December Awards

Back in early November, I (figuratively) handed out some hardware to Canuck players. Some of the “trophies” awarded were more serious than others. At the time, the Canucks were hovering around the .500 mark, thanks to sluggish starts from a few key players. Since then, they have been on a tear, thanks to said players playing much, much better. Cory Schneider channelling Dominik Hasek for a few weeks didn’t hurt, either. Why don’t we hand out some more awards that are completely made up and mean absolutely nothing!

The Straw (that Stirs the Drink) award (given to Vancouver’s most important player) goes to…

Ryan Kesler. Elliotte Friedman’s weekly 30 Thoughts for the CBC is the best read in hockey. In his most recent entry, he wrote this:

The more I watch Vancouver, the more I think the key is Ryan Kesler. There are a lot of really good players on that team, but Kesler is the catalyst — the critical piece. With everything that happened to the Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final this past spring, can’t help but wonder if they find a way to win one more game if Kesler’s closer to 100 per cent.

I would have to agree with Mr. Friedman. The Sedin twins are two of the best offensive talents in the league, and Roberto Luongo is one of the better goalies around (in months that don’t start with the letter O). However, Kesler’s tenacity, consistency, and ability to do so many different things at such a high level has a massive, and positive effect on his teammates. When Kesler is flying early in a game, it usually ends in a victory for the Canucks. I also think there may be a positive correlation between the number of dives he takes and how well he is playing, but that is something for another day.

I made the point a few months ago after speaking with an NHL pro scout. He said teams had such issues matching up against the Canucks because Kesler and Sedin are such different centers, and defensemen have to play against them so differently (different gaps, different coverage off the rush and down low, that sort of thing).

The Roberto Luongo award (given to the Canuck goaltender who bounces back after an awful start to the season) goes to…

Who else? After an October that was uglier than Luke Schenn’s defensive game, and a November in which his starting spot was temporarily stolen away, Luongo has been a brick wall for the Canucks over the past month or so. He has two losses in his last 11 starts, allowing more than two goals in a game only three times. His save percentage is a perfect microcosm for the Canucks season – .869 in October, .924 in November, and .937 in December. He may flop around too early, he is often ventilated by opposing skaters during the shootout, and he is prone to the odd goal from behind the net. That said, he’s still one of the best in the game.

The Alex Burrows award (given to the emerging scorer who was originally pegged as a plugger) goes to…

Jannik Hansen. Hansen has shown flashes of a very good checking line winger in the past – tenacity on the forecheck, an ability to play physical hockey, and a good sense of positioning in all three zones. However, he’s brought a new element to his game this season – the ability to make offensive plays on a consistent basis. There are only nine players in the entire league who have more even strength goals than Hansen (11), too. The Honey Badger won’t keep up his shooting percentage of about 20 (he’s an 11.6 percent shooter for his career), but he’s showing that he can use his speed and aggressiveness for more than penalty killing and energy shifts.

Like Burrows, he was passed over as a prospect (Burrows was never drafted, Hansen lasted all the way until round nine in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft). He may sound like Marc Crawford when he talks, but his game is as manly as it gets.

The Grass is Greener Award (given to the coach who people think we should fire for asinine reasons) goes to… Alain Vigneault

Sure, Vigneault plays his favourites. What coach doesn’t? The management team has 100% trust in him. The leadership group of the team (Luongo, Daniel, Henrik, Kesler, Hamhuis, Salo, Malhotra) all respect him and how he lets them run the dressing room with a lot more autonomy than most teams. Vigneault isn’t perfect, but he gets a ridiculous amount of unwarranted criticism. Stability at the coaching position is something that we undervalue as fans.

People worry about Vigneault “losing the room.” He isn’t the kind of coach who really had the room to begin with. Unlike a Ron Wilson, Randy Carlyle or a Mike Keenan, Vigneault doesn’t handle his players abrasively (at least on a regular basis). He uses his leaders to disseminate his message among the rest of the team. He rewards hard workers and strong performances, and guys love playing for him because of those reasons.

The Does this Guy Ever Get Tired award (given to the player who never stops working) goes to…

Chris Higgins. There hasn’t been a Canuck this season who has given more effort during every single shift than Higgins. He’s fast and deceptively strong, but most of all, he wins a ton of puck battles down low and along the boards. In the regular season, this is an important skill. In the playoffs, it’s essential. Higgins can play anywhere from line one to line four and at any position. His acquisition at the deadline last season flew well under the radar (and it is one Vancouver almost didn’t make), but I have a hunch he has a few big goals in him for at least the next two seasons as a Canuck.