Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

CanucksArmy Monday Mailbag: November 20th

Loui Eriksson’s been playing some of his best hockey as a Canuck since he returned from injury. In four games, Eriksson has three assists and has generally had a solid two-way impact. In last Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings, Eriksson was buzzing with the Sedins; they all looked five years younger. Eriksson’s fate? It’s looking pretty damn good.

I don’t think they’re a playoff team period. No amount of tinkering by any coach can change that. For whatever it’s worth, Canucks head coach Travis Green’s deployment, so far, hasn’t been that maddening relative to the average NHL coach.

I honestly haven’t had much time to watch Elias Pettersson this season, so I can’t speak to how his defensive game is shaking out against men in the SHL. Honestly, though, I can’t imagine he’ll have to defend that often because he always seems to have the puck.

There was one play last week I saw where he broke up a two-on-one to set up a breakaway going the other way that turned into a goal. So, he has at least one good defensive play to his credit.

It pains me to say it, but I could easily see long-time Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland at the top of their list. That would not be ideal. His work in the last few years has been frankly awful.

I could also foresee a scenario where the pendulum swings from the old school front office to a modernized one a la the Toronto Maple Leafs of two years ago.

It’s hard to argue with the results so far. Both units have scored this week, and the second unit has two power play goals. It’s not just you — they’re looking really damn good of late.

Throw in Timothy Liljegren, and you might have a deal.

That’s an alarmingly difficult question to answer. At the end of the day, they’re roughly comparable players regarding their specific skill sets and the results they’ve delivered this season.

Surprisingly, Luca Sbisa has eight points in his first 16 games with the Vegas Golden Knights, and that’s the big difference between the two. Even in previous seasons, Sbisa has been more productive, if only slightly, than Erik Gudbranson.

Both players are porous defensively, but Gudbranson has historically had better results, again, if only slightly, than Sbisa. When I last checked, they both were in the bottom-ten of the league in Corsi For%, though, Gudbranson is the worst of the two.

Context matters, and I think in this instance I’m going to play the context card to describe Gudbranson’s struggles. I don’t think Gudbranson’s as bad as he’s been this season, but the system that the Canucks employ is just so ill-suited to his skill set that he’s performing at a sub-replacement level.

I’ve always said that Gudbranson is a legitimate third pair defenceman, closer to a sixth-defenceman than a seventh. I have a pet theory, too, that Sbisa is the ideal seventh-defenceman. I think in most circumstances, I’d rather have Gudbranson.

That we have to have this discussion at all though is, ahem, bad.

I’m ashamed to say as a card-carrying Star Wars nerd, but I haven’t had the chance to buy it just yet. Let’s just say that being a freelance writer isn’t as lucrative as it might seem at times.

Comments section, in between telling me why I suck and I’m the literal worst, maybe add the odd comment if you’ve played the new Battlefront and what your thoughts are on the game.

I can see why Canucks head coach Travis Green might lean this way. Overtime is a space game, and you need speed to be able to keep up. Brandon Sutter can skate; neither Sedin twin is especially quick. In general, Green’s deployment that game indicated he wasn’t happy with the Sedins.

Would I have played Sutter in overtime? He’d be pretty low on my depth chart, frankly. It’s not an indefensible decision on Green’s part to prioritize him, I guess.

Elias Pettersson making the jump to the NHL next season isn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility. I don’t think it’s likely, but possible, certainly. Where he’d play is a total mystery to me. Way too early to make conclusions about what the Canucks lineup will look like next year.

This is, hands down, the strangest and simultaneously the best question I’ve ever answered in the CanucksArmy Monday Mailbag. Everyone else: step your game up.

I’ve been in a few fights. Having as big a mouth as I had (have?) for as long as I did, it wasn’t really an option. As a teenager especially!

In hockey, I was a shift disturber if there ever was one, and that would often drive people to punch me and the like. In fact, my last concussion (I’m on four now) came in a fight at the end of, of all things, a roller hockey game. Some ass hole came out of my blind side skating at full speed and leaned into a sucker punch with his glove on, and well, I hit the mat.

I’ve been on many a team where a friend or teammate stuck up for me after a dirty hit or the like and brought their fists down to bear on the offender.

I have a grasp of what fighting is like, to be sure. I had a big mouth, grew up in a tough part of East Van and played hockey. Eventually, I grew up. I look back on almost every altercation I’ve ever been in with as much regret or embarrassment as anything else.

You know what else? Any fight I’ve ever been a part of while playing sports was in hockey. Never in football, basketball, soccer or baseball. Not even once. This isn’t normal behaviour that should be a part of any sports’ ethos or mythology. In hockey, fighting is a flaw, not a feature. It’s not something to celebrate; it’s a black eye on the sport, pardon the pun.

Brock Boeser’s skating still leaves a lot to be desired, as does his consistent commitment to the defensive zone. We’re splitting hairs here though.

No, so I shouldn’t talk about analytics.

I think it always makes sense to inquire on players whose value is artificially deflated due to a poor start that’s based mostly on percentages. I tend to think this is the case in Sam Reinhart, who’s been mostly really damn good in the early parts of his career.

I’m fairly certain I never advocated for Owen Tippett at fifth overall for the Canucks. If I ever did, it was likely in the spring. Either way, Tippett is a hell of a player. Loved that pick for the Florida Panthers at eleven.

It’s based on circumstance mostly I think. It’s the Sedins minutes that are getting shortchanged as much as anything and it’s their line that Jake Virtanen plays on most nights. Virtanen’s game is far from perfect, but it’s more than good enough for the Canucks lineup. Just a lot of factors outside Virtanen’s control that are working against him.

I’m willing to bet that Pettersson plays in the AHL next season.

I’m not so sure of a shutdown line with Thomas Vanek on it. Otherwise, I don’t have many issues with the makeup of this top six. It’s not the worst setup imaginable.

The Canucks are 2-2 when Dorsett fights.

I would hope not.

I’m not going to rule this out.

Erik Gudbranson, Thomas Vanek, Alexander Burmistrov, Ben Hutton, Alex Biega.

I’ve actually been a big fan of Thomas Vanek’s work so far this season; Virtanen, too.

You do you, man.


  • truthseeker

    Exactly right about fighting. A combination of moronic “traditionalism”, illogical thinking, and a bizarre canadian white male affinity for MMA culture is the cause of the idea that somehow fighting is “cool” or even worse, that it’s “necessary” to “police” the game. Nothing but nonsense with no evidence to back it up.

    As for Hutton, I think giving up on him would still be a mistake. He’s certainly not making it easy to justify, but I’d hate to see that guy go for some pick or winger, and then see him develop into a solid blue liner somewhere else. The canucks have the time to be patient with him. They should. I can’t believe that the rookie year Hutton isn’t still in there somewhere.

  • Dirty30

    If Green isn’t willing to give Jake time and space to make mistakes and learn should he be sent back to Utica or traded? He seems to have decent stats and a presence — somewhat undefined — on the ice. Isn’t it also a waste to not use the Sedins knowledge and experience to develop a young player who shows some promise?

  • myshkin

    I wouldn’t trade Bulldog Biega. In the salary cap era, you need serviceable players on a low salary and Biega is very serviceable. I often find myself saying, who’s that number 55 guy, he’s pretty good.

  • Holly Wood

    I like your view on Eriksson’s play in his return to the lineup, looks like he has gained a step somehow. PS. I looked for JD Burke on hockey dB. Couldn’t find you, must be your pen name not your given

  • Beefus

    Would liked to have seen Virtanen out there in O/T against the Blues. With Jannik Hansen gone there’s no one left on the Canucks except Jake to put a scare into other teams 3 on 3.

  • Steamer

    ‘Some of his best hockey’??????? Really, JD? Pains to think what the worst might look like – o wait, we’ve seen that too.
    Loui is the ultimate stiff – absolute horrible signing & not even Sam Gagner can make that go away.

  • Vintage

    JD, you’re the best, I laughed several times, and too often we only hear people complaining about stuff.

    Also, it seems pretty clear to me that if JV isn’t getting PP or PK time, and he’s playing with the twins, he’s going to get limited ice time. This raises two points. 1) the Sedins used to be the cure for your next big money contract and now it’s where you go to kill your career (see Vrbata, Eriksson, Virtanen) 2) he is basically a rookie in the league, I don’t think his ice time is an issue. If you look back to say, Ryan Kesler’s ice time in his first full season he has plenty of 10, 11 and 12 minute nights. There are some 17’s too, but he was worked into the lineup and excelled.

    • Moderated Post

      Virtanen’s basically a rookie?? He played well over half a season in the pros two years ago and then got to play full time for a year with the current coach. The fact that he’s not getting ice time reflects poorly on him and on the team’s ability to develop talent in Utica. Besides Gaunce and Virtanen, has anyone on the roster spent considerable time in Utica?

      • Bud Poile

        Virtanen is a Utica/Green success story.The fact is you’re mistaken.
        Going thru the entire .org roster the vast majority of Benning’s picks are either in junior or developing overseas.
        Utica notables:
        The alleged present roster gap is a direct result of Gillis’ draft record.

        • Bali Dog Catcher

          Nylander, Ehlers, Tuch, Ritchie, Fabbri and the fastest skater in the league, legit number one center Dylan Larkin – ALL passed on by the ‘draft guru’ Benning for Virtanen and his woeful 7 goals and 14 points in 65 NHL games!

          Terrible, terrible pick… followed by McCann over David Pastrank in the same FIRST ROUND four drafts ago.

          Walk on now mutt, tail between legs.

          • Bali Dog Catcher

            Another unfounded hot take… he is playing in an inferior, much less physical league in Europe and weighing in at 160 lbs… jury still VERY much out on the kid. Get back to me when he is tearing up the AHL or better yet, doing it in the bigs lke Hischier straight from the draft!

      • Vintage

        Yes, he is “basically” a rookie. You think he’s in the room showing the young guys how to be a pro? Is he out on the ice doing “all the little things”? The fact is he is getting the same amount of ice time as his usual line mates. Most of the players on the current roster were already playing in the NHL when the team in Utica was established. Go and look at the 2013/14 roster and pick out as many NHL’ers as you can… there was literally no NHL quality talent in the farm system when this management group took over.

        • Moderated Post

          The accepted wisdom seems to be that keeping youngsters in Utica is the recipe for turning them into complete hockey players. Based on the available evidence so far, Gaunce and Virtanen, the time in Utica even under the current Canuck coach hasn’t served them very well. Pouliot may have gotten schooled on the last OT goal but you can bet he learned far more from that one experience than he would have playing half a season in the minors.

          • Freud

            Green has worked in Utica for 4 years with a number of players that initially showed some promise, but have gone nowhere. Not sure why he got the rep as a good teacher.

            Not sure why we assume he knows what he’s doing with Virtanen either. Not sure why he is still teaching Virtanen “how to be a pro” after having him for over a year.

            At the most, Green gets an incomplete as a coach who develops young guys, as the least he has not developed one guy in over 4 seasons.

            Jensen, Corrado, Subban, Shinkaruk, Pedan, Cassels, Sauve, Grenier, etc…..

          • Moderated Post

            It’s a fair question, or at least one that needs to be asked. Yes, all those guys you listed could be duds (the accepted wisdom is that they were picked by a dud), but they also have Coach Green in common.

    • MM

      I wonder why no one has compared Poulliot to Virtanen. Both high picks, both maligned early in their career. Green has said giving Poulliot the time on the ice to gain his confidence has made all the difference, and has said that with Virtanen, it’s a fine line for what’s good for the player and what’s good for the team. Is that not hypocrisy? Is green playing favorites from Winterhawk days? From what i’ve seen and read, Virtanen looks like someone who could blossom similarly to Poulliot with a little trust and some consistent ice time ala Poulliot!

  • Hack-smack-whack

    Until the NHL ice rink size increases (not going to happen), or the speed of the game decreases (let’s hope not), there will be “accidental” cheap shots in hockey. We will never have comparable player interaction dynamics to the other sport types with the speed in limited space that is NHL hockey. This is a very competitive sport, where getting an edge is everything, and with flying pucks, flailing sticks, elbows, and more, liberties will be taken as confrontation is unavoidable. Even in football the player can step out of bounds to avoid contact.
    JD, you have many valuable insights from your analytic take of the game, but your overall perspective is somewhat lacking at times.
    Do we really want the safety and wellbeing of our prospects, in the hands and sole care of the NHL and department of player safety? I think we already know how that goes…
    Self policing and intimidation will always need to be a part of the NHL game; let’s just be thankful that the days of the unskilled 4th line enforcer and staged fights are all but gone.

    • truthseeker

      nonsense. “self policing and intimidation” have never stopped a cheap shot. That always comes after the cheap shot is delivered.

      And the NFL is a far more violent and injury riddled sport than the NHL. It’s not even close. Step out of bounds…lol..please…they are colliding full on every single play. They have no need for fighting because they understand there will be heavy consequences. Something the NHL lacks. Try giving minimum 20 game suspensions for cheap shots and you watch how much faster that cleans up the NHL than the stupid “code” that hasn’t worked since forever. When guys start losing a quarter of their salaries, rats like Marchand and Tkachuk….they’ll stop so fast they’ll give themselves a concussion.

      Fact is, hockey players are the most classless athletes of any of the pro sports. They’re taught to hate one another from an early age. Listen to them on the mic’d ups on youtube. Ever see a hockey player help up an opponent? Never. Wasting time after every single whistle because some meat head has to give a shove and then a response and then a scrum…all of them too stupid to realize none of them are being “intimidated”. No sportsmanlike qualities in the NHL at all. And that’s why the PA does absolutely nothing to take cheap shots out of the game. The players just don’t care about each other.

      The NHL is still a bush league when it comes to self respect of it’s athletes. More of the same isn’t going to change a thing.

  • Hack-smack-whack

    Re reading my run on, blurted out unorganized mess of a post and thinking a paragraph space or 2 would sure help. Thanks for the edit button guys..

  • Laxbruh15

    I’m going to go ahead and say that most of what you said about fighting is made up in regards to yourself. You were an “agitator”? You’re tiny and the only place that you can fight under the age of eighteen is in juniors which you again did not play in. Did you mean that you fell against someone, or got shoved into the boards? You fought in east van? Do you even understand what a fight in east van looks like? They’re fcking vicious, as in getting knifed or getting the sh*t kicked out of you so badly you can’t walk likely with broken ribs. It sucks that you suck at fighting, it doesn’t mean it should get taken out. It’s like saying no one should drive cars because I crash them every time I drive one. Again, Gudbranson’s a top four, top pairing defenseman. Do you realize just how ridiculous it is to look at an irrelevant piece of data that is only loosely correlated at all to wins and say, wow he’s close to the bottom, he’s bad. This season Gudbranson has one of the best five vs five goal differentials on the team at 58.33 percent. That ultimately is the only thing that matters.