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Found 7 results

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. As the Young Stars Tournament in Penticton gains it's full stride, several mini-dramas continue to unfold within the Vancouver Canucks organization. With another disappointing second round ousting behind them, the Canucks organization has rallied resources to ensure a better outcome. With additions such as Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malholtra and others, expectations for the club have never been higher (which, even by Vancouver standards is quite lofty). Though an unfair measuring tool, several publications, including the Hockey News, have the Canucks pegged to take the Western Conference crown, and others, to win the Holy Grail. Before I add my own diagnostics, let's consider some of the issues behind the scenes. "C" or no, Roberto Luongo is the consummate professional, always leading by example, a welcome presence in any dressing room The hot topic right now is surrounding the meeting on Monday that saw Roberto Luongo stepping aside from the Captaincy. Personally, I like this decision, but mostly because of the limitations it removes from the Canucks. Having your goaltender as captain is a novel idea, if mostly ceremonial in nature. But functionality is always a concern, and not having a captain that can talk to the refs during every event, call, or dispute is a handicap. For the most part, goalies are limited to their crease areas, save for during TV timeouts. They cannot be in and around all of the action, where most of the penalties, infractions and otherwise, occur. For that reason, it's difficult to say "I object" to something that you either a) didn't see or weren't close enough to hold an objective viewpoint. There's a reason Roberto was the first goaltender in over 40 years to hold the distinction: It's not very practical. For all the OTHER reasons, he was a good choice, and at the time, probably the best man available. Ryan Kesler would be a good choice for captain, but perhaps with one or two more seasons under his belt. Currently, Henrik Sedin is the selfless, team-first, lead by example professional that should take the reins. Watch for him to be named as such soon. The Young Stars Tournament in Penticton is quite a hit, with a number of stories being generated even as you read this. The freshly stocked Edmonton Oilers, who won't look much different on opening night than the way they do at this tournament, have their own drama unfolding. Disgruntled Sheldon Souray has been asked not to report to training camp. The Edmonton crew were too much for the Canucks to handle in their opening game on Sunday, which, given the situation, isn't a big surprise. With Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi all accounted for, they're sporting a good chunk of their regular season roster. One has to believe now that this Souray debacle will grow even more unattractive, with all efforts focused on moving Souray and his big cap hit. He's owed $9 M dollars over the next two years, and comes with a $5.4 M dollar cap hit in each... Best case scenario, the Oil find a trading partner with someone else with a large cap hit and a player that just needs "a better situation". Historically, most big-name players that find themselves in Edmonton either have a wife that doesn't like it there, or outgrow the city within a couple of seasons. Worst case scenario, Edmonton doesn't find a suitor, and are stuck this year and next with a useless salary. Unlike Chicago and Cristobal Huet, they can't just ship him off to the KHL (or CAN they?) and avoid the financial headache. "Hey Brandon, what do you do to beat the long Alberta winters?" '"-Meh, not much. Usually just fight..."' (photo by Yardbarker) So far in the tournament, Jordan Schroeder, unfortunately, has been underwhelming. Not to worry, though, as everything that he's done so far indicated a steady, upward incline, and the work ethic is definitely there. Perhaps part of the problem is that many Canuck supporters are starting to panic in the absence of Cody Hodgson from the camp. Schroeder's time is coming, but I truly believe it'll be after another year of conditioning as a pro with Manitoba. He'll more than likely get a cup of coffee with the big club at some point this season, but I'd be uber surprised to see him play more than 12 games this season. Aaron Volpatti might be this camps Sergei Shirokov, scoring two second period goals and adding a scrap during Vancouver's 5-3 win over the San Jose Sharks squad. " (Kellan) Tochkin made a great play, took a hit to make a play and I went in 2-on-1 and saw an opening on the near side and just shot," said Volpatti of his game-winner. Aaron Volpatti warms up for his two-goal 2nd period with a 1st period scrap with San Jose's Joe Loprieno Canucks fans are sure hoping that Cody Hodgson is like the first big-box Christmas present that gets put under the tree. It seems to take forever before you can open it, but it's potential entices you. It seems to make all the other presents appear like consolation prizes. Open it too early, and the surprise is ruined. In Hodgson's case, though, I don't understand why so many are expecting him to show up to camp and play soon. He was misdiagnosed by physicians early, and Canucks doctors finally caught the real problem. Let's allow the lad some time to heal, then see how he plays hockey after that. I don't know what Alain Vigneault was thinking when he downplayed Hodgson's injury early on, saying it was just a "teenager's reaction to a less than stellar performance at training camp" (last season). It would just be Vancouver's luck to have the best prospect in 15 years leave the organization because he doesn't feel appreciated by management or the coaching staff. I'm not saying Vigneault needs to walk on eggshells with him, but he should leave words like that up to the GM to voice. Cody will be fine, great even, he only needs time to heal properly. That Christmas present will be worth the wait. Cody Hodgson during 'better back days' playing in the CHL Top Prospects game (photo courtesy of Yardbarker)
  4. September is always the toughest to swallow when you're a hockey fan because it's the only month where Opening Night feels so close yet so far away as well. At least the NFL has kicked off. But September may very well be the most important month as well because this is really where teams start to take shape. A great camp from a rookie may change the entire depth chart for certain teams like Florida and Atlanta, who are desperately hoping for a gem to emerge from their ranks to being their re-build. Even Cup contenders like Vancouver, are waiting to see if Cody Hodgson or Jordan Schroeder can make the big club and make an impact. Pittsburgh is waiting to see which of Eric Tangradi, Ryan Craig, Dustin Jeffrey, or whoever they may unearth can step into a top six role. To help you bide the time while waiting for the puck to drop, here are some grumblings... <img src="http://tomferda.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/dustin-byfuglien.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Craig Ramsay has announced that he will start Dustin Byfuglien on defense. I guess if you're going to spend the majority of the season treading water and trying to keep pucks out of the night it's more logical to use your biggest player to clear the crease rather than cause havoc in the offensive zone. People think because Byfuglien can play defense he's versatile, but he really isn't. Anyone who watched him play this year knows that he's an atrocious skater and given the emergence of young defensemen with extraordinary skating ability, like Drew Doughty, Erik Johnson, and John Carlson, you'd have to think if this is a good move. Byfuglien won't help with the transition game - instead, he's more like an Andy Sutton-type with better hands. If you look at the players who can play both defense and offense, they're mostly guys who really don't do either very well. Ian White aside, the list includes the likes of Christoph Schubert, Matt Carkner, and Wade Belak - a pretty mediocre group. Given the right environment, like lining up besides two potential Hall of Famers like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Byfuglien will succeed, but not in Atlanta. So long as Ron Wilson is behind the bench at the Air Canada Centre, Tomas Kaberle won't play... according to his father. It was a non-headline at the beginning and I'm going to sound like a broken record, but the Leafs desperately need him on the blueline. I don't think Brian Burke was ever really dangling him but I do believe at least 10 teams have called and if they have a good offer, you listen. He's a great puck-moving defenseman with a very affordable salary, which in the CBA world pretty much counts as a first round pick. Without him the Leafs won't have anyone to spring Phil Kessel on a breakaway. Kaberle is still the Leafs' best player. Jersey numbers have a way of sticking in hockey fans' heads. 99 is synonymous with Wayne Gretzky, 66 with Mario Lemieux, and 4 with Bobby Orr. In Edmonton, 4 evokes memories of Kevin Lowe, the Oilers' great blueliner during their 'City of Champions' years. When I heard that Taylor Hall was going to wear that number, my stomach did a little flip. Lowe's number is not retired by the Oilers so it's fair game, but it's a number that hasn't been used since 1992, Lowe's final season in Edmonton in which he was also captain. I'm obviously making too big of a deal out of it but I wish Hall picked a different number and blazed a path of his own. But then again, it's Lowe's number to give and no one is really going to watch the Oilers this year anyway (which makes them dangerous, actually, like Colorado and Phoenix last year). The Blues weren't very involved during free agency (they didn't have to) but did get an upgrade in goal with Jaroslav Halak. Habs fans still are still swooning over their playoff hero during a recent visit to Montreal. But let's put things into perspective: Ville Leino will not be a force in the regular season, at best a second line player, and Dustin Byfuglien won't score 41 goals in the regular season. Playoff heroics has a funny way of driving up a player's stock and more often than not those players become way overrated. The Blues should be excited because they've finally found a legitimate no. 1 goalie but Habs fans shouldn't forget that Carey Price also managed to post a respectable .912 SV%. If you're expecting Halak to be all-star material I wouldn't bank on it. Count me as a skeptic. Speaking of skepticism, Mike Modano evokes none from me. Wearing the unfamiliar number 90 and even more unfamiliar red and white, Modano has an opportunity to finish his career a winner, at home, no less. The Michigan native signed a one-year contract for one last kick at the can and the stars have lined up for him. Chicago lost quality players and the Wings have Johan Franzen, Jiri Hudler, and Niklas Lidstrom back. The Wings are poised to re-take the Central Division title and a little bit of luck and staying healthy could mean the Wings could be back in the finals for a third time in four years. Modano won't have the pressure of having to score and his defensive game has improved by leaps and bounds the past 5 years. The Wings' puck-possession game suits him well with his deft hands and great skating. One of the more intriguing training camp stories this year (there's always a few - who's going to be our Sergei Shirokov this year?) has been the Stars' invite to Jonathan Cheechoo. Cheechoo's fall from grace has been well documented but if anyone can find your offensive mojo it's Marc Crawford. The Stars can score goals in bunches if they can keep the puck out of their own zone long enough with Brad Richards dishing out passes while James Neal, Jamie Benn, and Loui Eriksson finish them off. My prediction is that Cheechoo does land himself a contract from GM Joe Nieuwendyk but there's no returning to form here. I think it's case-closed that Cheechoo's 56-goal season was a major fluke and more Joe Thornton than him. I also would've rather kept Modano rather than invite Cheechoo. There's been reports (sorry, no link) that Bobby Ryan is close to inking an extension with the Ducks but it'll be on the Ducks' terms, not his. Reportedly the main holdup between the two sides is length, with Ryan wishing to become a UFA as early as possible while the Ducks hope to have him signed beyond that, ensuring that Ryan, Corey Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf won't all bolt at the same time. Thanks for the paranoia, Miami Heat. LeBron James' summer fiasco has changed free agency forever. That's his legacy. Forget about the championships, he's all smoke and dollar signs. <img src="http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery/0810/nhl.rookies.to.watch/images/cody-hodgson.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">If you're banking on either Schroeder or Hodgson to make this squad, the safe bet is Schroeder. It wouldn't hurt for both to return to the AHL for more seasoning and the Canucks have zero need to rush them but at this point Schroeder has at least proven he's capable of producing at the AHL level. The Canucks recently announced that Hodgson won't be attending the rookie tournament in Penticton after doctors couldn't declare him fit to play. Alain Vigneault, never one to shy away from challenging a player's mental toughness publicly, has refused to elaborate but it doesn't take a genius to know that he's not particularly happy with this whole fiasco. But neither is Hodgson - I'm sure he's frustrated too. It's been two years since his misdiagnosed back but it's been disappointment after disappointment, some of them undeserved. He got cut because he wasn't 100%. He lost out the MVP award at the World Juniors to John Tavares even though he was more deserving. Tavares will now have at least 2 NHL seasons under his belt before Hodgson. Underclassman Schroeder is leapfrogging him on the depth charts. However, let's not panic - Hodgson still has a bright future and to give up on him now would be a mistake. Hodgson is once again a big fixture in the training camp news wire and he'll really need to impress if he wants to make it. For now, the odds are stacked against him and it'll be another long test of his character. Oh, and Sidney Crosby hits home runs.
  5. Prior to the Vancouver Canucks Veteran camp in Penticton, the NHL's youngest and most notable up-and-comers will be on display September 12-16, 2010. Jordan Schroeder, Vancouver's first selection (22nd overall) in the 2009 Entry Draft in Montreal The Young Stars tournament will be an 8 game round robin tournament, featuring some blue chip talent from the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers. Dan Ashton, Mayor of Penticton, spoke to the upcoming event. "When we built our events centre, part of our vision was to have the Canucks come and utilize it as a training facility... now to have five NHL teams come to Penticton for five days... this is a tremendous opportunity for us to showcase our facility and community." Vancouver's premier prospect is listed by www.hockeysfuture.com as the third best prospect in the NHL (all photos courtesy of Yardbarker.com) At this time, the details of which prospects will be playing has yet to be announced, but it figures to be an important proving grounds. With the possibility that some of the prospects looking for regular NHL jobs this fall will be involved, there is the potential for several nigh-household names. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Mikael Backlund, Nick Petrecki, Luca Sbisa, Jake Gardiner - all prospects that might be involved in the tournament. Will Taylor Hall, the first overall selection in the 2010 Entry Draft, be on display in Penticton Sept. 12-16 ? From a Canucks fan point of view, the real draw will be witnessing the unfolding storyline between Prior Lake, Minnesotan Jordan Schroeder and Markham, Ontario's Cody Hodgson. The two centers will look to make an early impression on Canucks' brass, meanwhile competing for what should essentially be the 4th line center position with the club. With Manny Malholtra's tenacious, time-proven checking track record, it appears that's the slot available. One has to factor in, though, Hodgson's $1.6 M cap hit into the equation, which might be enough, provided he has a solid camp, to make him the incumbent fourth line center. Calgary's Mikael Backlund is by far and away their best prospect, and should earn a regular roster spot this fall Canucks President and General Manager Mike Gillis commented on the Young Stars tournament that precedes the Veteran camp (which starts Sept. 18). "Penticton has a deep hockey history and we look forward in continuing to celebrate that legacy with our NHL players and prospects this fall." A tournament package, which starts at $66 plus applicable taxes (www.valleyfirstTIX.com), receives a ticket to each of the eight games, and the first 1000 fans to purchase tickets also receive an exclusive pass to the Canucks Veteran's Training Camp, providing reserved seating and priority access to the Veteran's Camp. With Scott Neidermeyer's retirement, Luca Sbisa should be a regular fixture on Anaheim's blueline this season To be frank, though I'm very interested in how things shake down during Veteran's Camp, I'm salivating to see how the neophytes perform during the Young Stars tournament. Of course, I'm wary of another Sergei Shirokov-esque performance: One of the prospects performs very well, has a great pre-season, and then fades shortly after. But make no mistake about it, there are a couple of jobs up for grabs, and with Michael Grabner being shipped to Florida, the door is open. The only remaining question: Who will walk through? San Jose's Nick Petrecki is already a monster defenseman (6'3, 220 lbs); the New York native is only 21 years old With files from Canucks.com, Yardbarker and Hockeys Future, I'm Larenzo Jensen Keep your Canuck cool even during the summer heat - http://thecanuckway.com
  6. On some days when I can't up from bed in time, or even when I do it's hard to be totally aware of things at the moment, I like to read the recap about the Canucks' effort. From I've read, it sounds like Roberto Luongo did his thing and bailed a dis-spirited team in front of him with some big, big saves. It wasn't until the shootout when you could literally win the game by skating as leisurely as you'd like (which is why it'll never fly in the playoffs) did the Canucks pull out with a win with none other than veteran Pavol Demitra. Good thing we have that guy in net, eh? But anyway, this whole week has really been about players outside of the Canucks organization for once, so, here's a look at the rest of the league, which might be as interesting as the Canucks. <img src="http://media.nj.com/devils_main/photo/ilya-kovalchuk-devils-debut-4c5015598550731b_large.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Not really surprising, some say, that in the end it was the New Jersey Devils that ponied up and got the prized Ilya Kovalchuk. So, I guess they weren't surprised when they found out? So why all the hype and speculation before hand? Couldn't they all raise their hands and say "New Jersey" and be done with it? Anyway, a lot of people have ripped Don "The Nicest Guy" Waddell for the package he got, but it really wasn't bad. That pick could be higher but New Jersey didn't have a higher one and it was a first rounder, anyway. In trades like these it's always quantity over quality, so the Thrashers did get two, or three, nice assets. He did try his best to keep Kovalchuk, who had, at times, been quite vocal about staying, and offered him a $102-million contract, which would've made him the highest paid player in the league. A sign of a team having few options is having too trade him to a Conference rival - they don't have the flexibility to ultimately decide where to send him. Dany Heatley stayed with Ottawa, Mark Recchi went to Boston, and Marian Hossa went to Pittsburgh. In the end, I guess it just meant that Kovalchuk's ultimate motive was that he wanted out of Atlanta. There's no other reason why he would turn that contract down. The move brings Kovalchuk to an underrated Devils offense that includes Zach Parise, USA captain Jamie Langenbrunner, savvy vets Brian Rolston and Patrik Elias, big bodied Dainius Zubrus, and the very, very underrated Travis Zajac. The Devils are going to make the playoffs and with Martin Brodeur in net they have a good chance of going far. They may now very well be the favourites in the East. Their defense isn't spectacular on paper but they more than make up for it with Lou Lamoriello and Jacques Lemaire, arguably the best GM-coach tandem in the NHL. I raved about Brian Burke's move for getting Dion Phaneuf and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, but talk about immediate returns. That loss in New Jersey was tough but they did hold the lead for awhile and Giguere's first two starts with the blue and white have both been shutouts. Even if you don't think the Leafs will make the playoffs (and I don't) you have to be pretty amazed how much hope and hype it has created. Not that there isn't anything to excited about, there is with Phaneuf and Phil Kessel, but it's not a bad storyline. Even if they do make the playoffs, it will have to be without Mike Komisarek, who is out for the season. Cody Hodgson is finally back on the ice and has played two games with the OHL's Brampton Battalion and registered three assists. Without either him or Matt Duchene, the Battalion have struggled this year with only 18 wins after recording 47 the year before. It's the first time Hodgson has seen any game action since training camp in September after suffering from a bulging disc that took months of recovery. There was some controversy about the treatment, and Alain Vigneault, who was never one to mince words when it comes to overcoming injuries, didn't exactly have nice words to say. When asked about Vingeault's comments, Hodgson said that he hasn't been in touch with Vingeault since and he's looking forward instead to getting back on the ice. Hodgson says there is the possibility of re-aggravating it or having the pain return but for now he feels good. Canucks management has been equally curt with their answers. It's not exactly sunshine and rainbows when the organization's top prospect doesn't get off on the right foot with the coach, but I don't think there's a whole bunch to be concerned about. <img src="http://www.outcomebuffalo.com/burke.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Last but definitely not least, our condolences to the Burke family for their loss. Brendan Burke, former Canucks GM Brian Burke's youngest son and student at Miami University in Ohio who is also the team manager for the nation's top-ranked hockey team, was involved in a fatal car accident yesterday. Brendan's announcement that he was gay to his family was the subject of an article that appeared in ESPN by acclaimed writer John Buccigross. Brendan Burke was 21. The Leafs posted a big 5-0 win over the surging Ottawa Senators in an emotional affair.
  7. <img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/11/oct2309_demitra_rr.jpg" class="imageFloatLeftFramed">It is interesting that at the beginning of the NHL campaign, the Vancouver Canucks were over the salary cap and over the roster limit and we are halfway through the season and the Canucks have yet to have to really address any of the problems. Coming out of training camp, Tanner Glass and Sergei Shirokov made it, Pavol Demitra was suppose to be back by mid- or late-October, Brad Lukowich had a good camp, Mathieu Schneider was out until late October, and Jannik Hansen broke his finger in a fight with the Edmonton Oilers' Gilbert Brule. The Canucks started off by sending Cody Hodgson back to the Ontario Hockey League's Brampton Battalion, sending Brad Lukowich to the Texas Stars, placed both Mathieu Schneider and Pavol Demitra on long-term injured reserved to free up the required cap space to get the Canucks under the $56.8 million salary cap. By the latest, the Canucks would be forced to make some moves in late October. But what do you know, Daniel Sedin breaks his foot four games into the season and is out until early November, effectively freeing up the necessary cap space for Mathieu Schneider to make his Canucks debut. We learn that Pavol Demitra had suffered a setback in his rehab from offseason shoulder surgery and had to undergo a second procedure, pushing his return date to December. Michael Grabner who was called up to replace the injured Daniel Sedin, injures his ankle warming up playing soccer freeing up the roster space for Jannik Hansen to make his season debut. In December, we learn that Demitra's return has been pushed back to January. But great news, January is almost here and we would have a 100% healthy Canucks lineup and some decisions would have to be made. Who goes on waivers to make room for Demitra? Is it Glass? Hordichuk? Hansen? Rome? Fear not. We learned today that Kevin Bieksa will be out for up to three months which will peg him for a post-season return. This frees up the extra roster space needed for Demitra's return. In the post-season, there is no roster limit and salary cap which would give the Canucks a $60 million team.