Every so often, I will think of topics for a blog post that never quite get enough fleshing out. When that happens, I’ll compile them all into this little feature, “Quick Thoughts with Cullen”. Enjoy.
I sat back and watched the Boston-Vancouver game play out, watched the reactions from both sides, and couldn’t help but think, “man, this is absolutely nothing this team needs.” Vancouver has long been obsessed (both the fans and the media) with creating rivalries for the team. I can understand that, given Vancouver has no real geographic rival, with the Rockies separating them from the Alberta teams (who have their own storied history) and all the other Canadian teams playing in the Eastern Conference, but it gets to be enough; especially when “rivalries” are created that don’t really exist(Calgary) with opponents that they don’t play often (Toronto).
The best rivalries coalesce naturally. Currently, the team has an excellent rival in Chicago. They play them several times a year, they have postseason and off-ice history, and no fabrication of hate was necessary. Now, it appears Boston is on the horizon as some sort of potential rival for the team, based on a single playoff series. Yeah, it was for the Stanley Cup, and yeah, there was a riot after, but considering the teams don’t even necessarily meet once a year (barring a Finals repeat), it all seems like a giant waste of energy to me.
Apparently it was, as the Canucks have been truly dreadful since that Boston game. That’s the danger of creating rivals where they don’t exist, especially ones you don’t play often. You pour too much into a game that doesn’t mean enough in the long run, and it’s impossible to argue that game hasn’t cost them, both in points and in confidence. Allow rivalries to exist naturally, and one team at a time. Chicago and Boston lead their respective conferences. We don’t have time or energy to hate both.
Boston has been lauded as the Eastern Conference favorite, and with good reason, as their depth is unmatched in the NHL. However, you have to think Vancouver is second on the depth side, particularly when you stretch down to the AHL level and see that they have NHL-ready forwards, defense, and goaltending at the wait. When news circled this week the team was looking at George Parros, I wondered (and so did Thomas Drance) where he’d fit in. They’re certainly not hurting on defense, especially with Chris Tanev (who Jeff Angus profiles tomorrow!) waiting in the wings. So let’s look at the forward line combinations from tonight:
- Sedin – Sedin – Burrows
- Raymond – Kesler – Higgins
- Booth – Hodgson – Hansen
- Lapierre – Malhotra – Weise
Most likely, no one on the top three lines is going anywhere. Hodgson is finding increased ice- time(more on that below) and is scoring at the highest PPG/60 on the team right now. David Booth was an upgrade found through trade, so he goes nowhere, and Jannik Hansen is an invaluable penalty killer and asset. Lapierre stays in the line-up as he is the type of playoff pest you need(and was fantastic for the Canucks in their run last year), and Malhotra is too good on draws and in tough circumstance.
So really, the only player you imagine being replaced in a trade is Weise, and maybe Raymond. As a blogger, I hate him, so I’d be happy to see him replaced, but the reality is, he provides a good service that’s going to be difficult to replace without giving up too much. Many of the names tossed around in trade discussions are centremen(Gaustad, any number of Ducks players, etc.), and the Canucks already have enough converted centres as it is. This doesn’t discount say, Mason Raymond and futures being moved for a stronger piece, but it still seems unlikely that Gillis looks for a “flashy” upgrade.
Did I miss the part where Ryan Kesler is mandated to score 40 goals a year? Everyone is on the guy, but here’s the thing: had he not given us 40 goals last year, does this pressure still exist? Yes, he probably came back from major surgery too early, and a guy who plays his style of game was always going to be affected by a mobility-limiting surgery. He performed above the average last year and he still has the tools to be wildly successful on the team, but 40 goals is not a must from him.
I heard somewhere that the Canucks weren’t a Stanley Cup contender if Kesler isn’t scoring, which I find pretty difficult to believe since he plays an invaluable role on the best PP unit in the league (even if he’s not notching points like he did last season) and his ability to play in all situations is vital.
We’d all like him to find his form from last season, but he can still be just as effective for the team being not AS good and regressing to the mean because, well, he’s still one hell of a player.
And all that said, I still think the "beast-mode" competitor in him rises up for the playoffs regardless.
You know what really might prevent the Canucks from being a Stanley Cup-winning team? The Sedins play at even strength.
They get a bit too much of a pass for all their heroics, fancy passing, and PP dominance, but the reality is they still get stopped too much at ES and don’t pick up the slack defensively. Their production is a bit too reliant on cushy zone starts, and it becomes apparent during the playoffs.
Maybe it’s the fault of AV for not putting them in tougher situations during the season or using them on the PK to keep them fresh, but for me, seeing the twins overcome that particular deficiency is the real key to this team winning the Cup.
The key to Cody Hodgson’s game right now is confidence. When he was named Major Junior Player of the Year in 2009, his best play came from his confidence on the puck. In the World Juniors that year, he outshone the likes of John Tavares and Jordan Eberle because he played like a professional, exhibiting a calmness on the puck and an awareness that slipped away from him when he began to have troubles with his back.
The good news is that he’s finding it again, and that’s what makes the strategy to slowly increase his ice-time such a brilliant one: the increase in ice-time mirrors the increase in his confidence. He’s beginning to find he can keep the puck at this level and be successful. He’s also making full use of his vision and his shot, which is turning heads as one of the better ones in the league. Last year, I felt he rushed into plays and never really looked like the player he once was. It’s great to see him look as good as he is looking right now.
Perspective for the week: if the worst thing about your team is that they’re bad at shootouts…you need to follow a team with things worth complaining about.