Slumping Canucks kick off make-or-break road trip

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If the Vancouver Canucks are really a playoff team, now is the time to show it.

Otherwise — and this is the much more likely scenario — it’ll be time to start selling.

Five points back of a wild-card spot, the Canucks haven’t even looked close to playoff-caliber in their last three games, all regulation losses. And their next six are all on the road, starting tonight in Nashville.

Indeed, by the time the Canucks return home, the pressure on management to trade the likes of Jannik Hansen and Alex Burrows may have grown rather intense.

Which begs the question — will GM Jim Benning stand by his promise to not ask players to waive their no-trade clauses?

“We’re going to see where we’re at,” Benning told The Province ahead of the trip. “I’ll have individual conversations with those players and their agents, but we’re hoping we can stay in the fight. But it’s a tough trip.”

It sure is, with stops in Nashville, Columbus, Boston, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.

At least the Canucks will get Ben Hutton back tonight. Only Erik Gudbranson, Derek Dorsett, and Anton Rodin remain on the injured list now.

In other words, health cannot be used an excuse if the losing streak continues. If the Canucks can’t overcome the absence of those three, they just aren’t good enough.

Related: Decisions, decisions as Canucks fall out of playoff race

Sweeney: Bruins’ core deserves chance to ‘win now’


The Buffalo Sabres were going nowhere. They could afford to tear it down and endure the “suffering.”

The Toronto Maple Leafs were a disaster. The only way out was some “pain.”

But the Boston Bruins are a different, more complicated story. They may have missed the playoffs the past two seasons, and they may well miss them again in 2017. But they also have Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask under club control for years to come — and they’re not about to tear that down.

“I’m not going to be shortsighted,” GM Don Sweeney assured reporters Tuesday after firing head coach Claude Julien. “I’m going to stick to the longer-term view.”

But at the same time, Sweeney believes his core players deserve “a chance to win now” — which is why he brought in a veteran like David Backes on July 1.

“Our core players are too good to not have that plan in place, in the short term and longer term,” he said.

So, it’s a balancing act, the present with the future. This past summer, Sweeney wasn’t willing to trade Pastrnak for defensive help, and Bruins fans are probably glad he didn’t.

Still, the Bruins need to improve their defense. Zdeno Chara is 39 years old. And while Brandon Carlo has been a pleasant surprise at only 20, there’s no telling when the likes of Charles McAvoy, Jakub Zboril, and Jeremy Lauzon will be NHL-ready.

In other words, don’t expect the Kevin Shattenkirk speculation to go away. The 28-year-old is a pending unrestricted free agent. If he’s available this summer, the Bruins will surely be interested. They might even have interest before the trade deadline, as long as the price isn’t too steep, and as long as they know they can re-sign him.

Read more: Bruins management failed to improve roster as planned

For now, though, the focus will be on making the playoffs under interim coach Bruce Cassidy. The Bruins host San Jose Thursday, Vancouver Saturday, and Montreal Sunday. Then they get their bye week, before heading off to California for a tough road trip.

“These decisions are not easy, and Don has my full support,” said Bruins president Cam Neely in a statement. “I believe that we have a better team than our results to date show. I also recognize that there are areas that we as a group need to improve upon.”

That last part was Neely’s way of saying it wasn’t all on the coach. And to be sure, now that Julien has been fired, the focus will turn far more to management and what can be done to improve the roster.

Sweeney said he’s sticking to the plan.

The only hard part will be executing it.

Related: Sweeney defends timing of Julien firing

As Patriots paraded, Sweeney defended timing of Julien firing


It was a real grilling today in Boston, where Bruins GM Don Sweeney had to answer for firing Claude Julien on the same day the Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots were parading through the city.

Sweeney was asked multiple times about the optics of this morning’s announcement. He insisted he didn’t want to take anything away from the football team, but that the Bruins’ schedule provided an opportunity to make the coaching change.

sched“We had a couple of days off,” said Sweeney, “and we have two days of practice before we (play) a few games, and then we have a real opportunity to step back from the emotion of this and allow the players to get away and vacate mentally and physically. I felt there was an opportunity today and tomorrow to get their feet in the ground for a practice environment, which we haven’t had.”

He added, “I apologize that it fell on a day where obviously New England is incredibly excited, but I didn’t make the schedule.”

Bruce Cassidy will take over behind the bench on an interim basis. Sweeney is hoping that a fresh set of eyes and a new voice, with a few tweaks to the system and perhaps more up-tempo practices, will help get the Bruins into the playoffs.

But Sweeney also acknowledged that the roster he’s assembled has shortcomings, and he doesn’t intend to sacrifice the future for the sake of the next couple of months. To illustrate, he referenced his refusal this past summer to trade David Pastrnak for defensive help.

“I’m not deviating from the plan,” he said.

So, why fire Julien then?

“We have areas, and we have gaps, in our game that exist,” said Sweeney. “Whether that’s strictly personnel-related, or whether or not those are some tweaks that we need to make, that’s what’s going to unfold here.”

So, basically, the rest of the season is going to be an audition. If the Bruins can turn it around, Cassidy will be in the running for the full-time job. If not, it will be up to another coach.

“I’m excited about whether or not [Cassidy] and his coaching staff can make their own imprint,” said Sweeney. “Let’s see where that goes.”

Related: Bruins management failed to improve roster as planned

Pre-game reading: Philipp Grubauer is enjoying the compressed schedule

— Up top, Philipp Grubauer notched his third shutout of the season Sunday. The Capitals’ backup goalie now sports a 10-3-2 record with a sparkling .931 save percentage.

— Grubauer, 25, is one of the few players who’s enjoying the NHL’s compressed schedule. “You don’t have to wait two or three weeks to get a chance. It helps winning because if you lose it’s going to stick with you for a week or two weeks. If I lose I don’t want to be seen, I don’t want to be seen around the rink.” Grubauer’s strong play has likewise been good for starter Braden Holtby, who’s been able to get a rest whenever he needs it. (Washington Post)

— In praise of Oilers starter Cam Talbot, who’s been by far the busiest goalie in the NHL this season. “Talbot started his league-leading 49th game on Sunday, ran his league-leading minutes played total to 2,922:08, league-leading shots against total to 1,439, and league-leading saves total to 1,326. He also put up his 27th win, good for a second-place tie in the NHL, and a fifth goose egg, tying him for third.” Talbot has played almost 260 more minutes than the NHL’s second-busiest goalie, San Jose’s Martin Jones. (Edmonton Journal)

— Why it’s time to bring back the Quebec Nordiques, by Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News. “As in Winnipeg, a love for hockey never died in the city. You can still walk into sporting goods stores and find rafts of Nordiques gear, while major junior’s Remparts currently bring fans to the Videotron Centre. In fact, the Remparts are one of the top-drawing CHL franchises around, despite being a middling team this year. The team’s most recent game, against Rimouski, drew more than 12,600 fans.” (The Hockey News)

— A look at which teams have the easiest and hardest schedules down the stretch. Good news for the Carolina Hurricanes, who still have two games against both Arizona and Colorado. Bad news for the Vancouver Canucks, who kick off a six-game road trip tomorrow in Nashville. (TSN)

— The Islanders are hosting the Maple Leafs tonight, so of course the traveling Toronto media inquired about John Tavares‘ contract status (UFA 2018). Here was his response: “At this point, I’ve got enough to worry about with our team and trying to make the playoffs. I can understand and respect why the questions are being asked. It’s something to talk about, it’s something that’s coming up in the future. But for myself, I just try to worry about playing.” Tavares indicated at the All-Star Game that he’d be willing to negotiate an extension with the Isles this summer. (Toronto Sun)

Enjoy the games!

So… what do the Coyotes do now?


The Arizona Coyotes said it would be different this time. They said their ownership group was comprised of “people that can get this done.”

And yet, who was surprised to hear Friday that the team’s plans to build a new arena in Tempe were dead?

The answer is, nobody was surprised. Friday was just the latest setback on a long list. Once again, there is no plan for a new arena to replace the one in Glendale, and the Coyotes have made it crystal clear that they aren’t staying in Glendale.

“Unfortunately, it appears the ASU deal will not being moving forward,” said Coyotes president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc. “We will continue to explore other options that will ensure a successful future for the team and our fans. We’re a determined bunch — on the ice and off the ice. We intend to do everything we can to keep NHL hockey here in Arizona.”

Perhaps the Coyotes will now pursue an arena in Scottsdale. Maybe they’ll see about sharing one with the Suns in downtown Phoenix. There are reportedly other options.

But according to TSN’s Darren Dreger, the Coyotes were “shocked” that ASU backed out. And that’s not a good look for ownership.

It’s not a good look for the NHL either. This drama has been going on for years now. One day, the situation in the desert looks dire. The next, a plan comes together and there’s great optimism. The next, the plan falls apart and it’s back to dire.

Regarding possible relocation, there is still no hard-and-fast arena plan in Seattle. That being said, there is a concerted push, with some big names attached, to get one built. The NHL has made no secret that the Pacific Northwest is on their radar. There’s an arena in Portland, Oregon, which could be an option as well.

As for Quebec City, it is unlikely that the NHL would want the Coyotes to move there, as that would only worsen the league’s geographic imbalance.

But the NHL cannot allow this situation to exist for much longer. It is beyond embarrassing now. Just recall what the commissioner, Gary Bettman, said after the now-dead Tempe deal was announced in November.

“I think first and foremost it’ll stop all the speculation as to what may or may not happen to the franchise,” Bettman said.