by Dr.Joey Only
It took me a while time to become a fan of the Vancouver Canucks. There were moments I got excited about them bu they all fizzled out fast. I think my general disinterest with Vancouver began when I started buy O-PEE-CHEE hockey cards in 1984 at the Eldorado Post Office/General Store/crazy cat-lady house. Whenever I would land a Vancouver card I found myself disappointed, probably for no other reason than because I hated their orange, yellow and black jerseys with the big V over it…they were most likely among the ugliest of NHL jerseys ever to be worn during a game. As I grew older I still never found myself fond of them, especially in 1994 when they eliminated my Toronto Maple Leafs out of the third round of the playoffs.
When I got to Vancouver I found myself the victim of endless harassment for being a Leafs fan, whereas back home there was not the same type of feeling in reverse towards Vancouver with Ontario hockey fans. The more they picked on me the less interested I was in being a fan of their team. Besides, who wants to cheer for a team with a goalie on it like Dan Cloutier. I found Maruc Naslund to be a weak leader as he was not physically tough…the the Bertuzzi/Moore neck breaking incident didn’t help either. The Canucks team of those days played the trap style of defensive hockey which I found more than boring, I’d already decided that I disliked New Jersey for their part in popularizing this style of hockey…I liked wide open hockey rather than four guys at centre shutting down the opponents attack.
When they finally moved away from the trap system the Canucks still didn’t have a team powerful enough yet to compete with Detroit and the Blackhawks skated all over them two seasons in a row. At this point I knew that if I were to ever embrace the hockey team of the city I lived in they would have to do something to win me over. They picked up Mats Sundin and this won brownie points with me as I was thrilled to see my former Leafs captain skating inVancouver, but at the same time I was hostile at the idea of the GM and coach naming Roberto Luongo team captain. However things have grown and I can say with a clear mind that this Canucks team of 2010-2011 has exactly what I have been looking for. This is a team that I think is too powerful and too deep to walk away from the championship race in the second round this spring.
Now I haven’t given up hope on yet on my Maple Leafs, but the chances are pretty grim that they will win their way into the playoffs this year. After five straight years of futility I really thought this Maple Leafs roster we currently sport would be a hotter team, perhaps strong enough to make it one round deep in the spring challenge. But it hasn’t come together and I found myself disappointed that their natural goal scorer Phil Kessel is -15 on the season. However the Leafs have shown flash at times and have shown a willingness to compete on most nights and I know that the Maple Leafs will rebuild under Brian Burkes current formula. Last Friday night in Atlanta the Leafs scored 9 straight goals, the only team to do this all season long. How I wish that some of those unneeded extra goals could have been saved and used up to win a couple of the close games they dropped this season.
But with the Leafs not in playoff contention this year I needed a team to put my support behind. Traditionally I have made the Flames my western team of choice, however managements logic there reminds me of the John Ferguson Jr. era in Toronto where too much money is thrown at guys who only ever proved over one season in their career that they are capable of being winners. The choice became obvious for me, the best looking team in Canada is the Vancouver Canucks…they might even be the best looking team in the league. This is a team that has only lost one game in regulation time over their last 20 contests, and are 13-0-3 in their last 16 games. They have been skating circles around everyone and scoring goals in bunches. They are currently first in the league and have only lost 8 games all season (in regulation time) while allowing only 99 goals in their own net.
The combination of the Sedin twins is like having a Gretzky on your team in the form of two men, each man has 54 points which makes it possible that they might net 200 this year together. They have become better players than I ever expected them to be, they are tied for 3rd place in NHL scoring and Henrik leads the league in assists with 45. Ryan Kesler started looking like a real winner over the last two seasons and he is seeking to finish this year with more than 30 goals while playing two way hockey as good as anyone in the league. Kesler is now a point a game player for the first time in his career. It is concerning to me how after these three players the scoring numbers drop off significantly, the next best after Kesler is Alex Edler who had 25 points. But it must be taken into consideration that Alex Burrows has been injured much of the year and he was good for 30 goals last season and appears to be scoring in bunches, in 31 games he’s pocketed 22 points. Sammuelson and Raffi Torres were good acquisitions and may yet still finish the season somewhere in the 50 point range. Manny Malhotra has been dominating the face-off circle, his lack of point production is forgivable because coach Vigneault knows that this player can win a defensive zone face-off when the team is in trouble. Jeff Tambellini also has 15 points in his 21 games, even the young players who are being called up from the Manitoba Moose farm team are playing well. The roll players are doing their jobs and the rookies are keeping their game simple. Only two regulars are minus players and it’s not a very deep wound, Torres is -2 and young Tanner Glass is -3.
The defensive aspect of this team is impressive too. Roberto Luongo hasn’t had the burden of playing every night with the rise Cory Schneider who has been hot every start he’s got. Roberto hasn’t found his way on to the league leader charts for average, save percentage or shutouts yet this year but his 19 wins are at the NHL’s ceiling. Nobody is going to complain about who stands at the top of the league when both goal-tenders have a goals against average around 2.30, in the 1980’s only a rare goalie had a GAA in that neighborhood.
Christian Erhoff leads the defence in scoring with 23 points and Bieksa has really picked his game up. Injured defenceman Sami Salo has not been missed despite all that his game brings to a team. Dan Hamhuis is +12. Half the defencemen are offensively skilled and are consistently helping the team to break out on a rush, the other half are fearsome hitters who keep the opposition a tad on the nervous side so they aren’t skating carelessly into the play.
This Canucks team is pretty competitive. Now that they are so far ahead in their own division and winning is coming easier it puts the coaching staff in a good position because they don’t have to focus on the basics anymore, they can take their schooling to a deeper level. These players are ready to go just that much deeper into their training, they don’t have to do physical practices to see if the guys are in shape, they don’t have to go over simple aspects of the game every practice the way a weak team has to. This team can now focus entirely on developing set plays and learning about their oppositions strengths and weaknesses. This is a team that can now make their focus on winning a Stanley Cup!