Tuesday, August 31, 2010

That's How Things Get Done

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Captain C (captaincy): In Response to Qris, Continuing to Beat That Horse

First things first: Qris, Skeeter, whichever one of you added the "necroequinicide" tag deserves to be patted on the back, hard, and then have that backpatting transition into a solid beating on par with the one the horse is getting. That is hilarious and absolutely unforgivable. Don't do it again. But do. Always do it.

This post is in response to
Qris's post. I was originally going to leave it as a comment, but then I kept having things to say. My brain is on fire. This is a rant:

You're right, Qris. Up until now, Skeeter and I have avoided the captaincy talk because we feel similarly. But now that the box is opened, I'm going to rant about the captain's C and about leadership.

What frustrates me is that this whole debate is because we haven't been able to beat the Blackhawks these last two seasons. I'm frustrated that we haven't been able to beat the Blackhawks, too, and I'm especially frustrated because anybody with half a brain will recognize that the Canucks were not better than the Blackhawks the last two seasons. Yes, they lost to a better team. Two years in a row. That will likely continue to happen if the Blackhawks continue to be better than us. That should be the story because that's the only fact that matters. But, if you refuse to face the facts, there's a lot of moronic stories about why it is that this team can't get past the second round. One of the worst is that it's not the talent assembled; it's leadership.

Is it leadership? It's leadership, right? It's probably leadership. It couldn't possibly be that we aren't a good enough hockey team. That would be ludicrous. We've had the best defense in the NHL for the past seventeen seasons! (And seriously, the Vancouver media says that every year.)

Remember the European captain debate? Remember how hard the press beat that horse before Lidstrom won the award? Well gosh darn it, it turns out a European captain
can win the Stanley Cup! Of course, it never had anything to do with whether or not the captain was European. It was a stupid, bizarrely racist angle, and a non-story.

The media loves these bogus captaincy stories. Hell, the media loves these status quo non-stories. They love to question anomalies, as though there's a set formula for winning championships (why don't the Canucks just adhere to that?) outside of being the best. My theory: there are some stupid people in the media, and until somebody does something in a way that's never been done, their most oft-repeated line is that it can't be done that way. Again, this is because they are stupid.

Leadership, too, is such an intangible quality. I know a few people who have a Master's in Leadership. It seems to me like this degree might be like having a Master's in Acting. Does it make them better at it? No, natural ability and actual practice does. Does it make them think they're better at it? Frustratingly, yes. Everybody wants to believe there's a formula for this, but, in truth, the formula they're sold on is usually just copying what's worked in the past.

I work for Human Kinetics department of a university. I heard a guy tell me the worst thing about coaching seminars is that the coaches typically just talk about players they've coached, rather than teaching how to be the best coach ever. I'll tell you why that is: there's no formula. It's just experience. So they talk about their experiences.

The sports media forgets this. When we lose, it's because the team leaders weren't leading the right way. Again, there is no right way. For all we know, Luongo has not been leading the wrong way. We just seem him play hockey. The truth is that nobody really knows the right way to lead, but when a team succeeds, we chalk it up to good leadership. If Luongo keeps the C and the Canucks win the Stanley Cup, then it was the right decision to keep the C with him, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe he's not the best choice. Maybe that's not why we win. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with the abilities of the team, could it?

One problem is that we're so influenced by sports movies. We've all seen that kid quote the monologue from "Miracle", inspired as he is. It's an inspirational piece. But come on, is that really why the USA won the gold medal in 1980? It seems that's what the media would have us believe. It's like the players playing the game are secondary to the guy who stands on a soapbox and delivers the pregame speech.

Is it a wonder that the captain is usually the best player on the team? No. It's because playing well is leading. Contributing to a game win is leading. Maybe that's why, when a team is ahead in points, people say they're "leading". Leadership is natural and it has more to do with playing the game well than anything else.

Here's the kicker: for me, leadership has nothing to do with "The C", and ergo, the captaincy means very little. Are you telling me that other team leaders are stifled because they didn't got a little letter stitched onto their jersey? Right. We want Henrik as captain, we want Kesler as captain. Why? Because they'll be the best leaders? No, it's because they play the best. Last season, they were arguably more important to the team than Luongo. That's more than enough leadership.

"The C" hardly matters, other than as an honour to a certain player. Personally, I wish the team would just do it in private. Let the team pick a captain, keep it to themselves. The media doesn't need to know. Don't stitch a C on anybody's jersey. I hate the C. In Vancouver, and other hockey cities, it's a huge well of bogus stories, but, in truth, it means very little. So thanks, Qris, for pointing this out.

Gonna Kill that Horse Dead. Again.

I am so very tired about the captaincy debate. It’s the argument that just won’t die. There’s no end to the people reanimating this horse just to beat it to death again.

But this argument isn’t like the other arguments that won’t die, like abortion, gay marriage, free speech, the Bible or gun control. In this argument, one side is completely oblivious to a fundamental truth that makes most of the discussion seem moot, short-sighted or intellectually dishonest.

Actually, in that vein, it’s EXACTLY like those other things.

So, let’s say tomorrow, August 30, 2010, Luongo is stripped of the captaincy. The C is then given to, for the sake of the argument, Henrik Sedin. Let’s discuss what happens after.

First of all, let’s look at the immediate inane questions asked by the media to Luongo:

“Did you want to keep the C?”
“So are you unsatisfied with the decision by management?”
“Do you think this will give you more time to focus on stopping the puck?”
”Will this affect your role as a leader on the team?”
“Do you believe Henrik will do a good job as a Captain?”
“Do you believe this represented a stance by management on your performance in the playoffs the last two seasons?”
And probably by someone, the dumbest question of all – “Are there any hard feelings between you and management or Henrik?”

Of course, then the season starts. For the first few weeks, it’ll be, “How is Henrik’s captaincy working out?” That will be bad enough. What about the first losing streak, though? General questions by the media and fans:

“Do you feel Henrik’s speaking out enough as Captain?”
“Has the loss of the C negatively affected Luongo’s performance?”
“Was Luongo a better Captain than Henrik?”
“Does Lungo worry that his captaincy is being compared to Henrik’s?”

But then, it was a well-documented fact for the first two seasons that Luongo was here that he was a voice in the dressing room on occasion. He’d speak up when he felt he had to. What happens when he does so after losing the captaincy to Henrik?

“Is Luongo still trying to be Captain?”
”Is Luongo undermining Henrik as Captain?”
“Does Luongo not think Henrik is speaking up enough?”
“Luongo resentful of new Captain?”

It’s just a matter of time before the media starts pretending there’s an internal struggle between new Captain and old.

But no, you say! No, the Vancouver sports media are well known for their responsibility and for their refusal to give in to scurrilous rumors, they’re steadfast guardians of truth who would never go for the sexy scandal yeah you feel stupid even finishing the sentence don’t you?

Don’t believe the Vancouver media would stir up such a ridiculous story? Look into the stories they ran when Naslund and Linden were still teammates from 2006-2008. As soon as Naslund’s scoring went down, the real serious criticism about his captaincy began, and with it, there was supposed friction between Naslund and Linden. Of course, these rumors never amounted to anything but a distraction.

This time, you’d have one player actually stripped of the C, where it’s given to another player. This story is more than just a team with two Captains, it’s got intrigue! It’s so sexy, how can you NOT make it up?

But wait, you say! This is only a one-to-two-month story! No way this would come out in the playoffs, where it counts!

Of course it will. As soon as the Canucks make it to the third round, it’ll be all about how Luongo couldn’t lead the Canucks this far, but Henrik did. Even if Luongo is lights out in the playoffs, it’ll only prove to some people that taking the C away was a good thing, and how easy can it be to concentrate when the better you do, the more justified people feel about talking smack?

But wait, you say! Why should the potential mumblings of some disingenuous news sources and idiot fans affect the decision, anyway?

Oh, I don’t know, maybe because that’s the whole basis of taking the C away from Luongo? No one with any real intelligence questions the man’s leadership, integrity, dedication or sheer will. The only reason people have suggested removing the C is because it “poses too much of a distraction” and makes him lose focus.

By that logic, discovering that removing the C would cause MORE of a ridiculous media storm and cause MORE of a distraction completely destroys the argument that we’re doing it for his mental acuity. And of course, the people who argue he doesn’t deserve the C by merit are just jerks.

But wait, you say! Luongo is a dedicated professional, and has the ability to shut all this out! Why are you acting like he won’t be able to handle the media himself, and we have to protect him from the mean things they might say about him?

There we have it. That, right there, is my point. When Luongo said he wasn’t talking to any of the media pregame anymore, the reaction by sportswriters was to throw a tantrum, because they would have less material. Of course, they lambasted him, and spun it like he was unable to handle the duties of Captain.

Really, what it meant, though, was that he’s more than capable of managing his own psyche. Right there, we were seeing an instance of him dealing with a situation, and he didn’t need any help from anyone else.

Can anyone see him do that, and seriously say, “Luongo wouldn’t admit if the captaincy was too much of a burden, and wouldn’t know how to handle the distractions?” Absolutely not.

Of course, if you disagree, and you think that the media ARE so much of a concern that their constant hounding him is negatively affecting his game, then what makes you think that losing the captaincy would mean he doesn’t have to talk to the media anymore? The media always found him before he was Captain, and they always will after. Removing the C will just make them ask more stupid questions, which, in your mind, will hurt his game.

When it comes down to it, no one can statistically or logically back up the claim that Luongo’s captaincy has negatively affected his game, and there certainly isn't any way to claim that losing the captaincy would improve his game. And when you understand that, it’s a short leap to say that the man works hard, is dedicated, and has earned the C. He certainly doesn’t deserve to lose it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

But Who is Going to Center the Fourth Line?!!!

Yesterday's Raffi Torres signing, (which, for the record, I quite liked, while Skeeter was a little more sobering) seemed like as good a place as any to pronounce the Canucks offseason acquisitions complete. Most of the questions surrounding this hockey team have been answered (defensive depth, grit and size, special teams coaching, etc., etc.) save two: the first is the issue of the captaincy, and the second is the fourth-line center. There are a number of players who could do the job, each one with specific attributes that might help them succeed, and specific deficiencies. This isn't a bad thing: most fourth-line players have glaring weaknesses, and that's why they play where they play. But the right fit can still contribute in a big way, his weaknesses covered by the other three centers ahead of him on the depth chart. Unless a trade is made that answers the question for us, we can assume Mike Gillis is willing to let these guys battle it out to impress Coach AV and win the job for opening night. Let's take a look at who will be fighting for this role at training camp:

Rick Rypien is probably the odds-on favourite to do the job. We already know that the coach likes him, and his ability to throw a lot of punches really fast makes him, apparently, a valuable hockey player. Rypien is more of a rock 'em sock 'em robot than a scorer, but he has shown, on occasion, remarkable speed, tenacity on the forecheck, and surprisingly good hands. It's rare, but he tends to surprise with his skill. Those are the positives. The negatives are that, for a natural centerman, Ryp is a pretty underwhelming faceoff guy, and his defensive zone coverage is suspect. This means that if he loses a draw in his own end, the fans have cause for concern, because he might not get it out until the back of the net stops it from moving. He's also not the best passer in the world, probably because his knuckles are always bleeding, which makes the rush a bit of a headache. At 5'11", he's also a bit undersized. Still, he's an NHL veteran now, he's got experience, he's already a coach and fan favourite (unless his uselessness last offseason changed something) and if he's been working on his draws in the offseason he might be a nice surprise. Chances he makes the team? As a returning Canuck, fairly high. I don't think he'll be the center, though.

Alexandre Bolduc was an option last season, and he's likely ready to challenge for the fourth-line center job. At 6'1", he has the height advantage over Rypien, even if the Rypper outweights him by a good fifteen pounds. It's safe to say that he's not a bruiser, if not from his measurements than from this fiasco. Needless to say, Bolduc separated his shoulder in that scrum, and wound up missing a good chunk of the season. What's he good at? Well, he's apparently fairly defensively responsible, perhaps moreso than Rypien. He's been good for about thirty points a season with the Moose, so his hands aren't completely made of stone. The Canucks seem to like his reliability, and forechecking skill. However, he's not the best as physical play, although he tries hard (we call this the Tanner Glass conundrum), and this doesn't seem in keeping with Alain Vigneault's vision for the fourth line. Still, he's been the first call-up these past few seasons, so you have to think he's got a chance to start the season with the team. They're comfortable with him. Chances he makes the team: he's got an outside shot.

Mario Bliznak has been the shutdown center for the Moose for two seasons prior to performing the same job for the Vancouver Giants for three. He's never been much of a scorer, but he has an uncanny defensive ability, and a remarkable knack for increasing his offensive totals every season that he's with an organization. It's a great way to go about things, as Bliznak makes teams as a fourth-line guy, becomes the best guy on that line, and then graduates to the next level of competition. Against all odds, he's now on the bubble to make the NHL. If he were taller than 6'0", he'd probably be there already, but he makes the most of his size, checks hard, forechecks harder, and can be counted on for faceoffs and tough defensive assignments. He skates well, and has good speed. Isn't that what you want out of a fourth-line center? Unless Rypien makes the team on the wing, he and Bolduc are likely fighting for first call-up. Then, the question is what you want. Bolduc might be able to contribute more on the scoresheet, but Bliznak will likely be better at defending. Considering what a liability last season's fourth-line was, I think the coaching staff wants a fourth-line they can trust with some minutes. Still, it's hard to get noticed in training camp when you don't show anything offensively, so we'll have to see what happens. Chances he makes the team: the same as Bolduc.

Joel Perrault has all the qualities necessary to make this team. He's got size, at 6'2" and 212 lbs. In fact, he's been pencil-thin for most of his past few stints in the NHL, but word is he's filled out. He's got offensive ability as a point-a-game player for the AHL's San Antonio Rampage the past two seasons, and he's got NHL experience, having played 69 games for the Phoenix Coyotes. The problem? It took him five seasons to reach those numbers. He's really more of a scorer, and he simply hasn't been a consistent enough offensive threat at this level to stay in the NHL. His new plan? Remake himself as a defensive forward with some upside. If it works, it will really benefit the Canucks. Perrault's got an uphill battle to convince the coaches he can be as defensively responsible or as tough as shutdown guys like Bolduc, Bliznak, Schneider, but if he can show he's developed that side of his game (he's got the size!), he's got better hands than those guys and that's working in his favor. I think he'll do it. Chances he makes the team: fairly high.

Stefan Schneider could be a surprise. People seem to have forgotten we signed him last March, or perhaps they've confused him with the other Schneiders that have worn the Orca over the past few seasons. He's different. Also, his positives are plain to see: he's 6'4", 200 lbs, and still filling out. While he isn't known for his scoring ability, he is known for his defense. He was the top defensive forward on last year's Portland Winterhawks team after they converted him from defense and used him as a shutdown center. He has nice skating ability, good strength, and is a versatile player that can be slotted in anywhere. At 20, he's still growing physically, but his maturity is through the roof. He's won the Bill Anderson award two years in a row for his character and leadership. He's young, and he's coming right out of junior, though. Chances he makes the team: it's possible, though I doubt it.

Cody Hodgson might not be your prototypical fourth-line center, but let's immediately skip past this stupidity that putting him on the fourth-line will ruin him. He's known as a defensively responsible centerman, so what's the harm in putting him in a position that requires that? We already know he has great hands, we know he's got great defensive awareness and vision. All he wants is to make the Canucks, and he could very well do it as the fourth-line center. If he excels, bump him up the depth chart. Considering that nobody else is a lock to get this spot, Hodgson has just as good a shot as any. Naysayers will tell you that this would ruin his development. I'm sorry, but that's just foolish. Playing every night in the NHL, even on the fourth-line, can't hurt you. Expected to be a star player when you're not ready can, and expectations won't be too high if Hodgson's getting seven or eight minutes a night to start. Alex Burrows went from the fourth to the first line. In a better comparable, Ryan Kesler went from the fourth to the first. If Hodgson can contribute here, he'll be placed here, and I think he can. If he shows he's better than fourth-line center, bump him up a line and move Malhotra over. Isn't that what everybody wants? Chances he makes the team: if his skating has improved, fairly high. Chances he starts on the fourth-line? Higher than you think.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On the Lighter Side...

...could the Globe & Mail possibly have found a less flattering picture than the one topping this column by Matthew Sekeres? I sincerely doubt it.

A Closer Look at Raffi Torres

Turns out he looks almost exactly like Steve Bernier. Don't see it yet? Read on.

My first thought when I heard this morning that the Canucks had signed Raffi Torres was, “Ugh, I hate Raffi Torres.” My second thought was, “Wait, maybe that’s a good thing.” The reason I hate Raffi Torres is because he’s a pain in the ass to play against. He hits hard, sets up camp in front of goalies, and agitates in a similar vein to Kesler and Burrows, all of which made me want to slap his stupid goatee off his face.

But now that he’s a Canuck, the fact that he hits hard, sets up camp in front of goalies, and agitates makes me want to like him. This is a hard thing to admit, because he spent several seasons as an Oiler, and I don’t like the Oilers. Fortunately, he spent the intervening time with the Blue Jackets and Sabres, two teams I don’t care about in the slightest, so that gives me some nice distance with which I can attempt to be objective. Still, the fact that he got signed on the same day that Willie Mitchell got signed by the Kings makes it feel like we lost Mitchell for Torres, like some sort of trade. Let’s face it, I love Willie Mitchell and hate Raffi Torres and it’s going to take some time to get over that. That said, let’s look at what Raffi Torres actually brings to the ice.

I have to admit that I haven’t seen Torres play enough to make any sort of judgment call on his abilities; instead, I have to go to the numbers. The first one that jumps out is the fact that he went from a $2.25 million cap hit last season to a $1 million contract this season. That’s a pretty significant drop, but it needs to be kept in mind that he was coming off two full 82 game seasons for the Oilers, in which he scored 41 and 34 points respectively when he signed that contract. The Oilers were hoping he could return to the 27 goals he scored in 2005-06. Instead, he suffered a major injury, missed most of the season, and was traded to Columbus.

With the Blue Jackets, he returned to form, scoring 20 points in 51 games in another injury-shortened season. He followed that up with 19 goals and 31 points in 60 games last season with Columbus, which was enough to garner interest at the trade deadline from the Sabres. In his 14 regular season games with them, he managed a measly 5 assists and ended up in the press-box after 4 post-season games; to quote Darcy Regier, "It didn't work." While he only missed a smattering of games in 2009-10, his injury history over the last three seasons combined with his disappointing post-trade deadline play for the Sabres sunk his chances of a big money contract, which is good news for the cap-strapped Canucks.

That about covers his offensive contributions: he’s scored at 0.42 points per game over his career, pretty consistently from season to season. While he may not be consistent game-to-game (he’s been slammed for being a streaky player everywhere he’s played it seems), that kind of tertiary scoring seems to be exactly what the Canucks need. As long as his shooting percentage doesn’t dive-bomb like it did from 2006-2008, he should be able to score close to 20 goals again. But what about the intangibles, such as physicality, defensive responsibility, douchiness, and special teams?

Click to Embiggen. Stats from NHL.com and BehindtheNet.ca.

When it comes to physical play, Torres is known for his grit, ability on the forecheck, and occasional massive hits of questionable cleanliness. He’s averaged 1.36 hits per game over the past 5 seasons, which is more than Burrows and Kesler managed last year, but well under Bernier, Hordichuk, and Glass. Glass, in particular, averaged 2.46 hits per game, a far cry from the league leaders, but still respectable (also notice Andrew Alberts at #13 on that list, 5th amongst defencemen; I wouldn’t write him off to make the Canucks lineup, especially with Mitchell gone). In any case, Torres does bring a physical edge to his game, but one that occasionally crosses the line. That said, only 34 PIM last season? That’s pretty good; while it makes me question his agitating abilities (surely he’d get more coincidental minors), it also makes me question the assertions that he takes stupid penalties.

Is he defensively responsible? Not especially. He’s definitely not a penalty killer, with a total of 14:41 of shorthanded time over the last five seasons (yes, total). His traditional +/- was -11 last season and -22 over the last five seasons. Last season, his +/- per 60 minutes was -0.51 goals per 60 minutes, which isn’t good at all; while he was on the bench, his team’s +/- per 60 minutes improved to -0.34 goals per 60 minutes. Simply put, his team gave up more goals than it scored when he was on the ice as compared to when he was on the bench. He started in the offensive zone 3rd most often among Columbus forwards, so his poor +/- can’t be attributed to that. His Quality of Competition was also not a factor, as he faced some of the weakest competition of anyone on either the Blue Jackets or the Sabres; clearly, he was not used in a checking role.

This makes me exceedingly nervous to see him line up on the third line alongside Manny Malhotra in a checking role, even though I would expect the Kesler/Raymond line to face the highest quality of competition among Canucks forwards once again. In all honesty, I’d be more comfortable with Torres as a fourth-line banger and crasher with some spot powerplay duty, where he’s experienced some success. He’s seen a regular powerplay shift over the last five seasons and scored 7 powerplay goals last season. If necessary, in case of injuries, he could slot into the second line. Essentially, he would take over the exact role Steve Bernier had last season at half the price.

In fact, Steve Bernier is near-perfect as a comparable player to Torres. Like Bernier, Torres was a first round pick who never panned out as a top-line forward. Bernier has averaged 0.45 points per game, quite similar to the 0.42 points per game of Torres. They both have a similar goals per game average as well, 0.22 for Bernier, 0.23 for Torres. Prior to joining the Canucks, Bernier was also traded to the Sabres. Okay, this is starting to get weird.

The two are about the same weight, though Bernier has two inches on Torres. And, like Torres, Bernier has had his own injury troubles, missing a large part of last season with a groin injury. However, there are some differences: Bernier hits far more than Torres, with 608 hits over his last five seasons in the NHL compared to 438 in the same time period for Torres. Torres is 4 years older and significantly less French than Bernier. The other big difference: Bernier is making $2 million this season. Again, Torres is half the price of Bernier for similar value.

So, with thoughts of Bernier and his various disappointments in a Canuck uniform in my head, I’m not ready to like Raffi Torres just yet. I like the signing – it’s only for one year and it’s only for $1 million – but I’m not sure I like the player.

Well, Crap

That about sums up my thoughts on this news: Willie Mitchell has been signed by the LA Kings.

Farewell, Willie. I really wish you were going to a team on the East Coast where you could shut down Ovechkin and Crosby to your heart's delight. I'm not looking forward to you playing against the Sedins.

Willie Mitchell Takes Talents to Long Beach

Take that, Vancouver. Just kidding, you're all right.

Dan Murphy is tweeting that the Kings have finally gotten Willie Mitchell to crack, and signed him to a multi-year deal. Canucks fans--just this morning ecstatic over the Torres signing--are throwing themselves off of bridges.

Don't panic, Canucks fans. As much as the Canucks would have loved to have Willie Mitchell back, the plan was never to keep him. That ship sailed when they didn't re-negotiate with him last season. Mitchell is an excellent defensive defenseman, but the Canucks wanted somebody who could do that job while still facilitating the breakout pass. See, nobody was better at poking the puck away and clearing the zone than Willie Mitchell, but the Canucks wanted somebody who could take the puck away from the other team and then, you know, have the puck. Mitchell wasn't that guy, and playing him on the top pairing meant that he played too large a role in the breakout for his offensive skillset, and too often at that.

This is why the Canucks paid top dollar for Dan Hamhuis. Defensive skills? Check. Breakout pass. Check. See, Hamhuis is a better defenseman. The thing Mitchell does well, Hamhuis does well enough. Everything else, Hammy does better. Keep your heads, Canuck nation. We're still good.

Mitchell will do well in Los Angeles and I wish him nothing but the best, but don't think our season's going to tank. He wasn't in the plans at the end of last season, so clearly Gillis thought we could win without him. Even with the Salo injury, which seemed to make Mitchell a bigger Vancouver commodity to fans and pundits, I don't think Mitchell was anything more than a luxurious afterthought for Gillis. Nice to have for the right price, but more a want than a need. So off he goes.

People are going to bash him for taking the contract over his supposed loyalties, but that's bogus. Not to sound like Chris Bosh, but the athlete needs to think of himself before he handicaps his career dabbling in loyalties. If the two ideals sync up, wonderful. If they don't, well, that's business, kids.

Don't underestimate the value of term. If you were offered two identical jobs, but one was guaranteed to last a year longer, which would you take? Take off your fan glasses and put on your family glasses. You want to be able to count on your salary for more than a year. You're job-hunting now. It sucks. Do you want to be job-hunting again in a year? No. Nobody does. What if you get hurt during that year and you're not guaranteed a job for the next year? You're hooped.

It's why Niemi had to cash in as a Stanley Cup winning goalie, he had to file for arbitration when Chicago refused to pay him, even when it meant he'd likely have to leave Chicago. You have to get what you can while you can get it, and you have to protect your value. When your value is high, you take advantage. For Niemi--and it's a shame he hasn't found a home yet, he got screwed--he made the right choice for his career. Protect value. You can't sacrifice career longevity for loyalty or anything else, including, in his case, knowing his team couldn't afford him, unfortunately. You work for yourself, for your family.

Mitchell got lucky. After a nearly career-ending concussion, his value remained intact. It increased through the summer, as he rehabbed into playing shape. Smartly, knowing his value could plummet with another concussion, he took a multi-year contract.

Willie made the right choice for his future.

Godspeed, Bill Pickle.

Canucks Add Redhead, Sign Raffi Torres

If you're just waking up, the signing of depth forward and former Canuck nemesis Raffi Torres broke last night on Dan Murphy's Twitter, no doubt intentionally, by Dan Murphy himself. The reactions to this signing were mixed. Some people loved it. Some people hated it. Some people want to be happy, but come on, Raffi Torres looks like such a douche. Some people named Harrison were excited because it was Canucks news and wanted to give it more thought but his wife decided that right then at the moment the news broke was as good a time as any to have a very serious talk about how much time I spend during the offseason trolling for Canucks news. Not cool, wife.

How am I feeling this morning? Tired, because that argument got way out of hand and the prospect of going to bed drifted further and further into the night. But also? Pretty happy about this signing.

Let's talk about Raffi, and let's agree right here and right now that Raffi the children's singer is too obvious a connection to make. We at Pass it to Bulis strive for a higher level of pop culture referencing, which is why, off the top of my head, I'm more inclinced to bring up Hakob Malik Hakobian, the Armenian author whose pen name is Raffi, and whose seminal work, The Fool, is an inspiration to patriotic freedom fighters from Tavush to Syunik. Or to reference the ironically named Raffi Armenian, who is not the Armenian Raffi I just referenced, but rather a French-Canadian conductor-composer and member of the order of Canada with no connection to his aforementioned namesake.

Okay, who am I kidding? As far as anybody's concerned, there's only one Raffi, and I guess, if I'm being honest, you can't fight the pop sensibility of If I Were a Gorilla.

Now let's talk about the hockey player. Raffi Torres is only six feet tall, but I've learned over the last two seasons to look less at height and more at weight. Keep in mind that Ryan Kesler and Alex Ovechkin are the same height. It's just that Kes is 195 lbs and Ovie is 220. Or consider that Mason Raymond and Raffi Torres are the same height, but Raymond is 180 lbs. and Torres, like Ovechkin, is 220. Don't get your hopes up, Canucks fans, as that's the only connection between the hockey of Raffi and the hockey of Ovechkin, but what you should be optimistic about is that Torres adds some girth to the forward corps. Torres is an energetic winger who likes to crash and bang and be a pest. He's tough to move from out in front of the net. And he's skilled. He's averaged about twenty goals a season for his career.

In fact, the only reason that Raffi Torres is coming to us for the meager cost (in NHL money) of 1 million is because of his post-deadline suckitude with the Buffalo Sabres. In sixty games with Columbus, Torres got 19 goals. That's very good. But, in 14 post-deadline games with Buffalo, he was unable to bump that number to an even twenty. That's very bad. But, if anything, it's an argument for trade deadline acquisitions needing more time to gel with their team, or perhaps that not every acquisition is a perfect fit. Torres simply didn't fit in Buffalo. He had a bad stretch, which he tends to have every now and then, but while he's known as a streaky scorer, his career stats indicate a noticeable level of consistency. He deserved better than this cheap, short contract, but his misfortune is our gain.

On top of this, Torres is built for the Western Conference, and perhaps more specifically the Northwest division. Canucks fans might remember him as Public Ginger Enemy #1, that redheaded Oilers forward who lit us up on a number of occasions. He never played better than at the Canucks, scoring timely/untimely goals and doing his trademark goal celebration (he pumps his fist, and shouts "F**kin' rights!"). Torres was so predictable against Vancouver that even my wife grew to hate him, his stupid red hair, his big hits, and that insufferable fist pump. It's hard to like him: he looks like such a douche.

What's bad about this signing? Not much. If we had gotten Torres for 2 million, there was a possibility that he could underwhelm and wind up overpaid and on the fourth line. (We call this the Steve Bernier conundrum). His time in Buffalo is definitely a little concerning, but if he's not scoring goals, he can still be a serviceable bottom-liner; he's better than Tanner Glass. Reports are conflicting about Torres's personality, too. I've heard that he's great in the room, but I've also observed that he's kind of a douche (he looks like such a douche), so that's a wash. Gillis tends to get good room guys, mind you. He's probably quite a jovial fellow. In truth, there isn't much downside anybody can find to this, other than that he isn't a better player (the gist of Canucks.com forum naysayers' arguments), but that's like being given an HBC gift card and complaining you can't use it at Sears. Suck it up, whiner--you'll get what you need out of it.

Torres will be a good player for Vancouver. He adds grit and veteran presence, playoff experience (he went to a final, remember?) and most importantly, top-nineness to a team that needed more of that. I have to think this spells the end of Bieksa's time in Vancouver, but, come on, we all knew that was coming anyway, Raffi or not. He'll be good with Manny Malhotra, and the overall size of the two of them makes it likely okay if a smaller guy is plugged in on that wing (or at center). With Burrows out to start the reason, we'll probably see two young kids filling out the top nine, which might not be ideal, but consider now that, in every case they'll likely be skating with two vets (The Sedins, Raymond & Kes, ManRaf). That's good for everybody.

From my extremely biased perspective, this is a good deal. In fact, Torres is a better player than Asham, who I've been skeptical about since he impressed as an energy guy with Philadelphia last year. Maybe I'm missing something, but I see low-risk, and potentially, high-reward. Nothing but good, except that I have to look at him, and he looks like... well, you get the idea... such a douche.

Skeeter? Qris? Anybody? Anything to add?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Amazing Fan Video: The Vancouver Canucks: Life in Technicolor

Here is another incredible Canucks fan video that should get you pumped for the upcoming season. This one is by Canucks fan "SilvinFin", a regular Canucks.com Fan Zone contributor. As ytou can see, he is quite talented. Here is what he has to say about the video I hope you're currently watching:

With the arrival of the Canucks' 40th anniversary, it seems almost inevitable to be excited about the upcoming season. So many changes have occurred this off-season, including the acquisition of several new players, as well as the development of our prospects. Looking forward, it appears this team is set to dazzle with an array of spectacular hockey. This team now comprises of spectacular goaltending, talented forwards, and one of the best defense cores in the National Hockey League, and the anticipation is everywhere. The city has always embodied the spirit of this team, and now, with such heritage to reflect on, both in this city and with this franchise, it seems the best is only a motion away. Enjoy.

I could have used less Coldplay, I guess, but it's hard to quibble with a video of this quality. All right August, you have been the current month for long enough. Now is as good a time as any to give way to September, a month I greatly prefer.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Canucks Sign Bill Sweatt, Continue to Bring Families Together

In keeping with the Canucks tradition of employing two brothers at once, ala the Sedins and the Courtnalls, Mike Gillis has managed to find a way to pair forward prospect Bill Sweatt with his older brother, Lee. Gillis, like Maury Povich, apparently loves bringing families together.

Sweatt was originally drafted 38th overall in the 2007 entry draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. From there, he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the deal that also saw Kris Versteeg heading to the center of the universe. The Maple Leafs were, for whatever reason, unable to get Sweatt under contract, and he became a free agent on August 16. Three days later, he signed with the Vancouver Canucks.

This is awesome for a number of reasons. First, it's a free prospect, and a prospect with NHL potential. According to Hockey's Future:

Sweatt has unbelievable speed, but what sets him apart is his ability to make plays at high speeds. He also has great acceleration. Sweatt possesses great hands and is smart in his decisions with the puck. Rarely can he be found turning the puck over. Sweatt's superb defensive play and awareness is one area that has progressed quite nicely this season, and has made him an effective penalty killer. Sweatt also possesses excellent on-ice vision and has a keen sense of being able to find open spaces and knowing where the play is going to end up. While Sweatt has all of the necessary tools for future success, adding size and strength to his 6'0" frame will be essential to his pursuit of achieving that success.

Colorado College head coach Scott Owens' comments on Sweatt: "We've been very impressed with Billy's overall performance. His overall speed and ability to open things up were such that they were obvious from day one. Sometimes Billy goes so fast that it's hard for guys to stay up with him. He has a very good team game concept and we feel confident with him in all areas. He's been really good for us."

The site also states that Sweatt has all the necessary tools to make the NHL. This, ladies and gentleman, is an excellent depth signing, and Sweatt has the ability to be a bottom-sixer as early as this season. Consider Jannik Hansen and Jeff Tambellini on notice. Competition will be fierce and Sweatt will be in tough to make the teams. Word is that he wanted to leave Toronto so he'd get a better chance to play in the NHL this season, but that seems dodgy. Don't the Canucks have a little more forward depth than Toronto? Yes, but consider that, in Toronto, Sweatt would be competing against every other forward on the roster for a role in the bottom six. Zing.

There is a second reason this is an awesome signing: Sweatt is a prospect that cost us no assets to acquire--a free prospect, stolen out from under the nose of Brian Burke. Now, I'm sure we'll get a nifty little spin job about how Sweatt was a problem prospect with a high opinion of himself (just like R.J. Umberger, right?). But, in truth, Burke's second major prospect-based snafu (apart from the whole Seguin-is-a-Bruin thing) has to indicate why Burke refuses to build through prospects: he doesn't know how to handle them. His loss is our gain. What is it they say? Revenge is a dish with specific properties that make it, therefore, best enjoyed at a chilled temperature. I think it's safe to say that Gillis has Burke's number. Sadly, Bill Sweatt's agent doesn't appear to.

Will the Sweatts ever play together for the Canucks? Maybe, maybe not. Lee is a diminutive defenseman who's got a much tougher road than his 6', 180 lb. forward brother. But it's safe to assume they might both wear the Moose together. And that would be pretty neat. I know I always loved it when my Mom dressed us alike.

Update: other sources are linking to an open letter from a Maple Leafs fan to Bill Sweatt. I was a little more taken with this letter, from canucks.com forum member JustJokinen!:

Dear Toronto Maple Leafs,




Yes, that about sums up how I feel about this news.

Wellwood's World Chapter 2: The Oppressive Angst of Waiting

Oftentimes, no news is good news. That is definitely not the case when you're an NHL free agent in the off-season. And when you're a hockey blogger who happens to be a fan of said NHL free agent, no news is excruciating.

We here at Pass it To Bulis! have made no secret of our love for Kyle Wellwood in all his weirdness (though I can't speak for newest PiTB-er, Qris). We think he's nifty and neat, to say the least. And we promised monthly updates with the first chapter of Wellwood's World in July. Unfortunately, it's one month later and there's very little material with which to update.

I certainly thought we'd be discussing his signing with an NHL club in this August chapter of Wellwood's World; don't other NHL teams know he's a defensive superstar? Don't they know he's a mutant with undisclosed superpowers? Don't they know he has 13 points in his last 22 playoff games? Don't they know his faceoff percentage was 53.8%, good for 18th in the NHL?

There aren't even any good rumors floating around. The Vancouver Sun could only manage an article about how tough it is for Kyle Wellwood to still be unsigned at this point in the off-season. In other words, they turned the lack of news into news. Just like I turned the lack of news into a blogpost.

Wellwood hasn't let the angst of free agency get him down (he's likely instead pondering the meaning of free agency in a world that seems intent on defining humanity by limiting real, meaningful choices and instead providing the illusion of choice) and indeed seems to be developing a marked sense of grandeur:
“Obviously, Europe has been after me for a long time and I haven't wanted to go there yet.”
That's the spirit of individualism! All of Europe has been after Kyle, but he has made his own choice to use his talents as he sees fit! Who is John Galt? It seems that he is, after all, Kyle Wellwood!

Wait, he's just talking about the European hockey leagues? Well nevermind then. Here's a picture of a Kyle Wellwood Mii my wife and I made.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Amazing Fan Video: What Doesn't Kill Us

This is "What Doesn't Kill Us", a Canucks season preview video, and I should say up front that, normally, I don't bother with these things. They make for a good watch if you've got five minutes to waste, but they're also all pretty similar. That said, I just really like this one. It's kind of intense, it's kind of epic, it's kind of totally in high-definition. It shows me all the best plays from last season (one of the Canucks' best seasons, if you ask me, playoff collapse aside). This video is by Canuck fan Jonathan Kasper, who goes by the handle EvoLu7ion (note: sevens are not tees) and put it together with clips from the best Youtuber/Canucks fan in the world, CanucksHD. It covers all the necessary ground, it gets me pumped, and it makes me kind of pissed that it's still mid-August, the worst month of the year. So here it is.

The 10 Worst Canucks Since the NHL Lockout

On the whole, through the trapezoid era, the Vancouver Canucks have been a consistently good hockey team. In the last five years, they've made it to the second round of the NHL playoffs three times, an impressive stat that, technically, places them in the upper echelon of the Western Conference powers. They've been competitive all five years, failing to live up to expectations twice, and, in my estimation, exceeding expectations twice. This is even more impressive when you consider some of the players that have come through Vancouver in the last five years. Many of them played terribly during their tenure on the west coast, and have been comfortably forgotten since, buried in European leagues where the overall skill level matches the lack of skill they demonstrated while wearing the Orca. Yes, the post-lockout Vancouver Canucks have had their fair share of washouts, and since there is nothing going on right now in Canucks news, here is a list of the 10 worst Canucks since the NHL lockout.

10. Brad Isbister was a popular Canuck for one game, and it was during the preseason. Nearing the end of regulation and trying to kill off a penalty, Isbister came flying down the right side and flicked a game-winning wrist shot past the Oilers goalie to ignite the crowd. This came on the heels of a fan outcry over Isbister's signing. He was big, to be sure, but he had been a complete bust everywhere he'd played, and nobody wanted him. When he scored that goal, he thought maybe he had turned a corner and was going to be the next Todd Bertuzzi. Problem was, he had more in common with Steve Kariya, in that he impressed in the preseason and played like he was very, very small. He tried to hide in the net once. After the Canucks, Isbister played a season for EV Zug in the Swiss Hockey League, then retired. Incredibly, he was not Dave Nonis's worst signing. He is currently an assistant coach for the University of Calgary Dinos.

9. Jan Bulis can be counted among a surprisingly long list of bald players to have been terrible with the Canucks. Sure, Mats Sundin turned it on for the last three games of the NHL playoffs, but let's be honest: he didn't live up to expectations. Neither did Pavol Demitra, who narrowly misses this list because of the 53 (!) points he put up in his first year with the Canucks, or Mark Messier, who was ineligible because he didn't play here post-lockout (but nearly made the list anyway, for a suckiness that overcomes all boundaries). There is another bald player who cannot yet be named, as he finds himself higher up the list. Until Bulis reinvented himself late in the season as a checking forward, he was bloody terrible. He was more likely to take the advice of his father than his coach, he provided no scoring punch, he didn't have much chemistry with anybody, and he did weird things like this. Tommy Larscheid, never one to mince words, even famously called him a dumb hockey player, and said he had no idea what he was doing. He really didn't, which is why he would occasionally do things like this, and this--he was just kind of winging it. Bulis's inimitable weirdness did earn him a cult following, however: he was the unparalleled star of this viral video, he remains the patron saint of this blog, and, even to this day he has two devoted fans on his Facebook page. But, all things aside, Bulis was a crazy disappointment who found himself, like most of the players on this list after their Canucks career, on a plane to Europe. He currently plays for HC Atlant Moscow in the KHL.

8. Fans knew that Tommi Santala was going to be a bust when Dave Nonis overpraised the Finnish forward as the best fourth-line center money could buy. Trained in the Burke school of self-promotion, Nonis was likely trying to appear as blustery and confident as his mentor. As a PR tactic, it failed miserably, and may have been the stupidest thing he ever said. A quick perusal of Santala's stats and previous jobs indicates that he definitely wasn't the saviour Nonis made him sound like. Santala only played 30 games for the Canucks. He scored one goal. He was nondescript, slow, and seemingly good at nothing. It was a rarity to see him on the ice. Canucks fans did get some enjoyment out of Santala, however, as Nonis's hyperbole led to a bevy of Santala-style Chuck Norris jokes. My favorite? Tommi Santala isn't God's gift to man; God is Tommi Santala's gift to man. Santala currently plays for the Kloten Flyers in the Swiss League.

7. Steve McCarthy was acquired in August of 2005, and touted as an offensive defenseman whose remarkable potential had yet to be tapped. He was the captain of Canada's 2000 World Junior Team, he was drafted 23rd overall in the 1999 NHL entry draft, and he had decent size and mobility. He was going to make our very good defensive corps very, very good. Soon I will be honest about that defensive core and tell you it wasn't very good, and neither was McCarthy. He was a serviceable defenseman, but definitely not a top-four, and he didn't fit into the dressing room. Whether or not that was his fault or some of the locker-room vets (Bertuzzi seems to get all the blame these days, right or wrong), he was definitely the one who shot his mouth. There's nothing that endears you to Canucks fans like assassinating the character in their locker room after you get traded. Nobody wants to hear it, and no matter how you spin it, it sounds like sour grapes. For the record, Bertuzzi was forced to address McCarthy's comments and denies them. McCarthy still plays in the NHL, for the Atlanta Thrashers, which is just like playing in Europe.

6. Revisionist fans forget that, at the time, we really wanted Keith Carney. I couldn't tell you why. In truth, Canucks fans have been reveling in our defensive core for the last decade, claiming it to be one of the best, one through six, in the NHL. Even during the 05-06 season, when Dave Nonis picked up three NHL defenseman in Carney, Wenrich, and Brent Sopel, we had been claiming we had an excellent defense core. Fans waited that entire season for the West Coast Express era Canucks to get back to their pre-lockout ways. We liked our defensive depth before we got Carney, and we were even more excited to get him. When it turned out that he was terrible, however, we were upset. We were in denial. To us, Carney seemed like the final piece of a cup-contending team. Instead, he was an over-the-hill defenseman who fit right in with an over-the-hill team. The Canucks failed to make the playoffs, and Carney represented the end of an era. Underscoring that we needed to look again at our team, that we needed to take a second look at our core, Carney looked a Hell of a lot like Todd Bertuzzi; it was almost poetic. Worse, Carney was acquired for a second-round draft pick, as was seemingly every player Nonis ever acquired in a trade, and that pick, the sixty-first selection in the 2007 draft, turned out to be... Wayne Simmonds. I realize hindsight is 20/20, which is why I find it so easily to he upset with Nonis--I see his mistakes very clearly now.

5. Eric Weinrich was acquired during the same trading deadline as Keith Carney and Bryan Smolinski, who is not on this list. Why? Well, he wasn't terrible. Come to think of it, though, Smolinski was bald as well, and while not terrible, he wasn't good either. Warning to Canucks fans who have read that Bieksa to Washington for Jason Chimera rumour: say no to bald hockey players. Anyway, Weinrich was good for nothing. He was slower than Carney, not as tough, and apart from wearing a pretty cool yellow visor, he was a complete waste of a third-round pick. Unfortunately, the player drafted with it was not. Immediately after not making the playoffs with the Canucks, Weinrich retired. That's right: the Canucks cut the mold off of St. Louis's cheese, and then tried to make a sandwich with it.

4. Lee Goren, affectionately dubbed Lee "No-Scoren" Goren, was a star for the Manitoba Moose. He was a 6'3" right-winger with a great shot, some good hands, and a bit of grit. He averaged nearly a point a game in the AHL during his time with the Moose. With the Canucks, however, he played 30 games and got a grand total of three points. It was representative of most Canucks prospects through the years: severely overhyped, eventually underwhelming. Goren did nothing for Vancouver but disappoint. He currently plays for Tappara Tampere in the Finnish Hockey League, where he continues to be bad.

3. Jesse Schultz was another Lee Goren. Incredible in Manitoba, talked up ad infinitum before the season, Canucks fans had every reason to believe this guy was the real deal. Beloved by Alain Vigneault, the Vancouver front office had fans believing Schultz was the third Sedin. That's even where he started the season. Two games later, he was back in Manitoba, however, and he never played in the NHL again. Ouch. Is it any wonder that Mike Gillis's 08-09 signing of Jason "Krogsby" Krog was met with such skepticism by Canucks fans? We were beating back the hype as hard as we could, and for good reason. We've been hurt by AHL all-stars so many times. There's a lot of baggage there that needs to be worked through. Safe to say that if a season-long AHL standout ever wants to make the Canucks, he'll have to fight our seven evil exes, two of whom will be Lee Goren and Jesse Schultz.

2. Marc Chouinard was a fine member of the Minnesota Wild's bottom six. He had an impressive faceoff percentage, and he had scored 10+ goals and 20+ points in two consecutive seasons. Moreover, at 6'5", he added size as well as skill. He signed a two-year, 2.2 million-dollar deal with Vancouver, and fans were pleased. Why wouldn't they be? Considering the state of our bottom-six these days, we'd sign a player with that pedigree to that exact contract right now. However, rather than getting the Minnesota Chouinard, we got the Anaheim Chouinard, who was more likely to put up seven points in a season. In fact, the Vancouver Chouinard put up four. He may have been the slowest player the Canucks employed since the lockout. He was simply not made for the new NHL, and we had him for two years. It was one of Nonis's worst contracts. Once we realized he was going to suck so, so badly, however, we buried him in the minors and eventually bought him out. It remains the only buyout the Canucks have done since the lockout. Surprise, surprise, Chouinard made his way to Europe afterwards, and currently plays for Kolner Haie in Germany's DEL.

1. Mathieu Schneider is the most recent addition to the list of sucky Canucks, flunking out of his Orca jersey only last year. He should be proud, however, to top it, as it's the only thing of note he did as a Canuck. Fans were optimistic that Schneider, a top-four defenseman during the Bronze Age, could be the powerplay quarterback we so desperately needed, especially after an impressive final quarter of the NHL season prior, where he ignited the Montreal Canadiens powerplay. Schneider scored two goals in a Canucks uniform, both from the left side of the point--this one, and this one, on the powerplay. Otherwise, he was a liability, better known for his incredible teeth than his defensive footwork, speed, or positioning. Rightly benched, he then griped about playing time like someone who was not a 20-year NHL veteran, which led to irreconcilable differences between he and the Canucks front office. He was quickly demoted to the AHL in order to save the dressing room and eventually traded to Phoenix. Did Schneider do anything good with the Canucks? Well, as a 40-year-old, his signing may have helped to make the length of Roberto Luongo's contract seems plausible. But that's about it.

And that does it. If the list were to go to twenty, I would have found spots for Brandon Reid, Byron Ritchie, Steve Bernier, Bryan Smolinski, Wade Brookbank, and Jeff Cowan, who gets a pass because he would also find himself on a list of the twenty best Canucks during the same time frame. Cowan is a divisive guy.

Do you agree or disagree with this list? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sedins Just Aren't Sexy

It's a good thing the Sedins are married, cause it seems they can't get any love.

Of course, they get love from their family, their team, and fans of their team, but talk to anyone who isn't an out and out Canuck fan and you'll get a very different picture of the dudes. Their reputation around the league? Two words: Sedin Sisters.

Even more recently, when they finished second and third in the league in points per game, they still get less respect than a Rodney Dangerfield impersonator. Henrik Sedin won the Art Ross and yet was an afterthought for Hart consideration for many hockey writers. He said himself that he was honored just to be standing on stage with Crosby and Ovechkin. Both Sedins are projected for less than 100 points next season in most fantasy guides, and the general consensus seems to be that last season was a fluke. Why can't the Sedins get any love?

For the same reason that reliable, intelligent, bespectacled accountants can't get any love -- they just aren't sexy.

Sidney Crosby is sexy in a Harrison Ford sort of way. Obviously he doesn't have the same chiseled-grit features that Ford has -- Angelina Jolie has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to get lips like Crosby's. But Crosby seems to model his game off of Harrison Ford's characters. He's reckless, perfectly willing to rush alone into a group of defenders, and yet somehow, it pays off. Like Ford, he has a distinct whine that comes out when he feels threatened. Like Ford, he gets defensive when others threaten to be better than him. And like Ford, he looks ridiculous with facial hair.

Alex Ovechkin is a lot like Kanye West. Obviously, I'm not referring to his beautiful singing voice, but Ovechkin's celebrity has followed much the same path as Kanye's. While originally all we noticed about him was his talent, as soon as he found the spotlight he found ways to make it clear he was a star, but not a role model. Ovechkin plays physically, but also dangerously. During any game, he could score a goal, cause an injury, and earn a suspension -- soon to be called the Alex Ovechkin hat trick. And of course, we can't forget his celebrations. It's almost as if he wants to say, "I'm going to let you finish, but I'm the greatest player of all time."

Compared to that, what do the Sedins have? They aren't explosive. They aren't attention-hungry. They aren't arrogant. When it comes down to it, they're just not sexy. Crosby and Ovechkin are exciting, crazy and reckless. The Sedins are just consistent. You know when they're on the ice, they'll be defensively responsible, patient with the puck, and will find strategic opportunities to get a player a decent scoring chance. There isn't a coach in the NHL who wouldn't love them, but writers and fans are into more flash and dazzle than the Sedins can provide.

Even if the Sedins tie for the league lead in scoring, split the Hart and Pearson and hoist the Cup, they're still the mild-mannered reliable best friend, offering a crying shoulder to the girls dating the jealous, defensive egomaniac (Crosby) and the unpredictable playboy with a rap sheet (Ovechkin). The media likes them, sure, but more like a brother. The magic just isn't there.

So what does a team like the Canucks, faced with ridiculously reliable, safe and unsexy superstars, do to fill the void?

Hire ice girls. Other than that, I'm out of ideas.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Canucks Mount Suckmore

As most of you are probably aware, Puck Daddy has been running an August feature entitled "Mount Puckmore" wherein bloggers from around the NHL nominate four players, coaches, or executives that they would carve into a mountain as the defining faces of the franchise. The Canucks' Mount Puckmore is set to be put together by the fine folks at Orland Kurtenblog, but it strikes me that a franchise is defined by more than just the legends and heroes of the past; they are also defined by their failures.

The superb California hockey blog, Battle of California, has posted what they consider to be the San Jose Sharks' Mount Suckmore, the four faces of shame and embarrassment that define the franchise and Japers' Rink responded with one for the Washington Capitals. Here are the four faces that define the dark side of the Vancouver Canucks: these faces should be carved into a mountain far away from where any hockey fan might see it, such as Phoenix or Atlanta (ah, easy jokes).

1. Dale Tallon

Tallon gets his face carved on Mount Suckmore simply for not being Gilbert Perreault, which really isn't his fault. But the first draft pick in Canucks history was one notch on a roulette wheel away from being the legendary Hall-of-Famer Perreault, one of the best players to ever play in the NHL. Instead, he went to the Buffalo Sabres, who entered the league at the same time as the Canucks. Instead of the franchise cornerstone Perreault, who led the Sabres to the playoffs for the first time just three years into their existence and the Stanley Cup finals shortly thereafter, the Canucks ended up with Dale Tallon, who played with the Canucks for only three seasons. He was a fine player in those three seasons, representing the Canucks in the All-Star game in '71 and '72, but he was too much of a reminder of how Vancouver could have had a legend, instead of simply a serviceable defenceman. The Canucks wouldn't make the Stanley Cup finals until 1982, 7 years after the Sabres.

2. Vladimir Krutov

Krutov was one of the finest players of his generation, part of the famed KLM line with Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov, and won two World Junior Championship gold medals, the 1981 Canada Cup, two Olympic gold medals, and six World Championship gold medals playing for the Soviet Union. When he made the jump to the NHL with Igor Larionov to play for the Vancouver Canucks, fans were thrilled to have two of the top Soviet players in the world on the team. But while The Professor managed to adapt to North American customs and NHL hockey, The Tank showed up to training camp looking much like his moniker. Krutov was out-of-shape and overweight and quickly developed a love for junk food. Bob McCammon, the coach of the Canucks at the time, noted "His usual routine was to stop at a 7-11 store and order two hot dogs, a bag of potato chips, and a soft drink. After practice, he would return for a second order."

Krutov was just 29, ostensibly in the prime of his career, but he only managed 34 points for the Canucks, was frequently benched, and ended up cut from the team the following year.

3. Mike Keenan

Keenan presided over one of the darkest eras in Canucks history. Sure, looking back objectively we can see that his trade of Trevor Linden for Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe, and a third-round pick paid dividends for the Canucks and helped establish the current team. Brian Burke parlayed McCabe into the Daniel Sedin pick, allowing him to continue playing with Henrik and Dave Nonis somehow duped Keenan into taking on the persona non grata of Todd Bertuzzi for goaltender par excellence Roberto Luongo. Even the third rounder became Jarkko Ruutu, an effective agitator in his time with the Canucks.

But the trade was emblematic of all the reasons Keenan is hated in Vancouver. Keenan did everything in his power to excise any remnant of the '94 Canucks from his version of the team. At least, that was the perception. And, since the '94 Canucks are one of the most beloved incarnations amongst its fanbase, this did not go over well. Combine that with his notoriously confrontational personality and you have the most hated GM and coach in Canucks history. Was he the worst GM and coach in Canucks history? Not at all; in fact, the trades he pulled off improved the Canucks in the long run and his coaching...okay, his coaching wasn't great. But Mike Keenan is the symbol of one of the darkest times in many Canucks fans' memories and is worthy of having his face carved into Mount Puckmore.

4. Mark Messier

Let's face it, this list could have simply been me saying "Mark Messier" four times in a row, but I'm afraid that might summon him up from some dark netherworld so he can challenge me to eat one or fewer Lays potato chips. Pat Quinn signed Messier as a free agent with much fanfare. He was, after all, coming off 99 and 84 point seasons. However, he quickly earned the fans' ire by wearing the unofficially retired number of Wayne Maki, the same number 11 he had worn in Edmonton and New York. It was all downhill from there, as he replaced the beloved Trevor Linden as captain. It was apparently Trevor's decision, but it didn't sit well with fans, especially as Messier failed to live up to his contract, scoring only 60 points, his lowest total in a full season. He was blasted by brawler Gino Odjick for being power-hungry, provided the impetus for Linden to be traded to the Islanders, and failed to lead the Canucks to the playoffs in any of his three years with the team. It's difficult to imagine a more hated Canuck in the team's history.

What do you think? Who goes on your Vancouver Canuck Mount Suckmore?

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Dishonorable mentions:

Dan Cloutier - The poor guy was great one game, lousy the next. The best years of the West Coast Express were squandered and a lot of that blame gets unfairly placed on Cloutier. Yes, he deserves some blame, but not face-carved-into-a-mountain blame.

Jan Bulis - Bulis was not a good hockey player for the Canucks, but he's more of a symbol of Dave Nonis's terrible record of free agent signings. Other players in this category include Tommi Santala, Marc Chouinard, and Byron Ritchie. Nonis did, however, pull off the miracle of the Luongo trade, so he avoids getting his own face on Mount Suckmore. And besides, I like Jan Bulis.

Craig Janney - Janney never played for the Canucks, which is why he almost made it up on Mount Suckmore. Confused? When Petr Nedved was signed by the St. Louis Blues as a restricted free agent, an arbitrator awarded the Canucks Craig Janney and a second round pick as compensation. Janney, however, refused to report, which was seen as a snub of the team and the city. This did not endear him to Canucks fans.

Felix Potvin - The Cat was bad with the Canucks, certainly, but he's just another headstone in the Canucks' goalie graveyard.

Dan Woodley, Jason Herter, Alek Stojanov, Libor Polasek, and every other first round bust.

Petr Nedved - Expectations were high for Nedved after he scored 145 points in 71 games in Junior, but he underperformed when he first played with the Canucks. Just when he looked to be turning the corner, a contract dispute led to him signing with the Blues. Sigh.

Todd Bertuzzi - No explanation necessary.

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