Rob The Hockey Guy

// A Vancouver Canucks Hockey Blog

This Day in Canucks History: the Russians are Coming

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From time to time, we will take you on a trip down memory lane looking at this day in Canucks history. On this day, October 5, 1989 the Vancouver Canucks played their first game of the season and lost 4-1 to the Edmonton Oilers. This game was significant because it marked the first time a Russian born player played for the Canucks. Not one, but two Russians were in the lineup: Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov. Both players were great players in the Soviet Union, and looked to transfer that great skill to the NHL. The “professor”, Igor Larionov was successful, eventually winning Stanley Cups with the Red Wings and is now a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Krutov was less successful, playing only one season in the NHL and became more well known for eating hot dogs than scoring goals. He then moved on to competitive eating (we assume).

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Friday Night Fights: Burke vs Gillis, Gallagher vs Suitor

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The all holier than though Brian Burke is at it again. In a video posted on the Toronto Maple Leafs official website, Burke at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft tells the camera about a rumour he heard. That rumour involved Mike Gillis offering Alex Burrows, Kevin Bieksa and their 1st round pick in exchange for number two overall pick Victor Hedman.

“Vancouver has made a major effort to get the second pick out of Tampa Bay,” Burke tells his scouts at a pre-draft meeting. “We heard they offered – again, this is all second-hand, so we’re not sure – [Alex] Burrows, [Kevin] Bieksa and their own pick. Those are two pretty good players.”

Isn’t this the same Brian Burke who goes ballistic every time a member of the media prints a trade rumour? If this was something was leaked out by accident, you could give Burke a pass, but this was him talking into the camera, and the video ended up on the Leafs official website! Clearly, Burke is at odds with Canucks management. He was closely linked to the Tom Gaglardi/Ryan Beedie group that tried to buy the Canucks from John McCaw. He’s also probably pissed that Gillis was critical about the team he inherited at his first press conference.

Unbelievable that the NHL isn’t going to look into this, yet another example of Brian Burke tampering. Aside from him leaving the Ducks and joining the Leafs last year in mid-season, his coach Ron Wilson was on Toronto radio telling the whole world how much he liked the Sedin twins shortly before the two were to become unrestricted free agents.

What makes all of this worse, is what a hypocrite Brian Burke is. He’s constantly up on his moral high horse, when in reality, he’s just as guilty as everyone else. Remember how mad he was at Kevin Lowe for putting an offer sheet out to Dustin Penner? Well, that’s within the rules. Leaving one GM post for another in mid-season, isn’t.

What about being completely uninterested in Dany Heatley because he demanded a trade?

“We’re not going to be in on that,” Burke stated.  “He’s a good player but I have certain guidelines on how players ask for trades.”

Well, he had no troubles acquiring Chris Pronger when he was the GM in Ahaheim. Didn’t he demand a trade too?

Gillis, to his credit, has truly taken the high road. He’s voiced his displeasure, but he isn’t going overboard. In fact, he’s not even going to file a formal complaint with the league. Good on him.

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Now for a real fight. Did anyone catch Gallagher vs Suitor on Team 1040 this week? Tony Gallagher criticized the CFL in one of his columns, to which Glen Suitor took great offense. Too much offense in my opinion. If someone wants to criticize the CFL, fine. Nobody has to like the CFL. There’s been all sorts of reaction to this, everything from message boards to newspaper columns.

Here’s the part of the column that Suitor was pissed at:

“After all, we are talking about the CFL, where if you somehow manage to scrape into the playoffs, you’re only three wins away from a championship, no matter how bad your record may have been over the course of a season.

And at that championship point, everyone jumps up and down and pats each other on the back and acts as though they’ve cured cancer and declare themselves winners, when in fact somebody has to come away with a trophy in a league that has just eight teams.”

And he’s right! I love the CFL, but 75% of the teams make the playoffs! That doesn’t mean it’s easy to play professional football, but your chances of winning a championship in an eight team league are pretty high! Suitor’s got to realize that the CFL is what it is. It’s a second-rate football league. It’s fun to watch, it’s of high quality, but it’s the second best football league in the world. And it only has eight teams. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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Drop the Puck!!!

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It’s finally here. Game 1 of the 2009-10 season and I’m going to say it. The Canucks are overrated. Not that I don’t think they have a good team, but this is getting ridiculous. On TSN’s preview show last night Ray Ferraro and Pierre McGwire  picked them to go to the Stanley Cup Finals. TSN has ranked them as 6th best in the league. Not to be outdone, Sportsnet has them ranked 6th also. The Province is calling this edition of the Canucks the best ever. I like the moves that Gillis has made, and this is a playoff team, but what really has changed from a year ago? From my view, they’ve switched Ohlund, Vaananen, Sundin and Pyatt for Ehrhoff, Schneider, Samuelsson and Shirokov. An improvement, sure, but not drastic changes.

For me, the biggest improvement will come with a healthy full season from Luongo. Can we expect young players like Wellwood, Raymond, Bernier and Edler to improve? Sure. But can we expect the same kind of dream seasons from Kesler, Burrows and Mitchell? Who knows.

The Canucks are a very good team, but lets not get too excited here. They’ve improved slightly from last season.

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So with that said, here are Canuckz.com’s official predictions for the upcoming season!

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Western Conference:

1. San Jose: Don’t believe all the negative publicity. The top regular season team from a year ago got better with the addition of Heatley.

2. Detroit: They won’t be as good losing Hossa and Hudler, but they had a great season last year despite terrible goaltending from Osgood. They’ll be a force once again.

3. Vancouver: They’ll need to fight off Calgary for top spot in the division

4. Anaheim: Lost Pronger, but they have arguably the best group of top 6 forwards in the NHL.

5. Chicago: Good young team, but Huet in goal and missing Hossa to start the season will hurt.

6. St Louis: Young team caught fire in the second half of last season, that should carry-over to this year.

7. Calgary: Coaching better with Sutter, defence better with Bouwmeester, but losing Cammalleri and an improved conference will hurt.

8. Edmonton: New coach, better goal-tending and improved young players will sneak the Oilers into the playoffs this season.

9. Columbus: Hard playing in a tough division.

10. Los Angeles: Improved sure, but still question marks on defence and in goal.

11. Dallas: Having Morrow back will help, but their defence is in shambles.

12. Minnesota: No Gaborik, no Lemaire, no playoffs.

13. Nashville: Team always defies logic and plays well… until this year.

14. Phoenix: Too many distractions, too little talent.

15. Colorado: Life after Joe will be tough.

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Eastern Conference:

1. Washington: A full year with Varlamov and a talented/motivated lineup.

2. Boston: Lost Kessel, but other youngsters like Lucic, Wheeler and Krejci will pick up the slack.

3. Pittsburgh: Stanley Cup hangover will get them off to a slow start until they pick it up.

4. Philadelphia: Can Emery and Boucher hold up in goal? They’ll be average but adding Pronger will help.

5. New Jersey: A healthy Brodeur and Jacques Lemaire means they’ll be competitive.

6. Carolina: Basically the same team that caught fire in the second half of last season.

7. Buffalo: A healthy Ryan Miller and a weak division will be the recipe for a return to the playoffs.

8. Ottawa: Head coach Cory Clouston will get the Sens to over-achieve.

9. Montreal: Not enough secondary scoring.

10. NY Rangers: Tough division, can Gaborik stay healthy?

11. Tampa Bay: Can’t be as bad as last season, can they?

12. Florida: No Jay-Bo, honeymoon with their coach is over too.

13. Toronto: Not enough scoring from this truculent bunch.

14. Atlanta: Still too many questions in goal.

15. NY Islanders: A glorified AHL team, who knew making your backup goalie your new GM would be a bad idea?

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Hodgson Back to Junior, Lukowich on Waivers, Demitra Back Soon

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The Vancouver Canucks have announced that their golden boy, Cody Hodgson, will not be sticking around with the big club and instead be sent back to junior this season. I applaud the move, as he simply doesn’t belong in the NHL… yet. No need to rush him, especially with the depth they have. He’ll be extremely disappointed, but you shouldn’t make the NHL based on reputation or hype. Three years ago Dave Nonis did this with the late Luc Bourdon, keeping him for 9 games and then sent him back to junior. It was a mistake then, because Bourdon was out of his element.

Hodgson will get a chance to get healthier (it’s entirely clear his back isn’t 100%) and dominate once again in junior. He’ll also be the leading candidate to captain Canada’s world junior team. If you ask me, that’s a better way to develop than sitting in the press box or struggling on the 3rd line in the NHL.

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In other news, Brad Lukowich is on waivers. This is a mistake in my opinion. They have room to keep him on their roster, and keeping an experienced, stay-at-home defenceman that owns a Stanley Cup ring can’t be a bad thing. Maybe they figure that other teams will be scared off by his contract, but nobody will if he’s on recallable waivers. The news with Lukowich means that Aaron Rome will start the year with the Canucks.

***UPDATE***

Team 1040 is reporting that Pavol Demitra is not on the long term injury list, so this helps explain why they got rid of Lukowich (make room for Demitra on the 23 man roster and make room for his $4 million salary). This suggests that Demitra won’t be gone for long.

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Moose Calls: Opening Night Roster Almost Set

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The Canucks reduced their roster to 29 players today. Among the players sent down to Manitoba were Cory Schneider and Michael Grabner. Very disappointing for both players, considering that Schneider’s competition for the backup job was not very stiff (Andrew Raycroft) and two forward spots opened up with injuries to Pavol Demitra and Jannik Hansen. Hansen broke his hand last night in a fight with Gilbert Brule. For the first time, the word “bust” is being whispered about Grabner. Grabner is the only player taken in the top 18 of the 2006 draft that has yet to play his first NHL game. While it’s disappointing for Schneider also, it’s premature to call him a bust, as goalies typically develop slower than forwards.

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So who will be on the opening night roster? Well, of the 29 players remaining, three will be on injured reserve (Demitra, Hansen and Schneider). So that leaves 26 players, meaning that three more players will have to be sent to Manitoba, or in Cody Hodgson’s case, Brampton. Michael Funk and Lawrence Nycholat are virtual guarantees to be sent to Manitoba. Top candidates to be cut include: Cody Hodgson or Tanner Glass. Glass has been a pleasant surprise in the preseason, providing a lot of grit and even the odd goal. I believe the team will want to keep Aaron Rome (at least until Mathieu Schneider returns) and Sergei Shirokov after their impressive preseasons. If they decide to keep Hodgson, it will not be because of his play in the preseason. It will be because they believe he was hampered by his injured back and will keep him with the big club to sit in the press box for the most part. I believe that would be a mistake. The kid simply isn’t ready yet. Don’t buy the argument that “there’s nothing more that he can accomplish in junior” that has been popular lately. He had an excellent season last year in junior, but it was by no means the most dominant season in OHL history, nor did his team win a Memorial Cup. Any junior-aged player that can’t play at the NHL level can still accomplish something in junior. This is not to suggest that Manitoba isn’t the best place for him. It would be nice if the NHL could have some sort of exception for players in Hodgson’s position (three years of major junior and a first round pick).

And now in case you missed how Jannik Hansen broke his hand…

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Vigneault Signs Extension

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The Canucks have just announced that Alain Vigneault has signed a three year contract extension. The contract takes him through the 2012-13 season. While most everyone agrees that re-signing Vigneault is a good thing (except those bandwagon douchebags, of course), what are the odds of a coach lasting seven years with one team? That’s what Vigneault will have done if he coaches to the end of this contract. Seeing as how the Aquilini family is footing the bill, so long as this contract doesn’t make Gillis more hesitant to make a decision with his coach, this will prove to be a positive move.

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In other news, the Canucks trimmed their roster today, with no major surprises. Dave Scatchard was released and may have played his last NHL game. Yann Sauve is on his way back to junior while most of the others will play in Manitoba. Interestingly, Mark Parrish was not on the list of cuts (although still a long shot in my opinion).

Update: so long Mark Parrish

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What To Do About Hodgson?

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Will we be seeing Cody Hodgson in Canuck blue this season or will the people of Brampton be seeing him back in one of those snazzy green Brampton Battalion jerseys? That’s the decision that Mike Gillis and Alain Vigneault are trying to make and fans of the Canucks are debating. Yesterday I theorized that Hodgson would be sent back to junior.

I thought that until I read this from Vigneault: “One thing I firmly believe is talent has no age,” Vigneault said. “Talent helps a player improve and improve quicker. If we start with a player that might be 10 or 15 per cent behind somebody else at this time, but because his skill set is better … he might become by Christmas a better player than what we have here, we’d have to consider that in the equation.”

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To me, this is an indication that they will make excuses for Hodgson’s play. Look for them to insert Hodgson for at least the 9 games (the cut-off point for junior players able to return to junior and not count towards the cap). They will do this with the thought that as Hodgson’s back gets better and he gets more comfortable, he’ll be full marks for his NHL job. While this may be a perfectly legitimate viewpoint to have, I don’t think they should give Hodgson a job unless he really deserves 15 minutes of ice time a night. To do that, he’ll have to supplant himself into the top 9 forwards on the team. That list currently includes: both Sedins, Kesler, Burrows, Samuelsson, Wellwood, Bernier, Raymond and the injured Pavol Demitra. So then it becomes a case of who deserves the spot more, Shirokov or Hodgson. If you want to keep both (even with Demitra’s injury), then you will have to put one of your defencemen or Jannik Hansen on waivers, for which they will likely be lost. The other scenario is that Gillis pulls the trigger on a trade to open up space.

Hodgson will get a great chance to show what he’s got tonight against the Sharks when he lines up with Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler. If he doesn’t show he really belongs, then I think he should spend another year in junior.

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The Bubble Boys

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This year has been the most competitive Canucks camp in recent memory, with so many players with a realistic chance to make the team. Head coach Alain Vigneault has a lot of tough decisions ahead of him, particularly concerning players on the bubble. Numerous young and old guys are fighting for spots at forward, defense and in goal. Here’s where the “bubble boys” stack up so far:

coryschneider

Goaltenders:

Perhaps none of the battles have been as close as Schneider versus Raycroft for the backup job. Both have played well in their games, but conventional wisdom would suggest if it’s close, they’d give the job to Schneider. One would think that the Canucks want desperately to shop Schneider and then trade him as soon as possible while his stock is high. The thinking is that Schneider has already done everything he can do at the AHL level and that his trade value can only go up if he proves something in the NHL. It wouldn’t come without consequence though, Schneider’s cap hit of $1.084 million is more than double the minimum wage $500,000 hit from Raycroft. Raycroft would also have to clear waivers, while Schneider doesn’t. Should be interesting to see how Gillis makes the jigsaw puzzle come together.

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Defense:

Shane O’Brien has been impressive so far in the preseason, looking more mobile and making good decisions with the puck. Everyone knows he’s tough, but he’ll need to be reliable defensively to deserve his new $1.7 million deal. Christian Ehrhoff has 4 points in 2 games, and is looking like he is solidifying a spot on the first unit power play. Brad Lukowich is a steady defensive defenceman, which means he won’t dazzle anyone, even when he’s at his best. Look for Lukowich to be their #7 or 8 defenceman, along with O’Brien. Mathieu Schneider hasn’t played a game in the preseason yet, presumably resting the 40 year blueliner for the regular season. It would be hard to imagine them not having him in mind for their top 6 if they are resting him in the preseason. Another impressive player in the preseason has been Aaron Rome. Barring injury/trade, I give Rome very little chance at cracking the Canucks roster. The resumes of the other 8 defencemen in camp are far superior and I don’t think there’s anything Rome can do to change that.

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Forwards:

The Canucks currently have 13 proven NHL forwards under contract and I believe that all of them will make the team. Mason Raymond and Rick Rypien in particular have looked very impressive. Of the 13, Jannik Hansen is in the most danger of being thrown on waivers. That list of 13 forwards also includes the injured Pavol Demitra, which means that at least one of the bubble players will get a shot on opening day.

That’s where things get interesting. Cody Hodgson, Michael Grabner and Sergei Shirokov make-up the list of youngsters trying to crack the Canucks roster for the first time while Mark Parrish, Ronald Petrovicky and Dave Scatchard are all veterans on tryout contracts. None of the veterans have shown enough to earn an NHL gig thus far. Michael Grabner appears to be a young sniper who doesn’t score, and that’s a bad combination. Cody Hodgson has looked ok, but I don’t think he looks quite at home in the NHL yet. I think there’s a good chance that Hodgson will be sent back to junior. That leaves Sergei Shirokov. He’s impressed everyone since his first day at rookie camp and, assuming he can recover from his minor injury set-back, is my pick to make the Canucks roster.

And now for a trip back down memory lane… Possibly the greatest preseason goal ever scored:

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Bad Luck Canucks

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I woke up this morning and read a couple of troubling stories about some Canuck prospects. Arguably the Canucks best player of the preseason, Sergei “the Pocket Russian Rocket” Shirokov, suffered a mild first degree sprain on his knee in the Canucks 3-1 win over Edmonton last night. They are hoping to have him back for next weekend, which leaves him little time to impress the coaches enough to crack the opening day lineup.

I also read a story by Jason Botchford, describing Michael Grabner as “invisible” in last night’s win. I must say that I have been very disappointed in his play this preseason also. He is supposed to be a prolific scorer, and should have shown more than he has. He’s getting dangerously close to “bust” status if he can’t crack the Canucks lineup soon.

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Couple these two stories with the back ailment that Cody Hodgson is recovering from and I couldn’t help but think back to all the bad luck the Canucks seem to have had concerning draft picks. From losing the wheel turn in 1970 and having to select Dale Tallon, while the Sabres got to choose future Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault, to giving up too soon on a young Cam Neely. It seems like the Canucks don’t get a lot of breaks. When they get a good draft pick, they trade him away prematurely (see Cam Neely, Mike Peca and RJ Umberger).  When they have a bust on their hands, they seem to hold onto him forever (see Fedor Fedorov, Jim Sandlak and Nathan Smith).

Now, there are exceptions like Pavel Bure, but overall, the Canucks just seem to be cursed. Unless Bure can get into the Hall of Fame (which he has been unsuccessful so far), the Canucks are the only team (aside from the teams that joined the NHL in the 90s or later) to not have a player in the Hall of Fame that played the bulk of their career with the franchise. Every other team has had at least one Hall of Famer, like Dale Hawerchuk (Winnipeg/Phoenix), Rod Langway (Washington) and Ron Francis (Hartford/Carolina). Instead, the Canucks have had players who have been good, not great, like Trevor Linden, Stan Smyl, and Markus Naslund. All three are extremely unlikely to get a sniff of the Hall.

Lets hope Hodgson and Shirokov can get 100% healthy, and help the Canucks ASAP and have great careers. Lets also hope that Cory Schneider can find his form in the NHL to give the Canucks a good bargaining chip to play with. But if history is to repeat itself, start worrying!

Is this for real?!

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Who Are These Guys? Canucks Win 2-1 in First Game of Pre-Season

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The Canucks got their first exhibition game underway in Terrace, BC versus the New York Islanders as part of Kraft’s Hockeyville extravaganza. The game presented a once in a lifetime opportunity for Terrace residents to see the Canucks live in their hometown. Too bad the rosters of both teams more closely resembled that of an AHL roster. Now, the Islanders lineup looks like an AHL lineup at the best of times, but shame on the Canucks for not icing a more respectable lineup, given the circumstances. I know that training camp just started, but it was only about a 2 hour flight (if that) and the Canucks should have tried to put on a bit more of a show. The biggest names playing for Vancouver were Kyle Wellwood and Shane O’Brien. Maybe they didn’t need to send Luongo, but how about the Sedins, Burrows or Kesler? They would have never dared to ice such a lineup on GM Place ice. Even the most die hard hockey fan would have had a tough time identifying a lot of the players on the ice.

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That being said, it looked like the people of Terrace had a great time. It’s a real cool event that the league puts on. To the credit of the Canucks, they did send Willie Mitchell and Kevin Bieksa to sign autographs and talk to kids. Ron MacLean and Don Cherry were also on hand, undoubtedly making them the biggest celebrities on hand (with apologies to Tommy Larscheid of course).

So what about the game? The Canucks won 2-1, with two notable performances. Cory Schneider stopped every shot he faced in the half game he played and Sergei Shirokov scored both Canuck goals. I must say that I was very impressed with Shirokov. His speed, skill and vision on the ice were nice to see, as was his intensity. He’s got an outside shot to make the team. Speaking of which, isn’t Michael Grabner supposed to have speed and skill with an outside shot to make the team? He was invisible Monday night.

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Monday also marked the start of the comeback trail for Dave Scatchard, but he’s not the only veteran NHLer on a tryout with the Canucks. Ronald Petrovicky and Mark Parrish are also on unpaid tryouts with the big club. Parrish is probably the most intriguing one of the bunch, he is a six-time 20 goal scorer and is only 32. Perhaps in another year I’d give one of these three a chance to make the team, but in a year where the Canucks already have too many forwards and have young guys pushing to make it, a two-way deal is the best that these three can hope for.

Shirokov Showtime:

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