Cheers and Jeers – Oct. 17, 2014

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It’s Friday, the Canucks haven’t played in forever, and now it’s time for: “Cheers and Jeers!”

This regular feature was originally started by Canucks Army forefather Cam Davie during the 2011-12 hockey season. Now that I’m the old hand at this here Canucks hockey blog (that happened… quickly), I figure it’s my turn to carry on tradition.

This week, on the other side of the jump, I give a high-five to Willie Desjardins and Bo Horvat and wag my finger at Milan Lucic and beat up the dead horse that is the Canucks’ recent draft record…

Cheers – A toast to Willie Desjardins – who is a breath of fresh air.

Sure we haven’t seen the Canucks play in nearly a week, which kind of sucks for Canucks fans, but it’s probably pretty good for the team. 

One thing that struck me immediately about the Canucks in their season opening game against Calgary was that they appeared to be running sets – at 4-on-5 with the twins on the ice, defenders switching to their weak side on in-zone play when Henrik Sedin was handling the puck low, hook passes through the neutral zone – which is pretty unusual for NHL teams. 

Generally speaking most coaches don’t really get down to the x’s and o’s of it until they’ve sliced their roster down to the 23 man limit after camp, it’s just too hard to do white board sessions with 56 guys and split practices going on. So it was interesting that the Canucks seemed unusually polished against Calgary and Edmonton; especially for a team playing under a first year head coach.

I’d be curious to see the players asked whether or not Desjardins, who so far seems to be living up to his ‘Whiteboard Willie’ monicker, approached things a bit differently. Certainly to my eye it appears that he might have. 

And now that the team has had a week off with a 23-man roster, I’m actually really curious to see if there’s a few new wrinkles on display against the Edmonton Oilers and Tampa Bay Lightning this weekend. 

So Desjardins gets our first cheer of the week, because I’m actually excited to see how the Canucks play this weekend, and I’m not dreading the prospect of watching a collapsing team try (and fail) to breakout of their zone with a series of hail mary outlet passes to unsupported wingers.

Jeers – Come on Milan Lucic.

The wanking motion was crass and that’s what got the guy fined, but let’s dwell instead on the “mimed Stanley Cup raise” taunt that he laid down on the faithful in Montreal on Thursday night. 

First of all, Lucic is the second Bruins players we’ve seen use that taunt (Brad Marchand in Vancouver being the first), even though the team hasn’t hoisted a Stanley Cup in three years and has sustained a loss in the Stanley Cup Finals since then. 

Have you ever seen a Los Angeles Kings skater or a Chicago Blackhawks skater mime raising the Stanley Cup? No. When you win the Cup your name is engraved on the trophy forever, so most people don’t feel the need to remind hockey fans that they won a championship one time forever ago whenever things don’t go their way. The trophy kind of does the work for them.

Secondly, when Marchand mimed his cup raise on Vancouver ice it was like – okay, well you won the Cup on this surface, and the fans you raised it in front of have never seen their team raise the trophy, and are also the ones booing you. It’s a crappy thing to do it, but it’s also pretty amazing in its own way. 

When Lucic mimed the cup raise in Montreal Thursday night, he did in front of fans who’ve seen their team win the cup twice in the past generation (1986 and 1993). He did it while 24 Stanley Cup banners hung from the rafters above him. He did it at fans who root for the team that ended his club’s latest Stanley Cup bid this past Spring. 

As a hockey fan and a mature adult, I wasn’t offended by the wanking motion, though obviously the league can’t permit antics like that if they hope to market their live game experience as family friendly. As a hockey fan and a mature adult though, I was offended by the low taunt quality of Lucic’s mimed cup raise. Raise you taunt game Lucic, come on!

Cheers – A dual cheers: first of all to Jim Benning for being straight forward in radio interviews, and to Bo Horvat who will make his NHL debut in the next seven to 10 days. 

Benning appeared on TSN1040 this week and in his usual unsexy, no-nonsense style confirmed that Horvat will get his full nine game cup of coffee, an extended tryout at the NHL level. He should. He’s polished, and likely to be a capable grinder as he develops, so sending him back to the London Knights probably should be a last resort.

I’m also fairly convinced that Horvat can help the team now, particularly if he can legitimately hold his own on draws. There’s no guarantee of that, of course, and actually young players tend to struggle enormously between the hashmarks, but Horvat has the frame, the core strength and pedigree to perhaps be a Markus Granlund-type exception.

I look at this Canucks team, and I look at the defensive burden that Henrik Sedin has been dealt through two games, and I think “man what this club needs is a Marcus Kruger” – a fourth-line that can just soak up defensive zone starts and clear the puck. If the club could find a way to territorially shelter three-lines, including the twins-Vrbata trio, I think they’ll be cooking with oil.

There’s some question about where Horvat might slot into the lineup once he gets healthy, but here’s what I’d like to see: Horvat, Brad Richardson and Derek Dorsett, deployed the way Brian Boyle’s line (which Dorsett was a mainstay on in New York last season) or Kruger’s line was last season. 

If Horvat hits his ceiling in the NHL, then it’s mostly going to be because his defensive value and ability to set the table develops and becomes high-end. Obviously you don’t want to throw a rookie to the wolves ideally, but Horvat’s a different type of asset, and he has experience handling a sisyphean defensive burden in major junior. Why not let him hone his skills as a defensive zone start specialist (with some second unit power-play time), and let the twins just wreck havoc off of the cycle?

Anyway kudos to Horvat, who we can now official say has broken camp with the Canucks in his draft +2 campaign. Whether or not he earns an NHL salary all season, well, that’ll be decided by his performance from here on out. The Horvat era begins soon though, likely at some point this week.

Jeers – Thinking about the Canucks’ recent draft record hurts my head and so I’m saving my final jeers for that particular clustercuss. 

What’s brought this on? Well as it turns out, that Damon Severson kid is looking prettay, prettay good on the New Jersey Devils blue-line so far this season. 

The 20-year-old defender, a former Kelowna Rocket, has three goals and four points in his first four NHL games and is playing a top-pairing role alongside Andy Greene and doing a damn good job. We’re talking about an entry-level guy who has – and obviously it’s early yet – stepped into former Devils blue-liner Mark Fayne’s shoes and crushed it. 

So why is Severson’s commendable success worthy of a jeers? Well…

Picture 6

Thanks Canucks scouting!

I mean, I feel a bit bad beating up on the club’s already embattled scouting department, but at this blog we were already pointing out that the Canucks were probably being wasteful with their “drafting older players” strategy a couple of weeks before Alexandre Mallet was even selected with a top-60 pick. 

We knew enough to suggest the team was probably going in the wrong direction – and moreover that there might be an inefficiency to be mined simply by drafting younger players in the middle rounds – and we were just a bunch of mid-20s dudes who liked drinking beer on weekdays (though, granted, our point of view was informed by the research compiled by a couple of guys in Rob Pettapiece and Cam Charron who now have NHL front office jobs).

By the way: Alexandre Mallet was one of the oldest players selected on draft day in PIttsburgh that year. Severson? With his August birthday, he was one of the youngest. It’s also worth noting that Severson put up points at a higher rate as a young 17-year old defenseman in the WHL than Mallet did as an old 17-year old centre in the Q. Sham Sharron would have been appalled.

This is one of those things that is frustrating for Canucks fans, but also all-too familiar. Thank goodness the team abandoned the “draft old dudes” strategy in 2013, and hey, it already appears to be paying dividends in the case of center Cole Cassels. 

  • Well, 2 games is not a sample size I’d draw anything from and we really don’t know how the current deployment scheme will play out against the real teams in the Pacific.

    And that Severson pick, it’s only been 4 games but he’s leading the Devils with a 59% CF at 5v5, while Mallet has once again been forced down to the ECHL.

    Looks like another massive failure, brought to you by the Canucks’ scouting staff.

    *Note*

    Typos I noticed:

    “Raise you taunt game Lucic, come on!”

    “in PIttsburgh that year.”