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Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

Monday Mailbag: Defensemen, the Draft, and the Potential Return of NHL Hockey

Obviously, it’s difficult to predict how the season suspension is going to affect the outcome of the remaining games, should they be allowed to take place. Having said that, it’s hard to think of a team off the top of my head that’s going to benefit more from the rest the COVID-19 pandemic has provided than the Canucks. In the event that the season resumes, fatigue will likely be a non-factor for their inexperienced young players, Jacob Markstrom will be healthy, and any other players who got banged up over the course of the season will have had a chance to nurse their wounds.

It goes without saying that other teams will get to benefit from the circumstances too, but if we’re speaking strictly from a hockey standpoint, I think the Canucks will be in a better position than most of their peers in the event that the season resumes.

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There’s not much more I can add to what you said. The NFL is going to set the standard and the NHL will likely follow suit. I imagine the broadcast will look a lot like trade deadline day, with a panel or hosts contacting GMs and players remotely for comments on their selections. To be honest, I think Sportsnet should try to make the best of the situation and focus more on analysis, perhaps by giving their experts more of the spotlight. The Draft isn’t a particularly cinematic event to begin with, so they should still be able to come up with interesting coverage if they approach it from the right direction.

I don’t know enough about the CBA or the PA to offer an educated answer, but my instinct is to say that the NHLPA has generally always played nice with ownership, so it’s possible that the owners didn’t like the idea and the PA capitulated, or that they never thought of the idea in the first place.

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I’m not nearly as well-versed in this year’s draft as I’ve been in previous years, so I spoke to a scout who is well-versed in the data side of the equation to help narrow things down. At forward, Brenden Brisson of the USHL’s Chicago Steel and Mavrik Bourque of the QMJHL’s Shawinigan Cataractes look to be two of the best players available in the mid-first round. If they elect to take a defenseman, Kaiden Guhle had a great season with the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL, and also fills an obvious need. He’s a big, mean defender who can skate and make a good first pass, although his offensive ceiling is limited. While I’m normally in favour of taking the player with the highest ceiling, the Canucks have such an obvious need for a player like him in their system, so that’s the direction I’m leaning in right now.

I’ve always been very skeptical of the “put a grinder on the top line and see how it goes” strategy because I think people underestimate how good your offensive instincts have to be to succeed on a line with high-end offensive players. Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen both played well with the twins, but also profiled as useful middle-six forwards who could play an offensive role if needed in their own right. I love Motte’s energy and work ethic, but his ceiling is that of a fourth-line role player. The Canucks already have a guy with speed and grit who can get into the corners and win puck battles in J.T. Miller, and he was already a proven offensive force even before he exploded this season.

Motte is 25, has a career-high of 16 points in 74 games, and only eclipsed a point-per-game in his third year of college while playing alongside two superior prospects. I don’t mean to belittle him by any means, but I’m not sure there’s much more potential to unlock. He’s developed into an NHL depth player and that’s perfectly fine.

Brogan Rafferty is a complete wild card at this stage in his career. At 25, he’s older than the vast majority of AHL rookies, and he needs to be ready for the NHL right now if he ever wants to make an impact for the Canucks. At the same time, he’s also been much better than anyone had anticipated, and has firmly established himself as the team’s most NHL-ready D prospect. Swapping him in on a third pairing has the potential to be the kind of calculated risk that could pay serious dividends for the Canucks or be a complete disaster, but as long as the team is able to hold on to at least one of their two right handed free agent defensemen I think they could justify trying him out on a third pairing.

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Nikita Tryamkin is a different story. To be frank, I don’t think the prospect of Tryamkin should appeal to anyone in Vancouver. His numbers in the KHL were uninspiring, so the pocket-protector crowd won’t like him; he doesn’t play big or mean, so the folks who look at his size and think he can be the next Zdeno Chara should be disappointed; and if you care about character, you probably shouldn’t be too keen on a player who has openly stated he won’t play in the AHL and that he doesn’t really care for the city he’d be playing in.

Tryamkin serves as an interesting contrast against Nikolay Goldobin, who was content to bide his time in the AHL and wait for an opportunity, and who always spoke highly of the city. I can’t for the life of me understand why so many people in this market who decried Goldobin as lazy and entitled are foaming at the mouth over a guy who was out of shape and didn’t play particularly well while he was here.

Players were paid in full for the 2019-20 season, so my understanding is that contract/payment issues would only come into play in the event that the 2020-2021 season is postponed or cancelled. The CBA does have a force majeure (or “act of God”) clause, but I can’t speculate as to how it will affect the NHL’s attempts to resume the season. All I know for sure is that in the event that next season is also suspended or postponed, the owners would be allowed to withhold a percentage of players’ cheques, or in extreme circumstances, to renegotiate contracts. It’s still to early to know if it will come to that, though.

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My number one game with a bullet is the Sedin’s retirement game. It’s the only Canucks memory I have that isn’t almost immediately followed by pain. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Jarkko Ruutu trip Dion Phaneuf again. I don’t know if the game was any good, but that clip is worth the price of admission.

I’d like to know a bit more about why Miller was on the chopping block last offseason and why he had a down year in Buffalo before committing, but overall I’m still fairly bullish on him as a player. He fills an obvious need for the Canucks and would allow them to jettison Chris Tanev, which at this point is likely to be an essential step in reaching cap-compliancy over the near future.

Hamburgers are obvious the superior food, but if you’re at a sports event, you have to go for the hot dog. You want to be able to one-hand your meal at a hockey or baseball game, and eating a big, sloppy burger is going to take your eyes off the action. I don’t have a particular arena in mind that does it the best, but I will say that places that cook their franks on a grill rather than a flat-top generally yield better results.

I read one horoscope that said Aries have a “natural positive energy” and that obviously describes me perfectly. Also all the stuff about being loud and passionate or whatever. I don’t like the stuff about being a good leader because I’m fundamentally anti-boss.

Based on the list you provided me, I think I’d have to say that Patrik Laine is currently the best Aries in the league, but Bo Horvat, Logan Couture, Reilly Smith, Ryan Nugent Hopkins, and Viktor Arvidsson are all strong contenders too.

Roberto Luongo has a case for greatest Aries of recent vintage, but unfortunately he retired last season. There’s an argument for Ilya Kovalchuk too, but his defection to the KHL and noticeable decline upon returning to North America have hurt his case.

I’m not much of a gamer, but I liked the one where you could choose between fat guys, skinny guys, and normal guys.

I think my favourite hockey book is probably Ken Reid’s One Night Only, but I’ve heard good things about Game Change, too. I don’t agree with Ken Dryden on a lot of things but he’s a sharp guy and the premise of the boon seems very promising.

I think the Canucks seriously missed out by not having their AHL team in Palm Springs. I imagine it’s much easier to court bubble players when the AHL affiliate is in sunny California as opposed to upstate New York. If I were the Canucks, I might look to Portland, which has a fairly supportive junior hockey fanbase, but to be honest I’m sure there are a lot of decisions to be made in situations like these that I haven’t considered. In a perfect world, I’d follow the Marlies example and just have the team right here in Vancouver, but I don’t know if that’s feasible or not.

Most of CA’s staff was laid off in the wake of the pandemic, with the understanding that old contributors could return when things go back to normal, or continue to contribute with adjusted compensation. It was a decision made by HQ without my input, so you’d have to ask them.