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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)
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.
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
So much for breaking off contract talks until the end of the season. Just two hours ago, the Canucks announced that they have re-signed RFA Ryan Kesler to a six-year contract worth $30 million. Mike Gillis has been awfully busy of late, first calling up Michael Grabner in light of Mikael Samuelsson's injury then signing Jordan Schroeder to an entry level contract after a finishing a disappointing sophomore year with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Schroeder is likely to suit up Sunday for the Moose to make his highly anticipated professional debut after winning gold with the US at this year's World Junior Championships and becoming the US' highest scorer in world junior history along the way. Players coming from the CHL must be at least 20 years of age by December 31 of the season or play four years of junior to be eligible to play in the AHL, but because Schroeder is coming from the NCAA, he can start playing anytime after he turns 18 (he's 19 now, and 20 by September 2010). Cody Hodgson was allowed to play in the Moose's playoff run last year because the Brampton Battalion's season ended early, making him exempt from the rule. Contract numbers have not been released for Schroeder, but my guess is that's around the rookie maximum of $900,000 plus bonuses, which could be roughly $1-2 million, making his salary cap roughly in the $2-3 million range, much like the Kings' recently signed Brayden Schenn. For Kesler, a question of simple math means that his cap hit will be $5 million per year (surely, the NHLPA won't reprimand him this time) and will remain a Canuck until the 2015-16 season, making him and Roberto Luongo the only players signed for that season. This is a fantastic signing by Gillis, locking up the Canucks' most versatile pivot for the next six years at a very reasonable price. With 64 points and counting, Kesler has emerged as one of the league's best centres. What he lacks in offensive output he makes up for in defense and energy as he will be considered for the Selke year-in and year-out along with perennial favourite Pavel Datsyuk ($6.7 million) and Philadelphia's Mike Richards ($5.75 million). The Ohio State product has come a long way in the NHL and has indeed been a great find by the Canucks. Not since Trevor Linden have the Canucks drafted (1st round, 2003) and cultivated a player that has won the hearts of many by playing blue-collar hockey. Kesler didn't enter the organization with as much as pizazz and hype as Linden and took a few years before establishing himself as a two-way player but what an incredible journey that has been. Kesler's point totals (23, 16 in 48 games, 37, and 59) has increased in each of the past season's and when everyone thought he had hit his offensive ceiling last year, he (along with Alex Burrows) proved everyone wrong. With Kesler signed, the Canucks have six other RFAs to deal with (Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, Alex Bolduc, Tanner Glass, Shane O'Brien, Aaron Rome) and that's not including prized goaltender Cory Schneider. Kesler was the big fish that all teams had been keeping an eye on but now he's off the market. I think it's safe to say that Raymond, Hansen, Glass, and possibly Bolduc will be re-signed while the futures for O'Brien, Rome, and Schneider aren't as clear. In light of these recent movements, here's what the Canucks cap structure will look like for next year (numbers courtesy of CapGeek): <img src="http://i64.photobucket.com/albums/h164/jchockey/cap.jpg"class="imageFloatCenterFramed">