Rays of Positivity In The Midst of Disappointment

Dimitri Filipovic
May 07 2013 10:48AM


The guys in this photo have been some of the lone bright spots for the Canucks. Well, except for Marty Erat; he has been invisible.

"When I look at this series in an overview, San Jose's top players have been much much better than Vancouver's top players. San Jose's depth players have been better than Vancouver's depth players. And in totality, the goaltending has been better for San Jose." 

That was a quote from Ray Ferraro from his appearance on the CanucksArmy podcast with Thomas Drance yesterday. And while it's obviously an oversimplification, he's definitely not wrong. Not too many things have gone right for the Canucks through 3 games of their opening round series against the Sharks. I think it's fair to say that at this point things could be going better for the team.

But it hasn't been all doom and gloom; two players in particular, who fans have been overly critical of in the past, have put forth encouraging performances amidst all of the disappointment.

Read on Past the Jump for Some Reasons to Stay Upbeat.

Later on in the interview, Ferraro was asked about the cause of Vancouver's scoring woes, and he provided a more in-depth answer:

"Their power play has been less effective than it was. Then you go through their lineup; Derek Roy has been a no-show. For what they had hoped they were getting at the deadline, he has not given it to them. Chris Higgins has two shots in the series. Kesler has played 30 terrific minutes in the series, and he has been in the woodwork for the rest of it. Mason Raymond it seems like he is not going to be able to produce in the playoffs. He just can't seem to find a way to get on the inside. The Sedins have done very little, they've had very little zone time. Their strength is cycling the puck, taking it to the net with Burrows. But they haven't done it enough. They haven't found a way to do it. Maybe they can't do it. So I mean, if you go through that, who's going to score?   If I go through this Canucks roster, the guy that I say has been the best skater, and I don't it has been even close, has been Jason Garrison ."

It should come as no surprise given the work we have been accustomed to receiving from him during TSN broadcasts, but Ferraro hits the nail on the head here. The Vancouver Canucks have managed to score 5 goals (including 1 in garbage time) in 3 games. Their stars (Sedins, Kesler) have yet to string together one full solid game, and the role players that they've come to count on (Roy, Higgins, Burrows, Hansen, Raymond) have been non-existent. 

Just from the eye test, I would have told you that Jason Garrison has probably been the team's best skater through 3 games. Then I looked at the numbers, and was blown away. Now keep in mind that the following are at 5v5 play:

  Corsi On(/60) Corsi Relative Corsi Rel QoC Fenwick Differential TOI/60
Jason Garrison 32.88 27.1 7.928 14 16.42
Dan Hamhuis 15.73 1 7.294 10 16.53
Alex Edler 7.86 -12.6 -2.511 1 20.34
Kevin Bieksa -1.04 -27 -2.707 -4 19.24

Kind of supports what you've been seeing, no? Garrison (while being paired with Hamhuis) has been charged with handling the Burns-Thornton-Galiardi line, which provides quite the challenge. Yet they have been coming out on top, driving play in a serious way. In fact, I'd even go as far as saying that they are crushing while they're out there. Garrison has also registered 15 shots on goal, which is 6 more than any other player on the team. But ultimately, he has no points, and doesn't really have anything to show for his play. In Game 3, he played a fine game, yet was -11 in scoring chance differential while shorthanded. That has really been this series in a nutshell.

In my books, the second best Canuck skater has been the wild thing, Zack Kassian. While he, just like Garrison, has yet to have his play generate a goal, I have been thoroughly impressed. He has shown an inherent ability to force the action (in a good way), and turn a seemingly meaningless play into a scoring chance. There has been very little excitement from the Canucks perspective, but whenever there has been anything, it seems like he has been in the middle of it. While he has been out on the ice, the team has outshot the Sharks 19-14, and have attempted 13 more shots. 

Ever since the start of the series, really, the majority of fans have been clamouring to see Kassian have some more shifts alongside the Sedins. Yet through 2 games, he had only seen 5:40 of combined ice-time with them (mostly after penalty kills). He saw 5 minutes with them in Game 3 on Sunday night, but most of that came with the game out of hand late in the 3rd period.

He's definitely not perfect; he is still prone to bone-headed mistakes, and dumb penalties (like in Game 1), but with the disappearing act by Alex Burrows, I find it perplexing that he hasn't been given a longer look on the team's top line. I'd say that I'd expect to see that change in Game 4, but at this point, who really knows. His best bet might be to wait it out and get in the new coaches graces come next Fall.

Which brings me to the coaching, and officially ends the positive nature of this post. I've long been an Alain Vigneault supporter, defending him against what I deemed to be irrational complaints about him. Regardless of what you thought about him, facts are still facts, and he has been the most successful coach in the franchise's history. That counts for something, right?

Whenever someone has suggested that he needs to go, I've raised the question of who there is out there that's a better option. I can guarantee that he will be without a job roughly as long as Bruce Boudreau was, should the Canucks choose to part ways with him.

But he has become increasingly more and more difficult to defend, and I've begun coming to terms with the idea that his days are numbered. The Canucks have had major issues generating any sort of meaningful offense for a while now, and he has shown a reluctance to mix things up, and be creative. At some point you have to stop closing your eyes and blindly hoping for things to magically turn around. During an intermission on Sunday, Aaron Ward called out the team's system, and said, "the definition of insanity is doing the same act over and over again, expecting a different result."

Just look at the usage of Jason Garrison and Zack Kassian. They have been the team's two most effective skaters, yet they have been grossly underutilized, and their talents have failed to be optimized. When you have five goals in three games as a team, that's a problem.

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Dimitri Filipovic writes about hockey on the internet, and is the Managing Editor of Canucks Army. You can follow him on Twitter @DimFilipovic, and email him at dimitri.filipovic@gmail.com.
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#1 Kaybee
May 07 2013, 11:02AM
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I could've gone either way with AV, but Aaron Ward's comments are the straw that breaks the camal's back. I always suspected this Canucks team hasn't been played to its strengths this season, and doing the same thing over and over IS the definition of insanity.

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#2 billm
May 07 2013, 12:04PM
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Av's unwillingness to utilize the pieces Gillis has brought in should be his undoing.

Ballard,Garrison,Kassian.

It's the coach's prerogative I guess to decide which players to use,no coach wants to be dictated to by the front office on who plays. It's also his sword to fall on if his hunches don't pay off.

AV wants Ballard to play like Willie Mitchell. Low event, stay at home d. Ballard though, is not Willie Mitchell. Ballard is a puck moving offensive orientated defenseman.If I remember correctly, he was brought in to fill some of Erhoff's shoes. On a team that struggles to score, you would think he is an asset when paired with a more conservative partner. Nope, to the press box with you.

Kassian, kid comes out of the gate with the twins scores 5 goals in the first 7 games. Struggles for a couple games and bam 4th line. Way to develop what could have been an impact player. He gives the Sedins plenty Burrows doesn't, physical presence. Drive to the net, big bdy to screen, protection from goonery.

Garrison. We all know the problem here. The PP has sucked goats balls all year. Zero adjustments made by the coaching staff except to remove Kelser from where he works his magic on the PP, in front, to the point. Want to stop Pavelski and Couture dropping to block point shots on the PK. Have them eat a couple Garrison howitzers.

AV's biggest failing is his unwillingness to adjust the system to fit the players he has to work with.

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#3 AC
May 07 2013, 12:23PM
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I have to agree with you on AV... I think he's one of the top coaches in the league, but I think his days in Van are done.

It's almost like he's been with the same team for such a long time, and had so much success in the past, that his decisions are made with too much historical data. I have nothing to back that up, it's just a feeling I get watching them play.

I don't necessarily think he's "lost the room"... I think it's more like when you've worked somewhere for along time and everything starts to become too routine. I think AV probably needs a change of scenery for his on sake. But wherever he ends up next season will probably be a much improved club, and I don't have a clue who the Canucks could bring in to replace him.

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#4 KleptoKlown
May 07 2013, 12:28PM
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Unless the Canucks pull a horse shoe out of there asses and come back to win the series, and then the cup, I think it's pretty much garunteed that AV is gone.

Wonder when the first CA article will come out comparing available coaches, and which ones would work best with Vancouver.

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#6 Matt
May 07 2013, 12:42PM
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I've also been an Alain Vigneault supporter and felt the majority of criticism against him was unwarranted or stemmed from unrealistic expectations, but I too am starting to feel like it might be time for the Canucks to look elsewhere. I think he did a really good job in the first half of this season keeping the team winning in spite of injuries, but down the stretch and into the playoffs he just seems out of ideas and to be making some baffling decisions, particularly surrounding defense (Edler & Bieksa is a bad pairing, plain and simple, and Garrison clearly deserves first unit PP time) and the favoring of Ebbett over Schroeder.

To put it another way, when Vigneault made heavily-criticized coaching decisions in the past, I either understood his underlying reasoning, or gave him the benefit of the doubt and ended up seeing the results eventually. But his recent decision-making has been baffling and hasn't had positive results.

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#7 Matt
May 07 2013, 12:50PM
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Could Scott Arniel get a promotion?

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#8 Rob
May 07 2013, 12:50PM
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If AV does get let go, I really hope the Canucks bring in a coach who actually made a career out of playing the game and has some serious hockey chops. I know a lot of very good coaches never had spectacular playing careers but this Canucks team needs a good kick in the rear and it would come best from a guy who played in the NHL for a long time.

I'd like to know other people's thoughts on this.

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#9 VBS6935
May 07 2013, 12:53PM
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Einstein was a much better physicist than a philosopher. His definition points to a lack of creativity rather than insanity at least in the medical sense. You do the same thing over and over when you can't imagine doing anything different.

Is the lack of creativity on the coaching side or the player's side? Maybe its some of both, but its easier to change a couple of coaches rather than a handful of players.

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#10 VBS6935
May 07 2013, 12:54PM
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One of the names that has been raised as a possible new coach in Colorado is AV!!

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#11 ACE
May 07 2013, 01:30PM
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Interesting take re: Vigneault. I've been a supporter of his ever since he came to Vancouver, but the lack of playing time given to our two best skaters is kinda disappointing given how our top players have been playing for much of this series. I remember that early in his tenure as coach, he always seemed to get a lot of blame for constantly switching line combinations and not giving teammates enough time to develop any chemistry. In the past few years he's been a little more patient (perhaps stubborn even?) with his line combinations and while making a few personel mistakes along the way, has kept things fairly consistent. Apparently, he still needs to get canned. The guy just can't win. As Dim mentioned in the article above, he's the most successful coach in franchise history, and people are still calling for his head. Kind of unfair, but what can we expect from a bipolar fan base who only seem to remember the bad?

Anyways, another thought about potential bright spots: Luongo's play in games 1 and 2 has to be good for the Canucks. Reimer hasn't exactly been stellar in Toronto through three games, and if they do drop out this round, I'm sure trade talks will heat up again between the two clubs, and a potential return could very well be more significant than anticipated. Just a thought.

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#12 KleptoKlown
May 07 2013, 01:34PM
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@VBS6935

I sure hope Hejduk enjoys playing 55 minutes a game.

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#13 Nat
May 07 2013, 01:35PM
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"The Canucks have had major issues generating any sort of meaningful offense for a while now, and he has shown a reluctance to mix things up, and be creative."

I'm not a big fan of Alain, but I wonder about this statement.

The first observation there: isn't that on GMMG for not bringing in some scoring punch? How do we know it's Alain's fault?

2nd: when? The resistance to putting Garrison on PP unit #1 is definitely galling. But he has shuffled the forward lines a number of times this season when we were having scoring issues to try and find a solution.

That being said, at some point you just need new blood on the coaching side of things(unless the team has won the championship one or more times during that span). And on that note, I'm curious: does this mean Bowness and/or Brown may be going?

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#14 ACE
May 07 2013, 01:43PM
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@Nat

I imagine Bowness and Brown will be gone. Usually a head coach brings in his own assistants. I think Bowness was a head coach in Ottawa at some point and AV was his assistant? Lots of execs and coaches tend to move around the league together.

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#15 Pinner
May 07 2013, 01:56PM
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Actually, that's not the definition of insanity, it's just a quote someone once said that's been repeated many times...

But yes, vig's lack of adjustment to play those players who have been performing well, and separate those who haven't from each other (wouldn't HamJuice and Edler/Garrison be even worth trying to settle down bieksa and edler, who have been a nightmare together?) may well be the tolling of the bell.

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#16 NM00
May 07 2013, 03:25PM
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Why exactly is the emphasis on the coach instead of the GM?

Are people actually going to be satisfied if AV, Lou and Ballard are sacrificed without a retooling of the core?

Or do we believe in magical coaching powers that will fix everything that ails the team?

Nobody on this board has any idea what affect the coach has on the team.

But, if anything, why wouldn't we believe that the winningest coach in team history with the best track record of player development in team history isn't the problem?

Gillis inherited a talented base and has not done a good job of supplementing the core.

In general, coaches are sacrificed for poor management decisions. Hence, that is where the focus should be.

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#17 Corrado
May 07 2013, 06:30PM
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I'd also add Corrado to this mix. Yes he's played little mins and sheltered ones at that, but he's been good. He's done what's been asked of him - "just don't hurt the team".

Going into the play playoffs, I was concerned about Kassian and his defensive issues hurting the team. Boy was I wrong. For a young player, he's been really good. I'm really impressed with this kid.

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#18 Wetcoaster
May 07 2013, 08:50PM
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Maybe they'll bring in Ron Wilson who'll give Canucks fans all the exciting losses we can handle.

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