Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bigger Issues in Nuxland

"The Canucks should be better. Why are they struggling to even get into the playoffs? They should be a Cup contender?"

Who are these people saying this? Where have you been the past 39 years? OK, some of you were just twinkles in your parents' eyes but even those who hopped onboard in the Pavel Bure's been 15 years since the 1994 Cup run. Wake up and smell the weed wafting over this region. You have to be high to even conclude that just getting a "world-class" goalie was enough.

Mats Sundin--please. Even if he gets straightened around and approaches that pt/game pace he should be on, is this Canuck team as good as the Sharks or the Wings are now?

How about a few less dumb penalties, too?

It's a process, ladies and texting Yaletownies. You really do have to crawl before you can walk. The Canucks are a team in transition as harsh as that reality is for most here to swallow. Is getting into the playoffs and most probably losing in rd. 1 or 2 the goal? Maybe for the owners' bottom line it is but in building a Cup team, what is the point of making the playoffs just for the sake of making the playoffs? Then all you are is a team like the Chicago Blackhawks (1970-97) or the St. Louis Blues (1980-2004) who would make the playoffs year after year and never really come close to the Cup (early '71 and '73 Finals aside for the Tony O era Hawks).

GM Mike Gillis is smarter than that, one hopes. Sundin is on a one-year deal. If the Nux do not make the playoffs, no harm no foul. They can be done with the guy.

The bigger headache is dealing with Roberto Luongo. Given Corey Schneider is no Steve Mason or Jonathan Quick, the Nux have no depth or cheaper option in net. If Luongo is who you are building your hopes around, he needs help.

That starts with a puck-moving defenceman. Pretty much every team in the post-expansion history of the Cup has had a Norris Trophy (or at the very least an All-Star calibre) offensive defenceman with the ability to feed the forwards. Look at the strides San Jose has made by signing Dan Boyle and, to a lesser extent, Rob Blake. Their D is just as strong but offensively the Sharks have leapt from averaging 2.7 per game in '07/08 to 3.5 in '08/09.

The only options the Nux have are to look at guys who may be attainable such as soon to be UFA Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Streit (signed through 12/13 at $4.1 million per), or even thinking to bring back a pricier option (one more season at $6 million on his current deal) Ed Jovanoski.

If Gillis wants to fire Yogi Bear and replace him with the Love Guru, fine, but I think we'd all sooner see an attempt at snagging a Norris type D-man.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I Blame Society...And Goalie Pads!

One of the reasons spewed out ad infinitum as to why scoring is down is the size of the goalie equipment. Yet somehow these same Michelin Men netminders gave up 22 goals in 65 minutes of hockey in the All-Star Game.

Duck and cover

Sure this game is known for its lack of defence but shouldn't the larger netminders anyway at best up the scoring no more than a few goals over the 5+ average a regular season game sees?

Maybe the real reason scoring is down is more down to the style of play in the NHL. Although the neutral zone trap and its cousin, the left-wing lock, are still with us, they are not as much a factor as during the Dead Puck Era.

Given no player was really attempting to block shots in the All-Star Game and there has been an idea floated about to ban shot blocking, maybe that is the route towards more chances on net at least. Because this is what we are ultimately talking about. It's not the dearth of scoring but the non-action of so many meaningless regular season games.

Sure the play in 2008-09 is far superior than in the 1990s but it's a far cry from the Air Hockey '80s let alone the '70s when hockey probably struck the perfect balance between offence and defence (albeit bench clearing brawls sometimes disrupted all the obvious solution must be to bring back the bench clearing. "Bettman, you're out! Schultz, you're the new commish!").

Shot blocking is a skill but it has gotten completely out of whack. It seems more players work on shot blocking as well as filling lanes and having "active" sticks than on traditional skills like, oh, skating, shooting and passing.

Something has to give. I'm all for 4-on-4 hockey for the entire 60 minutes. After all hockey started out as a 6-on-6 game then evolved into the current 5-on-5 game.

Be it the size of the goalie pads or the bigger and stronger players out there, it's about creating space to create goal scoring chances. I'm not really saying anything new here, but the All-Star Shinny proved it's not the players' fault for a lack of scoring. It's the way the game is coached now. For that it takes a different mindset and an emphasis on creativity rather than on figuring out ways to suck the life out of the opposition. Yes, I am talking to you Jacques Lemaire, Ken Hitchcock, Jacques Martin and your ilk.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Habs: 100 Years...100 Stars?

The Mother Corp. ran a special Friday night (rerun tonight after the NHL All-Star Game Skills Sideshow) called "The Montreal Canadiens: 100 Years, 100 Stars." Hosted by the Father, the Son and the Goalie host of "The Hour" and Canadiens' fan George Snuffleupagus (as opposed to his American doppelganger also oddly with the exact same moniker--George Snuffleupagus).

I don't know about you, but even this lapsed B's fan was expecting a countdown of the top 100 players in Hab history hence the title of the program. At the very least I was curious as to where Rick "4 Cups" Chartraw and Mike "B's killer" McPhee ended up on that list.
The man, the myth, the moustache

But noooooooooo! We got various typical Canajan celebs takes on their fave Hab teams, moments, players, etc. Of course, spliced in were some interesting short new interview clips from the Guys (Lafleur and Carbonneau), Bob Gainey, Mr. Erudite, the Pocket Rocket and the Le Gros Bill.

Other than that, we heard from such stellars Canadian "stars" as Mitsou, Justin Trudeau, the guy who played the lead character in the blink-and-you-missed-it "Ed" TV series, as well as members of such bands as Simple Plan, Great Big Sea, Sam Roberts of the creatively named Sam Roberts Band, Gino Vannelli and the ubiquitous Anne Murray. Apparently, Rene Simard was unavailable, but we got to see a 15-year-old Celine Dion in action. I was half expecting Bobby Bittman and Lola Heatherton to make appearances.

This led to learning that Jason Priestley won $10,000 off Val Kilmer and Kurt Russell by betting on the Habs in the '93 Final vs. the LA Gretzkys. So now we know the organizer of the "Donna Martin Graduates" protest likes his sports betting. Of course, having a Canuck fan relate this story added much gravitas to the program.

At least we learned a few more things:

The program also managed to tie Jackie Robinson's breaking of baseball's color barrier which began with the Montreal Royals to the Habs' multiculturalism being the key to their success. Never letting the facts get in the way of their point, of course, the Al MacNeil-Henri Richard feud in the 1971 playoffs that got MacNeil canned despite coaching (with a tad of help from rookie goalie sensation Ken Dryden) the Habs to the Cup that season was not mentioned.

Also, Strombo tried to tie the recent revival of the Hab franchise under Carbo and Gainey to Montreal's current supposedly "vibrant" music scene. If you consider Arcade Fire "vibrant" then you're probably onboard with everything this program has to say on the Hablers.

Anyway, it's good to know that our tax dollars are hard at work producing such fine filler for the airwaves.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Foggy Days and Nights in Canuckland

The sky has been falling (literally as we've been fogged in the past few days) as well as the Canucks free falling in the standings.

The weird part is from Nov. 20 through Jan. 1 (the period when Roberto Luongo was injured), the Canucks managed to tread water with 10 wins and 10 losses. It's been this latest stretch of 1 win and 8 losses that coincided with the arrival of Mats Sundin (and you may agree with this assessment of the chance of Mats leading the Nux to the Promised Land) and the return of Roberto Luongo that has fans and media panicked.

Now, the hopeful part is Luongo played San Jose tough (sorry, but being outshot 29-14, the rest of the Canucks were MIA) last night (Jan. 20), but blew the game when yet again they could not tame Joe Thornton (the Canuck killer--13 GP 5G 21A as a Shark vs. the Nux) from setting up the tying goal with 40 seconds left and winning goal in OT.

The best plan of action is the Nux have to clone Joel Otto and then they'll have a chance in shutting down Mr. Thornton.

The truth is all playoff teams bar the elite go through these rough stretches every season. A good indicator as to whether any team is just plain lousy or if they are still working hard is the shot totals. In this nine-game stretch, the Canucks have been outshot (and none too badly other than the Sharks' game) in 5 of the 9 games with the Phoenix Coyotes game (Jan. 15) being a dead heat at 32-32 on shots.

The main problem during this stretch has been goaltending. I know Jason LaBarbera came in and was almost lights out but the first four games of this stretch is pretty indicative of his abilities with a save pct. of .903. That is not going to get you into the playoffs unless you have Nicklas Lidstrom leading a D that allows you to win Cups with a midget in net.

After LaBarbera's mini-meltdown giving up 6 goals vs. St. Louis, he was hideous vs. the NJ Devils being pulled after just 3:29 of the first period after giving up 2 goals on 6 shots including one where he got a great assist on a gola by Zach "don't call me J.P." Parise. Curtis Sanford relieves and pretty much copies the same blunder but settles down somewhat after that.

Then the captain returns and not a moment too soon...or maybe it was too soon. His save pct. in the three games he's played since is a less than stellar .853.

Give him his due, he's been out awhile but if the Canucks have to wait a month really until Mats Sundin is in game shape, Roberto Luongo better be ready to rock 'n' roll post-All-Star Game break.

Friday, January 9, 2009

View Mats' Home Debut From The Snob Seats

Today, I get in the e-mail from the Canucks Insider, the following:


Tonight is your first opportunity to see Mats Sundin make his home debut in a Canucks sweater, and we have a great offer for you to watch the game from the Sports Action Lounge! This hospitality suite features comfortable seats, flat-screen TV monitors, cash bar and private washrooms making it one of the most popular premium seating areas in General Motors Place. Don’t miss this great opportunity to watch the Canucks from a suite without having to book the entire room. Only 16 pairs remaining!

Vancouver Canucks vs. St. Louis Blues
Friday, January 9 @ 7:00pm
2 tickets in the Sports Action Lounge
$100.00 per ticket, plus applicable service charge

Purchase online at, Charge-by-Phone 604.280.4400 or at the General Motors Place Box Office."

Now, to the average Yaletownie, this might be a great deal but to those of us who like our fan experience to be less living room amentities and more "get me upclose and personal," how is $100 (plus the usual tixmonster fees) a deal when single tickets for this same game are going at half-price?

Let's review:

  • Comfortable seats? Is this saying the seats pretty much in the rest of the arena aren't comfortable? Are we talking La-Z Boy recliner rockers in the Sports Action Lounge? Ergonomic bean bag chairs?
  • Flat-screen TV monitors? Well, there's a giant HD TV screen above the rink so unless these monitors in the lounge allow you to tune in other games or change channels if the game gets dull, are they saying I'm supposed to help the NHL out with video review or some such?
  • Cash bar? Oh, great, not only can I spend more dough on overpriced alcohol but by "cash" does that mean they don't accept credit cards?
  • Private washrooms? Yeah, that's my "major" complaint at GM Place--no privacy to pee.

To sum it up, basically I can fork out $100+ for what I get at home watching the game on TV for free. Sign me up!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cody, Mats and La-LaBarbera

These are heady times in Canuckland as we all are desperate for some news other than about the weather.

GM Mike Gillis, after realizing Cory Schneider is most definitely not as advertised (now, don't you wish Nonehead had traded him last year when he had a shot at the deadline?), snagged Jason LaBarbera off the LA Kings for a measly 7th round pick to cover for an injured Curtis Sanford. LaBarbera in his short three-game stint has shown he can do the job with an outstanding .943 save pct. in a Canuck jersey. That and hailing from Burnaby can't hurt the local pride.

Then 2008 first round draft pick and now a Hockey Canada gold medalist Cody Hodgson led all scorers at the recent World Junior Hockey Championships held in Kanata (sorry, folks, the final was not really in Ottawa as that would be like saying the New York Islanders play in New York City). This could be both good and bad news. The big question is whether Hodgson is the next Nigel Dawes, Jeff Farkas or Pavel Brendl? Or is Hodgson more of a Phil Kessel, Peter Forsberg or Jarome Iginla? Yes, all of these players led the WJC in scoring over various tournaments. So grain of salt on Hodgson's future as of yet.

Lastly, tonight marks the end of the Mats Sundin: Hostage Off Ice saga(fjord) as he apparently will debut vs. the Oil in Edmonton. I think fans are most curious mainly as to who his linemates will be. It's looking like Kyle Wellwood will play on one wing but the other seems open to all takers. If we're talking skill alone coach Alain Vigneault might be thinking Pavol Demitra, health permitting. If he's thinking a Dave Semenko to a Wayner, they might want to slot Darcy Hordichuk in there. Stay tuned.