2010-2011 NHL season preview: Vancouver Canucks

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GYI0060387074-sedins-lam-getty.jpgLast season: (49-28-5, 103 points, 1st in Northwest Division, 3rd in Western Conference) It was another great season for the Canucks, winning their division and showing great promise heading into the playoffs. For the second year in a row, however, they were unceremoniously disposed of by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round. Once again, Roberto Luongo was nowhere to be seen against the Blackhawks in the playoffs.

Head coach: Alain Vigneault enters his fifth season as coach and for three of his previous four, he’s taken the Canucks to the top of the Northwest Division. Things shouldn’t be any different this time around as the division appears to be a walk in the park for his team. The trick this time is making sure that the Canucks will be ready for the playoffs, something they’ve got to improve on or else Vigneault will start to hear whispers.

Key departures: F Michael Grabner, F Steve Bernier, G Andrew Raycroft, F Pavol Demitra, D Willie Mitchell, F Kyle Wellwood, F Ryan Johnson. This is certainly a lot of talent to be losing from a team that had over 100 points and won their division. Fear not, the Canucks did their part to replace everyone.

Key arrivals: F Manny Malhotra, F Jeff Tambellini, D Keith Ballard, D Dan Hamhuis, G Cory Schneider. Malhotra and Tambellini make for solid depth presence and Malhotra will bring the Canucks a third-line center that can win faceoffs and play solid in his own end. Ballard and Hamhuis more than make up for the loss of Willie Mitchell and the Canucks ensure that Roberto Luongo won’t have any defensemen to hang a loss on after a tough game. Everyone the Canucks have on defense now is more than formidable.

Under pressure: Who else but Luongo? He’s been the focus of all the attention in their last two playoff exits and after winning Team Canada the gold medal last year, Canucks faithful are even more anxious to have Bobby Lu do the same thing for the hometown team. Luongo showed signs of irritability the last few seasons when questioned after hard losses, especially in the playoffs, and the pressure will only mount this year as this Canucks team appears to be stacked.

robertoluongo6.jpgProtecting the house: All right so Luongo is the man and he’s been overworked like crazy the last few seasons. Getting him some rest so he’s at his peak in the playoffs will be key and providing that break for him this time around is prospect Cory Schneider. The former Boston College goalie gets his first chance to be Luongo’s caddy this year after spending the last few seasons in Manitoba of the AHL making sure he can handle the pressure and the workload of being a top tier goalie. Working Schneider into about 25-30 games should be the goal, but I’d still expect Vigneault to ride Luongo hard, just not as hard as in the past.

On defense, the Canucks are loaded. Even with an Achilles injury to Sami Salo, the Canucks really don’t have a lot to get fussy about. Hamhuis, Ballard, Alexander Edler, Christian Ehrhoff, Kevin Bieksa, Shane O’Brien, and Andrew Alberts make up this very deep unit that provides everything from thumping physical abuse to offensive ability on the power play. Ideally with this much talent on defense and in goal, the Canucks should not have issues keeping opponents off the board. As they like to say in cliché land: There’s a reason why they play the games.

Top line we’d like to see: Why mess with what works? Henrik Sedin-Daniel Sedin-Alex Burrows was an incredible line last season and it helped give Henrik Sedin the MVP award. Burrows gets out there to create havoc and disrupt play in a talented fashion while the Wonder Twins do their thing. Whether Burrows helped the Sedins evolve into top of the NHL talent or if they brought him up with him doesn’t much matter because it all works out great. Only issue here is that Burrows will miss a little bit of time to start the season coming back from offseason shoulder surgery.

Oh captain, my captain: Funny thing happened with the captaincy. Luongo gave up his ‘C’ and, for the moment, no one has been named the new captain. That will change, and possibly soon. If you’re looking for leading candidates for the job, look no further than Henrik Sedin or Ryan Kesler. We don’t know what goes on in the room, but to our eyes picking Kesler seems like the logical move. He’s feisty, he’s fiery, he plays the game with an edge and he’s got the whole media savvy thing working for him. Plus, he’s an American and that makes us feel good here. USA! USA! USA!

GYI0060069252-hordichuk-gross-getty.jpgStreet fighting man: There’s a few characters here you can pick from. The obvious one is Darcy Hordichuk. He’s been in the league for what feels like forever, he’s got the name of a tough guy (really, who messes with a guy named Hordichuk?), and he’s not afraid to fight. Then again, you could run with upstarts like Rick Rypien or Tanner Glass if you want your fighters to be a bit younger and a bit more tenacious. With the kind of depth the Canucks have at forward throughout the organization though, they could easily roll four lines without a designated brawler.

Best-case scenario: This one is easy. They get the same kind of season from the Sedins (or better) while Burrows continues to be the dirty kind of 30-goal scorer he was last year. The defense does what they’re built for and makes Luongo’s season easier to play in nets while Cory Schneider makes sure he’s well rested. The Canucks steamroll through their division and through the playoffs to the Stanley Cup finals and lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time in franchise history.

Worst-case scenario: Burrows struggles coming back from surgery and doesn’t play as effectively as he did. Secondary scoring lines don’t produce as well as they’d like, putting more stress on Luongo to not just be good but great. The Canucks still win the division but are strong upset candidates in the first round of the playoffs. With their luck, they’d draw Chicago one more time and suffer a similar fate. This team is no threat to miss the playoffs, but an early playoff exit is a bugaboo they’d need to avoid in their worst of situations.

Keeping it real: This team is loaded. They’re an instant favorite for the Stanley Cup and will be a wrecking ball kind of team all season long provided the injury bug doesn’t interfere too much. That’s about the only thing that can really hamper the Canucks chances this season. They’re on par with only a handful of other teams in the NHL that on paper you believe can win the Stanley Cup right away. They’re going to be very good, they’re going to make their mates in the Northwest Division look really bad by comparison, and they’ll be playing the regular season as an extended training camp for the playoffs.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Canucks are an absolute 5. This team is deep, they are very talented and they’ve got superstars all around the lineup. They’ve got all the parts in place to win the organization’s first Stanley Cup and considering it’s their 40th anniversary season, it’d be all too poetic of a finish to get it done this year.

(Sedin photo: Rich Lam – Getty Images)

(Hordichuk photo: Jeff Gross – Getty Images)

Why Senators should give Avalanche their first pick this year

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The Ottawa Senators hold the No. 4 overall pick in the 2018 NHL draft on Friday night.

In most situations this would be seen as a big opportunity for a struggling team to potentially find an impact player and perhaps a franchise building block.

This, however, is not most situations.

Before the Senators decide which prospect they might be adding to their mess of a franchise they have another pretty big decision to make; A decision that will not only impact the future of a teenage hockey player, but also the potential direction of two franchises.

They have to decide if they are actually going to keep the pick or send it to the Colorado Avalanche.

Part of the package the Senators sent to the Avalanche in this past season’s Matt Duchene trade was a conditional first-round draft pick. The Condition on the pick was simple. The Senators get to choose whether they send the Avalanche their 2018 first-round pick or their 2019 first-round pick. When the Senators made the trade they were just a few months removed from a trip to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals where they were a double overtime goal on the road from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

They had every intention of making the playoffs again and were probably assuming their decision regarding the 2018 first-round pick would revolve around a pick that was much later in the draft. Instead, the bottom fell out on the Senators’ 2017 Cinderella story and the team finished what would turn out to be a disastrous campaign with one of the worst records in the league. Things have only managed to get much worse for the organization after the season ended.

At first glance, the easy answer here for the Senators might be to keep the guaranteed No. 4 overall pick and hope the 2018-19 season goes better, leaving the Avalanche with a later pick in the draft. After all, giving up a top-five pick is no small thing and is not an easy thing to sell to your players or fanbase. You should be planning on getting a potential All-Star there.

Every indication is that the Senators are going to do just that. Back in April general manager Pierre Dorion said they were keeping the pick, while Sportsnet’s Chris Johnson reported on Wednesday that still seems to be the case.

The Senators should not do this.

As difficult as it might be, the smart play here for Ottawa is to just take the painful hit that is giving up a top-five pick, send it to Colorado right now, and just get the entire thing over with.

The problem for the Senators is there is a very real possibility the 2018-19 season is going to go even worse than this past season did. That means the 2019 first-round pick could be even higher than fourth overall.

Let’s consider the big picture here.

First, there is nothing to indicate that the 2017-18 season struggles for the Senators were a fluke.

They were every bit as bad as their record would indicate and they earned that dismal 67-point output.

If anything, the outlier was the 2016-17 season when they went on their stunning run through the Eastern Conference playoffs. That team was consistently beaten in the possession game and was carried by great goaltending and a superhuman performance in the playoffs by Erik Karlsson. Anyone paying attention to the way that team played had to know that for as magical as their playoff run was, the whole thing was a house of cards always teetering on the edge of a collapse.

The collapse happened this past season.

The Senators not only finished with the second-worst record in the league, they were once again completely decimated when it came the possession game finishing as a 47.2 Corsi team, the third-worst mark in the NHL. Something to keep in mind about that number is that over the past five seasons there have been 23 teams that finished a season with a Corsi number of 47.2 or worse.  Out of that group, only six of them came back the next season and improved their point total, and one of them was the 2014-15 Sabres who quite literally had nowhere to go but up after finishing an 82-game season with only 52 points.

But it’s not just from a statistical standpoint that things look bleak for the Senators’ chances next season.

Consider what the roster could look like.

Derick Brassard is already gone having been traded at the deadline to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Mike Hoffman, one of their leading scorers from this past season, has already been traded this summer. It is entirely possible, if not likely, that Erik Karlsson, Bobby Ryan, and Zack Smith could also all be dealt in the coming days and weeks.

[Related: Senators trade Hoffman for underwhelming return]

Even if all three return there is not much reason for optimism that things are going to go better.

If any of them go (or even if just Karlsson goes) then the team could potentially bottom out this season.

The downside to giving up the pick is that it sends a message to the players still on the roster that management thinks they are going to be worse than they were a year ago.

But if Karlsson goes — on top of all of the other subtractions that have been made in recent months — they have to know that is a possible, if not likely, outcome anyway.

It also removes what could be a season-long distraction as the standings get watched on a nightly basis as everyone looks at what potential pick will be going to Colorado.

The reality with the Senators is this: The franchise has turned into a complete disaster and it is quite possible that it has yet to reach rock bottom on the ice.

It probably needs to go all in on a teardown right now and start from scratch (preferably with a new owner, too). If that happens the 2018-19 team is going to sink to Ted Murray “tank for McDavid” Sabres levels. That means potentially giving up would could truly be a franchise changing player in the long run if they put off the decision to send a first-round pick to Colorado until next year.

Take the hit. Give up the pick this year. Start the rebuild and hope that the lottery balls fall in your favor next season.

Related: Senators face long odds in ‘winning’ Erik Karlsson trade

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Marc Bergevin’s tenure has slowly but surely made the Canadiens worse

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Let’s go back in time a few years to the summer of 2012.

The Montreal Canadiens are coming off of a disappointing 2011-12 season that saw them miss the playoffs, change head coaches, and fire their general manager. To fill those vacancies they hired Marc Bergevin away from the Chicago Blackhawks to serve as their new GM and brought back Michel Therrien for his second stint behind the team’s bench.

The big hire here would be the Bergevin one because he was the one responsible for shaping the direction of the team and is still doing so today.

Despite the struggles on the ice during the 2011-12 season there was still a promising young core in place that he was inheriting in which to build around.

  • Max Pacioretty was 23 years old and coming off of his first 30-goal season.
  • P.K. Subban was 22 years old, already starting to blossom into a star, and was about to enter a season where he would go on to win the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.
  • They had a young franchise goalie in Carey Price.
  • They had a 22-year-old Lars Eller who had doubled his offensive production from his rookie season and a 20-year-old Brendan Gallagher set to make his debut the following season
  • On top of all that they had the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, a selection that would ultimately be used on Alex Galchenyuk.

At times over the past six seasons the Canadiens have had some success. They went to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013-14, went to the second round in 2014-15, and topped the 100-point mark three times. It hasn’t been a totally disastrous few years. You could easily — and justifiably — make the argument that some of that success was driven in large part by having Price mask a lot of the team’s flaws and carry it further than it probably otherwise should have gone. But it was still success in the short-term.

The important question to ask at this point is if the Canadians organization is in a better place today than it was six years ago when Bergevin was hired to re-shape the organization. That is, after all, the goal of a GM: To make their organization better than they found it.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to argue that Bergevin has done that, while the young core that he inherited has slowly but surely been squandered.

This isn’t to say that there haven’t been good moves here and there.

Getting Pacioretty signed to a long-term contract extension that paid him less than $5 million per year was one of the biggest steals in the league. Signing Alexander Radulov in his return from the KHL added some desperately needed talent and creativity to a stagnant offense. Today, though, Pacioretty is entering the final year of his contract and is the subject of trade speculation. Radulov, having been unable to work out a new contract with the Canadiens after his one year with the team, is in Dallas and coming off of a career-best season that saw him score 28 goals and 72 points for the Stars.

And the rest of the players mentioned above? That group of Price, Subban, Galchenyuk, and Eller? Only Price remains, while the trio of Subban, Eller, and Galchenyuk has been traded for a package of players and assets that amounts to Shea Weber, Max Domi, Joni Ikonen and a yet-to-be-used 2018 second-round draft pick (No. 62 overall).

Look at those two groups of players and then ask yourself which group you would rather have on your team this season and in the immediate future with all of the circumstances considered.

It’s not that Weber and Domi are bad or can’t provide value for the Canadiens. But how are the Canadiens better for having them instead of what they had?

Look at the fact that P.K. Subban, who was traded straight up for Shea Weber after the 2015-16 season, is four years younger, has been more productive the past two years, and is a finalist for the Norris Trophy this season. Weber, meanwhile, is entering his age 33 season, coming off an injury shortened season, and is signed until he is 40 at more than $7.8 million per season. Combined with Price, the Canadiens now have two players, both of whom are already over the age of 30 and have likely already played their best hockey, signed through 2026 at a total salary cap hit of more than $18 million. You can’t fault them for signing Price because he has literally been the backbone of the team, but given the ages, salary structure, and positions they play it is a very unique core for a team to build around. Unique does not always mean good.

During that same offseason the Canadiens made the decision to trade skill for more grit and toughness (a trend they followed all season in their roster transactions) when they sent Lars Eller, still under contract for two more years at a salary cap hit of $3.5 million, to the Washington Capitals for two second round draft picks (one used to select Ikonen, the other one to be used this weekend).

They then turned around and traded two second-round draft picks in 2016 to Chicago for Andrew Shaw and signed him to a six-year, $23.4 million contract extension — in other words, slightly more money than they were paying Eller.

Again, it’s not that Shaw is necessarily a bad player, but are the Canadiens better today for it?

If nothing else the optics of it look bad after Eller played a massive role in helping the Capitals win the Stanley Cup this spring.

Last summer there was the free agent signing of Karl Alzner, giving the Canadiens what is currently one of the oldest defensive lineups in the league, and one that is severely lacking in mobility and offensive production. Between Weber, Alzner, Jeff Petry, Jordie Benn and David Schlemko the Canadiens will open this season with five defensemen age 30 or older. Together, they will take up nearly $22 million in salary cap space. That coincided with the trading of top prospect Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay for Jonathan Drouin. The jury is still very much out on that trade but year one of the Drouin era in Montreal probably did not go as planned considering that Sergachev, an 18-year-old defenseman, finished the season just six points shy of Drouin’s offensive output.

Then there is the most recent move to trade Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes for Domi.

This comes after years of not really being sure what to do with Galchenyuk. Through all of it, Galchenyuk still managed to produce at a consistent top-six level as a player you could pencil in for 20 goals and 50 points every year. Domi, who is only a few months younger than Galchenyuk and about $1 million cheaper under the cap, is coming off a two-year stretch that has seen him score 18 goals in more than 140 games.

Keep in mind that Galchenyuk has scored fewer than 18 goals in a single season just once over the past four years, and that when when he scored 17 during the 2016-17 season … in only 61 games.

There are a lot of reasons to like Domi’s potential. There is reason to believe he could bounce back. It is, however, not a given and the question yet again must be asked … how are the Canadiens better after this? 

The answer, yet again, seems to be that they really aren’t.

And this has pretty much been the story of the Marc Bergevin era in Montreal: They’re not really that much worse, but they’re not really that much better.

Most of the trades (here is the full list) are inconsequential that don’t really hurt or help either team involved. But when it comes to the big moves involving the key players they all seem to end up making the Canadiens marginally worse or leave them in a slightly worse situation, whether it be from a talent perspective, a salary cap perspective, or some combination of the two.

None of them have really been a complete disaster (though, the Subban-for-Weber swap could drift that way depending how Weber ages in the coming years), but none of them have really done anything to improve the situation. Perhaps even more than the actual results is the thought process behind the moves, where grit and size seems to take precedence over skill and talent. It has left them with a mediocre team that lacks goal-scorers and skill and has committed an awful lot of money to get older and less skilled.

No general manager is perfect. Mistakes will happen and they will make bad evaluations from time to time. But when those little mistakes keep happening over and over again they eventually add up into one big mistake that leaves you in a hole that is difficult to get out of.

This should be concerning for Canadiens fans when they realize Pacioretty could be traded. Or that the Canadiens are open to potentially trading the No. 3 pick this year.  It is entirely possible one or both could get moved in the coming days.

If history is any indicator it probably won’t be a total disaster. But it probably won’t be great, either.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Darryl Sutter has retired from coaching

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Afters spending nearly two decades behind an NHL bench as a head coach Darryl Sutter is officially calling it a career.

That is what he recently told Sportsnet’s Eric Francis when the subject of the Washington Capitals’ suddenly vacant coaching spot was brought up.

Combined with his playing career that started in 1978 that is four decades in the NHL, and in Sutter’s mind that is enough.

Via Sportsnet:

“Forty years, that’s enough,” said Sutter, 59, when asked if he’d consider the Washington gig that became vacant when Barry Trotz resigned following this month’s Stanley Cup win.

“No way, I’d be too far away from the grandkids.”

During his coaching career Sutter spent time behind the bench with the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings, taking the latter two to the Stanley Cup Final. His most successful tenure was definitely his time with the Kings where the team won the Stanley Cup in both 2011-12 and 2013-14.

He most recently coached the Kings during the 2016-17 season, after which he was let go as the organization attempted to retool following its second non-playoff season in a three-year stretch.

Sutter told Francis that he would have listened had the Flames called regarding their coaching vacancy when Glen Gulutzan was recently let go and replaced by former Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters.

At this point, though, he is happy with the life he now has.

Again, from Francis

He now insists following a winter of contemplation there’s no situation that could tempt him to leave his ranch to relocate once again with his wife, Wanda, and son, Chris.

“I love my schedule now – that’s the best way to put it,” he said.

“I enjoy watching the game on TV and I pull for certain players and I’m totally at peace with not coaching.

That’s for sure.”

With 634 wins during his coaching career Sutter ranks 14th on the NHL’s all-time wins list and is one of just 18 coaches to have won the Stanley Cup at least two times. Aside from Sutter, the only coaches with multiple Stanley Cup wins that are not currently in the Hall of Fame are Mike Sullivan and Joel Quenneville (both still active as NHL coaches) and Pete Green and Cecil Ivan, both of whom coached in the 1920s.

As a player, Sutter spent eight seasons as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, scoring 161 goals and 279 points in 406 career games.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Capitals will open 2018 season, raise banner against Bruins

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Given the rivalry between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, the fact they have met in the playoffs three years in a row, and the way the Capitals were scheduled for the Penguins’ banner raising game at the start of the 2016-17 season it seemed like a natural fit to have the two teams meet in Washington to open the 2018-19 season.

After all, the Capitals finally conquered their postseason demons to win their first Stanley Cup and went through their long-time rivals to make it happen. What better way for them to celebrate than to raise their banner with their long-time rivals in the house?

Nice thought for Capitals fans, but it will not be happening.

On Wednesday, the NHL announced all of the home openers for the 2018-19 season, and while they probably had the right color scheme for the Capitals’ opponent, they ended up picking a different team.

The Capitals announced that their banner raising home opener will take place on Oct. 3 against the Boston Bruins.

Just 24 hours later the Capitals will be in Pittsburgh for the second half of a back-to-back to open the Penguins’ season.

The complete NHL schedule will be released on Thursday.

Here’s the full list of 2018-19 season openers:

Anaheim Ducks: Monday, Oct. 8 vs. Detroit
Arizona Coyotes: Saturday, Oct. 6 vs. Anaheim
Boston Bruins: Monday, Oct. 8 vs. Ottawa
Buffalo Sabres: Thursday, Oct. 4 vs. Boston
Calgary Flames: Saturday, Oct. 6 vs. Vancouver
Carolina Hurricanes: Thursday, Oct. 4 vs. New York Islanders
Chicago Blackhawks: Sunday, Oct. 7 vs. Toronto
Colorado Avalanche: Thursday, Oct. 4 vs. Minnesota
Columbus Blue Jackets: Friday, Oct. 5 vs. Carolina
Dallas Stars: Thursday, Oct. 4 vs. Arizona
Detroit Red Wings: Thursday, Oct. 4 vs. Columbus
Edmonton Oilers: Thursday, Oct. 18 vs. Boston
Florida Panthers: Thursday, Oct. 11 vs. Columbus
Los Angeles Kings: Friday, Oct. 5 vs. San Jose
Minnesota Wild: Saturday, Oct. 6 vs. Vegas
Montreal Canadiens: Thursday, Oct. 11 vs. Los Angeles
Nashville Predators: Tuesday, Oct. 9 vs. Calgary
New Jersey Devils: Thursday, Oct. 11 vs. Washington
New York Islanders: Saturday, Oct. 6 vs. Nashville
New York Rangers: Thursday, Oct. 4 vs. Nashville
Ottawa Senators: Thursday, Oct. 4 vs. Chicago
Philadelphia Flyers: Tuesday, Oct. 9 vs. San Jose
Pittsburgh Penguins: Thursday, Oct. 4 vs. Washington
San Jose Sharks: Wednesday, Oct. 3 vs. Anaheim
St. Louis Blues: Thursday, Oct. 4 vs. Winnipeg
Tampa Bay Lightning: Saturday, Oct. 6 vs. Florida
Toronto Maple Leafs: Wednesday, Oct. 3 vs. Montreal
Vancouver Canucks: Wednesday, Oct. 3 vs. Calgary
Vegas Golden Knights: Thursday, Oct. 4 vs. Philadelphia
Washington Capitals: Wednesday, Oct. 3 vs. Boston
Winnipeg Jets: Tuesday, Oct. 9 vs. Los Angeles

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.