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.

Canucks Finally Get Two Points for Effort

Burrows

At least for tonight, the Vancouver Canucks feel like they have had a massive load lifted off of their shoulders. 

Winless on a four-game road trip that saw them fall at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3, the Florida Panthers 4-3 in a shootout and then to the Dallas Stars 3-2 in another shootout, the Canucks limped into Atlanta to take on Ilya Kovalchuk and the Thrashers in an attempt to salvage four of a possible eight points on the road trip.

After two periods, it looked bleak.  Down 1-0, and having been outplayed in the second period, the Canucks found a way to score twice in the third period – both goals weren’t necessarily Highlight of the Night candidates, but beggars can’t be choosers – on a powerplay goal from Daniel Sedin and then a backhander from agitator Alex Burrows. 

Once the Canucks captured the lead, it turned into the Roberto Luongo show – with a little help from Mattias Ohlund, who saved the win with a toe save off of Kovalchuk in the dying seconds with the Canucks hanging onto that 2-1 lead like Maggie Simpson and that damned pacifier she always has – as Luongo robbed former Canuck Steve McCarthy from point blank range.

If you’re a Canucks fan who’s thinking of taking that leap off the Canucks bandwagon, you can’t help but feel a sense of relief and positivity for this team. 

They were down going into the third period, mustered a comeback and kept the electrifying Kovalchuk off the score sheet with the likes of Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Taylor Pyatt, Luc Bourdon and Sami Salo.

Atlanta

Hats off to the Canucks for coming back, getting the win and doing it with such a young and inexperienced defence.  Playing for the Canucks isn’t easy.  You are under the microscope of a lot of media and a nation of fans who seem to whither and fall more times in the winter then May Flies in the summer, and kids like Alex Edler, Nathan McIver, Bourdon and Mike Weaver have played admirably – albeit with very little to show for it in terms of the standings – in the last few days.

Is this one of those wins that could change the momentum of a season?  Well, if anything, it shows to the young guys on the team who may have been lacking some confidence having gone winless on this road trip before heading into Atlanta that they can win at this level, and winning is contageous, just like losing is.

When you find ways to win, when you play the next game, you can draw on what you did right last game and play with more upside and swaggar, and one or two wins in a row can turn into a 12-game winning streak.  Funny how it can work.

Now, just because the Canucks won a game against Atlanta, it does not mean they are out of the woods.  Far from it.  The Canucks can’t get complacent with their most recent success, because one win on a four-game road trip is hardly success.  However, what this win is a positive step forward.  Alain Vigneault has seen his team work hard, but come up short time and time again in the past two or three weeks, but with the win comes the idea that hard work will pay off, and this win should act as incentive to keep on winning.

Shoot ‘Em Like Detroit

Henrik Zetterberg

Besides having the best defencemen in the league and some dynamic young forwards, there is one glaring reason as to why the Red Wings are the best NHL team.

They shoot the puck.

It might sound too simple but there’s no other possible explanation.

Heading into tonight’s schedule, the Red Wings average 34.6 shots on goal a night, ranking them first in the league. In comparison, Vancouver stands 25th in that same category with 26.2 shots average. 

More shots means more opportunities to record a goal; it’s the basic tactic which players learn at a young age. Detroit is second behind Ottawa with 172 tallies so far this season and to add to that impressive stat, the Red Wings are first in lowest shots against with a 23.8 average.

The Red Wings shoot from anywhere, and sometimes the most obscure shots finds its way through the opposing goalie’s equipment. Leading the pack for them is Henrik Zetterberg, who has 232 shots, putting him second in the NHL behind Alex Ovechkin. Vancouver just needs to watch some of Detroit’s games to understand their success.

How often do you hear a fan yell “shoot the puck!“? It’s like a broken record at GM Place.

The most obvious non-shooter for Vancouver would probably have to be Sami Salo. Even though he has considerably one of the hardest slappers in the league, he always hesitates to wind up. With 64 blasts on net so far, he only has one measly goal, and six assists. And how many times has he missed the net?

Sami Salo

Markus Naslund is also a target for criticism, especially since he used to lead the league in that department. The star forward might find results if he only plays more selfish by sniping the puck, instead of passing it off. 

Vancouver’s top shot getter is Daniel Sedin, who records a total of 144. Imagine how many more goals he would have on his stats sheet if he brought the puck in front of the net instead of cycling with his brother.

It’s like Gretzky’s old quote, “You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take.”

In order for the Canucks to start piling up the numbers offensively, they have to start piling up the numbers on the shots-for column. The constant passing and the need to make the “perfect” play won’t do the team any good if they can’t put the puck on the opposing net.

A slap shot from the point can magically pinball it’s way into the net, but it seems like Vancouver’s pointmen don’t understand that concept. The forwards need to test the goaltender as much as they can, whether from awkward angles or from anywhere in the offensive zone. It’s pretty frustrating to watch a team control the play in the opposing area and not manage a shot on goal, and that frustration is always re-occuring with the Vancouver team.

It’s a fundamental skill, and a simple solution. Detroit has managed to stick with their system and game plan of bombarding the other goaltender with pucks, and look where they sit in the standings. Alain Vigneault needs to instill that ideology into his squad.

It’s like a secret recipe for Detroit that no one else seems to figure into their strategy. 

Think shot, think simple. It’s Red Wings’ hockey 101, and definitely a lesson this Vancouver team can learn. 

Time is Now

Luongo

For the Vancouver Canucks, leaving for the Sunshine State is anything but a mid-season vacation.

The Canucks sit eighth in the NHL’s Western Conference, just one point ahead of the Pheonix Coyotes and the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final playoff spot in the west.

But tonight’s game, and this roadtrip for that matter, may be the best thing to happen to this team all season.  Right now, it seems no matter what the Canucks do against some of the league’s toughest teams, they just can’t get a break or buy a goal.

It can be frustrating.  Just tell Alain Vigneault, who for the first time in his tenure with the Canucks was about as cheery as Oprah on a diet with a plate of brownies being dangled in front of her.  Okay, that would make anybody angry, so bad example.  All simile’s aside, Vigneault is irked with the results of his team.  Not the effort, but the overall result, and at the end of the day that is the bottom line.  Don’t win, you don’t get in.

But right now, the Canucks have a chance to get some wins, regain some confidence and climb back into the Northwest Division standings, because as of today, they sit four points back of the Minnesota Wild.

Tonight, the Canucks roll into Tampa Bay to take on the Lightning.  Right now, despite having two of the league’s top goal scorers in Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, the Lightning are the second worst team in the NHL.  Even worse than the Leafs.

You have to give the edge to the Canucks in this game.  Savior Roberto Luongo makes his first appearance since the All-Star break after getting an extra day off to be with his wife during her “delicate” pregnancy.  Theoretically, the Canucks goalie should be rested, relaxed and 100 per cent focused on the stretch drive that will most likely see the star goalie play just about every game from here on in.

St. Louis Lecavlier

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Tampa Bay may have more success if they strap a tie to the crossbar instead of starting an actual goalie.  If there is one major knock on the 2004 Stanley Cup champs, it is they have poor goaltending.

The Canucks, all Curtis Sanford disappointments aside, have strong goaltending.  You have to believe, that before the All-Star break, Luongo had more than just hockey on his mind leading up to his departure to Florida for a week.  Now, Luongo can focus on hockey, starting tonight in Tampa Bay.

The Canucks depend on Luongo and tonight they will need him to be the key in turning this season around.

Vancouver is slumping.  There is no question about that, and Vigneault’s body language for the past three weeks will show you just how hard it is to see his club lose.  However, tonight, Vancouver will have a golden chance to get back on track and whether or not they take this opportunity and run in a positive direction with it will tell us all in Canuck Land just what kind of a team we really have here.

European Power Nowhere to be Found

Loob Farjestad

On the ice, the Europeans have broken the barrier many years ago. But off the ice, it’s a different story.

Players not from North America make up about 30 per cent of the league, not bad considering that number is constantly rising. However, how many of those Europeans end up working in a management position in the NHL?

The answer is three. Yes, out of the 249 possible hockey management jobs in the NHL, up until a month ago, three of them are held by an European. That’s a measly 1.2 per cent.

The trio – Jarmo Kekalainen, the assistant GM of the St. Louis Blues; Ulf Dahlen, the assistant coach in Dallas; and Ulf Samuelsson, the assistant coach in Phoenix – make up the microscopic contingent of non-North American blood.

Not only is this a shocking number, but the possibility that an European GM might take over the helm soon is highly unlikely. The only two ever European coaches failed miserably. Remember Alpo Suhonen and Ivan Hlinka?

Once Europeans finish their careers in the NHL, they tend to head back to their native country and stay there. But the question is, is the NHL losing potentially great management talent by not pursuing these Europeans?

According to Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, he believes that it’s difficult for them to get into the North American network, with a large part having to do with the European stereotypes we’re oh so common with. The Europeans are not the ones to campaign for themselves or promote themselves, and fight for a GM job. 

However, there are a few names or candidates that would make a more worthy manager then some who holds that title right now. Campbell points out that the first name, which comes to mind, would have to be Hakan Loob.

The former Calgary Flames star is currently the GM of Farjestad in Sweden. This is the same team that has won four championships in the past eleven years, and in North America, we would call that a dynasty. But no NHL job has been offered to Loob yet.

Stastny

How about Peter Stastny, who’s currently in politics, or Igor Larionov? Mats Naslund and Jari Kurri is successful in running the hockey programs at both their respectable countries, while Euro scouts Thommie Bergman of the Leafs and Dan Labraaten of the Devils are well known for their ability at finding talent.

Have any of these men been approached?

Loob has a strong logic as to why Europeans aren’t holding NHL positions, which are dominated by North Americans.

“It you want to get something, you have to be more aggressive and tell people you’re capable and stand up for yourself a bit. I think maybe we don’t have the mental toughness to say those things. We have the mental toughness to do a good job, but not maybe to present ourselves as capable as we are. You hope without saying anything, somebody is going to ask you and it’s not that easy.” 

North Americans don’t find the time to understand the European culture or get to know how they would run a team. Everyone is too scared to be the first to put the control panel of their squad in the hands of someone not from these two countries. But until someone actually does, no one can say whether or not an European can get the job done.

Let’s say a Russian GM might be able to produce more undiscovered Russians on their team, and probably have more strings to pull overseas. Same goes for a Swedish GM or a Finn.  

They are capable of competing on the ice, and looking at international events, they are also capable of putting a team together and beating USA or Canada. Why can’t they do that in the NHL? or better yet, why aren’t they given the opportunity to do that in the NHL?

Sooner or later, there will be a first for an European GM. For now, the influence Europeans have on the NHL is at a bare minimum, and that’s not helping this game grow at all. 

No Life in Leader Markus Naslund

Markus Naslund

It’s on every fan’s list of how to improve the Canucks, and there’s no denying it.

Markus Naslund, the captain and the leader of this team, needs to start playing as such. I might be a couple years too late to point this fact out but I kept suppressing hope that Naslund would pop out of his long, long slump.

It still hasn’t happened yet, and last night was a prime example of that.

He did score a goal, but besides that 10 seconds of fame he was unnoticed throughout the entire game. He only registered one shot on net and he played on more lines then Kris Beech did teams in the past month.

Markus Naslund is the head honcho in the locker room. That means players look up to him, and when he has no emotion and energy, neither does his teammates. He honestly had more excitement in his lame jumbotron speech to the fans at yesterday’s game then he did with his play, and that’s not saying anything. Naslund was energetically-dead.

The city is getting sick of his lack of back-checking, his resistance of using the body, and his sloppy skating.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not like all the other Naslund bashers. I’ve supported this talented hockey player for years, and he’s always been my favourite NHLer. I’ve always had faith in him that he would return to his old self and dominate the ice, and find his most-feared wristshot. But that’s why it hurts even more for me.

Naslund himself knows that he’s not at his best. He’s not even close to his best.

His post-game speeches are ridiculous and cliched, his comments are not heart-felt, and his actions on the ice is as bland as Greg Millen’s quips. It’s like Naslund doesn’t even care.

Naslund

The numbers this Swedish native puts up is decent, but not appropriate at his calibre. The money he’s getting paid is not comparable to the product he’s showcasing. It’s apparent he’s struggling, and it’s not helping with the constant changing of linemates, but when did excuses factor into performance? 

It’s probably wrong of me to still assume that Naslund can lead this team to a Stanley Cup, but if something, or someone, lights a fire under him, this man still has the ability to humiliate the opponent. All the talk shows are calling for Naslund’s head, but I’m still waiting for him to shut all his critics up. But it just doesn’t seem likely with what we’re seeing lately.

How do you fix Naslund? How to you instill life into an emotionally-dead hockey player? How to you help the captain regain his old form and lead his team night-in and night-out?

The respect for this forward is slowly diminishing from the faithfuls at G.M. Place. Or at least it’s much less then that he recieved as he came out on crutches prior to an L.A. Kings game seven years ago with the whole arena giving him a long, thunderous ovation. That was the Naslund we loved. Not this ineffective, invisible, non-scoring buzz kill. 

It’s time for Naslund to step it up, and hopefully he can regain the ol’ Nazzy form in time to lead us to the promised land.  

Please Naslund, just start playing with some heart. Is that too much to ask?

Pretty Funny NHL Commercials

So I was just browsing around NHL.com when I came across these two commercials they had on the site. Both links contain the same commercial to start off with, but the second ad in both are different. 

My personal favourite is the one with the Pittsburgh Penguins fans. 

Note: The guy in the red-shirt in the first commercial works at the Rogers Video in Ironwood Richmond. Yes, some B.C. material in these ads. 

Enjoy. 

NHL.com Commercial 1

NHL.com Commercial 2 

While on the subject of NHL commercials, here are a couple of pretty funny Verizon Wireless NHL ads:

 

And my personal favourite…

 

Trade Talk Getting Ridiculous

Keith Tkachuk

Well, the NHL All-Star weekend has come and gone and now it is onto the stretch drive in the NHL regular season. 

With the stretch drive comes an all-too-familiar brand of talk: trade rumours.  Listening to the local sport talk shows on the Team 1040, all you hear now is “will the Canucks make a big deal?” “the Canucks’ time is now, so why not take a chance and land a big name?

Canucks’ general manager Dave Nonis, maybe one of the more underrated GM’s in the NHL right now, has done his best to put to rest all the ridiculous and meticulous chatter of possible trades and all the other garbage dealing with trading players in the NHL.

Nonis, who was on the TEAM 1040 morning show with Barry MacDonald and Scott Rintoul, flat out said he was getting fed up with the talk trades.  He made a good point.  Actually two good points.  One was that you cannot force a trade to happen.  If a trade is there that fits what the Canucks actually need, which is to say that maybe the bigger names like Marian Hossa, Mats Sundin or Rob Blake may not be the best fit in Vancouver, then Nonis will go out and deliver a trade so long as it fits what he feels his club needs.

The second point is this.  Why sell out your team’s future for a big-name-rent-a-player?  Look at what happened last year with the Atlanta Thrashers and the Nashville Predators.

The Thrashers traded a roster player (Glen Metropolit), a first and third-round pick in the 2007 NHL entry draft and a second-round pick in this year’s entry draft for Keith Tkachuk in a bid to make a run at the Stanley Cup.  The Thrashers did win the Southeast Division, but were swept by the New York Rangers in the first-round of the playoffs. 

Peter Forsberg

Wow.  Throwing away the foundations of a franchise for a rent-a-player and a quick first-round playoff exit.  Yep, seems worth it.

The Nashville Predators went out and landed Peter Forsberg from the Philadelphia Flyers for defenseman Ryan Parent, Scottie Upshall, a first-round and third-round draft pick in last year’s NHL draft.  Nashville was knocked out of the playoffs in the opening round to the San Jose Sharks in six games. 

The point of knocking the trades of the Thrashers and Predators is to illustrate that selling parts of the future of your organization for a player won’t necessarily help your hockey club make it to the finals, or anywhere in the playoffs for that matter.

Nonis knows this.  Does the Canucks general manager have assets to trade?  You bet he does, but he won’t play that card.  Sami Salo and Matthias Ohlund probably won’t be Canucks for more than a few more seasons, so when they go down, who’s going to fill their shoes?  Luc Bourdon and Alex Edler, who may be the best Canucks young defenseman as of right now.  Why trade a prospect for a player who may not even help your team win? 

The bottom line is this:  You can talk about trades all you want, you can say ‘hey go for the gusto and pick up a big name and let’s take a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup’, but that doesn’t mean that everything will work out on the ice the way it should on paper.

Look at last year’s examples of major trades that went absolutely no where but to the golf course.

No More Trading for Scraps

Olli Jokinen

Martin Rucinsky, Geoff Sanderson, Brian Smolinksi, Marc Bergevin, and the list goes on.

Do these names sound familiar?

Those are some of the players Vancouver has acquired during the past few years on deadline day in order to see them flop come playoff time. It’s getting tiresome and repetitive. 

Dave Nonis and the Canucks need a different approach this year.

Trading for underachievers is not going to bump this team further into the playoffs, because what they really need – and this is no secret – is a top six forward. Names like Peter Forsberg, Marian Hossa, and Mats Sundin have been thrown around the rumour mill nonstop, but my preference for Vancouver’s case would probably be Florida Panthers’ Olli Jokinen.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have Forsberg on this team, as well as Hossa or Sundin, but Jokinen would fit perfectly fine as a Canuck.

If I’m not mistaken, Jokinen currently holds the streak of longest non-appearance in a playoff contest, and with a team like the Panthers, it’s no surprise. He’s basically in the same boat as Luongo was a couple years ago. This mohawk-dawning Finn would be a great motivated centre to play alongside Markus Naslund, potentially forming a very dangerous second line. This would give Vancouver the much needed one-two punch. Jokinen is big, he’s talented, and he’s underrated.

There has been so much talk of getting a player to jump-start Naslund, and there is no one on the current squad who has the ability to do so. Naslund needs a linemate to make room for him, a big body like Bertuzzi if you will, and that’s what Nonis needs to focus on.

The problem though is that there is a very small opportunity to make a big splash in the trading market.

Everyone, except probably L.A., is buying because every team still has a legitimate chance at making the playoffs. The assets Vancouver might be willing to let go would be guys like Matt Cooke and the pluggers. Everyone would love to see us get a superstar in return for Isbister, Cowan and futures, but that is not realistic.

Prospects like Luc Bourdon is a very tempting bait to dangle in front of the other general managers but he’s not enough. With our poor drafting – an example would be Vancouver taking Patrick White over David Perron this past year – Nonis would probably not hesitate to swing a deal involving our first rounder. Especially if the returning package was not a rental player, but a superstar willing to stick with the team for a few years.

Sami Salo and Mattias Ohlund also has their names mentioned because of the soon returning Kevin Bieksa; as well, many teams are looking for blue-liners of their calibre.

Of course, there is always still the free agent route with Forsberg, and most recently Fabian Brunnstrom. Who? Fan in Van has more on the Swedish prospect. However, Brunnstrom probably won’t be signed until after the season.

Kesler Burrows

Ryan Kesler’s name has also been thrown around the table. It would be absolutely ridiculous to trade away a future star like Kesler, since Stanley Cup winning teams always need an excellent checker to man their shutdown line. A few examples would be Anaheim’s Samuel Pahlsson and Detroit’s Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby. Kesler and Alex Burrows is exactly that type of player, and with a possible addition on the line – like Morrison – who might be able to pot in a few more goals, then they will be crucial for future success.

Vancouver does not have many options to go the other way, especially if they don’t want to give up their future. Who would you want to see get traded? 

It’s less then a month until the deadline, and Nonis will have a busy time ahead of him. He knows what he needs to get done, and in order for Vancouver to win, a top six forward must come to this team.

Please no more failures and flops. We have one more hole to fill, and the greatest opportunity to win it all is now.

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