Pre-Pre-Season Thoughts

Owen Nolan was cut yesterday. Was his "Recchi-like" presence something the team needed?

I didn’t write a gamer last night, because frankly, if the Canucks aren’t dressing a "Canucks line-up," why waste the effort? We’ve seen five preseason games so far this September, and only Marco Sturm among sure-fire top-9 forwards, and absolutely no top-4 Dmen have suited up for even a single game. The Canucks are resting their veterans, and the "Wolves in Canucks clothing" are getting dominated by the top-lines of legitimate teams. You have to feel for Eddie Lack and Cory Schneider who got lit up for four goals apiece in their respective games this weekend. Facing guys like Getzlaf, Perry, Thornton and Marleau behind a blue-line featuring names like Keith Ballard, Alexander Sulzer and Nolan Baumgartner isn’t an enviable task.

The Canucks play the Ducks again on Wednesday and finally should dress some of their actual roster players. So lets call the upcoming two games this week the actual "pre-season," and categorize what’s gone before as the "pre-pre-season." Here’s some thoughts, on what we’ve seen in the pre-pre-season.

The PTOs

Owen Nolan – who many thought was the try-out veteran most likely to make the team – was cut last night, which, increases the likelihood that none of the guys invited to camp will make the team. This isn’t a surprise to anyone who was paying attention. For the most part, the guys invited to camp on PTOs weren’t particularly good; hell, Dimitrakos, Legace and Eriksson were marginal NHLers two years ago. 

Two PTO guys now remain: Todd Fedoruk and Anders Eriksson. Does Aaron Rome’s injury, and the sloppy play of Ryan Parent and Alexander Sulzer open up a possible spot for Anders Eriksson? Doubtful – but it’s not impossible that Eriksson is kept on the roster for insurance purposes, and waived at some-point in late October or early November.

As for Fedoruk – I think he’s been awful, but Vigneault has been complimentary about his play. My educated guess would be that his chances of making the team as a "designated heavy-weight" are probably pretty close to 50-50 at this point. This is good news for people who like staged fights, but I’m not particularly enthused by this development. I don’t believe the Canucks need "an enforcer" outside of an effective power-play, and though I’m rooting for Fedoruk as a person, as a Canucks fan and a proponent of relative hockey non-violence – I’ll be somewhat disappointed if Fedoruk makes the main-club.

Prospect Depth

The Canucks were near the bottom of every relevant "organizational prospect-depth ranking" this summer: 26th according to PuckProspectus, 29th according to ESPN and 27th according to Sounds grim right? Well don’t worry – the news of the Canucks demise may have been slightly over-stated. Though the organization still lacks relative depth, and quality among their prospects pool – the performance of their most highly touted prospects so far this past month should help to alleviate some of that concern.

Cody Hodgson, Nicklas Jensen and Jordan Schroeder – Mike Gillis’ three 1st round picks – all remain on the main club at the moment. Most observers expect that at least one, and possibly two of those three skaters, will get a chance to start the season on the big club. Throw in tantalizing showings from guys like Frankie Corrado (5th round pick in 2011), Darren Archibald (undrafted free-agent), Eddie Lack (undrafted free-agent), Adam Polasek (5th round 2010) and Anton Rodin (2nd round pick 2009) and things are not looking as grim on the prospects-front as one might have thought.

Of course, the continued development of Chris Tanev – who has "graduated" from consideration as a prospect having played 33 NHL games – is the most promising sign of all. Chris Tanev, like Lack and Archibald, was an undrafted free-agent signing out of the Rochester Institute of Technology. With Gillis habitually trading 2nd and 3rd round picks at the trade deadline to bolster the team’s core, a trend that will continue over the next couple of seasons while the teams "championship window" remains "open", finding future roster-players in non-traditional places is essential.

Mike Duco

The pint-sized controversial tweeter has turned heads this preseason with a supernatural ability to piss off opponents. He’s played in five preseason games and carries an even +/- rating, a bucket load of penalty minutes and a game-winning short-handed goal. In the race for those fourth line winger spots – he’s got to be considered the front-runner at the moment. 

In Duco we’ve seen a player who deliberately targets the oppositions stars, and goes after them. He plays on the edge, sure, but we haven’t seen anything Matt Cooke-like from him yet, which, frankly is important to me.What we’ve seen is Duco wipe out Taylor Hall with a clean hit (that frustrated Hall), drawing the ire of Ryan Smyth (who leapt in to protect the Oilers rookie) and Theo Peckham (who may, or may not have left the bench – risking an automatic 10 game suspension – just to smack Duco). We’ve seen Duco play physically with Lubomir Visnovsky and goad Ducks all-star Ryan Getzlaf into a fight. He bothered Randy Carlyle – the Ducks head-coach – enough for Carlyle to sic J.F. Jacque on Duco late in a preseason game – a move that will cost Carlyle a pretty penny.

The Canucks are major contenders for the title of "the league’s most hated team" – and for the most part, this reputation isn’t deserved. Sure the fans are annoying, but the team? The team dives to try and draw penalties (guess what: part of letting your power-play be the enforcer, is getting on the power-play), but mostly they try to play between the whistles and turn the other cheek. In my view – and yeah, I’m biased – they’re not the group of malignant cheap-shot artists that some would make them out to be. Other teams have guys who regularly take liberties with star players – think Brad Marchand, or Dave Bolland’s habit of hacking like he’s got whooping cough – so it makes sense that the Canucks should too.

When I googled "Mike Duco cheap-shot" the only thing I came up with is this episode from his second NHL game. Looks like he jumped an unprepared Alexandre Giroux after a clean-hit in a blow-out. He’s a couple years older now, and if he makes the team out of training camp will be less desperate to be noticed, and better composed. But overall, I really like the aggravating package he brings to the table. I don’t want to see Duco injure anyone intentionally, or concuss anyone – but an agitator who will treat the opposition’s star players the way the opposition usually treats the Sedins? Perfect. Pair him with Maxim Lapierre – and the Canucks will properly earn that "most-hated team" championship belt in no time.

Looking For What We’ve Already Got.

Canucks fans and observers have a tendency to think the team really badly requires something the team, in fact, already possesses. Is it just me, or has this tendency been particularly obvious this summer?

Fans have spent hours on twitter, various message boards and on call-in shows lamenting the teams lack of a "premiere" power forward for the second line. It’s as if, what the Canucks really need is a fast, physical goal scorer who excels in a net presence role for their second line and the power-play. A player who would be a perfect fit for that role in a Canucks uniform would be a guy like Ryan Kesler. Oh wait, he’s already a mainstay on the team? Well then.

Or how about the Canucks need for a Mark Recchi type. A been there, done that veteran to lend a calming presence and some clutch play on a cup run. He should be older than 35, and have relevant cup experience while still being able to contribute on the power-play and in the top-6. Mikael Samuelsson anybody?

Granted, Mikael Samuelsson hasn’t had the sure-fire hall of fame career of a Mark Recchi – but Samuelsson is more qualified for this role than an oldster like Owen Nolan. Consider that Nolan has never won a cup (or been to a conference final), whereas Samuelsson has, not only won a cup, but made it to the finals in consecutive years. Seems to me that he’s far more qualified for the "Resident Mark Recchi" position than Owen Nolan.

  • Rob...

    Nice read. A couple thoughts:

    I am not at all opposed to starting the year with a young 2nd line while Raymond and Kesler heal up. It would be a great opportunity to see what some combo of Hodgson/Schroeder/Jensen could do with decent minutes. The team is deep enough overall that I don’t think this would hurt for a month or so.

    I can’t believe we’re talking about an 18-year-old 29th overall pick actually having a shot at making the opening night roster. Awesome.

    Lapierre/Duco would make a great 4th line duo. Both annoy the hell out of the other team’s top players, but aren’t cheap shot artists as you mentioned.

    What’s happening with Byron Bitz? Haven’t heard an update in a while.

    Fedoruk is garbage and has no place on a contending team.

  • Mantastic

    if you complaing of how bolland hacks players, do you really need to look much farther then burrows to see he does the same? canucks being the most hated team in the league is very well deserved, with such stand outs as bertuzzi and cooke previously being a part of the roster and not to mention their current roster… diving is terrible for the game and i’m glad shanahan will be suspending those players in the future.

  • Burrows crossed the line memorably once last season (a really gross hack at Marc Staal) but he really doesn’t go to the stick-work anymore.

    Diving is one thing, but it’s not injurious. In fact, if I had to choose between “staged fights” and “dangerous retributive hits” and “diving” I’d pick diving in a heart-beat.

    • Mantastic

      “Diving is one thing, but it’s not injurious. In fact, if I had to choose between “staged fights” and “dangerous retributive hits” and “diving” I’d pick diving in a heart-beat.”

      if you associate diving with those acts, then it’s pretty bad.

  • Big Cap

    A vet with good experience, leadership, and plays with some jam??? DONT NEED HIM!!

    I just wonder if he would have allowed rookie Brad Marchand to punch him in the face 6 times during the Stanley Cup Final???