Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Canucks.com photo

[edit ~7:18p -- Matt Cooke apparently re-signed just hours after I typed up this post this morning.]

Since I totally fell asleep on my usual Mariner post and don't have enough time to crank it out right now, I figure this would be a good time to crank something out that's Canuck-related.

The Canucks open up preseason play in Edmonton tomorrow night at 6pm in the first of seven preseason games for the Canucks before their opener, a home game against Wayne Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes on October 5th (Wednesday). After that, they get a four-game road trip and a four-game homestand. They have a six-game homestand from December 17-28 (for anyone planning to visit Van for the holidays) and a five-game homestand from March 23-31. Helping balance that out is a seven-game road trip from January 23-February 4 (a week before the Olympic break) with two back-to-back sets. The other curious thing about the Canucks' home schedule is that they adopted what the Mariners did after moving into Safeco Field -- no 7:30/35 starts. Just a bunch of 7pm starts.

Compared to other teams in the Northwest Division, the Canucks didn't lose or gain a lot of big names. Edmonton made huge moves (Mike Peca, Chris Pronger), and so did Calgary (Tony Amonte, Darren McCarty). Minnesota got Brian Rolston and others. Colorado got Pierre Turgeon, but lost Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote, Paul Kariya, and Teemu Selanne. The Canucks lie somewhere between the Calgary/Edmonton end of the spectrum and the Colorado end of the spectrum in terms of moves.

Though the Canucks didn't lose huge, i.e., Brendan Morrison or Markus Naslund didn't leave, they lost significant depth on defense with Marek Malik and Brent Sopel going to the New York teams. The Canucks plan to alleviate the situation by hoping new acquisition Steve McCarthy can fill out the middle of the depth chart and one of the Moose players from last year (Kevin Bieksa, Wade Brookbank, Tomas Mojzis) can handle the back end of the blueline while Bryan Allen gets bumped up the depth chart and receives a huge gain in minutes from 2003-04, a possibility which is generating a decent bit of skepticism. What I'm hearing on McCarthy is that he's pretty good and was never given a decent chance by the Chicago Blackhawks organization, which was pretty much in shambles when he was in it.

In goal, Johan Hedberg generally fell out of favor with Marc Crawford at times in 2003-04, and Alex Auld was knocking on the door to Dan Cloutier's backup spot anyway. However, there seemed to be a chance that Cloutier might be let go during this offseason and Auld and others might ascend to the starter's spot, but that possibility was put down when Cloutier was signed to a three-year deal. Brent Johnson was signed in the offseason to give the Canucks some depth, but even though GM Dave Nonis will try to deny it, Auld will be the backup since Johnson has a two-way contract, and Auld doesn't. Johnson will be playing for the Manitoba Moose. For Auld to be sent to Manitoba, the Canucks would have to jump through a ton of hoops. This isn't made easier by the fact that I don't think a complete copy of the new collective bargaining agreement has been made available to the general public. That'd explain the two-way deal a lot better than I can. When we last had on-ice hockey, Alex Auld was the goalie against Calgary in three games of that first-round series and did a fairly good job considering the circumstances. Last year in Manitoba, I wouldn't say he fell out of favor with coach Randy Carlyle in Manitoba (now head coach of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks), but Wade Flaherty must have caught fire well beyond what I was reading on a nightly basis if the former isn't true. Flaherty was the goalie for most of the Moose's run to the Calder Cup finals.

As for the rest of the group, the annual "who will skate with the Sedins?" question is apparently answered with the addition of Anson Carter. Matt Cooke is unsigned at this point, and rumor is that the contract he wants is a bit nutty, but his ability to be in the right places at the right times is invaluable. He's the kind of guy you like on your team, but hate like hell if he's on the other team (Sean Avery of the LA Kings once said if he had a free punch against anyone in the NHL, it'd be to Cooke because he doesn't fight his own fights). Richard Park was brought in from Minnesota, and it appears Dan Cloutier thinks Park's offensive game might be set free from the shackles of Minnesota's style of play. Park's addition is the reaction to Artem Chubarov opting to play in Russia. Though not a force on the scoresheet, Chubarov...well, go here.

I of course wouldn't go this far without mentioning Todd Bertuzzi. It's been said he's looking good in camp, and it'll be good to see the top line back out there. I do find it unfortunate that I'll be rooting for Todd Bertuzzi to do well, and I wish I never had to empathize with fans that root for Kobe Bryant, Leonard Little, Ray Lewis, Jamal Lewis (the latter two on the NFL's most hard-to-root-for team, the Baltimore Ravens), and the list goes on. If memory serves right, only Little and Jamal Lewis out of that group actually were convicted. Bertuzzi struck a plea bargain, but he did plead guilty. The biggest difference is that Bertuzzi's incident was on camera, on the ice, and in front of thousands of people. I guess what I was getting to is that the Laker fans seemed to welcome Bryant with open arms after the whole trial in Eagle County, and I kinda got the vibe that there was a myopic sort of deal with the Laker fans, or that they almost looked the other way after the trial was done (it helped he wasn't guilty in the trial, but he was admittedly guilty of adultery and oddly held a press conference to confess such; I got a weird vibe from it anyway). During the lockout, Bertuzzi came back to Vancouver as part of Brad May's charity game at the Pacific Coliseum, and he got a raucous ovation. Point (though fragmented) is, I'm getting that weird Kobe Bryant feeling when I heard about the Bertuzzi return and everything. I don't know if that's because they'd have been better equipped for a Cup run with him the last time out, or if it's undying fan loyalty...surely the punch seen 'round the world has to be in the back of your mind somewhere whenever you think of Todd Bertuzzi.

As for predictions, it's really hard to predict how the team might fare until we see how the rule changes affect the game around the league. The Canucks' hierarchy seems to believe the rule changes will help the speed game that they've been putting onto the ice. That may be nullified by the loss in defensive depth.

So I can't really predict, and it's hard to predict even before the preseason games start up, but I'm thinking the Canucks have to be a top-six playoff team. Top three would mean winning the division, and like I said, I can only be so specific about this without knowing how the rule changes will hash out.

I have to say I do find it hilarious that after it was all over in 2003-04, there were vows by Canuck brass to shake up the core of the team, and I don't know if the rule changes have to do with it or what, but other than Malik and Sopel being gone, it's largely the same team. Especially when compared to other teams in the division, the Canucks look nearly unchanged.

For my main hockey resources I've been using, go here, here, here, and I listen to some of this.

TEAM (TSN preview, raw training camp roster)
+Markus Naslund/*Brendan Morrison/Todd Bertuzzi
*Daniel Sedin/*Henrik Sedin/^Anson Carter
*Matt Cooke/Ryan Kesler/Trevor Linden
*Jarkko Ruutu/Brandon Reid/^Richard Park
*Tyler Bouck/Nathan Smith/*Jason King
^Josh Green/Craig Darby/Lee Goren

Ed Jovanovski/*Mattias Ohlund
*Sami Salo/*Bryan Allen
~Steve McCarthy/Nolan Baumgartner
^Sven Butenschon/Wade Brookbank
Kirill Koltsov/Kevin Bieksa

*Dan Cloutier
^Brent Johnson
Alex Auld

* = re-signed, restricted free agent
+ = re-signed, unrestricted free agent
^ = newly signed, unrestricted free agent
~ = acquired via trade

F Brad May (Colorado)
F Martin Rucinsky (NY Rangers)
F Jeff Heerema (Ottawa)
D Brent Sopel (NY Islanders)
D Marek Malik (NY Rangers)
D Johnathan Aitken (Montreal)
G Johan Hedberg (Dallas)
F Artem Chubarov (Russia)

Remaining preseason games...
Wed Sep 21 at Edmonton
Fri Sep 23 vs. San Jose
Sat Sep 24 vs. Anaheim
Mon Sep 26 at Calgary
Wed Sep 28 at Anaheim
Fri Sep 30 vs. Calgary
Sat Oct 1 vs. Edmonton

I'm looking forward to this season since I'm freakin' starved for hockey. Special thanks to the Puget Sound Tomahawks for getting me through last year and for letting me handle in-arena music for roughly a third of the home games.

What I'm not looking forward to this year is following the bulk of the season from the east coast. My half of the show is moving to Virginia Beach on October 1st for about five and a half months before returning to Hawaii. In other words, home games at 10pm. Ouch.

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