I woke up this morning to a Twitter time-line full of interesting tidbits from the Canucks end of year locker room clear out and press conference with GM Mike Gillis. As I toiled through 10 tweets of each and every comment given by a player and Gillis I rapidly lost the early morning awake-but-still-kind-of-asleep feeling. My cloudy head was blown clear by provocative, read between the lines style comments flying at me from just about everyone. By the time the #Canucks hashtag relented I was very much awake and very much equal parts intrigued and angered by what I read.
There were the not so unusual comments:
“We just weren’t good enough” – Ryan Kesler
“I need to be more consistent” – Alex Edler
“I really believe in this core group” – Alex Burrows
“What’s happened over the last two years suggests that maybe it’s not my time to be the starter here anymore” – Roberto Luongo
That last one hurts. I’m sorry Lu, I’ll miss you.
As well as those there were these gems:
“I tweaked my groin in the Chicago game and I couldn’t get it better in time” – Cory Schneider
What what WHAT? The Canucks lose the first two games in the series against San Jose and it wasn’t because of bad goaltending on the part of Luongo. The obvious choice is to allow Schneider more time to recover, to practice, to shake off the rust. Instead, Alain Vigneault starts an ice-cold, INJURED Schneider in game 3 who proceeds to let in 3 goals in less than 3 minutes in the 3rd period. BAM the Canucks are down 3-0 and looking entirely down and out. This could be the final nail in Alain Vigneault’s coffin. A ridiculous move.
“We need to get different” – Mike Gillis
“It’s quite clear the league is going in a direction we need to recognise and adapt to” – Mike Gillis
We’ve heard this one before, maybe not quite so bluntly though. In the past Gillis has bemoaned the changing game, how the NHL is moving from a speed and skill league to a grit and defense league. It first came up after the Stanley Cup Final loss to Boston, then again last year as the Canucks were knocked out in the 1st round by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings. The Canucks are a team that was built to be fast, skillful and attacking. Playing to these strengths the Canucks dominated the 2011 regular season, winning the Presidents’ Trophy and leading the NHL in goals for and against and in special teams. The core of the team has remained the same, and therein lies Mike Gillis’ ultimate failure.
He has seen the tide turning in the NHL. He has seen big, defense first teams like Boston, LA and St Louis steam rolling oppositions and grinding out win after win over the past couple of seasons. He wants his team to compete with that and we’ve seen the Canucks transform from an attack first, regular goal scoring machine to a defense first, can’t score to save themselves style team. Did Gillis instruct Alain Vigneault to make the systematic change? Did AV push for it? Was it a mutual decision? We don’t know. All we do know is that it did happen. The Canucks dropped from 1st in goals for in 2010-2011 to 5th in 2011-2012 to 19th this season as they adjusted to their defense first system.
The problem is the Canucks have tried to play the same style of system as LA, St Louis and Boston but they’ve been trying to do it with a roster that was designed for an aggressive, attack first system. This is the key to the Canucks failure and it’s why I place the blame for the Canucks consecutive 1st round losses squarely on Mike Gillis’ shoulders. He failed to adjust his roster to suit his shifting philosophies. One wonders what the result would have been if Gillis was able to land Shane Doan, or shift Luongo for other big 2-way forwards.
“We’re not going to amend my principles because we lost a four-game series” – Mike Gillis
Ah, you did last year – after a 5 game series – and you’re talking like you’re going to right now.
The Canucks are chasing their tales here. In 2011 their potent power play received comparatively very few opportunities during the Stanley Cup Final. Their biggest tool, the one they relied on most to win games, was nullified. They adjust for that. They prepare to win games without their power play. Then this year the NHL changes their referring standards again. Even the smallest infractions are getting called during the playoffs. Their neglected power play can’t convert. They lose. The Canucks can not continue to chase the NHL refereeing standards in this way. The NHL can change the way they run the game overnight. You can’t change an NHL team’s systems like that.
This is where it becomes frustrating watching teams like the Sharks, Penguins and Blackhawks continue to be successful. They haven’t strayed from their attack first, goal scoring orientated systems over the years. They’ve stayed the course and added to their rosters according to their belief in what their style of hockey should be. Gillis preaches this but the proof his organisation doesn’t practice it is in the Canucks performance over the past two years.
“We’re going to hit the re-set button on a number of fronts” – Mike Gillis
This comment will leave coaching staff and players shaking in their boots. Today, Burrows was openly wondering when the no-trade clause in his new contract kicks in. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I don’t believe Alain Vigneault should take all the blame for the Canucks failures. It appears he might though.
Today the Canucks announced the re-signing of forward Mason Raymond. After the team elected to take him to “cut-back” arbitration to try and pay him less this season the Canucks and Raymond came to agreement on a 1 year, $2.275 million contract. That’s a pay-cut of around $300,000.
Despite that cut I personally don’t like the re-signing, but I do understand why the Canucks have done it. You don’t let a 27 year old top 6 forward go for nothing, even if he has been disappointing for 2 years straight. You retain him and you hope you can either help turn his career around or you turn him into other assets via trade. So kudos to Gillis, you haven’t let a guy go for nothing (take THAT David Poile).
The other news to break today was that Shane Doan, perennial Phoenix Coyote, is fielding offers from other teams AND the Vancouver Canucks are reportedly on his shortlist of his preferred teams to play for. Doan is just the guy the Canucks need – top 6 power forward, natural scorer, plays right on the edge (and over it at times) and a natural leader. He would be dreamy on Kesler’s wing in a way that David Booth hasn’t been and he would hold the spot in the top 6 that has in recent times belonged to Mason Raymond.
The Canucks have a few things in their favour when it comes to signing Doan:
- Doan and Canucks Assistant GM Laurence Gilman have known each other since the old Winnipeg Jets days
- Reportedly the Canucks have been after Doan in recent times, looking to trade for the big guy. Doan knows he is wanted there
- Doan’s wife is from Kamloops BC, he is a part owner of the Kamloops Blazers (my WHL team of choice) and he still spends parts of summers there
- The Canucks have cap space when you factor in the impending Luongo trade
- The Canucks will be in a position to truly fight for the Stanley Cup, something Doan hasn’t had much of an opportunity to do in the desert
So let’s say the Canucks sign Doan. Where does that leave Mason Raymond? No room in the top 6 for him anymore. The 3rd line is locked up, unless they play him at centre, which is scary and…. scary (but a possibility given Kesler’s current injury status). He’s proven himself to be a useless 4th liner.
This is why Mason Raymond is “Plan B” for the Canucks. They want Doan, but they know that he’s going to get bigger offers than what they can offer and if Doan decides to finish his career on a dollar high the Canucks will miss out. But don’t worry, we still have Mason Raymond at a reasonable cap hit to slot in to the top 6.
If the Canucks land Doan there will be a lot of happy fans and I think the fans will get even happier because with Doan in the top 6 there’s no room left for Mason Raymond. He will more than likely be traded to some
sucker other team that would be very happy to have his speed and falling abilities on their side.
John Shorthouse, John Garrett, Dan Murphy
There’s always something with Shorty and John “I’m a burger” Garrett. Tonight Garett joked about everyone being tired after the deadline when the Canucks lineup was being questioned before the puck drop. Shorty and Garrett managed to get themselves lost wandering the streets of Phoenix. Garrett dropped a comical “Where’s the golf course?” and Shorty complained about getting sunburnt in the desert. Then there was Garrett’s exitement at Shane Doan’s appearance on Mantracker. Garrett was so excited, Shorty sounded like he didn’t care.
My favourite call of the game was by John Shorthouse: “Mason Raymond…. falls down”
Now Onto The Game:
Chris Lee, Ian Walsh
I must admit I didn’t watch this game too closely but even with just one eye on the TV screen I saw a number of non-calls. How about Raffi Torres barging Sami Salo into Schneider after a whistle? Or those two times Canucks players were held without a call (Ryan Kesler and Henrik Sedin in attacking positions). Overall, fairly average.
Final SO Canucks 1 Coyotes 2
Alexander Edler PPG
Whitney 2 (Shootout winner)
Are there actually hockey fans in Phoenix? As is usual in warmer climates there were a tonne of Canucks fans in the arena, but this time it seemed like they completely outnumbered Coyotes fans.
I enjoyed the arena DJ playing Breaking The Law by Judas Priest when Bieksa was sent to the penalty box.
Aaron Rome seemed really happy about something. He just kept on smiling, constantly. Perhaps he was happy to still be in Vancouver?
It was really nice to watch Schneider play and not have a single thought about him being traded before the end of the season. Us Canucks fans are lucky to have him. For now.
The first penalty of the game came when Kevin Bieksa high sticked Martin Hanzal. Seriously, Hanzal is huge, how Bieksa got his stick up there is beyond me.
This was the first game for new Canucks Samuel Pahlsson and Zack Kassian and I thought they both looked pretty good. Kassian started on the 4th line with Manny Malhotra and Maxim Lapierre but ended up playing shifts with the Sedins and Kesler and Raymond. He only just missed out on his first goal as a Canuck but was stopped by a great save from Mike Smith. Kassian was strong on the puck all night.
Samuel Pahlsson had a great wrap around attempt in the first that led to a great fight in front of the net. Unfortunately, like he did the whole game, Mike Smith held strong to keep the puck out.
The Canucks PP looked dangerous all night but could only convert on one attempt from four when an Alexander Edler shot deflected off 2 Coyotes players and into the net. Mike Smith had no chance on that one.
Schneider was strong all night and it was a pleasure to watch. He got embarrassed in the shootout but at some point every goalie does in the stupid shootout.
Mason Raymond was the usual Mason Raymond – speedy but ineffective overall. His spin-o-rama move in the shoot out should have worked but Mike Smith stuck his left leg out and stopped him dead. Awesome save by Smith but Raymond… ahh Raymond. I hope they don’t re-sign him. Unless he scores 10 goals on the way to the Stanley Cup winner in June.
The game in Phoenix was the last of the road trip for the Canucks. It was a fairly successful road trip, the Canucks scored 8 out of 12 available points on the trip.