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  1. Some musings on the Vancouver Canucks, and what it would mean if the Stanley Cup Playoffs were to start today. Kesler: "Hank, did you really just squeeze that backhander top shelf? Of course you did!" Though they have six games remaining, the Canucks would face their playoff nemesis of the last two seasons, the Chicago BlackhawksThey would still have set a franchise record for most wins in a season, with 50Vancouver would already be guaranteed one trophy, the President's trophy (for best record in the NHL regular season) Christian Ehrhoff sneaks a wrister past a surprised Mathieu Garon in Columbus (photos courtesy of AP Photo) Three defensemen would be shelved because of injury, Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, and Andrew AlbertsBe one road win shy of a franchise record nine straight away from home (can still be accomplished in Nashville today)Would own the best power-play record in the league, 69 goals for, and 25.3 % efficiencyBe tied for best penalty kill with the Pittsburgh Penguins at 86.3 %Daniel Sedin follows in brother Henrik's footsteps, and earns Art Ross trophy (most points during the regular season)Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis tie for second best plus/minus in the leagueRoberto Luongo records third best goals against average and save percentage: 2.18, .927%, has most wins with 35 Jannik Hansen and Matt Calvert work for the puck in the 2nd period in Columbus, Ohio Daniel Sedin notches 40 goals, third most in the leagueRyan Kesler shatters previous best in goals (26 in 08-09) with 36Henrik Sedin crowned leagues best set-up man with 70 assistsWith six games to go, a large number of these stats won't change too drastically. The standings watch won't end until April 10th, but many Canucks fans are eager to see who their first test in the playoffs will be. Juicing up for the playoffs? Stay tuned to The Canuck Way for all the excitement and team developments!
  2. Larenzo

    Feeling Manitoba

    Canuck fans everywhere have begun to appreciate the unexpectedly deep pool of talent in Manitoba. O.K. So they're not all recent Hobey Baker award recipients, nor do they threaten to have their names mentioned in the same breath as Orr, Lidstrom or Bourque. But, you realize the gravity of the situation when you're genuinely concerned for the well-being of Lee Sweatt's foot, or sending Alex Edler "Get Well Soon" cards (no, I didn't mail him one yet). Believe it or not, Chris Tanev actually got the better of Brad Staubitz on this play With Andrew Alberts needing wrist injury, the Canucks have placed him on Long Term Injured Reserve (must be out a minimum of 10 games). The Canucks immediately receive cap relief (based on 1.05 million), while bringing up 20 year old Yann Suave, who is listed 12th on their defensive depth chart. Aaron Rome, 7th on that list, is logging top four minutes. Other depth that recently graduated from Manitoba, Cory Schneider, has enhanced the Canucks depth. Slowly brought along through the organization, Schneider has nothing left to prove at the American Hockey League level. After years of shopping in the Free Agent market for backup goaltenders, Vancouver finally grew one of their own. On pace to play the targeted 20 games this season, Schneider made 28 saves in Minnesota for an important victory. Playing 3 games in 4 nights, it is almost a certainty that 'Schneids' was pencilled in on the schedule. The Canucks recorded 14 shots, only one of those coming in the third period (Kesler's empty netter late). "We had a pretty gritty effort, not the prettiest one," Schneider recalled. The Canucks (37-12-9) now focus their energy on a clash with the Nashville Predators (30-19-8) before returning home for a six game home-stand. Aaron Rome, being pursued here by Martin Havlat, is now playing top four minutes (photo courtesy of AP Photo/ Canadian Press)
  3. 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=""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=""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=""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.
  4. Larenzo

    "Let's Go Streaking"

    Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen Will Ferrell in “Old School”, please reference this blog after viewing. While every season has statistical anomalies, one thing I find rather fascinating about hockey, both fantasy and non, are streaks. Pundits will tell you that any similarities from one season to the next are purely coincidental. With all of the inevitable personnel variances, schedule et al, there will always be streaks to some extent. The X-factor is how long the streak persists, and of course, how many of them there are during any given season (I consider the Playoffs to be a season unto itself, ie “the post-season”). In a sense, streaks are a gauge of how talented the club is; the longer the winning streaks, the higher the indication the team is a true contender. Roberto Luongo takes one off the chest in the against the Maple Leafs, December 18, 2010 The Vancouver Canucks have already rolled through a couple of streaks, and because they are officially on one now, we can observe that X-factor’s essence. In fantasy simulators, better teams hit longer streaks, and are very much contending teams in the playoffs. Just HOW good is this Vancouver Canucks team? Perhaps in a future blog we’ll see what AI (Artificial Intelligence) has to say about the current team this season. But of course, we’re all concerned about the portents these streaks hold for the Canucks’ 2010/11 season. Alex Burrows gets extra attention from ex-Kelowna Rocket Luke Schenn after scoring earlier in the game At the time of publishing, the Vancouver Canucks have played the fewest games in the Western Conference, with thirty. A number of teams not in the current playoff picture have only played one more, including St.Louis, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Minnesota. Those teams are between 3 and 5 points behind the Canucks. Of note, Chicago has played 5 more games, Anaheim 6 more, and a few others that have played 3 extra. Despite a few good streaks, other Western conference rivals have been stringing together streaks of their own. Los Angeles, Columbus and Nashville just came off of 5 (or more) wins in a row. Colorado just made it six in a row and counting. Though officially Vancouver has only won 3 in a row, they’ve won 9 of their last 11. Even though it’s early in the season, I can’t recall a year where only 6 points seperated 1st through 8th. Goals like this one have earned Jannik Hansen more opportunities on the second line (photos courtesy of Getty Images/Yahoo!Sports) Hopefully all of this talk about streaks and relativity hasn’t been too confusing. As for proof that teams that go through lengthy streaks during the regular season also have post-season success, the 2008/09 Stanley Cup champions are a good example. During that mid-season, they hit a long winning streak, accompanied by 5 other hot stretches. They made the Cup finals the year previous. Recently, they finally had their winning streak halted at eleven straight wins. Rest assured, the hockey world views the Pittsburgh Penguins as true contenders to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup. HBO’s in-depth (and slightly controversial), behind the scenes Road to the Winter Classic chose them and the Washington Capitals aptly, secure in this fact. Mike Komisarek: "Alright Tanner. You, me, and IPad Scrabble RIGHT NOW!" It’s true that the Vancouver Canucks could possibly have several more winning streaks this season, and yet still be unable to go deep in the playoffs. Neither am I saying there is any concrete formula between streaks and playoff success. But as John Shorthouse pointed out at the end of the Team 1040 radio broadcast Saturday, it should be encouraging to Canucks followers that they’ve put together these streaks “Without playing their best hockey.” Imagine what they might be capable of if they really hit their stride. Though with a completely different intention than Will Ferrell in “Old School”, Canucks fans are urging the team: “Let’s go streaking!” With files from Getty Images, I'm fantasy hockey nerd Larenzo Jensen for The Canuck Way
  5. 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=""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=""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.