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  1. 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)
  2. This week's inaugural playoff edition of Number Crunching explores the statistical oddities from the first week of action in the NHL post-season and looks into the wacky tacky officiating from the first two games of the Canucks/Kings series that leads us to wonder out loud if in fact the NHL really does have a bias against the Canucks. FLYING SAUCERS? OR JUST ZEBRAS ON THE SAUCE? <img src= class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Now, we're not saying there's some sort of conspiracy theory going on with the officiating in the Canucks/Kings first round series...oh wait, actually that's precisely what we're saying and we've got the numbers to back it up. Through the first two games of every 2010 playoff series (with the exception of the Nashville/Chicago series that had played just one game as of this writing on Sunday morning), the Canucks lead the League when it comes to penalty minutes with 31 in two games - an average of 16.5 per game. That's three more penalty minutes per game higher than the next highest penalized teams in the NHL playoffs - the Buffalo Sabres and the Boston Bruins who are tied for second place with an average of 13.0 penalty minutes per game. The Kings, meanwhile, have the second lowest average penalty minutes per game at just 9.0 - one minute on average more than the San Jose Sharks who bring up the rear after two games played with 8.0 penalty minutes per game. The Canucks/Kings series, through two games played, also has the highest differential in average penalty minute accessed to the two teams. Below is a breakdown of the penalty minute discrepancy in each series (minus the NSH/CHI series) after the first two games: MTL (9.5) vs WSH (9.5) = 0.0 BOS (13.0) vs BUF (13.0) = 0.0 DET (9.0) vs PHX (10.0) = 1.0 OTT (11.5) vs PIT (9.5) = 2.0 COL (11.0) vs SJS (8.0) = 3.0 PHI (10.0) vs NJD (13.0) = 3.0 LAK (9.0) vs VAN (16.5) = 7.5 *Bracketed numbers indicate respective team's average penalty minute per game through two games played Gary and Colin, Canucks Nation awaits your rebuttal. OH CANADA <img src= class="imageFloatRightFramed">With the Senators, Canadiens and Canucks all winning their opening playoff games this season, it marked the first time since the 1998 playoffs that every Canadian team in the post-season all won their opening playoff games. That year all three Canadian entrants - the Senators, Canadiens, and Oilers - entered the post-season as heavy underdogs (the Senators were an eighth seed in the East while the Canadiens and Oilers were seventh seeds in their respective conferences) but all managed to pull off Game 1 upsets in a manor resembling how this year's playoffs began for the Canadian teams. All three of those respective 1998 opening games involving Canadian teams were decided by one goal (just like this year) and two of the three contests were decided by overtime (also just like this year). The Senators knocked off the Devils 2-1 in overtime, the Canadiens knocked off the Penguins 3-2 in overtime, and the Oilers took a 3-2 regulation victory over the Avalanche. And how's this for an omen? That year, all three Canadian teams managed to win their series and advance to the second round. In fact, 1998 is the last time that all Canadian entrants in the playoffs managed to advance to Round 2. Unfortunately, all three would meet their demise by the second round that post-season. OPENING NIGHT OVERTIME CURSE? <img src= class="imageFloatLeftFramed">For the superstitious types, you may want to ignore this entry. Thursday marked the 13th time in Canucks team history that they have opened a playoff series with an overtime game. Historically, the Canucks haven't fared well in playoff series that have opened with a game requiring extra time. Win or lose in that first game, Vancouver's all-time record in series where Game 1 has gone to overtime is just 3-9. The numbers aren't much better even if the Canucks open the series with an overtime victory in Game 1 although it is slightly less troubling than what the aforementioned overall mark is. The Canucks are 2-4 in series when they win Game 1 in overtime. The last time the Canucks opened a series with an overtime game was back in 2007 with that memorable quadruple overtime game against the Dallas Stars. The Canucks prevailed 5-4 that night thanks to a 72-save effort by Roberto Luongo who was making his NHL playoff debut. The Canucks would go on to win the series four games to three. NUMBER CRUNCHING PLAYOFF PERFORMER OF THE WEEK <img src= class="imageFloatRightFramed">Mikael Samuelsson: Three goals in two games played. The Canucks brought in Mikael Samuelsson to be a key performer come playoff time and he certainly has lived up to that billing in the first two games of the series. Samuelsson scored twice on opening night, including the overtime winner in Game 1, and added his third goal of these young playoffs in Game 2 in a losing effort. Samuelsson's three goals is already more than halfway to his entire goal output from the 2009 playoffs when he recorded five goals in 23 games in the Red Wings Stanley Cup run that ended with a Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh Penguins in the Finals. Samuelsson is also halfway to establishing a new personal points record in a single series. His previous high was six points (0-6-6) set during the 2007 Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks. Statistics and other information appearing in this blog are for entertainment purposes only and a sense of humour is recommended when reading. E-mail the author here or follow him on Twitter.
  3. Lots of talk being made about Edmonton radio personality Dan Tencer's postgame comments following the Oilers loss to the Canucks Wednesday night. Tencer, in what he described as his frustration taking over due to what was a poorly officiated game that saw some weak calls made against the Oilers (something which I did note and comment on in my postscript), commented that the Canucks have been mediocre and that their fanbase is cocky. Going the predictable route of an Oilers fan who is trying to win an argument involving his team, he was quick to make mention of the Canucks lack of championships and that he doesn't understand why the Canucks have a sense of entitlement. Let me start off by saying fair enough to Tencer. As much as I hate admitting it, he is right that the Canucks have been a very mediocre franchise for pretty much their inception. Looking back at things, there have been some very dark days for the Canucks faithful. That doesn't mean the team is doomed to forever be a bad club, though, and it's an insinuation that bothered me when Tencer pitched his on-air fit. You'll notice that I've been using a lot of past tense there. Sorry. It tends to happen when talking about Edmonton, a team that desperately wants to go back to the halcyon days of the 1980s, given how brutal things are these days. Now, nothing against the Oilers, those teams from the 80s are a thing of legend and Oilers fans have every right to be proud of their team and their history. That said, you have to wonder how long any past capital they've built up is good for and if there comes a time where you have to stop dwelling on the past and dealing with the present. To clarify, I'm talking about both the Canucks and the Oilers here, teams that appear to be going in very different directions right now. I honestly can't think of a better time where everything related to the Canucks has been looking so good: they have one of the best goalies in the league locked up long term, a solid forward core with the Sedins, Kesler and Burrows, along with some bright spots in the system in the likes of players like Cody Hodgson, Jordan Schroeder, Kevin Connauton and Anton Rodin. After hitting a bit of a rough patch in the 90s and a somewhat messy ownership battle this decade, the Canucks have become one of the NHL's leading teams, being ranked fifth in revenue, behind only the Leafs, Rangers, Canadiens and Red Wings, all Original Six clubs, all teams located in the population-dense East and all considered to be financial juggernauts of the NHL. That the Canucks are right up there in terms of generating revenue means that they have some weight to throw behind their words now, something which they really haven't had the luxury of doing before now. The Oilers, in comparison, have been on a long, painful decline since selling Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings, a move that they were essentially forced to make. Like all Canadian teams, they were in serious financial troubles in the 90s, almost being relocated to Houston in 1998 (sidenote: where was Gary Bettman to protect the Oilers then?), and have only remedied things recently with passionate (and rich) owner Daryl Katz. Prior to Katz's arrival, the Oilers had trouble retaining talent (see: Gretzky, but also Coffey, Guerin, Weight, Arnott, etc.) With Katz, though, things are looking good as the Oilers have financial stability and should be able to retain young talent such as Jordan Eberle and Magnus Svensson-Paarjavi, both players who have bright futures ahead of them. Lowe himself represents my point about how the past can only mean (and do) so much. The Oilers, I would argue, have suffered with their focus on the past by rewarding past players with jobs within the organization and no one better exemplified that than Lowe, whose tenure included being the Dallas Stars' whipping boy in the 90s and a laughingstock in the 00s. He was quick to complain (note the use of that word) about how hard done the Oilers were as a small market team (they are currently the league's smallest market.) You'll notice that the Nashville Predators, also a small market team and operate under a self-imposed cap of $45 million or so, are routinely making the playoffs and seem to be doing fine. There was also Lowe's publicized feud with Brian Burke as well the complaints he made regarding Michael Nylander not signing with the club, to name a few of his mishaps while GM of the Oilers. It's strange that Tencer, in his blog post, would quote a Damien Cox article making fun of the Canucks voicing their concerns when the Oilers organization have been known to do the same. Regardless, Lowe's tenure as GM was fraught with many lowlights, excuses and complaints and saw him getting replaced by former Canucks executive Steve Tambellini. Additionally, Oiler alumni Craig MacTavish, seen by fans as being another inept hire and a move that rewarded faithful alumni, was given his walking papers and former Canucks coach Pat Quinn came aboard to try and make sense of the Oilers. Sadly, Nylander is only one of many players who have had a problem in staying with Edmonton, as apparently the allure of playing for a team that won a bunch twenty years ago doesn't have the same charm to outsiders as it does to residents of Edmonton. In addition to Nylander's snub, there was also Chris Pronger demanding a trade for unspecified reasons and the efforts from this past summer which saw the Oilers beg and plead for Dany Heatley to accept a trade to Edmonton, a trade which he ultimately blocked and has seen him get booed when the San Jose Sharks come to play in the Oilers barn. This has become so problematic, that the Oilers ended up having to make a DVD and then send it out to the agents of NHL players in an attempt to try and woo some players to come and sign with them. Ouch. And Tencer has the nerve to say Canucks fans are self-entitled? There's a saying about people in glass houses that fits here. Additionally, the Oilers struggled in the post-season from 1992, where they lost to Chicago in the Conference finals, all the way to 2006, where they went on their Cinderella Cup Run before ultimately losing to the Carolina Hurricanes. In between, the Oilers went long stretches without making the playoffs and are set to make it a fourth consecutive year if things continue to be ugly here. As the years go by, the 80s are becoming ever more distant and you could ask where exactly do Oilers fans get off telling anyone how they should feel about their club, given that they haven't been relevant for the better part of 2 decades. Yes, you can dwell on the past. Reward players from the 'glory days' while making excuses, while laughing at team who are making a conscious effort to improve and put their bad days behind them. Point to the Canucks failures, mock them for taking the steps to become one of the league's leading franchises. Complain about the diving while having a good on-air cry. Maybe eat a carton of rocky road and schedule a Sex In The City marathon, if it'll make you feel better. Then you can sit back and remember when Kim Mitchell and Honeymoon Suite were seen as the best in rock and where mullets were seen outside of Edmonton's city limits. When Gretzky was on the team and things were looking oh so good. After all, things aren't looking that great now, so why not look back fondly on what was? Me? I'd rather focus on the present, which sees the Canucks as a team on the verge of becoming a great franchise (they just need to take things to the next level) while the Oilers are on the verge of slipping completely into irrelevance (their bright future and potential lottery pick notwithstanding.) If that makes me cocky, to be happy for my team and enjoying their success, then all I have to say is that I'm glad I wasn't an Oilers fan back in the 80s, as I figure I'd be downright insufferable. But, okay. Let's take a look back at the glory days of the Oilers. Here's a favorite clip of mine: Those were the days.
  4. It's been said that time is the great equalizer, and if you wound the Vancouver Canucks' and Edmonton Oilers' clocks back 25 years, the adage appears true. This scene will most likely not repeat itself in Edmonton for many seasons The year was 1985, and it was a cold, snowy January day in Quesnel, British Columbia. My mother, Marilyn, was busy preparing dinner in the kitchen as I watched the Vancouver Canucks host the Edmonton Oilers. I still remember the anxiety I felt watching the game, as my favorite team started to lose, and lose badly, to an amazing Oilers club. Hope flickered late in the first period, as the Canucks scored to make it 3-1. But Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri proved too formidable for the slumping "Flying V's" (in reference to the black, orange and yellow giant V designed jerseys). The game reached the 8-2 mark early in the third period, and as much as I loved the Canucks, I could watch no more. The Oilers would finish the season 49-20-11-0 under Glen Sather, and went on to capture the Stanley Cup (pictured). Wayne Gretzky would score 73 goals, and add 135 assists en route to a 208 point season. The Canucks will again face a backup calibre goaltender with starter Nikolai Khabibulin lost to the Oil for back surgery (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) Flash forward now to present day, where the Oilers cast include names akin to Doug Halward, Michel Petit, Garth Butcher and Rick Lanz. Decent players that played with heart, but not overloaded with skill. The correlation would be that Patrik Sundstrom (Canucks leading scorer that year, 25 goals, 43 assists for 68 pts) or Ales Hemsky for the Oilers, the teams' star player, was lost to injury. Vancouver (25-46-9-0) had an eerily similar year to the one the Pat Quinn led Oilers are having now (currently 16-27-5). The Canucks leading scorer in 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers leading scorer in 2008-09, Ales Hemsky Back in 1985, no-one could have consoled me with the news that years later, the Canucks would again make it to the Stanley Cup finals. Only a couple of seasons removed from their improbable run to the finals with the powerhouse New York Islanders, I was devastated by their spiraling play. Still, Ms. Mok (my grade 3 teacher) would have to remind me to pay attention to Social Studies lessons instead of drawing pictures of Richard Brodeur and Tony Tanti on my notebook. But I still remember the disappointment of perpetually being canon fodder for the Edmonton Oilers. For inasmuch as Richard Brodeur was 'King' during my youth, Roberto Luongo remains the most popular Vancouver Canucks goaltender (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Naturally, only so many comparisons can be drawn between the Oilers of yesteryear and the present day Canucks. Vancouver has many, many miles to go in order to illuminate the landscape of hockey in Western Canada the way Edmonton has. But with Henrik Sedin sitting on top of the NHL world right now, his brother and Alex Burrows riding shotgun, and an accumulating talent pool, the future has some sparkle to it. There may no longer be only 21 teams vying for the Stanley Cup, as opposed to 30, but we musn't forget that even Wayne Gretzky and Oilers needed several years to find their groove. Jari Kurri and Wayne Gretzky always had chemistry, but needed time for that to mature into real, tangible results. If the Canucks are to have legitimate playoff success, the Sedins must take that next step as well. Roberto Luongo will be counted on to be Grant Fuhr-esque. Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, Willie Mitchell and Sami Salo will be depended upon to emulate Mark Messier, Mike Krushlynski and Paul Coffey. The pieces are in place, and the Canucks' system seems poised to be successful for years to come. For all of the tough years that Vancouver fans have witnessed, it seems inevitable that the shoe will finally be on the other foot. The Canucks' drama continues to unfold at Larenzo Jensen, with files from TSN and Getty Images
  5. For those in the Canucks Community who are prowling around the Fan Zone blogs on this Friday evening, here's a sneak peek at the scouting report against the Oilers. Don't forget to read the entire Tale of the Tape preview on Saturday. After a solid start to the season, Pat Quinn's crew has run into some pretty hard times over the last month. Heading into their last meeting with the Canucks back on October 25th, the Oilers had a record of 6-3-1, sat third in the Northwest Division, and had a three point lead over the Canucks after the same number of games played. Since then, including their 2-0 loss to the Canucks on October 25th, the Oilers have just four wins in 16 games (4-9-3) and find themselves sitting two points back of the Canucks despite having played two more games in the meantime. While no team will use injuries as an excuse for poor play, the Oilers might have a legitimate reason to want to curse the hockey gods. No fewer than 18 different players have missed games due to injuries this season for the Oilers, who lead the NHL in man-games lost. The crowded sickbay in Edmonton received yet another body yesterday after it was announced that Ales Hemsky, the Oilers' second leading point scorer on the season, will be requiring shoulder surgery and likely out the rest of the season. Goal scoring has been one of the stronger points for the Oilers so far this season and they have certainly gotten a lot of offensive contribution up and down their lineup with 17 different players having scored for Edmonton this season. What they'll be looking for, however, is some more consistent performances from some of their young superstars. With Hemsky out of the lineup, the Oilers have just one active player with more than 20 points this season (Dustin Penner with 28 points). As far as forwards go, Gilbert Brule and Sam Gagner are the next leading active point producers with 15 points each in 23 and 25 games played, respectively. Another bright spot for the Oilers is that their back-end, thankfully if you're an Oilers fan, is as healthy as it has been in the past two seasons with Denis Grebeshkov being the lone top-six blue-liner currently out with injury. They are still missing starting netminder Nikolai Khabibulin and his absence has clearly been felt with the Oilers having given up three-or-more goals in four of their last five games coinciding with the time that Khabibulin has been out of the lineup. Back-up goaltender Jeff Deslauriers has at least shown he is capable of picking up some points in the standings for Edmonton. He has started the last five straight games and has posted a 2-2-1 record so far in his stint as number one goalie (3-3-2 overall). The Canucks certainly remember Deslauriers being at his best back on October 25th when he made 27 saves on 29 shots in a losing effort for the Oilers. Deslauriers has actually posted better numbers than Khabibulin so far in the young season. He comes into tonight's contest with a 2.58 GAA and a .914 save percentage. He also owns Edmonton's lone shutout of the season. For the complete Tale of the Tape preview, click here. (updated on the morning of each game)