Kick the Pig: The 2006-07 Vancouver Canucks

It's about that time of the year again. The weather in NYC is moving from the summer balmy/gross combo over to the fall cold/gross combo (the smell of urine, however, is always strong enough to defy weather conditions)...the NBA is no where to be seen (as nature intended)...local fans are trying to figure out which futile NFL franchise to anchor their allegiances to...the Yankees and their red-headed bastard stepchild Mets are forging ahead into the baseball postseason...yeah, it's about that time for some hockey.

Many folks and media outlets are getting their editorial fix on by throwing every preview, review and throw a dart in dark guess at what the upcoming NHL season will feature. I've voiced my opinion of senseless reviews previously, so I'm sure as hell not reviewing the entire league. Or conference. Or even the Northwest Division entirely.

Let's just take a honest look at the NHL's best upcoming experiment in team chemistry: Your Vancouver Canucks.

Rewind to last spring: it was late March/early April and the Canucks, who occupied first place in the division just after the Olympic break, had taken the mother of all plunges and became their own worst enemy. They could not score, they gave up early leads almost nightly, their defense was highly suspect and their team chemistry (like my own chemistry grades in high school) was outright atrocious. The trade deadline came and they throw prospects and picks at their weaknesses and received back four players who were complete non-factors and are not around anymore. They missed the playoffs, played their final game, did the whole jersey off the back thing, said everything politically correct at the post-season interviews about the need for change and time to reflect...blah blah blah. (Meanwhile, the fans...you know, the ones who pay these people's salaries? We watched yet another Northwest dark horse steamroll itself to within 60 minutes of the Cup. Sigh.)

Dave Nonis said changes were coming. Yours truly doubted him and figured a minor change here and there and we'd be back next season with the same mix. Nonis proved me wrong. In fact, he proved almost everyone wrong.

Crawford out, Vigneault in. Allen, Auld, Bertuzzi out, Luongo & Krajicek in. Cloutier, Jovanovski, Ruutu, Carter, Baumgartner, Park, Carney, Noronen, Weinrich & Brown all out...Chouinard, Bulis, Mitchell, Pyatt, Fitzpatrick & Tremblay in. Deep breath...inhale...exhale...

Talk about change...Nonis basically jammed a stick of dynamite in the core of the squad that was formed originally way back in the wacky and laughable Keenan/Messier era, took a step back, pushed the big red button and blew the entire concept up. It's not just the names and coach, it's the entire identity of the Canucks...namely: run and gun & WCE out, responsibility and a defensive-oriented mentality in.

On paper, you can see what people (like that smirking clown Pierre McGuire did on his 6 Cities In 6 Nights piece) think Vancouver is going to be blown off the NHL map on a nightly basis. That's a fair comment; certainly the preseason - which means precisely NOTHING - hasn't been kind to Vancouver and given their critics a reason to shut up. Then again, they are icing more AHL than NHL-caliber teams on a nightly basis. But regardless, let’s look at the criticism:

The defense: It hurts to have Jovocop and Allen's big body gone. Mitchell is an upgrade for Allen but not a replacement for Jovanovski. If anyone is going to fill that slot, it's going to have to be a combination of Ohlund and Salo, the latter of whom has a complete rocket of a shot when/if he’s healthy. And what of the rest? Krajicek, Fitzpatrick, Bourdon, Bieksa? It's anyone's guess still who fits the 4-7 slots. Consider the D an evolutionary project that will take the first quarter of the season to become more clear. But, with so many questions marks, that MUST be a bad thing. Grade? F!

The offense: On paper, the points produced by Bertuzzi & Carter are going to be replaced by Chouinard, Bulis and Pyatt? Not likely. Who's the number one right winger? For that matter who is the number two right winger? Will the Sedins sink or swim without Anson? Will Kesler play up to his bloated salary? Will guys like Linden and Burrows provide the spark needed from a third and fourth line? With Pyatt stay health? Will Chouinard actually win a face off? Above all, can this group score at all with anyone not named Naslund or Sedin? Survey says….NO! Grade? F!

All doom and gloom (hell, visit the official Canucks forum if you need more reason to reach for the whiskey bottle before 10:00 AM). But, how about we try and view this from a more constructive standpoint? Goaltending, broadly speaking, is no longer an issue. Sure, Luongo may shit the bed from time to time, but he'll be able to steal games in a way that Cloutier & Auld simply couldn't. Not to mention it's a boost to the team to know they have a rock and not a sieve in net.

The defense will come together because, well, it has to (I know, that’s sound scientific logic). Vigneault’s paycheck is directly tied to his ability to mold his core guys to be an extension of the responsible defense that begins with Luongo (note: I didn't say trap...not yet!). Will they be the best D in the division? Hell no, but they don't need to be…they need to be effective and responsible. And there's more of a chance of that happening with this squad and coach then there EVER was with Crawford and company in tow. Guys like Ohlund, Salo, Mitchell and ideally Krajicek will be that core.

The offense will also come together. Will the Canucks get shut out from time to time? Probably. Will they score five goals a game like all fans assumed the old core could nightly? Maybe, but probably not. Yet this isn't a squad that opposing teams can simply take a night off on: Naslund is working on seven straight 70+ point seasons, the Sedins spent the summer playing catch with friggin boulders in Sweden and are in the best shape of their lives, Bulis is coming off a career year in which he was used sparingly on the fourth line in Montreal, Pyatt has been solid in preseason play (but his myspace page scares the hell out of meh/t Orland Kurtenblog), Cooke will likely blame the same crash and bang style he has been for years, Kesler is slowly being groomed into the first line center we never had, a rejuvinated Linden is hardly a bad thing, and Chouinard gives us depth down to the fourth line.

Also, keep in mind that while losing Allen, Bertuzzi & Ruutu hurts, it also means we have shed our top three PIM guys from last year. If Vigneault gets this team playing as a unit and not as a team of individual puck hogs, that too will play in their favor.

The bottom line? This team transition was necessary. If we sat here still looking at Crawford, Bert, Jovo et all we'd be saying the same thing we'd been saying for years, "Maybe this is the year their collective head will be removed from their ass and they'll play as well as they do when I control them when I play NHL 2K6!" Nonis, however, doesn't have that luxury. He needed to get Crawford out and Bertuzzi's baggage moved. The salary cap handcuffed him from keeping Jovanovski and Carter. And he needed to remold this team without scuttling it entirely and pissing off the entire fan base. He did just that.

In response, we fans need to be patient (I know, sucks huh?). Most NHL teams have a few changes here and there during the offseason...the Canucks need damn name tags coupled with learning to pronounce ‘Vigneault’ and, more importantly, learning to play his style. But when that clicks, when the team begins to produce as expected, this will become a team that will give other teams headaches and frustrate them night after night. But it will take time and the on-ice product itself will look and, naturally, “feel” different. But what do you want? The bang and crash style from before that gives up early goals, takes inane penalties, and too frequently disappoints or do you want a change, a coach and a system that can be capable of producing the same lofty expectations of playoff success we all have been craving? We’ve done the former for years now, so I choose the latter.

Three years ago, an unknown Calgary squad landed a top notch goalie, bought into the Sutter style of play, and pushed themselves to the cusp of greatness. Last year Edmonton acquired a serviceable goalie, played as MacTavish demanded, and shocked the entire league with their effectiveness and heart. If you go back and look, neither the 2003-04 Flames or the 2005-06 Oilers were projected to be good teams period much less be Cup contenders. So keep that in mind when TSN, Fox, Sports Illustrated, ESPN and whoever else starts telling you Vancouver may as well sit this season out.

Enough analysis. Let's kick this pig: drop the damn puck and get this show going.

Go Canucks go.

UPDATE: ESPN posted their Northwest preview this afternoon. As expected, the Canucks in 9th and to miss the playoffs. Shocking. They also pick everyone's favorite team, the Flames, to come in 7th. And the Oilers to finish in 6th? The Avs drop out completely and the Wild, of all teams, come in 3rd so they win the division? Wow, I have so much hate for this "preview" I don't know where to start...likely it'll be with the trusty Jack bottle.


Highway To The Dangerzone

I'm told somewhere in LA Dan Cloutier spilled his medical milkshake laughing; over in Florida, Alex Auld was seen smirking through his one good eye; over in New York, Kevin Weekes was seen smiling despite the fifty pounds of ice on his injured groin; Johan Hedberg allegedly was in Atlanta taking a shot because he won the bet; in Boston, Bob Essensa was seen scribbling "Don't do what he did" in his goaltending notes for Hannu Toivonen; out in Long Island, Garth Snow was so amused he gave DiPietro another year on his contract; and in parts unknown, Felix Potvin watched but could not laugh because, as you know, those without human souls are not allowed to laugh.

For the record, we here at Yankee Canuck have been baptized and are big fans of the new Luongo era in Canuck land. But, more so than that, we appreciate irony and value the small, often sublime, moments of extreme hilarity that living in our modern world bestows on us.


This is why helmets are used

I just noticed the good people at canucks.com changed their roster page from a simple list of names to large mugshots. I know I've seen most of these guys before, but this reminds me of those terrible school pictures you had to take when you were six years old and akward enough to not sit still (and by 'you' I mean me) so every picture came out with you looking like some strange water baby from the midwest. So here are some of the more interesting members, visually speaking, on the Canucks:

Lukas Krajicek - Um...it's either the balding pattern or the ears, but I feel like I am looking at a Lord of the Rings character here. A minor one most likely, like some evil minon who almost gets the ring before a stupid hobbit kills him with a stick. Fucking hobbits.

Taylor Pyatt - It's the eyes and hair...I'm looking into the eyes of Satan here. But I won't blame Taylor at all...he has been living in Buffalo for sometime now. Hell, I won't even blame Buffalo...let's blame Rochester. Fucking Rochester. (note: his picture JUST changed on canucks.com. Try as they might, it's still Satan)

Marc Chouinard
- Are we sure he plays hockey? Those teeth look awful entact and white. We may need someone in a preseason practice to just haul off and knock them all out of his mouth. What's that? Oh right, we don't have an enforcer. So Marc will have to slip on the ice then or step in front of a Sami Salo shot then.

Jan Bulis
- "Ladies and gentlemen...taking the place of Alex Auld in the 'freaky cueball smily guy' role this season..."

Ryan Kesler - OK man, you got the money. Now get a haircut. Polamalu has the whole insane hair and helmet thing down and we don't need a NHL version. Unless you singlehandidly get us the Stanley Cup. Then you can have any haircut you want. See Mike Commodore for more details.

Rick Rypien
- Alright, alright. Very funny guys. C'mon now, give Rick his milk back before he calls his mom.

Get it on

Much like they did last season, the Canucks opened the preseason by tripping on themselves. But, hey, that's what the preseason is for! Mainly, to out a bunch of no names on the ice, give the veterans a few chances to stretch their legs, and of course sell tickets to help the beleagured NHL and their franchises get some more damn money...

I digress. Vigneault, only using one roster player from last year (Matt Cooke) saw his AHL Canucks give a very spririted effort despite the fact they were slamming into a much more seasoned Flames squad. The game also showed that hatred between the two teams never takes a break as Rick Rypien, Joe Rullier, Mike Brown, Nathan McIver and Luc Bourdon all had their fists hitting Flame flesh at some point in the evening. And, somehow, Jeff Friesen and Daymond Langkow were some of the Calgary players who responded in kind...go figure.

At any rate, it is what it is. Bourdon, Wade Flaherty, Kevin Bieksa and Brandon Reid all played well which is good enough to take to San Jose on Thursday to see if they can crank out a win.


It's About Friggin Time

Canucks training camp (mercifully) opens today and, with Nonis giving the single-finger salute back to Clarke, it looks like everything is set on the management side except the decision to carry 21 or 22 players.

Now it’s left to the prospects to fight for the openings, the veterans to get in shape, for Luongo to be the 6 million dollar man, for Naslund to become invigorated again, for Morrison to get back to his #1 center status, for the Sedins to continue to improve, for Matt Cooke to fill in one of the key RW holes, for Bulis to live up to his billing, for Mitchell to fill in the now missing “Ruutu -annoyance” factor, for Kesler to play in par with his f’ing salary, for Salo and his point shot to stay healthy, for Pyatt to develop into the power forward he’s supposed to be and for the rest (Chouinard, Krajicek, Burrows, Fitzpatrick, Trembley, Bieksa and Bouck) to play with some passion and drive that helped other no name Northwest teams like the Flames and Oilers come without spitting distance of the Stanley Cup.

And for yours truly to stock up on some supplies because it’s quite possible this will be a long season.


King and Carter bring their drama elsewhere

As Dave Nonis still shakes out the couch cushions looking for that pesky $1.9 million to keep Kesler from the crypt-keeper-esque grasp of Bob Clarke, the soap opera that is the Canucks off-season closed two more chapters yesterday.

First, prospect camp hold out and former rookie of the month Jason King has run off to Sweden rather then battle it out for a slot on the Canucks roster. It appears his fear was what his salary would be if he was sent back to the AHL, so without an answer that made his agent smile, King will bring his show to Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League.

And perennial rental player Anson Carter, who could have stayed in Vancouver for roughly the same amount of money it seems Kesler will be making next season, decided life would be better in the Midwest (boy, is he in for a shocker) and inked a one year deal with the Blue Jackets. The question now is: did the Sedins make Anson Carter or vice versa? The Blue Jackets sure look nice on paper with Nash, Fedorov, Vyborny and Modin but then again their defense is suspect, goaltending questionable and take a look at the plus/minus for their top lines last year and it sure seemed like a long year. Tell you what…if Carter gets more points on the Blue Jackets then he did with the Sedins, I’ll eat a brick. Good riddance.

Then again, this is Salary Cap 101 folks, it’s a zero sum game now.


WARNING: Objects in the rear view mirror are closer than they appear

Someone alert the medical community in the greater Philadelphia area: Bob Clarke has lost his happy pills again. How else can you explain the GM of one team dangerously close to the salary cap offering $1.9 million to a 22 year old third line center on another team dangerously close to the salary cap?

On the one hand, you can view Clarke as a smart guy. A guy who realizes he is about to lose one fatted cow and, after unsuccessful attempts to land Kesler earlier this summer, thought this was the perfect time to try and pry away a player from the Canucks (which, in Clarke-speak, means “my personal AHL team”). Or maybe he wanted to squeeze the Canucks out of any potential resurrection of an Anson Carter deal. Or maybe Dave Nonis wronged him in a previous life and he’s waited (ever so patiently) until right now to get him back…cosmic paybacks, as you know, are quite the royal bitch.

On the other hand though, you can’t help but be angry at both sides here. First, we have Nonis who flirted with this very scenario all summer (as has every NHL GM who had a group two player holding out). You could argue Nonis paid a bit too much in previous contracts to Morrison, Cooke, the Sedins, or Mitchell and created this problem himself. Yet, on the other hand, you have Clarke who just tried to steal a player away from a fellow GM. Clarke is obviously entitled to do this, but you have to wonder what precedent he just set (to speak nothing of the fact he finger fucked around with Gagne all summer only to turn around and offer Kesler, a statistical inferior, nearly a third of the Gagne’s new contract). In one swipe of the pen, Clarke just made negotiating with group two hold outs much more precarious. Not to mention that, unless he bends to the wishes of their agents quickly, Clarke himself will find himself in the same position with Kyle Calder, Jeff Carter, Antero Niittymaki, Joni Pitkanen, Mike Richards and R.J. Umberger in the coming seasons.

Cosmic paybacks. QUITE the bitch.

Excuse me Egon…You said crossing the streams was bad

What else can yours truly possibly add to the incredibly asinine development out on Long Island that yielded a mind-numbing 15-year contract worth $67.5 million to one Rick DiPietro? It doesn’t even give proper justice to the lunacy of all of this to even try and recap all of the completely piss poor decisions that have occurred this summer alone (and we’re giving the word “piss” a poor reference here…at least peeing feels good).

One may want to remind King Rick that he can use this money to buy the requisite therapy one would naturally need if you too were locked into a decade and a half goaltending gig where the top defensemen in front of you include lumbering Tom Poti and Brendan Witt.

You have to feel bad for the fans of the Islanders. How much more can these good god-fearing people take from management? C’mon, it’s bad enough they live on Long Island…you’re going to screw them again by ensuring their team is pathetic for over a decade???


Let's start passing those hugs around

Hmmm....so after threatening a holdout Alex Burrows can ink a three year deal but then Jason King sulks off into the warm September afternoon (wow, sounds like a line in a terrible romance novel doesn't it?)?? I'm at a loss on this one...particularly during at time when the Canucks squad is seemingly open for almost any player to show some skills, guts and courage and grab a spot for opening night. Making it worse, King's best year (albeit a fractured one at that) was playing with the Sedins who, unless I really missed something, are still looking for a replacement for Anson Carter.

Oh well...it is what it is. Burrows sees the light as King, temporarily, shuts a door. All on day one of training camp. Can't wait to see what happens next week, but Kesler's been quiet. C'mon Ryan...we're desperate for news out here. Either sign a contract or go break a law, ok?