Sports

What’s Happening to the Canucks? The Good and the Bad

I wrote before the trade deadline that the Canucks could theoretically travel in any direction in the coming weeks. Where are they now?

Good: The Canucks started the fire sale by finally trading a frustrated Roberto Luongo to his home team in Florida. I call this one good (subjectively) because we all needed it. Luongo. Gillis. The fans. Vancouver. After the infamous snub at the Heritage Classic, Luongo’s agent started calling teams and initiated trade talks. Luongo needed to get out of this city. Gillis needed to finally pull the trigger on this contract and get it off his chest. The fans needed to figure out whether they hated or loved him. The last memory Luongo will have of a Vancouver game? 50,000 fans in BC Place chanting “We want Lu!” Not bad.

Good (ish): In return, we got center Shawn Matthias and goaltender Jakob Markstrom. Shawn Matthias is a big, young, third line center type who will bring a big body presence and some scoring. The goaltender is another fellow Swede, who was called “the best goalie not in the NHL” just a couple years ago. That opinion, since his NHL debut, has changed dramatically. He’s been called overrated and inconsistent, so it will be interesting to see how he does in the Vancouver goalie graveyard.

Bad: Ryan Kesler. After (supposedly) asking out of Vancouver, he didn’t get his (supposed) wish. Ryan Kesler is a horrible liar. He started decently with the media saying, “I’m happy to be a Canuck,” only to finish with, “I should’ve listened to Lu, cause he said whether I wanted out or not, I’m staying here.” Someone who wants to be a Canuck doesn’t share something like that. Where does he go from here? Will he be disgruntled and sour? Will he care?

Bad: I jumped back and forth on whether not trading him at the trade deadline was good or bad. I decided on bad and here’s why: Ryan Kesler’s trade value will never be higher. Can you trade him at the draft? Sure, but the team that gets him won’t get an extra playoff run out of him. I’ll say a subtle “good,” because the offer wasn’t good enough. The best offer from Pittsburgh was Brandon Sutter and two picks. That’s not even close to good. The question isn’t “why didn’t Gillis trade him?!” The question is, “why wasn’t the offer better if there was a bidding war for the best player on the market?”

Bad: Where does this leave us now? As Ray Ferraro puts it: “half-pregnant.” Not good enough to push for a playoff position and make some noise in the playoffs, and not bad enough to get a good draft pick out of the season. They traded Luongo. Everyone thought this was the start of the rebuild new Canucks era. If ownership wants the revenue from two playoff games, they shouldn’t have traded anyone, including Luongo, and instead, should have pushed for the playoffs. If ownership wanted to start building for the future, they should’ve gotten rid of Luongo, Kesler, and asked Edler to move his no-trade clause. Instead of purposefully choosing, we did 1/3 things and we’re now in no man’s land. What’s worse than decidedly choosing and making the wrong decision? Choosing nothing and ending up uselessly on the fence.

Good: If the Canucks can somehow stumble into the playoffs, they’ll play the first ranked Ducks or Blues. If it’s the Blues, well, we’re somehow 3-0 against them this year.

Bad: The Canucks of 2014 are not the Canucks of 2011. This version of the Canucks has 4 regulation wins in the past 26 games: 2-1 vs Edmonton, 2-1 vs Calgary, 2-1 vs St Louis and 1-0 vs St Louis. Ruh roh.

Bad: 2-7-1 in their last 10. The offense is ranked 27th. We are -21 in goal differential. We have the 28th ranked powerplay. Those are some absolutely brutal numbers.

Good: At least we’re still not as bad as Edmonton.

Bad: The reason everything looks so desperately bleak, grey and horrible? Expectations. From 1994 until 2011, the fans had no big expectations. We, the fans, were happy for the playoffs. We were ecstatic for a series win. We were realistic about a second round playoff exit. Now, because of 2011, we’ve caught Stanley Cupitis. It’s a real thing. Don’t look it up, just trust me.

This current Canucks team, in 2006, is just fine. Pushing and battling for a playoff spot and not really dominating. After a close call in 2011, playing with the Stanley Cup in the building twice, we expect big things. First round of the playoffs? Pffft. That’s for sissies. Second round? Automatic. If the fans expect a playoff appearance, and we get the Finals, everything is amazing. If we expect the Finals and get a playoff appearance, well, prepare for a summer fire sale.

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Vancouver: Worst North American Sports City?

Break out the popcorn and embrace the hate, Vancouver fans.

With the trade deadline of this Wednesday approaching quickly with no real big names involved, it was suiting up to be a low key, yawner of a week. Not on my watch, said Canucks management.

With reports coming out that Ryan Kesler wants out of Vancouver, he becomes the biggest asset in the trade market. Of course, with the way Canucks GM Mike Gillis handles trades, he may never wear anything other than blue and green.

Luongo agrees. “Whether or not he wants out, I told him he’s not going anywhere. We all know how this script ends,” the Canucks (supposed) number one goalie chirped after reporters asked him what he knew regarding Kesler. Maybe this shot at how the Canucks management handled his trade request of last year is whats leading to Eddie Lack’s third start in a row, one of which is next games highly anticipated, and nationally televised, Heritage Classic vs Ottawa.

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Infamously, Luongo asked out of Vancouver after seeing then backup Cory Schneider take the number one goalie reins in Vancouver in the 2012 playoffs. The whole next season was a circus of media attention surrounding the potential trade, all building up to a year ago, when Luongo got pulled off the ice five minutes before the trade deadline. Of course, nothing happened until the draft, when they instead dealt Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for the 9th pick in the draft.

This all brings us to now. Four days until the deadline, we know Kesler asked for a trade. Luongo has apparently lost his starting job again. There are talks about Alex Edler leaving. What will happen? My guess is as irrelevant as anyone else’s.

What can we take away from all this? Vancouver may have just passed Cleveland and other bottom feeder cities as the worst sports city in North America.

We have the Whitecaps transfer of Camilo a couple months ago, where our best player, the top scorer in the league, who was under contract, walked down to Mexico and joined a different team. And Lenarduzzi just watched him go.

We HAD the Grizzlies, who were never really relevant in the basketball discussion, and to other teams, Vancouver was a very long plane trip for an uncompetitive win. But you can’t talk Grizzles failures without the mention of Steve Francis. Drafted second overall in the ’99 draft, Francis was supposed to be the start of something great in Vancouver, yet he refused to play, citing “God’s will,” and got traded before he ever suited up. The Grizzles proceeded to pack up and move to Memphis.

The BC Lions host the Grey Cup this year, and have let their number one defensive back, Korey Banks, leave and sign with Winnipeg. This coming a year after Wally Buono let one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game, Geroy Simon, sign with rival Saskatchewan and subsequently win a Grey Cup. Why didn’t he sign him? He didn’t want to pay the all time leader in receptions, a Vancouver legend, enough money.

Then we have the Canucks. Where do we start? The zero Stanley Cups, the Bure holdout, the Messier saga, the Mats Sundin experiment, the 2011 riot, the Torts suspension, and the Luongo/Schneider circus, just to name a few. Now, the Canucks are pushing hard to claim the title of worst managed team in BC.

Letting their two time Gold Medal winning net minder open the bench door for the third game in a row, and possibly creating a second goalie controversy in less than two seasons, the Canucks are well on their way to becoming the laughing stock of BC, the NHL, and maybe the sports world.

At least we have the Vancouver Canadians.

sigh

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What do you think? Worst sports city in North America? Other moments of disbelief?

Hockey – Canada vs Sweden: the Good and the Bad

The Gold Medal game. Canada vs Sweden. Could Canada be the first country to win back to back Gold medals? Could they do it while tired and sleepy Canadians arose somewhere between 4am and 7am to watch the game? Yes. Yes they could.

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There is no good and bad. EVERYTHING was good in this game.

• Sweden was without Nicklas Backstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin, their top 3 centers. Hard to battle against the likes of Crosby, Toews, Getzlaf and Bergeron without them. It was kind of disappointing not to see healthy Canada vs healthy Sweden

• Sweden set up their cycle early and often. Their entire offensive zone strategy was to dump it into the corner and cycle on the Canadians. It was the first time all tournament that Canada had been defensively in their own zone for longer than a minute at a time. But it didn’t last.

• After a long shift and Swedish turnover in the neutral zone, Canada struck first. Canada’s best line over this tournament, Carter-Toews-Marleau, got the opener as Jeff Carter fed Toews in front and he tipped it past Henrik Lundqvist for a 1-0 lead.

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• After starting strong, outshooting Canada 6-2 five minutes in, Sweden couldn’t keep up. Canada eventually outshot them in the first period 12-11 and never looked back. They ended up with 36 shots on goal to Sweden’s 24.

• Martin St Louis got one shift and made the most of it with a great scoring chance in front. He was then promoted to the fourth line with Duchene and Nash. That line dominated the Swedish defense pair of Kronwall and Ericsson on one shift for over 90 seconds with 4 great scoring chances. Martin St Louis, a late addition to the team, was emotional after the game, and rightly so, as this was his only shot at Olympic Gold.

• All throughout the tournament, Crosby wasn’t producing as much as people thought he should, just like 2010. However, he was dominant away from the puck all tournament, and usually, when you do things well, the results will eventually follow. Crosby was an example of that in this game, as he caused a neutral zone turnover, raced down the ice and scored on an unassisted breakaway. He picks his spots, Sidney does. If all he does is score once every Gold Medal game, we’re all fine with that.

• Sweden switched their defense pairings to start the third in an attempt to generate offense. Karlsson and Kronwall took the ice together, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson got his first ice time of the game. Knowing they had no centers, Swedens game plan to start the third was to go all in, essentially, and bring their D up to make every situation an odd numbered situation. Needless to say, Canada’s defense was still too quick and skilled.

• Just to rub it in for all of us haters, Chris Kunitz scores on a rocket of a shot to make it 3-0. That’s all I’ll say about that. Canada dominated this tournament with a controversial player. Imagine if that was a healthy Stamkos…

• This game was never close, and Canada had 10 minutes to do a victory lap at the end, while the game was still on. Sweden was down 3 and had 2 shots on goal through 15 minutes of the third period. They were mentally on their flight home after the second period.

• Canada is the first country to repeat winning Gold since NHL joined the Olympics in 1998.

Ready for some STATS?! How’s this for a dominant performance:
• Shots on goal for the tournament: 241 for, 129 against
• Scoring chances were 139-47
• Canada scored 19 goals and gave up 3 (THREE!)
• number of seconds spent trailing: 0. None. Not once. Zip. Nada. Zilch.
• Carey Price’s SV% was 97.2%. That’s unreal.

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You’ll never see a better hockey team and performance than the one Canada assembled for this tournament. Now, let’s all go take a nap.

Hockey – Canada vs USA: the Good and the Bad

This was previewed and hyped up as the ultimate rivalry game. Canada vs the USA. A rematch of the epic 2010 Olympic final. A battle for the right to play for gold. Two teams ready to do anything to win. It was supposed to be a brutal, even game.

Supposed to be.

Good: Canada was really the only team that showed up in this one. Right from the get go, Canada dominated possession, shots, zone time and the turnover battle. They outshot the Americans 16-11 in the first scoreless period, and eventually 37-31. Even though only up one, they were in control from start to finish and proved, again, that they were, and are, the better team.

Bad: I’m sorry, but I’m done with Kunitz. I was ready to buy into the chemistry explanation for a couple games, but in the semis vs their toughest opponent so far, he proved, to me at least, that taking him over someone like Claude Giroux was absolutely insane.

He missed a glorious chance to make it 2-0 midway through the third, forced two passes on two separate odd man rushes that didn’t get through, and took a silly slashing penalty 200 feet away from his net when his team was up 1-0. I suppose you’ll see the negatives if you look for them, but why is a Kunitz, a great talent, out on the PP when this team is loaded with amazing talent? Truly baffling.

Good: Canada’s penalty killing. They pressured the puck, leaving the Americans with little to no time to make decisions. Bergeron, Marleau, Toews, and Nash created relentless pressure along the half wall and against Ryan Suter on the points, while the likes of Weber, Keith, and the two St Louis teammates, Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester, cleared the crease and down low. There was never any time or space for the Americans to properly set up.

Bad: American offense. Coming into this game, they had scored 20 goals, more than any other team in the tournament. After this game, they still had 20 goals. Still the most of anyone in the tournament, sure, but now it’s for nothing.

The only two players that stood out in this game were Phil Kessel and Zach Parise, who had 5 and 8 shots respectively. There was no sustained offense and no zone pressure, even when down a goal.

Good: Of course, in sports, when one thing is bad it’s because the opposing thing was good. Carey Price was phenomenal in this game, and thank god. I don’t know if any of us were ready for the millions of “should’ve started Luongo” discussions, had we lost this game. His timing and position were stellar, and his rebound control was second to none. Carey Price is easily the very dependable future of Canadian goaltending, and he would like to have a word with anyone who says that Canadian goaltending is not what it used to be.

Good: Toews and Bergeron. Maybe it’s because I’m a Canucks fan and don’t watch them enough, or maybe because they play for teams that I hate with a fiery passion, but man are they incredible. Bergeron and Toews, along with Crosby and Datsyuk, make up my top 4 centers in the game today. Backchecking, hustle, zone awareness, positioning and offensive abilities; these two are the heart and soul of this Canadian team.

Good: Benn opened (and closed) the scoring on a nice tip in front off of a Bouwmeester slap pass. For a guy who wasn’t invited to the orientation camp in the summer, his presence on the ice is exceptional and positive. He adds nicely to the pairing of Getzlaf and Perry.

Good: Canada now faces Sweden for the gold medal. A game that will be completely different than this one. We knew this game would be a low scoring, shutdown game. The Gold Medal game could be 5-1, or it could be 1-0. I give the Canadians the (slight) edge, as our depth is second to none.

Prediction: 2-1 Canada. Benn and Perry with the goals.

Get up early folks. Or just stay up. Same difference, really.

Hockey – Canada vs Finland: the Good and the Bad

Put simply, this was the only game of the three that was going to possibly be in doubt for Canada. Still, they needed a win. A regulation win over Finland would give Team Canada first place overall in the preliminary round, a bye into the quarter-finals and a favorable path through the elimination round.

Here’s what happened:

Good: Canada opened the scoring on a first period powerplay goal from Doughty, his third of the tournament already. Weber and Crosby got the assists.

Bad: Rick Nash’s disallowed goal. On the play, Nash played a puck that landed atop the Finnish goal, and then knocked it loose with his stick. It jumped up, banked off Rask’s back and into the goal. Under IIHF rules, as long as Nash didn’t touch the puck, it should have counted. Instead, after a video review, they ruled that Nash had made contact with the puck and disallowed the goal was because that meant it was played with a high stick.

Good: Coach Mike Babcock changed his lines again, playing Sidney Crosby with Patrice Bergeron and Jamie Benn. The only line that remained intact from the Austria game was the Marleau-Toews-Carter line. They were, by far, Canada’s best line. Martin St Louis was the odd man out for this game.

Bad: As Jim Hughson mentioned, the game was technically perfect, but it was boring and the game lacked any drama. Both teams were solid positionally and defensively.

Bad: For most of the game, Canada dominated zone time and puck possession. Finland managed just four shots in the second period and two in the third, but Canada couldn’t finish. Ha. Finnish. Get it? Tip your waiters.

Bad: Finland scored off a nice tip in front by Tuomo Ruutu. If you don’t finish your chances, eventually it’ll come back to haunt you.

Good: Luckily, much like the Gold Medal final in 2010, the Canadian goalie made a big save at one end, and Canada scored soon after to win it in OT. Price made a nice blocker save on a quick shot by Kontiola, then Doughty jumped up and scored his fourth (!!) goal of the tournament to win it for Canada.

Up next: Canada’s path to the gold medal game is now more difficult than it would have been if they had won in regulation over Finland, but four years ago in Vancouver, they were just 1-1-1 in the preliminary round and were the 6 seed going into the medal round.

Sweden was the only team to win all three of its games in regulation, making them the No. 1 seed for the medal round. The United States earned the No. 2 seed, Canada settled for the No. 3 seed, and Finland is No. 4. All four get byes into the quarter-finals.

On, Tuesday, the matchups are as follows:
Russia (5) vs Norway (12)
Switzerland (6) vs Latvia (11)
Czech Republic (7) vs Slovakia (10)
Slovenia (8) vs Austria (9)

Canada plays the winner of Switzerland-Latvia on Wednesday.

Hockey – Canada vs Austria: the Good and the Bad

After a quick, team building win versus Norway, Canada faced Austria next. In 1956, Canada beat Austria 23-0. No one was expecting that before this game, but they were expecting a big win. Canada showed they were (more) in sync and delivered a solid 6-0 win.

For this game, Roberto Luongo started in goal, while PK Subban got in for Dan Hamhuis on defense, and Matt Duchene replaced Patrick Sharp.

Let’s get to it:

Good: Canada was more business-like. Passes hitting tape instead of skates. They got more shots and traffic to the front of the net.

Good: Canada was never really in trouble during this one. Doughty opened the scoring with an assist from Toews 5:24 into the game.

Good: Weber’s goal. Wow, what a shot. Corey Perry knocked down a saucer pass in the neutral zone and set up Shea Weber with a one timer in his wheelhouse. It was so fast that no one knew it went in.

Good: Spoiler alert – not a lot was bad in this game. Canada outshot Austria 16-7 in the first period and completed dominated the period.

Bad: the one Luongo mistake in this game was the Michael Grabner shot that hit the post. More on Luongo later.

Good: After Jeff Carter stepped out of the box and caused a turnover, Crosby took the puck and fed Marleau, who hit the post on a wide open net. Jeff Carter cleaned up the mess like a diligent hotel maid. He wasn’t done there.

Good: After the Austrian goalie Starkbaum coughed the puck up, Jeff Carter stole the puck and tucked it in like the sheets on a hotel bed. Don’t know why there’s a hotel theme happening. Let’s roll with it.

Good: Carter completed the natural hat trick with a quick shot after the puck bounced around in front. The line of Carter-Toews-Marleau played really well in this game, and you wonder how much it changed Babcock’s mind about playing Carter with Crosby.

Bad: Corey Perry’s penalty shot was something out of a video game. The goalie, Bernhard Starkbaum, didn’t even move and made an easy looking glove save on one of the best shooters in the game.

Good: I was actually in favour of Craig Simpson’s suggestion of taking a penalty on purpose when already on a 4 minute penalty kill, in order to get some practice 3 on 5. Too bad it didn’t happen.

Good: Ryan Getzlaf’s shorthanded goal was the mint on the pillow. A defensive faceoff win, a rush up the ice, a toe drag and a quick backhand made it 6-0 Canada with a period left.

Good: Crosby may be the captain, but Toews drives this team. He is to team Canada what Ryan Kesler is to the Canucks

Good: Canada cruises to victory in this one, outshooting Austria 46-23.

Bad: I’m done with Kunitz. I wasn’t particularly against him on the team, but now he’s clearly been outplayed. Also, Martin St Louis needs to sit. He didn’t make the team in the first place, and now he’s taking someones spot. He didn’t replace Stamkos, he took the 14th forward spot. Make him one of the extra forwards and stop feeling bad.

If I’m making lines, they look like this:

Tavares-Crosby-Carter
Perry-Getzlaf-Marleau
Nash-Toews-Sharp
Benn-Bergeron-Duchene

Good: Speaking of starters, there’s no way Price should start. Luongo is more experienced, more mentally stable, has great numbers, and is 6-0 in Olympic play. No question. This needs to be Luongo’s tournament to win or lose.

Good: Onto the (sorta kinda not really) big test. Finland. However, the most anticipated thing for this game won’t be the result; it will be the lineup and goalie.

Hockey – Canada vs Norway: the Good and the Bad

After so many days of waiting, watching Team Canada run around playing ball hockey in Calgary, waiting for the team to be announced, and listening to too many line projections, Canada finally played its first game at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Let’s recap what happened:

Good: Norway showed up early to the warmup. How early? 8 minutes early. They were as excited as a 10 year old on Christmas morning.

Bad: Hard to measure subjective things, but Canada looked more nervous in the first 5 minutes than a guy on his first date.

Bad: The first period was fairly uneventful, aside from a few big hits by Norway’s Ole-Kristian Tollefsen on Canadian players. Each team got a PP and didn’t do anything with it. Canada still adjusting to the ice, time difference and opponent.

Good: A LOT of people were freaking out on twitter over Canada not leading by 4 after 47 seconds. Reminder: Canada beat Norway 8-0 in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics. After one period, the score was also 0-0. They also won the gold medal.

Good: After 1 period: shots were 9-8 for Canada. Lots of offsides and icings by the Canadians. We’ll call it a by-product of very little time together. Scoring chances were 6-3 for Canada. Let’s relax everybody.

Hilarious: Don Cherry was corrected by Ron MacLean in the first intermission because he called the Norwegians the Finns. Cherry responds with: “Same thing.” They’re not, Don. One wears funny pants.

Good: Canada came out flying in the second period, spending about 4:30 of the first 5 minutes in the Norweigan zone. It paid off soon after, as Shea Weber blasted a shot past on a delayed penalty call.

Good: Canada woke up. A lot of Canadian domination and chances in the second period, and you could feel a goal coming. After a no look, cross-seam pass from Bergeron, Jamie Benn scored on Canada’s 13th shot of the period. Norway had zero shots in the period at the same point.

Bad: Norway’s first shot on goal in the second period came from centre ice with 2 minutes to go. This is why judging the two goalies on games vs Norway and Austria makes zero sense. #Luuuu

Bad: Norway opened the third period with a powerplay, and capitalized. After 1 shot in the second period, Mathis Olimb took the first opportunity he could to put the puck on net. It was deflected past Carey Price on Norway’s first shot of the third period. #Luuuu

Good: No need to panic, Canada. 1:25 later, Drew Doughty took a pass from Ryan Getzlaf, made a sweet move around a Norway defender, and beat Lars Haugen with a slick backhand.

Bad: Kunitz hit a Norway player from behind, but since the IIHF rule for that is a 2 minute penalty and a 10 minute misconduct, the referees are hesitant to call it. Instead, he got a slashing penalty. For a body check. To the back.

Good: Glenn Healy actually said something useful. “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” Sitting back and protecting a 3-1 lead is not helpful. This game is about pressing forward, no matter what the score, and learning and growing as a team. Canada continued to be offensive and dominate the flow of play with 2 minutes left, leading 3-1.

The Good and the Bad

Good: There was never really any doubt about this one. Canada started slowly, and then took the game over. No upset here. The scoreboard wasn’t indicative of how strong Canada was in this game. Norway played well, but Canada was simply better, and didn’t even play to their full potential. Canada won 3-1.

Luongo will start in game 2 vs Austria. Expect some lines to change in order to find some chemistry, and any lines that stay together should stay together throughout the rest of the tournament.

For the record, I picked the boring, homer choice of Canada to win this tournament. I took Canada vs Sweden in the final, with Canada winning 2-1.

#GoCanadaGo