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Packed with Pachyderms - APR.02.08

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Nancy Henderson

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<table width=80% align=center border=0><tr><td><img src=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2007/09/henderson_headshot.jpg align=left hspace=4>I have done everything in my power to help the team. I have made a wish at the fountain in front of the Aquarium, worn my lucky leopard-print bra on game days, wrapped myself in my Canucks blanket and surrounded myself and the television with all manner of team paraphernalia. Which makes me just one “arf” short of barking mad, but what’s a loyal fan to do?

Look, for all the howling, the mood swings, the anger and the despair, it’s pretty simple. In terms of depth, this team is a kiddie pool. When they are at full strength, they have just enough going for them to create the illusion of having a chance. But my God, the unending injuries this season! Frankly, where we are now was utterly predictable at the start of the year. During the summer we didn’t improve, we couldn’t fill the holes, despite the fact that last season we hung on by our fingernails, shored up with defensive play that confused the opposition (the Canucks? Playing defence?) and by excellent netminding.

What interests me at the moment is why nobody is talking about the elephant in the room. Or, rather, elephants, because the room is so packed with pachyderms that one can barely breathe.

<img src=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2008/03/mar2508_flames07_t.jpg border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Firstly, Markus is dead, so you can stop kicking him now. If he plays his cards right, in the summer our sexy Swede will sign with an Eastern Conference team where the coach says “stop worrying your pretty little blonde head about backchecking and stop chipping the damn puck out for crying out loud. Here’s a couple of mobile, physical linemates, so just skate, pass, shoot, baby. Leave the defence to the defencemen”. But in his absence, who will lead the Canucks? None of the players touted as the next wearer of the “C” has been particularly outstanding at this most desperate time. We are still a team that has chosen to hitch all its scoring hopes and top-line dreams to the Sedins, who, year after year, seem ever more incapable of becoming reliable game-altering players who can carry that kind of weight. How many triplets do we have to audition before we let it go? At the start of last season, the question was “who will replace the 126 points provided by Bertuzzi and Carter?” The answer, sadly, was “no one”. Now who will replace Naslund’s tallies? The crop of free agents doesn’t look that promising and all of them will surely be costly. I really hope not, but there is every chance that dismissing the captain will actually make things worse.

<img src=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2007/09/rookiecamp11_09062007_t.jpg border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Secondly, I know Coach V won the Jack Adams trophy last year, but, all along he has worried me. He seems to have an inexplicable passion for players who are willing to drop the gloves two seconds into a game, but bring little else to the table, and in fact, end up looking like pylons on too many occasions. What we really need are SKILLED physical players who can skate, occasionally score and deliver terrifying, bone-crunching legal hits as a matter of course. Players, like, say, Milan Lucic, who seems like the model for the new NHL tough guy. But it is Vigneault’s systems that are my biggest concern. Our forwards are constantly pinned behind their own net or the opposition net. Our transition game is non-existent when we start so far back in our own end. We play far too much of our game against the boards where we will continue to get injuries of epic proportions. We need to incorporate more confident passing play in the neutral zone and less dump-and-chase, especially as we have a multi-million dollar goalie who ought to be able to stop shooters without the entire Canucks team having to stand in front of him. Also, when four of your top six forwards go for more than 10 games without scoring, well, that sounds like a coaching problem to me.

<img src=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2008/01/JAN1908_Kings-Canucks06_t.jpg border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Which brings us, finally, to Roberto. Having anointed Bobby Lou the “greatest goalie on the planet”, the sports scribes have been reluctant to criticize him. But with so much on the line lately, Number One has not been able to make it so. He, like the rest of the team, has not been able to raise his game. Last season he was a new entity in this Conference. Now the other teams have the book on him, and they seem to be adjusting nicely – they shoot high, where he is weakest, and they redirect shots off the defencemen crowded around him. Subsequently, they have been quite successful at getting him to give up three or more goals in a game. He is absolutely a competitor, so I expect him to take the necessary step up.

I’m not sure how many of the Canucks problems can be fixed in the off season. Still, we are all Canucks and we are all nuts, at least I am, because, whether we stagger into the post season or not, I remain ever hopeful.

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