He’s the hero that Vancouver deserves (courtesy @SchneidersTeeth).
This is a new Friday feature combining a healthy mixture of observation, analysis, and foresight on the Vancouver Canucks. If you’d like to get at me about anything covered in this column, follow me on Twitter at @yyjordan and let’s start a textual relationship (wink).
This week’s topics include everything from Alain Vigneault to "the goalie situation", with absolutely no mention of Zack Kassian.
1. So, Zack Kassian. Talk about taking advantage of your opportunities. Zack made the most out of a surprise shift with the Sedins in Sunday’s game against Edmonton, and so far he hasn’t looked back. What impresses me most about Kassian is not just his ability to be in the right spot for the twins, but his ability to create plays himself (read Patrick Johnston’s excellent breakdown of Kassian’s "beast mode" goal against the Flames). He has underrated vision and passing ability, which has helped him excel with Daniel and Henrik despite two mediocre efforts by their lofty standards. Before Alexandre Burrows came along, fans used to pine for "a big, right-handed shot to play with the twins". It took about 7 years longer than expected, but that player could finally be here.
2. It’s a small sample size (and a player who just turned 22 yesterday is bound to have some ups and downs along his development curve), but if Kassian sticks with the Sedins, the landscape of the Canucks forward group changes drastically. It likely allows Burrows to slot in comfortably on the wing with Ryan Kesler and David Booth when they’re healthy, and that is an attractive line on paper. That means one of Hansen, Raymond or Higgins is playing on the 4th line. That’s lower than any of them deserve, but depth never hurts, especially in a short season.
3. Continuing the Kassian thread, a few stats for those who claim Alain Vigneault doesn’t give young players a fair shake: Zack had nearly 20 minutes of ice-time against Calgary, and replaced Jannik Hansen on the top power-play unit. Meanwhile, in his first NHL game Jordan Schroeder played just under 15 minutes, saw time on the second power-play unit, and took the second shift in overtime against a division rival. AV has always done what any sensible person coaching a good team would do, and that’s give opportunities to young players if they prove they deserve it and are solid defensively.
4. This brings us to drafting. Cam Cole published an interview with Mike Gillis earlier in the week and everyone jumped on the quote about Roberto Luongo, but what I found most noteworthy was the criticism of Gillis’ draft history. Not only is it too early to judge Gillis’ body of work at the draft (his first was 2008), but there are no surefire stars when you’re picking in the 20-30 range (which Cole does admit). What Gillis has done a stellar job of is adding quality players through trades and free agency without sacrificing too much; Max Lapierre, Chris Higgins, Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malhotra, Jason Garrison, even Raffi Torres and Dale Weise…all good-to-great additions. He’s also locked up his core of players to deals below market value.
5. Speaking of Jason Garrison, how have you liked him in a Canucks uniform so far? I’m a fan. During the season opener, a friend remarked that it is as if Garrison is just the right combination of Sami Salo and Christian Ehrhoff. I can see his point — the booming shot and steady defense of Salo, mixed with the passing instincts (if not quite the skating ability) of Ehrhoff.
6. Earlier in the week Bob McKenzie reported that both the Oilers and Blackhawks are interested in Roberto Luongo. I had a lengthy discussion with several people on Twitter about this, and it’s hard to imagine either scenario. You just don’t trade an elite goaltender to a division rival who’s had the last three 1st overall picks. The last time something like that happened, the goalie was lifting the Stanley Cup soon after. For a rival like the Oilers or Hawks to end up with Luongo, they’re going to have to overpay; think along the lines of Dave Bolland, Patrick Sharp, or Jordan Eberle. Fans of those teams will crap their pants reading that, but don’t expect a rival to just hand you the goalie you’ve been searching for for nothing.
7. Jeff Marek mentioned on his podcast that there is still bad blood between Kevin Lowe and Mike Gillis over the botched Michael Nylander deal in 2007. If you’ve forgotten, Gilis and Nylander apparently had a deal all but done with Edmonton, before turning aroud and signing with the Washington Capitals. Just another reason why a deal with the Oilers is very unlikely.
8. Read #17 in Elliotte Friedman’s always excellent "30 Thoughts" from this week. It’s an interesting note from Kelly Hrudey — who played in the last lockout-shortened season — about how the muscles in a goalie’s eyes need to be trained for the speed of the NHL game. It could help explain the slow starts of both Vancouver netminders, and a few others around the league.
9. Behind the Net has their advanced stats up for the season so far. There are plenty of wacky numbers this early in a shortened season, and taking a look at PDO ratings will reveal that the Anaheim trio of Saku Koivu, Andrew Cogliano and Daniel Winnik that victimized the Canucks last Saturday are among the league leaders in that category. It’s a reminder that much of what we’ve seen this week is likely an aberration in the big picture, even if the picture is smaller this year.
10. Finally, I just want to mention how great it is that Canucks hockey is back, and I love that I get to watch games again and share the experience with a lot of you on Twitter. The Twitter aspect of Canucks broadcasts is one of the things I missed the most during the lockout. No matter what happens in the game, something hilarious always happens on Twitter (like the image for this post). I look forward to what the rest of what this super weird short season has in store.