Are the Canucks in trouble without Ehrhoff?

ehrhoff2.jpgIf I had to pick a “most resilient” team for the 2009-10 season, it would probably be the Phoenix Coyotes, but the Vancouver Canucks aren’t far behind. They’ve dealt with a historic road trip, the unexpected struggles of their “captain”/goalie Roberto Luongo and the loss of key defenseman Willie Mitchell. But at least one writer – Ian Macintyre of the Vancouver Sun – thinks that an injury to another Canucks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff might be a “fatal” blow to the team’s playoff hopes.

Nearly three months after the hit, Willie Mitchell still has a headache. Now, the Vancouver Canucks have one, too.

Christian Ehrhoff’s sprained knee is a potentially critical blow to the Canucks, who were able to survive the severe concussion suffered by Mitchell on Jan. 16 but are ill-equipped to handle another major injury on their defence. Not with the National Hockey League playoffs starting next Wednesday.

After following his up-and-down years as a member of the San Jose Sharks, it’s baffling to read a Chicken Little article regarding the loss of Ehrhoff. Really, that guy? The one whose scalding slapper was more likely to miss the net/break glass/hit a spectator than create a meaningful scoring chance? The dude who was often clueless in his own end? That Christian Ehrhoff?

To be fair, the German defenseman is playing stunningly well this season (putting up – for him – a typical 43 points with a very atypical +33 after going -12 last year) and Macintyre makes a good argument that the team’s mid-to-lower ranking D guys struggle when given extra minutes. Still, it sounds like the injury isn’t that severe so perhaps it will be a moot point.

Either way, I feel pretty confident that if Vancouver flounders it will be for some other reason. This team has shown some real moxie; it wouldn’t shock me if they ended up raising the Stanley Cup for the first time in their history this summer. No doubt about it, it might be more difficult without Ehrhoff but this team has been scaling some rugged mountains this season.

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    Report: U.S. women to vote on deal to avoid worlds boycott

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    USA Today, citing a person with knowledge of the situation, is reporting that USA Hockey has struck a tentative four-year deal with members of the U.S. women’s national team that would avert a boycott of the upcoming world championship in Plymouth, Michigan.

    The players are expected to vote on the deal today. No financial details were reported. The players have been seeking a living wage.

    The U.S. is scheduled to play Canada on Friday at USA Hockey Arena.

    Read more:

    USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage

    U.S. women say they’ll boycott worlds

    Selanne: Ducks want Kariya back in fold, but he’s ‘very bitter about hockey’

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    Paul Kariya hasn’t played hockey in over seven years, since a series of concussions forced him into retirement.

    He’s been out of the limelight, too.

    After sharply criticizing the league during his retirement announcement — he said every hit that ever knocked him out was an illegal one — Kariya has virtually disconnected from the hockey world, save the occasional report alluding to his bitterness towards the NHL.

    But there have been efforts to connect with him.

    Including those from the team he rose to prominence with.

    In a recent interview on Ray Ferraro’s Pulp Hockey podcast, Teemu Selanne — Kariya’s longtime running mate in Anaheim — shed some light on how the Ducks would welcome Kariya back… and how Kariya’s consistently rebuffed the idea.

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    “It was kind of a shame how his career ended. He’s very bitter about that. He always thought that the NHL was not looking after the players the way they should. So that’s why he doesn’t want to be involved with hockey at all, and he almost kind of like disappeared from the hockey world, which is very sad.

    “What he has done for hockey, and especially here in Anaheim and California, it’s unbelievable. He was an unbelievable hockey player, and I had a great time with him. It hurts me that he doesn’t want to be part of hockey, because I think he has a lot to offer and give. Hopefully one day he will come back, for some reason. I know the Ducks have really tried hard to get him back and into the program.

    “But he’s very bitter about hockey, which is very sad.”

    Drafted fourth overall by the Ducks in ’93, Kariya was the franchise’s first true superstar. He scored 50 goals and 108 points in his sophomore campaign and, the year following, finished second in Hart Trophy voting for league MVP.

    In 2003, he led Anaheim to its first-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance. That series, of course, is perhaps best remembered for the lethal hit Kariya took from Devils d-man Scott Stevens.

    The Stevens hit was just one in a series that derailed Kariya’s career. There was the infamous Gary Suter crosscheck to the head in ’98 — Suter received a two-game suspension — and the last one, an elbow to the head from Patrick Kaleta.

    Kaleta avoided suspension entirely.

    Many have wondered where Kariya would’ve ranked among the greats had he stayed healthy. He finished with 989 points in 989 career games, and was still a really productive player at the end — despite the concussion problems, Kariya, then 35 years old, scored 18 goals and 43 points in 75 games during his final season in St. Louis.

    With the annual Hall of Fame debates and the recent NHL 100 list, Kariya’s name has come up quite a bit. Which again circles back to Anaheim.

    Selanne’s number is already in the rafters (Kariya wasn’t in attendance for the ceremony), and the organization has close ties with alumni, as both Scott Niedermayer and Todd Marchant both have front-office gigs. So one would think Kariya, who served as team captain for five years, would be embraced with open arms.

    PHT reached out to the Ducks for comment on Selanne’s remarks. They replied that Kariya is always welcome in Anaheim, and he’s aware of that.

    Keller debut garners praise from coach Tippett

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    Clayton Keller didn’t score — in fact, he didn’t even register a shot — but his NHL debut last night in St. Louis garnered high praise from Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett.

    “He looks like a good player,” Tippett said, per the Arizona Republic. “He’s got good skill. He’s certainly not worried about getting into any confrontations. He plays hard along the wall. He’s not a big guy, but he competes hard. He looks like a hockey player. He’s got great hockey sense. You watch how he manages a game between line changes, just managing the puck, it was a good start for him.”

    The Coyotes lost the game, 4-1, but Keller finished with an even rating in 12:21 of even-strength action. The 18-year-old also logged 1:48 on the power play.

    Keller grew up in suburban St. Louis, so debuting against the Blues at Scottrade Center was doubly special.

    “It’s pretty cool growing up coming to games here,” he said. “It was really special to have the first one here.”

    Related: Coyotes ready for prized prospect Keller to go pro

    Rask will start, Krejci a game-time decision for Bruins

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    Tuukka Rask will be back in Boston’s net tonight when the Bruins host the Nashville Predators.

    Rask missed Saturday’s game in Brooklyn with a lower-body injury. And though Anton Khudobin backstopped the B’s to a 2-1 victory over the Isles, coach Bruce Cassidy said yesterday that Rask was the “No. 1 goalie” and would play as soon as he was healthy.

    “Tuukka is healthy,” Cassidy confirmed today, per CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty. “That’s what he indicated to me and that’s all I needed to hear. He’ll be our starter tonight.”

    Rask has struggled since mid-January, registering an .886 save percentage in his last 25 appearances. Thursday against Tampa Bay, he allowed five goals on 28 shots in one of his worst performances of the season.

    Read more: Cassidy says Bruins “overused” Rask early on

    Another pressing issue for the B’s? The health of center David Krejci, who left practice early yesterday with an upper-body injury.

    Krejci will be a game-time decision tonight. If he can’t play, Ryan Spooner will center Drew Stafford and David Pastrnak.

    The Bruins are just one point ahead of the surging Lightning for the second wild-card spot in the East. Both teams have seven games remaining. The B’s hold the ROW tiebreaker, 37 to 33.