Farewell to the Fallen

Canucks Oilers

Part of us knew it already. But part of us didn’t want to admit it. Vancouver never had enough to make the playoffs, let alone win a round in it.

But who can blame fans for this false sense of hope?

I mean, if you thought the hot blonde babe with the mini-skirt at your school was a tease, well meet this year’s Vancouver Canucks. 

Thursday night, this low-hearted squad confirmed everyone’s deep speculations and lost a must-win game to the non-playoff bound Edmonton Oilers. All Vancouver had to do was to put together a two-game winning streak for the remaining couple games to continue playing hockey. Apparently, losing six games in the last seven was the preferred route to go.

Getting back to my original point, can you blame fans for having some hope in this somewhat-overachieved team?

Canucks diehards can make excuses all they want – injuries, schedule, blah blah – but there were more ups-and-downs in Vancouver’s play this season than a Paris Hilton sex tape, if you know what I mean. And there’s no better way to describe it then to look at the schedule starting from February 16.

It was the fight-filled good-ol’-days brouhaha matchup with the Oilers where the Canucks won 4-2, uniting the city and drawing praises from even the most passionate naysayers. Vancouver added mustard to that energy by putting together a four-game winning streak, and the reigning North West division champions were on top of the world.

But that was exactly what it was: a streak.

This high reached its climax, and Vancouver lost its next four contests (twice to Colorado, once to Columbus and Chicago). At that point, emergency rooms were overflowing from the number of injuries suffered from people falling off the bandwagon. Joining them was the Canucks’ defensive unit, seriously.

Linden

As quickly as the city reached the peak of their celebration, it dropped down to despair, desparation, and disgust. But much like that afore-mentioned hot blonde babe, the Canucks toyed with its admirer’s heart. Yes, Vancouver felt a gust of wind and jumped to a three-game winning streak, followed by, you guessed it, a back-to-back defeat.

Playoff lives were being questioned and it seemed that Vancouver answered the calls, winning another three in a row. But that was it for the uphill climb as the Canucks put the ‘reek’ in ‘streak’, and dropped it’s next four. All hope seemed lost, but wait, Vancouver wanted to give its fans a little boost by putting together a dominating performance against the Calgary Flames last Sunday.

“The dream is alive!” … for one day. It’s like losing $200 at Roulette before the ball finally lands on your number, unfortunately, you only put down $2 worth of chips, giving you a winning that’s all but a miniscule fraction of your orginial loss. You think luck is finally on your side, so you keep going, but the only outcome is defeat until finally you’re out of money.

And that wallet emptied last night, as Vancouver’s crawl to a playoff berth was cut short. There’s one more game left on Saturday but win or lose, the rollercoaster ride is already over. Fan’s hearts have been played with long enough and it’s finally time for a break in the relationship. 

It’s time to say farewell to the team for a while, and maybe a farewell forever to several members of this year’s squad. We can cry, we can bitch, we can call our friends and complain all we want, but every Vancouver fan knows one thing: We will be back next season to have our hearts played with once again.

We’re all suckers that way.

Dust Off After Deadline

Just days after the trade deadline, the dust is starting to settle. The hectic – yet sort of disappointing – Feb. 26 resulted in some big names being dealt, but more importantly, several rumoured players not moving.

Olli Jokinen, Michael Ryder, Bryan McCabe, were just a few stars among those staying with their original squads as several general managers could not pull the trigger. When all was said and done, there were winners and there were losers. The Sports Corner takes a look at these teams.

Deadline Winners:

Richards

The Western Conference – It’s a broad choice but this side of the NHL really stole some star talents from the East. San Jose made a major splash by picking up Brian Campbell from the Buffalo Sabres, while the Dallas Stars won the Brad Richards’ sweepstakes. Both of these playoff teams jacked up their squads for the playoffs. Also, the league’s best team, Detroit, made their back end scarier with the addition of Brad Stuart, just imagine what the blueline will look like after Lidstrom, Chelios, Rafalski and Kronwall come back from injuries. 

Whichever team comes out of the East will be up against a very challenging opponent in the Stanley Cup finals because every contender in the West right now looks poised to claim the top prize. Early to say, but this Conference will probably repeat as champions. 

Colorado Avalanche – The day before the deadline headlined the Avalanche’s biggest move by signing UFA Peter Forsberg, bringing him back to the team where he won two Stanley Cups. This acquisition bolsters a threatening offensive unit, which is already seeing the return of Sakic, Smyth and Statsny. Colorado also got a gift handed to them as Adam Foote demanded a trade from Columbus back to his old team. It pumps this team up for a strong playoff run, and making them a legit contender.

Colorado made the most noise in their division, as the North West failed to respond. The Avalanche are desperate to appear in the post-season after failing to gain a spot last year. The addition of Foote and Forsberg will surely make a big difference on the standings for this Western squad. 

Washington Capitals – The Capitals made a statement on Tuesday. They want to be in the playoffs. And considering their moves at the deadline, they backed up that claim. Washington started off the day with a stunning trade by picking up Cristobal Huet from the Montreal Canadiens for a second rounder. Then they went out and got more offensive help by trading for Sergei Federov from Columbus and Matt Cooke from Vancouver. Washington is ready to get this team back into the playoffs, and getting support for Alex Ovechkin is a great start.

The Caps are not far out from claiming the division title and with help coming to their team after Tuesday, the possibility is high. The East should watch out for Washington, a team capable of making some loud noise when the time comes. 

Deadline Losers:

Huet

Canada – Out of the six Canadian squads, there were six moves resulting in only two players coming to the hockey nation. Vancouver got Matt Pettinger from Washington, while Ottawa got Martin Lapointe from Chicago. The Leafs made the most deals, trading away three players for draft picks. The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames stayed quiet, while the Montreal Canadiens were probably the biggest losers out of this country. They gave away Huet for something less then his value, and could not complete a deal for Richards or Hossa, two players they were heavily rumoured to acquire.

Montreal disappointed their fans, and is putting a lot of pressure on rookie Carey Price to lead them through the playoffs. They also failed to add any offensive punch, and the same can be said about Vancouver. The Canadian teams just couldn’t match the rest of the NHL with additions needed to take them one step further to the Holy Grail. 

Tampa Bay Lightning – Although they got rid of big salary players, they did not get back what could have been demanded. A player like Richards would have landed someone like, let’s say, Huet, who is considerably better then Smith. Prospal on the other hand, only got them a weak defensive prospect, and a second rounder. The Lightnings did not handle the proposal to the best that they can, and therefore, did not get the best possible return. A quick look at Atlanta, who got a steal for Hossa, and Tampa Bay could have learned some lessons from them.

Sure, they unloaded huge salary, but Tampa Bay was not efficient enough in trading off their big stars, and could have probably garnered better deals from other teams. 

Columbus Blue Jackets – Washington in the East made a statement that they will push for a playoff appearance. The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, basically gave up any hope. Even though they are in position to get an eighth place spot, they decided to once again prep for next year. After they failed to acquire Brad Richards, they decided to trade off a couple stars on their team in Federov and Foote, instead of trying to get more help for Rich Nash.

The chances of the Blue Jackets making it into the post-season dance is pretty slim to none, and even if they manage to squeak in, they won’t make it far. It’s another disappointing season for this city, as they are the only NHL team to have not seen any playoff action in their history.

Too bad that streak will continue. 

Forsberg Back in Colorado

Forsberg

For all that it’s worth, Peter Forsberg has come back to the NHL after spending three-quarters of the season in Sweden nursing an injured foot.

The lucky, or unlucky, team that Forsberg has sided with is the 10th place in the Western Conference Colorado Avalanche.

The following is nothing against Forsberg, because he was great, and nothing against the Avs because they have won a Stanley Cup in the past decade, while the Minnesota Wild, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks have not.

This move by Colorado may look good on paper, but in reality, this deal makes absolutely no sense.

Around this time last week, Forsberg and his agent both said that it was unlikely that the Swede would return to the NHL this season due to his injured foot that has caused him nothing but trouble while trying to rehabilitate it with the Swedish national team earlier this NHL season.  Now, all of the sudden, after seeming hell bent on not coming back this season, his foot is suddenly good enough to withstand competitive hockey for the next month-and-a-half and maybe the playoffs.

One issue that makes this deal look like nothing more than a team trying to grab the headlines away from Mats Sundin and the Toronto Maple Leafs is that Forsberg simply doesn’t have the juice anymore to compete in the NHL.  If it’s not his foot, it’s a shoulder or back or wrist or hand injury that keeps the former superstar on injury reserve and thus disrupting the chemistry or flow that the players in the line-up have by bringing him in and out of the line-up.

A week ago, Forsberg believed his foot just couldn’t hold up in the NHL.  Was that not a red flag with sirens sign from the Hockey Gods that this guy is untouchable by his own withdrawal?

Forsberg

By signing a guy like Forsberg, the Avs have put all their eggs into one basket.  Whether or not Forsberg stays healthy and plays well – which in itself is a question mark for a guy who has missed three-quarters of the season with a foot injury (for those that don’t know, you need healthy feet to actually hold you upright on the ice and help propel a person in any direction on the ice) – won’t hide the fact that Colorado doesn’t have the defence or the goaltending to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup.

The Avs have 172 goals-for this season, despite missing names like Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth and Paul Stastny.  Not bad.  Okay, here is where the old cliche kicks in.  Defence wins championships.  Well, Colorado has allowed 174 goals-against this season.  Jose Theodore and Peter Budaj have, for the most part, platooned the goaltending duties in Colorado, and although their numbers combined are terrible, they’re not good enough to compete with the likes of Roberto Luongo and the Marty Turco in the west.

Instead of looking for a quick fix and short-term inspiration by signing Forsberg, perhaps Avalanche vice president and general manager Francois Giguere may have been better off by picking up a goalie or a defenseman to help this team keep pucks out of the net.  They don’t need scoring, they need a defender.

Forsberg isn’t either, not anymore.

Two Big Names for Sale, for Sure

Mats Sundin

Okay, one is guaranteed NHL shopping material, while the other is rumoured to be heading out of town as well.

On Friday, Atlanta failed to come to terms with any sort of extension on Marian Hossa’s contract, therefore, letting the rest of the league know that they will try and get something in return before the superstar bolts elsewhere when free agency hits.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Toronto Maple Leafs had two players sit out morning practice because of a flu. Yeah, right.

Captain Mats Sundin and defencemen Bryan McCabe were not on the ice, and the rumour coming out of the general manager’s office is that Cliff Fletcher asked Sundin for a list of teams he’ll be willing to go to. This doesn’t mean that Sundin will be traded, but it does show that Fletcher is flirting with the idea.

The Swedish centre ultimately is in control of his own destiny, as he can refuse to waive his no-trade clause and stay in Toronto, and maybe sign somewhere else in the off-season. Hossa, however, won’t have much power in his fate and as absurd as it might sound, he will also have to wait for Sundin’s decision before possibly getting moved.

The reason behind this is simple: Teams, who are interested in acquiring Hossa, is also licking at the lips to get Sundin. Some people may not agree with this, but Sundin is a hotter commodity then the ex-Senator.

Buyers around the league are going to hold off until they know of Sundin’s true intent before making their move. Teams would rather aim to get Sundin, but if their bid fails, Hossa is not a bad fall back option.

Marian Hossa

Although these two have been rumoured to be traded for quite a while, it’s not until five days before the deadline that the possibility of a blockbuster is heating up. This has to be credited to the fact that Hossa cannot come to terms on a new contract, and the attempts by Toronto to convince Sundin to waive his no-trade clause.

With all the recent hype, it would be a disappointment for the fans and the teams to not be able in unloading these two superstars at the deadline, and losing them for nothing in the free agent market.

It’s better for these two teams to use this weekend to shop their two superstars, and hear as many offers as they can, in order to prevent committing the same mistake the Edmonton Oilers did last year with Ryan Smyth.

Many teams are hungry for these two big names, and Atlanta and Toronto should take full advantage of it. 

Good Ol’ Fashion Hockey

Weaver Fight

The Anaheim Ducks rolled through last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, losing five games through four series and physically dominated just about every opponent.

Another thing the Ducks led the league in, aside from being the best team in the NHL when the dust settled in mid-June, was fighting majors.  Last season, the Ducks dropped the gloves 71 times.  The team with the second highest amount of fighting majors last year was the Phoenix Coyotes who had a whopping 47 when the regular season ended.

Last year’s rendition of the Anaheim Ducks was a great example that hard-nosed, old school hockey can still win – in fact can be downright dominating – in an era of the NHL, which is known more its speed and unwavering skill without toughness.

Now, this year, the Ducks still lead the NHL in fighting majors with 54 as of yesterday.  But this year is different.  The teams closest to the Ducks in terms of the amount of fighting majors are already surpassing the 50-fight plateau, including the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames.

Vancouver’s total number of fights skyrocketed after Saturday night’s fight-filled affair against the Northwest Division rival Edmonton Oilers in a 4-2 victory on home ice.  The final 40 seconds of the game took almost half an hour to play because there was one post-whistle scuffle and two line brawls, and guess what?

The crowd loved every second of it.

Two teams, desperate for points and not willing to back down at any point in the game clashed in one of the more entertaining hockey games of this year’s NHL schedule.

Anaheim Fight

Seems to be the way of the game right now.  The playoff race is so incredibly close, with maybe only two or three teams that can be unofficially counted out, and with such a close race to get into the post season, no team is willing to back down one little bit.  That’s the way it should be.

A lot of people have been skeptical of the ‘New NHL’ because of the high number of phantom or weak calls on the smallest of infractions and are quick to suggest that the powers that be in New York and Toronto are trying to take the rough stuff, the battles and the scraps that give hockey its edge right out of the game.

Skepticism aside, right now, the edge of hockey has seemingly returned.  There is just too much at stake and players are learning that they better be willing to do just about anything to give their team the competitive edge on the ice.

Take Dion Phaneuf and Shane Doan for example.  Two big boys, former members of the WHL and two former Team Canada World Juniors had a spirited scrap in last night’s Flames 4-1 victory over Phoenix.  You want to get your team fired up?  Getting into a 30 or 40 second bout of fisticuffs with a willing combatant seems to be the way right now and it is adding quite the thrill to a game, which seems to need a punch in the face every now and again to get people’s interest.

If you don’t like fighting in hockey, if you think hockey should be a faster version of golf, then perhaps you might want to change your channel when hockey comes on The way things are so close in both conferences and with the high intensity and high competitive level that every player has, this trend of ‘Fistianna’ is going to keep going strong right through to the final game of the playoffs.

Good.

Cookie Made of Chicken

Cooke

In a game full of fights, line brawls, big hits, beauty goals and more fights, did anyone else notice that Vancouver Canucks forward Matt Cooke did not drop his mitts?

The problem with the Cookie Monster not scrapping out there against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night’s mock-up of the UFC was that he should have.

In the second period, Cooke threw a vicious hit-from-behind on Oilers defenseman Mathieu Roy that had the Oilers’ trainer come running out onto the ice to tend to Roy, a player who has had concussion issues throughout his career.

Following the hit, at least two of the Oilers came after Cooke to confront him about that chicken-s**t-hit-from-behind and the Canucks most over-paid should-be fourth liner didn’t feel he needed to be held accountable for his actions.  The Canucks forward escaped a penalty because the referees both missed a Matt Greene elbow on Ryan Kesler and had to level the playing field.  

Usually if a penalty is not called on a hit that is regarded as cheap, then the players on the other team administer their own brand of justice. In hockey, that’s the nature of the beast. When Greene almost decapitated Kesler’s head, Brad Isbister moved in and dropped his gloves with Greene who, to his credit, was a willing combatant for his hit.

When Cooke was confronted by the Oilers, I’ve never seen a player duck out of a situation like that so fast.  Not only did Cooke get the hell out of there as quickly as possible, but he skated away with that same old smart ass smirk that truly hides the coward within.  

Look tough, look like you run the show, but inside the only intuition is to run away, and Cooke has been doing that for years. Cooke plays with an edge, no doubt about that.  But when you go over the edge and throw cheap hits like the one he threw on Roy, as well as dozens of others through out his career as a Canuck, you have to be ready to be held accountable and the way Cooke has run away or failed to drop the gloves, it can be hard to have true justice done upon him.

My advice for the Cookie Monster: Play your game, run around, throw hits, get in people’s faces, but if you are going to go over the edge and throw cheap shots … stand up and be a man about it.  Face the heat and drop the gloves like you are supposed to in situations like that.  Get rid of that stupid, smart ass, cowardly grin and have some honor about what you’re doing before someone smacks that smile clean off of your face. 

If you’re afraid of getting hurt in a fight, just take some lessons from Mike Weaver. 

NHL Still Waiting For Blockbuster

Cory Stillman

There is ten more days until the NHL trading deadline.

And the biggest deal so far is an Ottawa-Senators-Carolina-Hurricane swap that wasn’t all too thrilling. 

The lack of trades so far this year is astonishing, and disappointing, for fans who follow the game. When the biggest deal made, before the previously mentioned one, was a Doug Weight for Andy McDonald trade-off, then a light should go on within the NHL’s head.

Why are there so little trades?

The answer is simple. When you have 26 buyers in the entire league, there are very little opportunities out there for the general managers to complete any transactions.  

Every team is basically in the playoff run, excluding several bottom feeders, which means that they are looking to improve their team for this year, and not for the years after. In other words, they are looking for rentals, for lasting players, for star power, and for the final ingredient to complete their team. All we’ve seen so far are prospects, no-namers, and draft picks. Definitely nothing to text message all your hockey friends for, that’s for sure.

There is a shortage of squads in the NHL right now who are willing to give up a vital aspect of their team for prospects and picks because they are hanging onto the fact that they can still compete to win it all this year.

Cammalleri

Take L.A. for example, they know that they have no chance of winning,, that’s why names like Rob Blake, Ladislav Nagy, Mike Cammalleri, etc., are mentioned in trade rumours.

A large factor into this lack of sellers is the salary cap. Since the league is now on an “even playing field“, they are all competitive, which I’m not complaining about, but they also have to watch their spending limit. Some deals can not be made simply because the team cannot afford the player financially.

Last season saw some major deals sprung at the deadline, but the difference was that the standings were more divided, as opposed to the tightness of this year’s rankings. Even though names like Olli Jokinen are involved in hearsays, the Florida Panthers have a great chance at claiming a playoff spot, and they are more reluctant to give up the heart and soul of their team. Same can be said about a player like Marian Hossa, minus the contract negotiations and all.

There is no negative aspect in making the NHL more competitive in the standings, but it does deprive fans of being blown away by mind-boggling, team altering trades. In a way, it takes away from a fan’s experience.

The opportunity for diehard and arm-chair GMs to dissect and analyze a deal is now a rarity, unless of course a J.D Forrest for future considerations swap really entices you.

Rumours are only fun when some become reality. And so far, it hasn’t happened.

There is ten more days, and hopefully NHL fans can start getting excited about a new star on their team.

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