Archive for September, 2007

Well I’ll be damned, the Kurtenblog is alive

I was a regular reader of what I consider to be the best Canucks hockey blog out there, the mastefully titled Orland Kurtenblog, that is, until it suddenly ceased publishing last season.

Then, today, while reading JJ’s Canucks Hockey Blog, I noticed a link to the Kurtenblog and thought to myself, ‘Strange, this. He must not have updated his link list.’ For some strange reason, I thought I would click it to make sure something of interest was not, in fact, to be found.

Well, much to my surprise, there is. The Kurtenblog is alive again.

It seems that some genius at the Vancouver Province has decided to host it on the newspaper’s website.

This Canucks season just got a whole lot better.


I can’t believe I used to cheer for you

In anticipation of the new NHL season, let us take a brief glimpse at some of the former Canucks that will be returning to GM Place this season.

Todd Penaltuzzi

Despite his period of brilliance with the Canucks (think the ‘West Coast Express’ circa 2002-2004), where he was arguably the most dominant power forward in the league, Penaltuzzi left an indelible mark or two on Canucks fans for rather different reasons. First, because of his infamous attempt to put Steve Moore’s head through the concrete underlay at GM Place. Second, because of his petulant play for the last few years with the Canucks, which saw him challenge for the league lead in minor penalties and time wasted complaining to the refs for having the gall to call said penalties on him for tripping or holding anyone who came near him. Keep in mind this usually occurred when the Canucks were down by a goal and trying to mount a comeback. Somehow the only guy with a worse temper in the entire NHL, Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke, saw fit to give Penaltuzzi a two year, $8 million contract, despite his precipitous drop in production over the last few years. Look for him in the penalty box next time the Ducks roll through town.

Adrian Aucoin

One of the few bright spots during ‘Iron’ Mike Keenan’s ill-fated reign in Vancouver was Adrian’s 23 goal season in 1998-1999. Unfortunately, that was about all he ever did with the Canucks, save his frequent propensity to let opposing forwards skate by him with impunity, Patrice Breeze-by style. The good news for Canucks fan is that Aucoin and Keenan will be playing the Canucks eight times this year, which should help pad the offensive stats.

Dan Cloutier

I hesitate to even put ‘Clouts’ on the list, primarily because he has surprised most Canucks fans by playing even worse since he left Vancouver, making it unlikely that he will even hold down an NHL job with the Los Angeles Kings this year. Despite Marc Crawford’s efforts to bail his sorry ass out again (seriously, Dan, it might be time to cash in those incriminating pictures of Crow you evidently have), it looks like Cloutier and his $2.5 milllion will be warming the bench with the Kings affiliate in Manchester.

Jaarko Ruutu

Yesterday’s version of current Canucks pest-extraordinaire Alexandre Burrows, with a more disturbing tendency toward taking ass hat penalties at crucial moments in the game and yet still able to proudly sport a jerk store grin. Fortunately, for us, he signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the summer of 2006. Indeed, shedding him and Penaltuzzi resulted in a dramatic decline in the Canucks’ third period penalty killing time. Ruutu will unceremoniously return to GM Place this season with the inaguaral visit of the Sidney Crosby road show. Let us hope old habits die hard, and we find ‘Roots’ seated comfortably in his old office at the Garage, the penalty box.

Kevin Weekes

This guy still holds down a job in the NHL? Jesus. I hope Martin Brodeur gets the night off when the Devils stroll into town. Brian Burke once labelled Weekes the ‘franchise goalie of the future’ when the Canucks acquired him from Florida as part of the Pavel Bure for Ed Jovanovski swap. However, it did not take Canucks fans long to realize he would probably lose a battle for the starting job to Steve Weeks.

(Dis)honourable non-player mention:
Mike Keenan

During his tenure in Vancouver over a season-and-a-half, ‘Iron’ Mike managed to publicly eviscerate the heart-and-soul of Canucks hockey, Trevor Linden, running him out of town shortly thereafter; allow Mark Messier to make all decisions at the hockey club, including what colour stick tape the trainers were allowed to provide; dismantle the team in hopes of resuscitating the 1991 Chicago Blackhawks’ third and fourth lines; and, most importantly, ensure the Canucks finished near the bottom of the NHL standings. Fortunately, Darryl ‘Sloth’ Sutter is in charge over in Dallas Jr. and hired Keenan to coach the Flames this year. I give it about two months until Huselius, Lombardi and Tanguay have been traded. Does anyone know where Adam Creighton is plying his trade these days? Stephane Matteau?

Things to watch for this season

Following up on my season preview, I want to highlight some things to look for with the Canucks this season.

1 – Ryan Kesler to have a breakout season

Kesler has looked terrific for parts of the last two seasons, only to be hobbled by frequent injuries just when he seems to be on the cusp of becoming the player he was projected to become (i.e. a slighter, but better checking version of Trevor Linden). This season, he will find time on one of the top two lines (most likely with Naslund and Morrison). That should stand him in good stead to score 20 goals and 50 points, barring the recurrence of injury, this season.

2 – Roberto Luongo to play around 70 games again

The Canucks picked up noted Canuck-killer Curtis Sanford this off-season to back-up Luongo, replacing little-used netminder Danny Sabourin (who signed with Pittsburgh). Unfortunately, Sanford has been demonstrating this pre-season that the only team he plays well against is us, which might be a problem since he is playing behind our defence now. To be sure, it is only pre-season, but he does not inspire much confidence. With top prospect Cory Schneider not quite ready for the NHL, I think this means another season of too many games played by Luongo. Implications for the playoff run are obviously worrisome, no matter how much Lui claims to love the work.

3 – Markus Naslund to rebound

Perhaps I am putting too much faith in the resurgence of Naslund this season, but a couple of reasons for optimism stand out for me. First, he is in the last year of his contract; always a motivator for a professional athlete. Second, he has something to prove, both as captain and as the highest paid player on the team, excepting Luongo. Finally, he is nearing the end of his career and, if you believe defenceman Kevin Bieksa and most of his other teammates, Naslund has made it clear he wants nothing more–and nothing less–than the Stanley Cup. Look for him to take charge of the team on the ice as well as off it this year. He will not regain the form of a player who was a regular top five scorer a few years ago, but he will get around 70 points and will score 30 goals.

4 – Kevin Bieksa to avoid the sophomore jinx

Technically, Bieksa is not a sophomore, as he was not a ‘rookie’, officially defined, last season. Still, he is, for all intents and purposes, entering his second season as a full time blueliner in the league. Last year, he anchored the Canucks at the back, offensively, physically, and in terms of minutes logged. This year, I expect more of the same. A slight drop off in offensive production will be happily exchanged for more consistency and solid defensive play this season.

5 – Matt Cooke to get injured getting off the team bus

For whatever reason(s), Cooke has been unable to remain healthy over the last few seasons. Not only that, but his injuries border somewhere between freaky and inexplicable in terms of bad luck. He seems to get hurt by errant pucks, practice mishaps, and neck strains answering his telephone. Some way, somehow, a freakish accident will befall the Cooker this year, rendering him unable to play more than half of the games.

6 – Alexandre Burrows to finally find the home he deserves: Manitoba

With the Canucks added depth this off-season on the bottom two forward lines (Byron Ritchie, Ryan Shannon and Brad Isbister), I can’t see how Burrows retains a spot among the regular twelve forwards. (Keep in mind also, that Jannik Hansen looks ready to make the step up this season, too.) This is happy news, for me at least. No more silly penalties; no more disgraceful theatrics and whining to the referee; no more stone hands around the net (wait, I suppose Isbister will take up that role). Burrows is a tireless worker, you can’t deny that. He simply he is not good enough for the Canucks, nor the NHL. I think he will find his way to the Moose sooner rather than later.

Vancouver Canucks Season Preview 2007/2008

Well, it’s that time of the year again. Another hockey season is nearly upon us. The question of concern for this blog: How will the Vancouver Canucks do this year?

Let us start by revisiting last season, briefly. The much-underestimated Canucks confirmed the ineptitude of most hockey pundits by not only making the playoffs (most ‘reputable’ pundits and publications predicted no better than a 10th place finish) but winning the Northwest division in the process. The Canucks then proceeded to make it through to the second round of the playoffs, dispensing with the Dallas Stars only to lose to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks.

Why? A few reasons. Most notably, Roberto Luongo. Luongo proved himself not only one of the best goalies in the league, but capable of winning many games with his performance alone. Another is that coach Alain Vigneault instilled a work ethic, team spirit, defensive awareness, and will to win in tough circumstances that had been sorely lacking for many years. Also, the Sedin’s came out and proved they are the offensive leaders on this team, each scoring in excess of 80 points. Finally, the defence, led surprisingly by Kevin Bieksa, was spectacular.

So, what about this year? There is reason to believe, I think, that the Canucks will be even better this season. Another division title and at least another round in the playoffs are on the cards.

Let me defend the assertion. First, the Canucks, in acquiring veteran D-man Aaron Miller, have arguably the best defence core, top to bottom, in the NHL. Bieksa, Willie Mitchell, Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo, Lukas Krajicek and Miller each bring something different to the table–and something that most teams would surely love to have. Second, forwards Brendan Morrison and Markus Naslund, both of whom were disappointing offensively last season, are in the final year of their contracts. In other words, they both have something to prove–and that means an increase in production for the both of them is likely. That should mean the Canucks have two offensively gifted lines (Sedins and Pyatt; Naslund, Morrison and whomever Coach V decides to play with them) to complement solid third and fourth lines (any combination of Linden, Kesler, Cooke, Cowan and Ritchie/Isbister/Burrows/Raymond/Hansen). Third, and most important, Luongo is even hungrier in terms of his desire to take the Canucks even further into the playoffs this time around.

What about the competition? The most improved team in the division is undoubtedly the Colorado Avalanche. The signings of Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan will dramatically improve a team that was not far out of the playoff picture last season. They remain weak at the back, and their goaltending is questionable, but they are a team to be wary of for the aforementioned reasons.

The Edmonton Oilers will be better than they were last year, but that is not saying much. Yes, picking up Sheldon Souray and Joni Pitkanen will help improve their power play. But, picking up Souray and Pitkanen will help every team the Oilers play pad their offensive stats even-strength. The Oil ‘improved’ their offence by essentially replacing perennial 70 point man Smyth with 45 point man Dustin Penner. Enough said.

The Calgary Flames saw fit, after performing poorly last year and ignominiously bowing out of the playoffs in the first round, to fire Jim Playfair (good move) and replace him with ‘Iron’ Mike Keenan (horrible, incomprehensible move). Yeah, that’s right: the one and the same Keenan who has not completed a single, full season behind any team’s bench since winning the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994; the same Keenan who has a penchant for alienating and dividing the dressing room usually within about eight minutes of taking over head coaching jobs; the same Keenan who prefers berating his ‘star’ players and replacing them with aging plumbers he coached previously with the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks prior to 1992; the same Keenan who thought he would stick it to contract malcontent Roberto Luongo by trading him to the Vancouver Canucks (along with Lukas Krajicek) for Todd Bertuzzi, Alex Auld, and Bryan Allen (the former two were discarded by the Florida Panthers for little, if anything, within a year). Anyway, you get the idea. The Flames are in for an interesting season. Look for them to struggle to make the playoffs.

The Minnesota Wild are the ‘wild’ card (yeah, pretty clever, I know) in the division. They traded goalie Manny Fernandez to Boston, meaning Niklas Backstrom will be the unchallenged starter this year. If Marion Gaborik can stay healthy, they are going to be as good or better than last year. If nothing else, the eight games they play against each of their Northwest rivals will be a battle.

My predicted division standings, then:

Look for Vancouver, Minnesota and one of Colorado/Calgary to make the playoffs.

Look for the Canucks to make it to the Western Conference Finals. They are not quite ready to progress further than that, yet.