Should Alain Vigneault’s days be numbered in Vancouver?

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The Northwest Division is virtually clinched for the Vancouver Canucks, but as we’ve seen with Roberto Luongo in particular, the market seems primed to turn on the team’s major figures whenever things aren’t running like a well-oiled machine.

On the heels of a listless 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild and a 5-6-2 mark in their last 13 games, it only makes sense – in a “Vancouver” sort of way, at least – that the cross-hairs are turning to Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault. Vancouver Province columnist Tony Gallagher thinks that the team needs a fresh approach.

Vigneault’s time with this team is surely drawing very near the end because management owes it to the group to give them another coach next year, so as to have a fresh approach before the Sedins get too old to even talk about getting something done five-on-five.

As it is now, talk of a Stanley Cup in this environment is delusional, and if you don’t believe us, just ask Jonathan Toews.

What’s going on now is so unlike the professionalism of last year’s team and you have to wonder what effect it’s having on Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani, who came over from Buffalo in the Cody Hodgson deal. Joining a team that was leading the ridiculously tough Western Conference, they probably thought they were going into a room whereby everyone did their utmost every night to make sure the team not only had a chance to win but dominated many games. They probably thought they were coached by somebody whose every word was carefully considered and perhaps even acted upon.

I’m going to play the devil’s advocate and say that the Canucks’ hopes for a run to the Stanley Cup are far from “delusional.” Here’s why:

  • They still have a +41 goal differential which, to me, shows most simply that they remain one of the NHL’s best teams. (If their record wasn’t enough an indicator, that is.)
  • The Canucks have the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler and fantastic depth on offense. Their defense ranges from solid-to-very-good and they possess one of the league’s best goalie duos.
  • Look at the West teams and you’ll see plenty of question marks.
  • The St. Louis Blues have been great but obviously are the new kids on the block and thus remain unproven.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings carry deep flaws and dark bruises.
  • There are some nice stories in the Pacific Division, but is there a single team that truly inspires fear?

If anything, the Canucks might be the logical frontrunners to represent the West in this year’s finals – unless you suffer from “What have you done for me lately?” syndrome, of course.

Vigneault’s many victories in Vancouver

Vigneault seems like the sort who doesn’t always butter up media types, but how exactly has his reign been disappointing? The Canucks are on the verge of a fifth division title in his sixth season of work, last year’s team was one of the most dominant regular season squads in recent memory and he’s a one-time Jack Adams Award winner (while being a finalist three times).

What more must he do? Does he need to scream like a madman and flip over Gatorade jugs to get the respect he supposedly doesn’t receive? Is it really Stanley Cup or bust for a franchise that’s never sipped from the chalice?

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If you ask me, it’s a puzzling “grass is always greener” mentality, but what do you think? Should the Canucks really consider parting ways with perhaps the most successful coach they’ve ever had? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Huge step? Doctors may find a way to identify CTE in living NHL players

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Pro Football Talk’s Josh Alper and TSN’s Rick Westhead pass along what could be a breakthrough Boston University study  – or at least the early stages of a breakthrough – in how concussions/CTE are handled in sports.

The key: after only being able to study brains of deceased athletes, there’s a chance that living athletes with CTE might eventually be identified.

On face value, that’s great news for player health. Hockey, like other contact sports such as football, is no stranger to careers and lives being derailed by brain injuries.

Of course, the NHL and NHLPA would need to cooperate to make the most of potential progress. If you’ve watched hockey long enough, particularly postseason hockey, you know that certain protocols can stand as great concepts met with hesitant execution.

Westhead expounds on such thoughts, and some of his findings aren’t very pretty.

The league is embroiled in a class-action lawsuit regarding concussions, and its actions have been elusive enough that politicians have gone as far as to accuse Gary Bettman and the NHL of being “delusional” about the issue.

Don’t just put this on the league, though.

Players might be hesitant to take such tests if it means that they’ll miss playing time (or even see their careers end). It brings back memories of Peyton Manning willfully sandbagging his baseline concussion test. For better or worse, these guys want to play.

Not great, yet you can also understand the human element.

Of course, it’s crucial to realize that potential breakthroughs from this study could take quite some time to trickle into functional practices, even if leagues and players end up being more willing to comply than expected.

Overall, this is promising news. Hopefully such changes could help athletes during their careers and into retirement.

Sprong continues to impress, just not enough to make Penguins (yet)

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The Pittsburgh Penguins frequently give prospect Daniel Sprong rave reviews, yet it seems like they believe that he still needs some seasoning before making a dent at the NHL level.

Sprong and fellow intriguing forward Zach Aston-Reese headlined a group of 21 players the Penguins demoted to the AHL on Tuesday.

Here is the full list:

Forwards Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Thomas Di Pauli, Adam Johnson, Sam Miletic, Dominik Simon, Colin Smith, Daniel Sprong, Christian Thomas, Freddie Tiffels and Garrett Wilson; defensemen Lukas Bengtsson, Frank Corrado, Kevin Czuczman, Ethan Prow, Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi and Zach Trotman; and goalies Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry have all been returned to WBS.

Sprong, 20, was the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. He’s been generating solid numbers at the OHL, so it will be interesting to see how he converts that to AHL work. Sprong played 18 regular-season games for the Penguins back in 2015-16, notching two goals.

Sprong discussed that experience with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this summer.

“I played [in the NHL] at 18 for a reason,” Sprong said. “With the shoulder surgery last year, that was kind of a setback. But I’m excited for this year and hopefully I can start the season here.”

That won’t happen, but perhaps we’ll see Sprong in 2018-19 … or maybe sooner?

Aston-Reese, 23, already showed some promise in that regard; he scored eight games in a 10-game audition at the AHL level in 2016-17.

These moves narrow the Penguins’ training camp roster down to 26 players. They have until Oct. 3 to settle on 23.

Penguins, Kings among teams with notable waiver moves

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If an NHL team wants to add a big winger with two Stanley Cup rings,* they merely need to make a waiver claim.

TVA’s Renaud Lavoie tweeted out Tuesday’s list of waived players, with the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins making some of the most interesting moves.

In the case of the Kings, they waived Jordan Nolan and former Penguins backup Jeff Zatkoff. Here’s the full list, via Lavoie:

There are some bullet points that can sell Nolan, but the 28-year-old’s production was quite limited at the NHL level. Nolan’s never scored 10 goals in a single season; in fact, he’s only reached 10 points once in his career (six goals and four assists in 64 regular-season contests back in 2013-14).

Overall, it wouldn’t be surprising if a team targeted Nolan as a depth guy, even if his ceiling is limited.

While the Penguins’ entries seem notable for sheer volume as much as anything else, Frank Corrado is another name that stands out.

Corrado was often the catalyst for debates about his playing time (or lack thereof) with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it doesn’t seem like the defenseman is having much success catching on with the Penguins, either.

Zatkoff, meanwhile, fits in with quite a few other names on this list: possibly prominent in the AHL, only likely to get the occasional cup of coffee in the NHL, at this point.

* – Yes, it’s OK to think of Jaromir Jagr before that sentence ends.

Red Wings are ‘excited’ about Michael Rasmussen’s offensive upside

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The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, but there appears to be something good that came from that.

Instead of drafting in the back half of the first round, the Wings were able to get a top 10 selection in last June’s NHL Entry Draft. With the ninth overall pick, they chose power forward Michael Rasmussen.

Rasmussen is listed at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds. NHLers of that size are a rare breed. Add the fact that he’s gifted offensively, and it looks like the Red Wings may have a gem coming through the pipeline.

In his first three career preseason games, the 18-year-old has already picked up two goals. His play hasn’t gone unnoticed by the organization.

“I’m excited about him as a prospect,” head coach Jeff Blashill said, per MLive.com. “He’s big, he’s smooth, he’s got good hands, he’s got good offensive sense.”

With all big forwards, a lot of their success will be determined by their skating ability. In today’s NHL, it’s pretty clear that you need to be able to move if you’re going to have a long and productive career. But according to Blashill, skating isn’t a big issue with Rasmussen.

“I think he skates well. People have questioned that, but I don’t see that at all. I think he covers lots of ground in a hurry. I think he needs to move his feet a little bit more at times in the D-zone, but overall I’ve been happy with his play.”

No matter what he does between now and the end of training camp, it sounds like Rasmussen will be heading back to the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, where he’ll look to improve his numbers from last year (32 goals, 55 points in 50 games).