Archive for November, 2008

The rise and fall of Alexander Edler?

At around this point last year, media in Vancouver were trumpeting the rise to prominence of Alexander Edler. 

Most lauded his putative status as a gem unearthed by Canucks European scout Thomas Gradin.  Nearly all extolled his virtues as a much needed mobile, puck-moving defenceman.

In early October, Edler was rewarded for the promise he showed last season with a new, four-year contract worth around $3.25 million per season, which is due to kick in next season.  A move, I might add, that I applauded at the time.

At the risk of being perceived as capricious with my analysis, given that less than two months have gone by,  I think it’s worth pointing out that Edler has been tremendously disappointing this season.

Before proceeding further, I want to make clear that the impetus for this post is most certainly not last night’s third period gaffe by Edler that led to the game-winning goal by Curtis Glencross.  Sure, it was a terrible play.  But any hockey fan worth his/her salt knows that young defencemen are, above all, prone to such lapses in judgment.

Truth be told, I have become increasingly sceptical of Edler as the season has carried on.  Moreover, I think that the evidence of a decline in his play near the end of last season has become even more remarkable after the first quarter of this one.

Edler’s mobility is undoubtedly impressive.  He is blessed with remarkable size for someone with his skating ability.  And he can certainly shoot the puck.

Edler’s primary and glaring deficiency is hockey sense.  Seldom is there another Canucks defenceman who makes as many head-scratching decisions, particularly in his own end of the rink, as Edler does. 

For a defenceman, this is a problem that can be especially acute from the standpoint of your average armchair analyst.  Of course, it is not a unique one among NHL defencemen.  Except that those who are particularly prone to poor decisions in their own end of the rink tend to mitigate this with significant offensive production. 

Edler, though, has one goal and six assists, seven points in 21 games.  This puts him at about 73rd overall among NHL defencemen.  Not altogether impotent, I’ll admit, but also not entirely considerable in terms of potency.  Put another way, no one is going to mistake Edler for Mike Green, Brian Campbell or even Joe Corvo.  To put the point more starkly, perhaps, his production-to-date lags behind teammate Willie Mitchell.

For Edler to be an effective defenceman in the NHL, he either needs to be a lot more productive or to shore up his defensive zone play considerably.

Gimme some Juice

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TSN is confirming speculation that Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa will return to the lineup tonight against Calgary.

‘Juice’ hasn’t played since he was injured two weeks ago against Nashville.

Prior to the injury, Bieksa led Canucks defencemen in scoring and was arguably playing his best hockey since 2006/2007.

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Apropos of my previous post on the matter, I expect Cory Schneider to play either tonight or Saturday in the home-and-home series against Calgary.

If I had to bet, I gather that Alain Vigneault would prefer Schneider to play his first game on the road (if for no other reason than to mitigate the local scrutiny).  If that is correct, Schneider is likely to play on Saturday night at the Saddledome Library.

Truth be told, I hold out some concern that Curtis Sanford’s excellent play in Roberto Luongo’s absence might invite consideration that he should get a long run of games in while he can.  Once Luongo returns healthy, Sanford will inevitably return to seeing the ice from behind his teammates on the bench. 

Whatever the merits of playing Sanford, I fear that if the Canucks don’t seize this opportunity to evaluate Schneider meaningfully at the NHL level (i.e. over a period of games and not spot-duty) the decision-making process surrounding what to do once Luongo makes his decision about whether to stay in Vancouver will be woefully inadequate.  In other words, the Canucks simply won’t know what they have on their hands (in terms of either a movable asset or a starting goalie).

It is imperative that the Canucks think long-term in the present circumstances. 

However, this should not be mistaken as sacrificing the immediate future.  To begin with, I find it dubious to assume that Schneider would offer a significant downgrade from Sanford.  Moreover, it is entirely possible for Schneider to get a few games in and if he falters replace him with Sanford. 

Ultimately, the Canucks coaching staff and management has to appreciate that they have a highly regarded prospect with an impressive record of achievement waiting in the wings. 

Making Schneider sit on the bench when a workhorse like Luongo is out for an extended period would be detrimental to both Schneider’s development and the organization’s talent management.

The implications of the injury at the Igloo

First off, my apologies to anyone who actually reads this blog on a regular basis for the recent inactivity at Vancouver Viewpoint.  A busy week at work combined with an even busier week after work resulted in me not being around the computer much.

With that said, let’s get down to brass tacks.  The injury to Roberto Luongo in yesterday’s otherwise impressive 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Less than five minutes into the game, Luongo went down to make a routine save and seemed to injure his groin when he kicked out his left leg.  Whatever the case, it was clear he was in a lot of pain.

And Canucks fans let out a collective gasp of worry.

cory-moose-revisedWhile neither the extent nor the duration of the injury is clear at this point, the Canucks did recall Cory Schneider from Manitoba.  That means Luongo will be out of commission for at least the next game against the Detroit Red Wings.

Let’s assume, for the sake of a thought experiment, that Luongo is out for a few games.  There are two ways for Canucks fans to look at the situation and two ways for the Canucks coaching staff to deal with it.

From the fan’s perspective, the Luongo injury could be viewed as either an unmitigated disaster and crippling blow to the team’s fortunes or an opportunity to assess the progress of the team’s blue chip-prospect.  (As an aside, Schneider has played tremendously in Manitoba, going back to about the mid-point of last season.)

As for the coaching staff, either backup Curtis Sanford is given the opportunity to get a run of games in or Schneider is provided with an opportunity to prove his mettle in the NHL.

The way I see it, if Luongo is going to miss any more than three games, Schneider needs to play as many games as possible.  Though it is obviously not what Sanford would want (nor what he thinks he deserves, under the circumstances), the Canucks need to see what Schneider can do at this level.  He has excelled at every level he has played (college, international hockey, and the American Hockey League) so there is not much more he can prove.  More importantly, the Canucks face a situation where Luongo is due to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season.  If he does not re-sign before the start of next season, it could be an indication that he has intentions to leave.  And, if that is indeed the case, the Canucks will be turning to Schneider to be the number one.  If he does re-sign long-term, then Schneider would have to be moved.  Evidence of capability at the NHL level (coupled with his sterling play at all other levels) would make Schneider a highly valuable asset in any trade.

So, the injury situation may not be as bad as it might seem, after all.  Opportunity knocks, as they say.

Preview: Canucks vs. Leafs

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Vancouver (9-6-1) vs. Toronto (7-6-4)

As a transplanted British Columbian living in Toronto, I am particularly excited about the games – infrequent though they may be – against the Maple Leafs.

To begin with, the Canucks have been a much better team than the Leafs since I moved out here six years ago, making my existence within the heart of ‘Leafs Nation’ a rather comfortable one. Most importantly though, the Canucks have done well to beat the Leafs with some regularity over the last few years. Thus, these games provide me the opportunity to relentlessly gloat over friends and colleagues.

This game marks the first meeting between the teams since the Canucks dismantled the Leafs, 6-1, at Air Canada Centre in January 2007.

An interesting story behind the game itself, which has received much less media attention here in Toronto than in Vancouver (for obvious reasons), is the peculiar start time. While the 7:00 p.m. Eastern face-off is familiar to the Leafs, its scheduling for a game at GM Place is most certainly not for the Canucks. The other day, listening to the Team 1040 online, I heard Don Taylor and Rick Ball remark upon the absurdity of a 4:00 p.m. Pacific start-time. Much to their chagrin, not to mention that of myriad Canucks fans, the Leafs seemingly iron-clad hold over the powers-that-be at CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada evidently shows no signs of abating.

Taylor and Ball noted something I am often at pains to explain to Leafs fans here in Toronto when they invariably question why the Leafs are hated so much in western Canada: more than anything else, the shameless bias and favouritism toward the Leafs exhibited by our putative ‘national’ broadcaster and, in particular, the Saturday night hockey broadcast.

First, the historical context. When I was growing up in the 1980s – and certainly before then – in the days before the Saturday night doubleheader, Canucks fans (indeed, fans across the country) were force-fed a predictable diet of Leafs games. On many Saturday nights, we were not even able to watch our own team play on television. Even since the inception of the doubleheader, the one inescapable reality of Saturday night hockey is that the Leafs game must be televised, without fail – even if this means displacing a game that fans of other teams in other regions of the country would prefer to watch.

Second, the persistent problem. For reasons many non-Leafs fans have difficulty ascertaining, Leafs fans are apparently incapable of watching their team play, particularly on a Saturday night, at any time other than 7:00 p.m. Eastern. As Taylor and Ball noted, fans of the Canucks (and likely other teams in Canada) would stay up until 2:00 a.m. to watch the team. (As a person who watches all the games in Toronto on Centre Ice, I can attest to this as I am usually up until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. to watch the Canucks.) But not the Leafs, so it seems. Heaven forbid the denizens of Leafs Nation having to stay up until the inconceivable hour of 10:00 p.m. to watch a hockey game – on a weekend.

To all you Leafs fans out there: this is precisely why you are hated in all corners of this country. As much as you and your supporters at the CBC might wish, many Canadians are fans of other teams; the Leafs are by no means ‘Canada’s team.’  (I’m not even going to get started on shameless Leafs homer, Don Cherry.)

While I can appreciate that the Leafs do, indeed, have the largest fan base and the largest viewing audience in the country (Leafs games are unquestionably the highest rated), what I fail to appreciate is why our national, publicly-funded broadcaster, insists (at the urging of Leafs Nation) on bending over backwards to accommodate one team at the expense of all others.

That is one of the main reasons why I – and many other western Canadians – despise the Leafs and their entourage.

Oh, by the way, as far as this game goes, I predict a resounding Canucks win. Let’s say a Luongo shutout and a goal and two assists for Kyle Wellwood against the team that gave up on him.

In with the old and olding the new

Whether it’s new uniforms or new injuries, the old cliche that the more things change the more they stay the same seems particularly apt these days in Vancouver.

About this time last year, the Canucks lost defenceman Kevin Bieksa to a freak injury, a lacerated calf at the expense of an errant Vernon Fiddler skate, in a game against the Nashville Predators.

This time around, Bieksa has suffered a fractured foot after being hit by a shot from teammate Michel Ouellet against the very same Predators.  (Unfortunately, Ben Kuzma’s sigh of relief about Bieksa coming through that game unscathed proved eerily misguided.)  Although only expected to keep ‘Juice’ out of the lineup for two weeks, it couldn’t have come at a worse time considering Bieksa’s play over the last few weeks.  Bieksa has not only recovered fully from last year’s mishap; he has re-established himself as arguably the Canucks best defenceman.

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On the sartorial front, the Canucks’s recently unveiled ‘third’ sweater represents a renewal of the past.  The stick-in-rink logo and colours, which underwent a revival a few years ago and now make up the secondary logo and primary colours on the team’s current uniforms, have been newly adapted for the 746th iteration of the team’s uniform.  The secondary logo from the team’s current sweaters, with the stick more prominent and slightly angled to add more dimension, has been moved from the shoulders to the chest and the arm and waist piping has been spaced out a little more.

vlogoBut it’s not entirely a rehash.  The Canucks have added a new secondary logo to the shoulders, incorporating the Johnny Canuck logo into a stylized ‘V.’  (Incidentally, some astute observers have commented on its uncanny likeness to the Vachon corporate logo.)  Of course, even this isn’t entirely ‘new’ considering the Canucks used a different version of the Johnny Canuck logo back in the days of the Canucks’ existence in the Pacific Coast Hockey League.

I must say that while I am favourably disposed towards the new sweaters I do wish that the Canucks would stop encouraging the scorn and derision we fans are subjected to around many parts of the league due to the franchise’s seemingly ineluctable lust for uniform alteration.

Someone didn’t do his homework

Roberto Luongo backstopped the Canucks to a 2-0 victory against the Wild on Saturday night, marking his third consecutive shutout.  Luongo is currently enjoying a run of 201minutes:8 seconds of scoreless hockey.

Needless to say, our captain is doing a magnificent job between the pipes these days.

oake_90Unfortunately, some people out there – most notably the CBC’s Scott Oake – seem to have reached dangerously high Luongo fever.  During his post-game interview with Luongo on Saturday night, Oake asked Luongo if this is the best he’s played over a run of games in the NHL.  Evidently the sage reporter forgot to review Luongo’s statistics.

Indeed, one only need to go back to last yearwhen Luongo held opponents off the score sheet for three consecutive games (check) at home (check) for 212 minutes:12 seconds (over 11 minutes longer).

Not to diminish the accomplishment but the current shutout streak is not entirely a new phenomenon in Vancouver.  Luongo has demonstrated in his brief Canucks career that when he is at his best and most confident, he is literally unbeatable.

Don’t worry though, Scott.  Perhaps by next week when the Canucks play the Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada you can put the question to Luongo, again.