Canucks Year in Review…The Lament

On April 19, 2004 at 12:33 AM I came to 3 stark realizations….

1. Cereals that claim to turn your milk “chocolatey” (you know who you are Count Chocula) are lying bastards.

2. No matter how you spin it, a grown man in a Fantastic 4 T-Shirt is not cool. He is indeed a nerd, a 33 yr. old nerd.

3. It’s over; the Canucks season is over.
For those of you that didn’t spend their Fall/Winter/Spring nights watching the Canucks and their campaign this year all you needed to do was watch the quarter final series with the Flames to understand the frustration of Vancouver fans. The Canucks are the Hockey equivalent of Hot Wings; good times going in but stinging, painful crap coming out.

The Vancouver fans are not idiots (except for my cousin who lost money betting on pro wrestling, thank god he’s not in the will) we know that over an 82 game schedule there are bound to be ups and downs but the Canucks seemed to ride such a wave of incompetence at times that they just looked foolish on the ice. Compare that with the other side of the doughnut (the rainbow sprinkly side) in which at times they seemed like a juggernaut in the making and you had a Canucks fan who was trapped between picking out the store he would loot during the inevitable Stanley Cup riot and re-filling my Prozac prescription by the 15 kilogram drum. ( Have you seen those 3 kg jars of mayonnaise at Costco… who buys that? They should sell a defibulator alongside of it) Below is my critique of the players, coaches and GM. I’m also going to take a shot at opining on next year.

Forwards

For brevity’s sake I won’t go into detail about all the forwards because the same complaint can be made about almost all of them. We know (God, we know!) that Vancouver doesn’t play the trap. We get it! They’re high octane, blah,blah,blah, but NELLY FURTADO!!!! Could we just try playing a bit of defense in our own end. The Calgary series only amplified how easy it was to exploit Vancouver’s over anticipation when it came to breaking out of the zone. How many times were 2-3 guys trapped leaving the zone while Calgary still had the puck…. I really feel that this should be the Canucks number one concern. Tone down the offence a smidge and work on allowing less goals. They have started to do that to a degree this year but it needs to get better.

Markus Naslund – Hurt for the series. (Maybe Burke should take a page out Pierre “Call me Weasel” Lacroix’s playbook and get Naslund to attend a press conference in a big oversized cast on his arm considering the injury came from the perfectly “legal” Steve Moore hit back in Colorado ) Still showed up and was effective. Again, left the zone too early on occasion and he never seems to get mad. I always think one day he’s going to get pissed off and just turn into this Swedish Incredible Hulk. He’s easily among the top 10 players in the NHL but he needs to get meaner. Is he a good captain? I don’t know. None of us know what’s said behind those doors. Had a good season. Compared to Iginla, Naslund finished second in a two man race for best captain in the series. I also wish he’d shoot more. Just shoot at the net. Stop looking for the pretty goal.

Todd Bertuzzi – Suspended for the series. Number one Power Forward in the NHL. . Number 7 power forward in the NHL when he decides tonight is the night to go for a skate. To me Bertuzzi is the essence of the Canuck’s problems. When he decides to play. He’s like a one cow cattle stampede…get in his way and you’ll only make matters worse. A lot of the time though he’s more like a gentle bunny and skates on the perimeter of the rink , smelling the flowers, cooing at the moon. He’s also easily frustrated, he took so many even-up penalties on the power play I think Crawford actually tried to decline some of the calls in some of the later games. I’m not going to go into the “incident” (God! That’s so stupid. “incident” What, are we on “Meet the Press”) but I feel it was unwarranted and Todd has become the scapegoat for a league that may be in financial difficulties next year. I like Bertuzzi when he passes also. I would like to see him pass to Naslund for the shot instead of the opposite play so often

Brendan Morrison – Good, always consistently good. 2nd longest consecutive playing streak in the league I would clone a team of him if it were legal. Tough, speedy and great touch around the net.

Matt Cooke – Let me first say “I am not drunk.” Matt Cooke could be the most complete player in the NHL. He’s gritty, got some scoring touch, skates like hell and plays some mean defense. If he were 25 lbs heavier (“Hello, BALCO, I need the Barry Bonds Home Run Special…wink, wink,) he’d be Todd Bertuzzi Jr. without the bad side. I have no complaints about Cooke whatsoever. He was the Canucks MVP of the series hands down.

Sedins – On paper the Sedins are two very skilled hockey players who have finally begun to live up to their billing. Unfortunately paper does not have to go up against Darcy Regher, Kris Konroyd and Denis Gauthier. Sedins… Get Bigger and stronger. Take more shots, and tell Crawford that your right winger du jour needs to be a steady one. Watching them get manhandled in a lot of games this year made me think of those whack a mole games at the carnival. They had breakout years and will only get better; they need to get better and not go backwards.

Trevor Linden – No one plays his role more effectively then Trevor Linden. You want offense? Okay, he’ll swarm the net. You want defense? Ok, he’ll play the checking line? You need a faceoff won? Well, he’s not a natural center but he schooled some of the best Centers this year by beating them in the faceoff circle. The problem… he’s one guy. He tries too hard to be everywhere and because of it he gets caught of position or turns the puck over. He had a good year and a good playoff.

Chubarov, Ruutu,Bouck,Kessler, etc… – With the exception of Chubarov’s penalty killing I think this is the Canucks biggest weakness. 3rd and 4th liners that are essentially the same package. Smallish wingers and Centers with decent speed but no toughness. Ruutu is the toughest guy there and he’s really only an agitator.

Mike Keeane – With the exception of a handful of games this year and Game 6 of the playoffs I often wondered if Keane’s picture was going to appear on my milk carton. He was non existent this year and if the Canucks got him to be a checker and/or gritty influence on the ice then they overpaid. They could have used Brookbank or a piece of plywood on skates. I think if Keane sticks around someone needs to remind him he’s a checker first and plays only 4th line.

I didn’t mention Sanderson or Rucinsky intentionally, because they were rentals and although I like them I don’t think they’ll be around next year.

Defense

The Canucks have one of the best, deepest offensive defense corps in the NHL. They will definitely increase any teams “goals for” column. The downside is that they should really be spending their time playing defense Although a lot of the goals they give up come form odd man situations in their own end (hello…forwards!!!!) they do give up way too many chances by stick checking or trying to strip the puck. The Canucks Defense also seem to get confused easily. Way too many passes up the middle this year or not getting the puck past the neutral zone on clears. I think what makes people fear the Canucks defense is their offensive abilities. The Flames series really pointed out just how weak we are when we need to become more defensive.

Marek Malik – It’s like Bobby Orr’s genes were spliced with a 1500 lb slab of granite and the result was Malik. He has soft hands, good stick and is deceivingly shifty on the ice. Unfortunately this makes him a soft hitter and he seems to be frequently out of position. I think Malik is good I just don’t think he should be a top 4 defenseman.

Sopel – Excuse me while I yank my hair out and cuss. This is my usual reaction to Sopel’s name. How can a guy with so much talent be such a liability. He’s a mixture of Paul Coffey and Scott Stevens. It’s just too bad he got Coffey’s defensive responsibility and Steven’s offensive skills. I think Sopel is not a top 4 defenseman. He struggles when pressured, too quick to cough the puck up and for some unknown reason loves to break out with a pass right down the middle. I am not Sopel’s biggest fan and would gladly trade his 10 goals for a Bryan McCabe guy.

Jovanoski. – He’s sooo close to being the best defensemen in the NHL soo soo soo close. He just has to be so much more responsible in the defensive zone. I think if he were to sacrifice his offensive mindset for playing defensively specifically that may help. Leave the big shots to Salo.

Ohlund – See above + stop playing him with Sopel.

Goaltending

Vancouver is where goalies go to die. We have never had a true number one goalie. A guy that could be considered a 60+ games a year type . Cloutier, and Hedberg are above average which is not bad but if you play the style that Crawford likes to you need to be more Martin Brodeur then Richard Brodeur. I was disappointed with all 3 goalies this year and although he only played a handful of games I thought Auld was really below average. So do we go out and get a tier 2 type goalie? Belfour et al, do we change our system to help out the goalie? Do we play Cloutier and Hedberg 40+40 on a rotational basis? I really don’t know. It’s goaltending that is one of our biggest problems.

Coaching

Crawford – I like Crawford. But, I wonder lately if Colorado won the Stanley Cup because of him or in spite of him. I don’t like his offense at all cost attitude and I think that this is the biggest problem that the Canucks face. The league has reneged on it’s deal to call all the obstruction penalties which means that the talented, finesse, small winger laden Canucks will lose out in the playoffs to the larger, less talented, defense first, clutchy and grabby teams because they don’t have to worry about penalties.

I also question Crawford’s assistants. Where is the development of the younger players, especially the Defense? Go out and get Larry Robinson and pay him a buttload of money to show our guys how to play defense.

Should he be fired? Nope. The Canucks are still young and developing. They were rebuilt from nothing only 5 years ago and have managed to climb the ladder and seem to be improving each year. This year is a setback and if the setback were to snowball into next year then Marc want to dust off the old resume and start collecting his references..

GM

Brian Burke – Burke is gold ! Should the ownership decide to let go of Burke the Canucks will be able to kiss off any chance for future success. He’s honest, sincere and is fiercely loyal. Everything the Canucks are right now is because of him..both good and bad.

Does he hesitate on making trades? I don’t know. To me it seems like he has a budget to work within (enforced by ownership) and he does a hell of a job with it. Teams that have a higher payroll cannot say the same.

The FUTURE

The Canucks may have a decision to make next year. Their biggest problems seem to be team defense and goaltending. How wll they fix them? Do they get bigger guys, change their systems or get a new goalie? Here’s my take..

Team Toughness – Try to strike a balance between finesse and toughness. This may help during the battles for loose pucks.

Team Defense – Delay the aggressive breakout. Make sure the defender or the forward has the puck before you leave the zone.

Defensemen, don’t jump into the rush so much.

Goaltending – Rotate Cloutier and Hedberg 40+ games each.

I think they’ll have to get rid of some of the skill to acquire some of the toughness. Here’s my choices:

Skill goes bye bye : Sanderson, Rucinsky,Chubarov,King,

Toughness comes a knockin:Wayne Primeau, Sean Pronger,

Thoughts?