of Ballard's career, Andrew Alberts' play has regressed. He's taken bad penalties at bad times and failed to clear the puck in key situations. Aaron Rome has been unspectacular but much more steady, giving Vigneault at least a dependable third pairing player. But as hard as it is to justify lineup changes after a win, like Sidney Crosby I prefer to give my struggling players the opportunity to play rather than stapling them to the bench or exiling them to the press box. Let's not forget that Ballard has led the Panthers in hits in five consecutive seasons and along with Zbynek Michalek and Mike Weaver, one of the most underrated shot blockers in the game. He's had a rough start to the season but he is still top four material. Despite Alberts' struggles he is, by far, the most improved Canuck this year (thanks to plyometrics) and he has proven that he can be change the momentum of the game, like in the 6-4 win over Detroit when he absolutely wallpapered Pavel Datsyuk. Aaron Rome doesn't have that game-changing ability. For that reason, Rome would be my odd man out. On a team that is as talented and skilled as this I can afford to make the risky play knowing that Roberto Luongo and rest of the team can bail Alberts out if he makes a mistake. I'm not saying Alberts' upside is like Ed Jovanovski's, who similarly made a name for himself by taking risks, but like Mario Bliznak last night it's particularly uplifting for a team when a depth player can make such a significant impact in the game.

Speaking of Bliznak, another former WHL product like Aulie who played with the Giants, if he continues his strong play forget about the search for a fourth line centre (move aside, Peter Schaefer. Thank goodness that ill-conceived experiment has ended). Drafted 205th overall in 2005 by Dave Nonis, Bliznak was virtually unknown, save for the fact that he was playing in the Slovak men's league as a 17-year old and appeared in 19 games but registered zero points. Bliznak moved to the WHL to further develop as a hockey player but was never known to be a prolific goal scorer. However, his work ethic has always been his selling point and even when he graduated from the WHL, Moose GM Craig Heisinger was taken back at how ready this kid was for professional hockey. There's no lack of confidence in the kid by Vigneault either, with Bliznak taking 10 face-offs last night and winning half of them. Since centre ice is arguably the most valuable property on the ice, if Bliznak can develop into a serviceable fourth line centre, the Canucks will be locked in at that position for years to come. Just like how the Leafs hesitated to call up Kadri, Mike Gillis has elected to keep Jordan Schroeder and Cody Hodgson, who leads the Moose in scoring, in the AHL for further development. There's no hurry - both players are entering their first full professional season.

For those wondering when wunderkind Cory Schneider will get his next start, it is most likely in Buffalo against the struggling Sabres, but if Luongo plays well he will start all of the games on the trip. With four teams struggling, especially the Penguins suffering from new-home-rink-itis, the Canucks may go 4-1 on this trip.

Prediction: The Canucks absolutely blister the Leafs on special teams. The Canucks are clicking at 26% on the powerplay and the Leafs can barely kill of 3/4 of their penalties. Kadri makes one nice play but disappears for the rest of the game. Mike Komisarek takes at least one dumb penalty and Tanner Glass scraps with former Canuck Mike Brown. Canucks win, 5-1.