I woke up this morning to the news that John Tortorella had been relieved of his coaching duties with the New York Rangers. Before reading anything else I knew there would be talk of “Torts” coaching in Vancouver and sure enough as I rolled through my Twitter time line there was a heap of Tortorella in Vancouver discussion. Jeff Marek suggested on Marek vs Wyshynski that he’d be a good fit for the Canucks. I will have to respectfully disagree with Mr Marek on this one.
What if John Tortorella was hired as Head Coach of your Vancouver Canucks? I think we could expect something like this….
- Within 1 week Torts refuses to answer questions from Tony Gallagher. Gallagher speaks up in a press conference and Torts just stops talking and stares into space.
- Within 2 weeks Torts gives 1 word answers to Jason Botchford. Botch: “What is the nature of Kesler’s injury?” Torts: “Muffin”.
- By game 20 the Sedins are playing on the 4th line and not getting power play time, despite the fact the Canucks are scoring at 0.4 goals per game
- By game 20 Tom Sestito is on the first line
- By game 10 Hamhuis, Bieksa, Garrison and Edler all have broken shins
- By game 5 Cory Schneider is dressed exclusively by Armani and plays in a Springsteen covers band
Seriously though, John Tortorella in Vancouver would just be a mess.
The Canucks roster just isn’t built to play the style of hockey that Tortorella uses. I could see Kesler, Burrows, Hansen, Bieksa and Hamhuis working on a Tortorella team but beyond that… If Gillis hires Tortorella he may as well trade the Sedins and Edler immediately.
Tortorella in Vancouver? No thank you.
@forevercanuck posted an interesting tweet earlier today:
It’s not the crush part of the tweet that interested me, although I did find that mildly amusing, especially considering my Dad is Alain Vigneault’s doppelgänger both in looks and personality. It was the second part:
But when you play Schneider over Luongo, you lose…your job
The Schneider/Luongo problem was one of the biggest for the Canucks during Alain Vigneault’s tenure as Head Coach. I’ve said before that it would define Mike Gillis’ time as GM but should it actually define Alain Vigneault’s time as head coach?
Jeff Marek has said a few times recently on the Marek vs Wyshynski podcast “show me a good goalie and I’ll show you a good coach”. Or is it the other way around? Anyway, the premise of the saying is that good goaltending makes the coaching look great.
Roberto Luongo has been a great goalie right through his career, including every season he has spent in Vancouver. Alain Vigneault has been considered a good coach (and still is). Still, that decision to start Cory Schneider in game 3 of the 2012 Western Conference Quarter Finals against LA is an interesting one. Firstly because despite getting 2 losses to start the series, Roberto Luongo was not bad in those games. Secondly, it was pretty much the last straw for Luongo in Vancouver. After Schneider started the remainder of the series and the Canucks were still beaten, Luongo admitted he felt his time was up with the Canucks and he said he’d welcome a trade. Queue over 12 months of the worst kind of distraction, not just for the players involved (Luongo and Schneider), but for the whole team. The goaltending situation has spread a dirty, black cloud over everything the Canucks have done off and on the ice ever since. I don’t care what anyone says, it can not have been easy to play in the NHL with all that speculation and negative attention focused on the team. It surely had an effect on how the Canucks performed throughout the past season.
Imagine for a moment that Luongo had remained the starter, the Canucks stayed the course with him and decided to trade Schneider instead. Schneider would have pulled a massive return before last year’s draft. Could it have made the difference to the team’s performance this year? We’ll never know.
Now the reality is Vigneault is gone, Luongo is still there but unlikely to be for much longer and the Canucks are embarking on a new era still without Lord Stanley’s mug. Would this still be the case if Alain Vigneault had trusted in Luongo and the Canucks had traded Schneider? I think it’s unlikely.
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.
The Vancouver Canucks are down 3-0 in the best of 7 series against the San Jose Sharks. After game 1 I felt the series was being played to a familiar tune and that tune has continued to haunt us much like Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah being covered over and over and over and over and over and over again for all eternity.
I will not dwell on what has happened. To quote that classic Bertuzzi refrain “it is what it is”. It is unlikely that the Canucks will come back from this deficit given that the Sharks are playing extremely well and there appears to be about as many good vibes in the Vancouver room as you’d find in Afghanistan right now. I also won’t give much thought to game 4. Thanks to injuries the Canucks have limited options when it comes to shaking the roster up. Vigneault isn’t about to change his game plan or systems. Whatever happens, happens, and could ultimately be nebulous.
Amidst all the “end of an era in Vancouver” talk instead I will go down the “start of a new era” road. The Canucks will be eliminated in the 1st round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Ok. Changes will occur in the Canucks organisation because of that. Ok. Fine.
But what should those changes be? The focus is on coach Alain Vigneault but there’s also assistant coaches, vice presidents, directors, assistant general managers and the general manager himself, Mike Gillis. Then there are the players. There are lots of options to shake things up and to kick off the new era of Vancouver Canucks hockey.
Alain Vigneault is the obvious “escape goat” but some questions must be raised about his assistants as well. The Canucks D has appeared unorganised for much of the season and the pairings have chopped and changed with the winds. Assistant Coach Rick Bowness runs the D and for mine he’s run it into the ground. Assistant Coach Newell Brown runs special teams and appears to have used up his bag of tricks because the Canucks finished this regular season with the 22nd ranked powerplay in the NHL. A PP that for much of the year inexplicably failed to use it’s biggest weapon from the point – Jason Garrison.
Whatever the assistants get up to has to go by the Head Coach and this is why Alain Vigneault is in trouble. Ultimately the coaching buck stops with him. Still, he can only work with the tools given to him. This is where the General Manager comes in.
The General Manager
I can see Mike Gillis falling on his sword this off season. It’s easy to fling dung on Vigneault but if you drop the cowpat and take a proper look at what has happened over the past few years with the Canucks it becomes a little more obvious that the dung should be hitting the fan in Mike Gillis’ office.
Going back to the end of the 2011 season where the Canucks were outscored and out-muscled in the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins, these are the highlights of GM MG’s transactions:
- Failed to re-sign Christian Ehrhoff, traded his rights for a 4th round pick. FAIL. Edler and the Sedins haven’t quite been the same since Ehrhoff left. Gillis has yet to find a suitable replacement to play the right side with Edler and for me this is a crucial weakness for the Canucks.
- Released Raffi Torres. FAIL. Since leaving the Canucks Torres has gained further infamy with his Jay-Z halloween costume and terrible hit on Marian Hossa, but his on ice value was obvious in Phoenix and now he’s playing extremely well for the San Jose Sharks.
- The Cody Hodgson situation. In hindsight it’s hard to look at this and think it was handled well by the Canucks. For me, the short term result of the trade is FAIL. Hodgson finished 2nd in scoring for the Buffalo Sabres this year and would have looked quite nice on the 2nd line for the Canucks while Kesler decided to keep hurting himself. Having him in the lineup would have negated the need to trade for Derek Roy (in itself a fail). Long term is another thing as Zach Kassian could still become a great player. But the Canucks are trying to win the Stanley Cup now. Kassian isn’t helping now. Hodgson could have. Arguments could be made that Hodgson’s lack of defensive instinct would never fit in the Canucks system but if a world class coach like Alain Vigneault isn’t able to adjust his lines, his game plan, to best utilise the team’s star 1st round pick and potential future captain, then there’s bigger problems.
- The David Booth trade. FAIL. This was a bet that Mike Gillis lost. In theory it was a great acquisition but the reality is that Booth was not a proven, regular, goal scorer and his inconsistency has continued in Vancouver.
- Signed Jason Garrison. FAIL. Oooo controversy. The Canucks desperately needed a right side specialist to play alongside Alex Edler. They still do because instead of getting one Gillis invested $4.6mill in cap space to Jason Garrison, who as good, not great, as good as he is, is not a right side specialist. For me it came down to having to get that right side guy to play with Edler (ala Ehrhoff), or they had to trade Edler. Instead they have Garrison forever plus Edler forever and no one to play alongside him.
- Which brings me to the bag full of no-trade and no-movement clauses Gillis has happily thrown into player contracts. Luongo, the Sedins, Kesler, Burrows, Higgins, Bieksa, Hamhuis, Garrison, Edler. All have a clause preventing them from being traded and/or waived. That’s over $45 million against next season’s $64.3 million cap committed to 10 players on a 23 player roster. If you’re lucky enough to get a player to agree to a trade then their big contract becomes a road block to said trade (Luongo’d).
- The Luongo situation. The less said about that the better, but still FAIL.
- There’s also a plethora of other little moves Gillis has executed over the years that haven’t quite worked out. The Volpatti waive, releasing Rick Rypien, extending Mason Raymond, the Sturm signing, the Pahlsson trade, the Malhotra situation (questionable), letting Sami Salo go, burning a year of Frank Corrado’s entry level deal…
Things don’t look so rosy for Michael D. Gillis. He’s made a tonne of moves and had some success (not complaining about those Presidents’ Trophies) but if you focus on the moves that have hindered this team you discover there are a lot of them. The GM should be a victim of some finger pointing.
No matter what the coaches and GM do it ultimately comes down to how the players execute on the ice. The Canucks have not been executing. Goals have dried up. Soft goals have been let in. Defense has let everyone down. There will be changes to the roster before next season, not just because of performance but also because of the salary cap squeeze that will affect the Canucks more than most teams.
For me the following current roster players are untouchable:
- Daniel Sedin
- Henrik Sedin
- Alex Burrows
- Jannik Hansen
- Dan Hamhuis
- Kevin Bieksa
- Alex Edler
- Cory Schneider
I would also not be trading Nicklas Jensen or Brendan Gaunce.
Beyond these guys I would be willing and happy to trade every single other player on the roster. Yes, that includes Ryan Kesler. I’m not a Kesler fan. As good as he can be he’s also fickle. His chirping and diving are an embarrassment and have acted as motivation for the opposition rather than for his own team (just ask the Blackhawks and the Bruins, who I would bet said something along the lines of “we are NOT losing to THESE GUYS. Anyone but THESE GUYS” at some point during the playoffs). Also, he would draw a massive return in any trade. Trade Kesler.
Ultimately whatever happens this off season it will be a different Vancouver Canucks team taking to the ice at the beginning of the next NHL season.
If it was up to me, I’d retain Alain Vigneault, I’d jettison his assistants, I’d jettison Mike Gillis and I’d give AV and the core mentioned above a new group of guys to play with. Trust in some rookies. Look to get some heart, soul and guts back into the team. It’s time for an identity change.
The 1st round didn’t start quite as planned for the Canucks as the Sharks beat them 3-1 in game 1 at Rogers Arena. Antti Niemi made 29 saves on 30 shots, Logan Couture and Dan Boyle each had a goal and an assist and the Canucks didn’t play particularly well at all. The lone Canucks goal was credited to Kevin Bieksa but in reality it was an own goal on the part of former Canuck Raffi Torres.
It’s only 1 game in a best of 7 series so it’s not panic stations yet for the Canucks. Or is it? A familiar storyline appears to be continuing with a brand new chapter starting the same old same old in this San Jose series. Let’s take out our imaginary flux capacitors (in itself an imaginary tool…hmm) and travel back in time a few years to that momentous, heart breaking, god awful Stanley Cup Final against the big bad Boston Bruins.
After dispatching the Blackhawks, Predators and Sharks the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup Final to Boston in 7 games. It’s a loss that the ignorant blame on Roberto Luongo however to win games you’ve got to score goals and the Canucks only managed to put the puck in the Boston net 8 times in 7 games. They had 246 shots on goal in those 7 games. 8 goals on 246 shots is a 3.2% shooting percentage.
That from a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy, led the regular season in goals for and had 2 players score 41 goals AND had Daniel Sedin with the Art Ross Trophy. Something went very awry.
The Canucks won their 2nd straight Presidents’ Trophy with 51 regular season wins, many of which came against their hapless Northwest Division opponents. They drew the under-performing Los Angeles Kings in the 1st round.
The Kings defeated the Canucks in 5 games. Once again the goaltending drew the headlines but the fact is the Canucks only managed to score 8 times in 5 games. They had 172 shots on goal in those 5 games. 8 goals on 172 shots is a 4.6% shooting percentage.
The flux capacitor has now returned us back to the future. We’re 1 game into the 1st round. Last night the Canucks scored 1 goal on 30 shots on goal. That’s a 3.3% shooting percentage. The lone goal was dirty as a squashed piece of used chewing gum.
This is part of a stretch going back into the regular season where the Canucks have only scored 10 goals in the last 6 games. If that continues there is no way the Canucks will win this series.
Yesterday the Vancouver Canucks travelled to Edmonton to take on the young “superstar” Oilers. I followed along on the NHL.com Ice Tracker. This is what I imagined happened…
(If you need some background on this insanity, see here)
00:36 VAN SHOT #23 A. Edler slap shot saved by #40 D. Dubnyk
00:38 VAN SHOT #33 H. Sedin wrist shot saved by #40 D. Dubnyk
Edler fires a low slapper through a crowd in front. Dubnyk manages to kick a leg out for the pad save but the puck deflects straight onto Henrik’s stick. He has an open net, he knows he should shoot but his natural reaction is “PASS”. Daniel screams “SHOOT”, Henrik snaps out of his revery and obliges with a weak wrister, but by then Dubnyk has slid over for the save. Twitter ignites with “The Sedins have lost it” and “the window is closed” talk.
18:38 EDM GOAL #A. Hemsky (3) Backhand, Assists: #64 N. Yakupov (2), #89 S. Gagner (7)
On the power play the Oilers move the puck around the perimeter like lightning but can’t find a decent shot. Hemsky is fed up and skates to the net, says “Anything you can do Eberle I can do better” and roofs a backhand over Luongo’s shoulder. He gets an upper body injury during the celebration.
03:10 VAN SHOT #5 J. Garrison slap shot saved by #40 D. Dubnyk
Garrison slaps one from the point on the power play. Dubnyk skates 2 metres to the left of the net to make the pointless save.
08:08 EDM GOAL #94 R. Smyth (1) Deflection, Assists: #57 A. Lander (1)
Smyth sits on Luongo’s head to get the deflection from Lander’s shot. Smyth cries.
09:33 EDM HIT #4 T. Hall hit #8 C. Tanev
Tanev collects the puck in his own zone. As the puck touches his stick everything slows down bullet-time Matrix style. Tanev smokes a spliff, eats a piece of fried chicken and sips a beer, then makes a calm, sensible pass up on the ice. Time returns to normal, with Taylor Hall bearing down on the very relaxed (and full) Tanev. Hall staples Tanev to the boards and falls over. Tanev skates back to the bench in a trail of smoke.
12:41 VAN GOAL #36 J. Hansen (1) Snap Shot, Assists: #45 J. Schroeder (2), #20 C. Higgins (3)
Hard work from Higgins, skill and vision from Schroeder, Honey Badger don’t care attitude from Hansen. Higgins forechecks hard, gets the puck to Schroeder who executes a delicious tape to tape pass across the slot to Hansen, who delays a split second and snaps it high glove side.
02:45 VAN TAKEAWAY #20 C. Higgins
Higgins sees Tanev snacking on takeaway chicken again and politely advises that he’ll have to be more careful with his takeaway choices if he ever wants to get abs to rival his own.
10:15 EDM SHOT #19 J. Schultz wrist shot saved by #1 R. Luongo
Justin “Second Coming” Schultz gets the puck. A light from heaven descends upon him like a spot light, angels sing from upon high and he fires a wrist shot straight into Lu’s chest. Lu’s eyes light up red and he laughs manically while making the \m/ sign with this blocker hand and sticking his tongue out. The angels recede and the spotlight fades. Schultz is bewildered “oh Father, how could you forsake me?”
17:43 VAN GOAL #3 K. Bieksa (1) slap shot, Assists: #21 M. Raymond (1), #36 J. Hansen (4)
Hansen collects the puck in his own zone and passes to Raymond. Raymond fires down the near side boards like a bat out of hell, skates around the boards, behind the net, out the other side, passes to Bieksa and falls down. Bieksa DRIIIIIVE. Despite having a clear view of the shot Dubnyk misses it under his blocker arm. Oiler fans insist Dubnyk is an elite level goaltender.
02:47 EDM SHOT #4 T. Hall snap shot saved by #1 R. Luongo
Daniel Sedin takes a lazy hooking penalty on a Hall breakaway. No one is surprised. Hall draws the penalty shot. Luongo starts shaking. Hall starts grinning. Hall skates in with speed to take his shot. Luongo has no clue what Hall will do. Every single Canucks fan assumes the game is over. But no, Hall has a brain fart. All thought is expelled from his mind. Instinct takes over and he fires a snap shot straight at Lu’s body. Lu makes the save, immediately starts thinking of what to tweet about the whole experience.
04:40 VAN GOAL #8 C. Tanev (1) snap shot, Assists #33 H. Sedin (6), #22 D. Sedin (5)
Daniel passes to Henrik who has a clear shot at net but he doesn’t shoot, no, he passes, as is his wont, and the puck comes to Christopher Tanev. The moment is his, now or never, Tanev knows he must unleash the fury. He shoots. The puck flutters like a beautiful butterfly towards net. Dubnyk is completely confused by the speed (or lack thereof) of the puck. The puck dips in the air at the last second, falling below Dubnyk’s glove, bouncing slowly but surely over the line. The puck stops before it hits the back of the net. Vancouver explodes in spontaneous celebration. 50,751 babies are conceived in the next 15 minutes. Tanev is drowned in champagne and resuscitated by Dan Hamhuis.
This is what actually happened:
- How can I start this post any other way than with Zack Kassian? He scored another goal – his 2nd in as many games, he was ferocious on the forecheck and he scored the shoot out winner. He’s showing the potential Mike Gillis and Alain Vigneault have been talking about since the Hodgson trade was first made. I think Bertuzzi when I see him. Let’s hope he keeps up the intensity and develops some consistency. No streakiness please.
- Mason Raymond scored a beauty on the PP with a laser of a wrist shot. Wish he shot like that all the time. If he produced a shot like that for every time he fell over he’d have 1000 career goals by now. Maybe not 1000. More like 200.
- I thought Schneider was back on form this game. He made some very strong pad saves, was sound positionally and won the shoot out. He even produced some puck handling moments of panic, which is totally Schneids.
- Chris Tanev was awarded the 3rd star in this game by being completely… un-noticeable. He’s solid defensively and oh so patient with the puck. When he gets the puck in his own zone it’s like bullet time for Tanev. If only he had some kind of shot.
- It was Jordan Schroeder’s NHL debut and he did not look out of place. In 14:49 of ice time he got his first minor penalty and not much else. Still, he threw a couple of hits, took a couple, planted himself in front of the net and looked sound defensively. He even played strongly along the boards. He should stick for a while, I hope he sticks for a while, but I’d like him to be a little more cocky with the puck and test his playmaking skills rather than sticking his tiny body in front of the net. Jeff Paterson said it best when he tweeted: “Hate to say it, but Schroeder does resemble a smurf in #Canucks blue”.
- Burrows scored in the shoot out with his signature forehand backhand move. He should never try anything else.
- With the shoot out win the Canucks now sit 9th in the West, equal with 8th placed Columbus and with a -4 goal differential. 45 games to go.
I’m Australian. I grew up in a country where out of 7.6 million square kilometres only 6000 square kilometres receives regular snow in the winter and only a few small alpine lakes freeze over for only days at a time. You can understand why hockey (or, ice hockey as it’s known over here, to avoid confusion with the more popular field hockey) isn’t a mainstream sport.
I always knew of its existence. I grew up through the Gretzky era. He was big enough news in the 80’s and early 90’s that news of his greatness reached us here. I watched highlights from the Winter Olympics every four years. I had an uncle that played roller hockey in the 80’s and he had no teeth left, but that’s about as close as I got to the great game.
That was until I travelled to British Columbia to spend a winter in 2003-2004. I’m a keen skier and back then I was working winters in Australian ski resorts (yes, we have a few ski hills – hills being the operative word) and I saved all my pennies so that I could head to Canada to experience a real winter in real mountains.
I flew in to Vancouver just before Canadian Thanksgiving – a thing that I had no idea existed until I got there. My plan was to spend a few days in Vancouver then travel to the interior to door knock for jobs at the major ski resorts. Whistler was tempting, but I was still young and angsty and I didn’t want to conform to the JAFA (Just Another Fucking Aussie) stereotype.
I checked into a cheap hotel in Beatty St, just across from BC Place. I had a little cash behind me so I wasn’t keen to experience the fun of the backpackers on Granville St. Until I got there I didn’t realise BC Place was a stadium (who calls a stadium a ‘Place’? It’s a fucking stadium) and I certainly didn’t realise that GM Place (as it was still known then) was where the great game of “Ice Hockey” was played at the highest level.
My first day in Vancouver was bright and sunny and I spent the whole day walking from one end of downtown to the other, right around Stanley Park and back. I was in love with Vancouver. What a city. I took a million photos over the harbour to the mountains, which were already capped with snow. I got harassed by a bum at Canada Place who tried to sell me a Mickey Mouse watch. It was awesome. Little did I realise that days like that are not the norm and my next two days in the city it poured with rain. I spent time in the Central Library and found every single second hand bookshop I could and bought something from every one. I hung out at the hotel and watched baseball (yeah, I got kinda bored). When it was time to jump on the Greyhound to head for Vernon I was ready to move on.
I quickly realised Vernon is a bit of a hole. It reminded me of my home town back in Australia so I got the hell out of there as soon as I could.
Next stop Kamloops. I scored myself a job at Sun Peaks on the first day. Kamloops didn’t impress me much either but Sun Peaks was beautiful and they were keen to hire me so I had found my home. My job didn’t start until mid-November so I settled into the Old Courthouse Backpackers in downtown Kamloops for a few weeks of fun before moving up the mountain for winter. There were a couple of other Aussies and a couple of guys from England waiting for the winter there as well and I quickly had new friends.
A couple of days after I arrived I got myself a new room mate. A crazy looking old guy checked in to the backpackers. He was the kind of guy who talked to himself and would yell a greeting every time he saw you. He had a wild look in his eyes. We all decided it was best to avoid him.
It was about this time that my obsession with hockey began. The staff at the backpackers were uber friendly and they invited me along with them and their friends to a Kamloops Blazers game. We met at the Central Station Pub for pitchers and wings where the guys tried to explain the rules of hockey to me and the girls tried to get me to talk more because they loved my horrid Australian accent.
After maybe one too many pitchers we made our way to the rink (I think it was called Sport Mart Place back then? Once again “PLACE” WTF) and took seats in the lower bowl, around the blue line on the Blazers end in the 1st. The Blazers were playing the Kelowna Rockets, who had a strong team that season (they went on to win the Memorial Cup with Shea Weber and Josh Gorges on the blue line) and the local rivalry with the Blazers was intense. Within two minutes of the puck dropping I was hooked. I had no fucking idea what was happening apart from the fact that these teams hated each other. It was fast, frantic and violent and I was in love. Looking at the results online now it must have been the October 25th game that the Rockets won 1-0. These days I’d say it wasn’t the kind of game that would attract new fans to the sport but I hadn’t experienced anything like live hockey.
After that I was intent on seeing every game of hockey I could. I went to the Blazers games a few more times but I always made sure I saw every game on TV. Given that I was in BC it was the Canucks that were always on. I would sit in the TV room at the backpackers, almost always on my own, watching the West Coast Express tear it up for the Canucks. I was slowly learning about the game but it wasn’t until I made friends with the crazy old guy that I really learned.
I can’t for the life of me remember Crazy Old Guy’s name and that makes me a little sad. He turned out to be one of the best, most interesting people I have ever met. One night I was sitting down watching the Canucks, by myself again, and he came in, shouted a greeting, and sat down next to me. He proceeded to explain how he was a life long Canucks fan and that his favourite player was Todd Bertuzzi (this was before that incident, I’d love to have heard Crazy Old Guy’s opinion on that).
Crazy Old Guy was from Fort St. John, BC. He was part First Nations and earned his living as an animal trapper. Each winter he would head into the wilds of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon with his little Jack Russell dog to setup a vast network of traps that he would maintain for months at at time. He caught the animals whilst their fur was thickest so it could be sold to “rich dumb sluts in New York” (his words, not mine). He confided in me that he was in Kamloops for cancer treatment and he had no family and nowhere else to stay but at the hostel. He hoped to have his cancer cleared up before he headed back out into the wild. I never found out if he succeeded at that – I moved out before he was done. He loved to talk because he spent 6 months of the year alone in the wilderness, not talking to any one but his dog. He had some amazing stories from his time in the north, including some weird sasquatch sitings, UFO experiences and bear attack stories. He claims his Jack Russell had fought of 2 grizzlies in his time (on separate occasions) and he loved the dog because of that.
Apart from all that he was a huge hockey fan. Given that he spent winters in the wild I don’t know how he ever managed to watch it but he still knew a hell of a lot about the game and about the Canucks and their history. He was a total stoner. He would share his joint with me before the game and we’d sit there stoned and watch the Canucks games while he explained every facet of the sport and the Canucks to me. It’s because of Crazy Old Guy that I learned to love the Canucks and it’s why I’m still a Canucks fan and will always be a Canucks fan.
When I moved up to Sun Peaks for the winter I continued to watch Canucks games, most of the time at Bottoms Bar & Grill where I wasn’t stoned but I was full of cheap wings and Kokanee. In Bottoms I made more friends while cheering on the Canucks and I used the knowledge imparted on me by Crazy Old Guy to impress the locals. How could an Australian know so much? Stoned Crazy Old Guy, that’s how.
Thanks to hockey I made a lot of good friends that winter. I had the time of my life and when I flew back to Australia I didn’t feel like I was heading home – I was leaving home.
My isolation from hockey began then. I got back to Australia in time to watch the Stanley Cup Final between Calgary and Tampa Bay. These days hockey folk bemoan that series but I loved it. It was the first Stanley Cup Final I had ever watched and of course I was enthralled. I was eternally grateful it was being shown on TV over here. I had no idea that a lockout was looming. In October I emailed my friends in Canada to talk hockey and they responded with dark news of labour strife and no hockey. I was devastated. I don’t know why, there was no way I could have watched games that winter. To ease my pain that year I bought NHL 2005 for PS2 (the one with Markus Naslund on the cover) and played it constantly.
I didn’t see a game of hockey again until the 2007 Stanley Cup Final between the Senators and Ducks. I supported the Senators, only because I wanted a Canadian team to win the Cup.
After that, I didn’t see another game of hockey until the Canucks home opener in 2008. Thanks to the wonders of the internet I found a way to download games for free and my hockey obsession began all over again. The 2008 Canucks home opener was against Calgary and opened with the Luc Bourdon tribute. I had never seen Bourdon play, I didn’t know anything about him, but I was touched. My Canucks fandom kicked into overdrive.
Since then I’ve only missed 3 or 4 Canucks games in total. I watch every single one online and over the past couple of seasons I’ve started watching Flyers games too. I love the game. Everything about it speaks to me. I grew up playing and watching cricket and rugby and they’ve both fallen by the wayside as hockey has taken over my sport watching.
So this lockout is devastating me. I’ve been watching some AHL and junior games online but it just isn’t the same. The NHL is the best of the best, the pinnacle of the greatest sport on Earth, and it’s being ruined by greed from both sides of the battle lines.
I consider myself a die hard fan. I wake up every morning and check the hockey news in case an agreement has been reached and I will be the first to watch the games when they do eventually drop the puck again. But I know plenty of average fans who don’t care one iota about how much the players are paid or the definition of HRR or what it would mean if the NHLPA was de-certified. They just want to watch sport and be entertained. Guess what NHL? There’s lots of options out there for those average fans to find their entertainment.
Today games through December 14 have been cancelled and the All Star game is gone (take that Columbus – bye bye Blue Jackets). If they continue this bullshit the owners and players won’t be arguing over $3.3 billion in revenue, they’ll be arguing over $2 billion or less.
Greed can kill this game. Not everyone has a hockey story like me. Remember that NHL and NHLPA.
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.
Some folks are bemoaning a boring trade deadline day. Obviously those folks are not fans of the Vancouver Canucks, Buffalo Sabers or Nashville Predators. Jebus what a crazy day. Here’s my take on some of the more interesting trades to go down on the trade deadline day 2012.
Nashville Predators acquire Andrei Kostitsyn from Montreal Canadiens for a 2013 2nd round pick & condition 2013 5th round pick
The first sign today that Nashville are going for it. They already have stellar goaltending and a super beefy defence but they need scoring. Who better to go for that Sergei Kostitsyn‘s older brother Andrei? Ahh… Yeah. Maybe? We’ve seen this show before. The Kostitsyn brothers are not the Belorusian answer to the Sedins. That said, the Preds have made something out of Sergei. He’s playing much better in Nashville than he ever did in Montreal and I suspect David Poile and Barry Trotz think they can invigorate Andrei’s game in a similar way. He doesn’t bring Rick Nash level talent to Nashville’s top 6, not by a long shot, but look out for Andrei to pot some timely goals come playoff time.
Nashville Predators acquire Paul Gaustad & 2013 4th round pick from Buffalo Sabers for 2012 1st round pick
So, not ready to call it a day, Nashville give up a 1st round draft pick for Paul Gaustad. If that was the asking price for a defensive centre like Gaustad no wonder the Canucks traded for Sami Pahlsson (see below). Gaustad is big (6’5″ 212lb) and from what I’ve seen of him, plays defense first. I don’t really understand the Predator’s need for a player like him given the existing make up of the team, except to say that they must be really keen to beat the living crap out of the Canucks in the playoffs this year.
Vancouver Canucks acquire Samuel Pahlsson from Columbus Blue Jackets for 2 2012 4th round pick (one from the Islanders) and prospect Taylor Ellington
In retrospect, this should have been the harbinger of doom for Cody Hodgson fans in Vancouver. Instead, it spawned blog posts like this one. I mean really, another centre? We should have seen the writing on the wall. Anyway, enough Hodgson (for now). I have a theory on the Pahlsson trade. The Canucks wanted to trade for him so that no other team could acquire him and then play him shift after shift against the Sedins in the playoffs. Pahlsson trained with the Sedins in the off season before his 2007 Stanley Cup winning season with Anaheim (he also played with them years earlier for MODO Hockey in Sweden). In the playoffs that fateful year the Canucks came up against the Ducks in the 2nd round and Pahlsson completely shut them down, almost single handedly. He went on to finish the playoffs 3-9-12, +10 and with a Stanley Cup ring on his finger. Many people considered him to be one of the most important reasons for the Ducks’ success that year. Since then Pahlsson’s value has dropped significantly after so-so outings with the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets. With Hodgson gone I can see Pahlsson sliding into the 3rd line centre role and the Canucks will be hoping that he can regain his 2007 playoff form this year.
I know technically these were 2 separate trades but I can’t help but believe they are intrinsically linked. You don’t just trade Cody Hodgson for Zack Kassian straight up. You just don’t. To me, these 2 trades actually equal Cody Hodgson for Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani.
This was the big daddy of trades this year. The one that shocked everyone, from the fans to other GM’s to the players themselves. It came so late that the trade was announced quite a while after the deadline had passed. The press and fans were so keen for something exciting, something bold, that the second there was even an inkling of Hodgson getting traded, Twitter almost exploded. News got out so fast that Chris Tanev read it on his phone while he and Hodgson were out walking, even before Mike Gillis could get to the phone to tell Hodgson himself.
Hodgson is in the running for the Calder this year. He’s proven himself at the NHL level. Kassian has not. He’s only posted 7 points in 27 games with the Sabres this year. But Kassian is a big boy, plays a really gritty game from the right wing and has put up decent offensive numbers in lower levels of the game (77 points in 56 games for Windor in the OHL in 2010-2011). He could be the second coming of Milan Lucic. He could also be the second coming of Steve Bernier. Gulp. But I think not. Kassian to me is blue chip, the real deal, and if not this year then in years to come he will be a beast next to Kesler or the Sedins.
Gragnani is the dark horse in this deal. I truly believe Mike Gillis has been looking hard at this guy for a while. There’s mixed reports out there about him and I’ve personally never seen him play, but +10 on a shitty Sabres team this year has to mean something. All I hope from him is that he fills in nicely for Ballard and somehow helps to reduce Salo’s ice time down the stretch.
Hodgson meanwhile gets to move back east, much closer to home and (probably) will get top 6 time on a team that will give him every chance to be their franchise cornerstone. I think Cody will flourish with Buffalo and in years to come will be a great captain for them.
Most laughable trade of the day has to go to the Rangers and Blackhawks:
New York Rangers acquire John Scott from Chicago Blackhawks for a 2012 5th round pick
John Scott is the absolute true definition of a pylon. Not only can you skate around him like he was one, but he’s so big you could probably use him as a pylon. Not often you can say a team overpaid for a player by giving up a 5th round pick, but the Rangers certainly did here. I hope for the Rangers’ sake they never have to play him this year.