Some Things Never Change
It is the 39 game mark for the Canucks as they enjoy a rather long break during the Christmas holidays. Some would say it might be too long of a break for a team playing so well, however others, as I do, believe it will offer a needed break for all the Canucks, a chance to recharge and spend some quality time with their families. For those lucky Canucks who will play in the Olympics this will be their longest break in the year, and for a certain goalie who left the Canucks last game with an undisclosed lower body injury the break couldn’t come at a better time. Now for an uncanny fact as reported by David Ebner of the Globe and Mail, the Canucks point total of 50 points is identical to last year’s total after 39 games, as it was the previous year when they eventually went on to win the President’s Trophy, not that I think that kind of repeat will happen this year. The biggest difference is in previous years this total would have put the Canucks in a safe playoff spot by leading the Northwest Division and securing one of the top 3 seeds in the playoffs, this year their 50 points puts them 7th in the West and only 5 points from being out of the playoffs all together. I know people always said the Canucks were in a soft division and that played into their ability to get one of the top seeds every year, but how things have changed in a year. If you believe in the soft division reasoning then couldn’t we put the majority of the Eastern teams into what most would agree is a soft conference. Take away Boston, Pittsburgh and even Tampa who have maintained their winning ways without injured Steven Stamkos and there isn’t a team I would be too scared to play in a Stanley Cup Final. I guess it does make for great drama as even a .500 team like the Rangers are just 3 points out of a playoff spot.
At this point in the season I believe there are 5 difference makers for the Canucks. First and most important is head coach John Tortorella. He has brought a winning attitude, and maybe more important to fans, has kept the Canucks winning. He is animated on the bench and by just looking at his outward demeanor there is no mistaking how he feels at any given moment. The one aspect of Torts I have most enjoyed is his ability to give it to player when he feels they need a wakeup call and at the same time will pat them on the back when they deserve it. Zack Kassian even with his ups and downs this season might be the player most affected by Torts, even though Kass will continue to have the odd lapse in judgement, he’s still a 22-year-old in only his 3rd NHL season and is on pace for 15 goals. Not too shabby if you consider Cody Hodgson, the player he was traded for, in the same amount of games has just 10 more points and only 1 more goal, all while averaging nearly 7 more minutes of ice time including a significant more time on the Power-play.
My second mention is Ryan Kesler, who is back playing in beast mode. He has found his offence again and is playing with a chip on his shoulder. He will not reach 40 goals this year but should hit the 30 mark, which would be the 2nd highest total of his career. He is plus player and some nights seems to will the Canucks to win. Kesler is playing with controlled passion while being the voice of this year’s team in and out of the dressing room. He isn’t back in the Selke running, but this is definitely the best Kesler has looked in a couple of years. Let’s just hope he stays healthy.
Third is a bit of a cheat but it’s the defence core. Only one of the top 6 is a minus player (Alex Edler), while Jason Garrison is 9th among NHL d-man in scoring with 23 points. Kevin Bieksa is the gunslinger (nickname from Torts) who plays with fire and is contributing at both ends. Dan Hamhuis had a rough start but is now consistently strong and is playing a huge role in the development of the wonder Gumby, Chris Tanev, who overall is the Canucks most consistent d-man this year. Not to be forgotten is waiver wire pick up Ryan Stanton, playing a regular shift and not being a liability. I just hope he recovers in a timely fashion from the dreaded high ankle sprain. Waiting in the wings is Frank Corrado, who in his brief stint last year in the playoffs didn’t look out-of-place.
Fourth is Mike Santorelli. He has 26 points this year and is on pace for 55. Looking at 3 other free agents from this past summer with comparable point totals you can see how much of a steal Santorelli was. 1st is Grabovski with the Caps, who’s cap hit is 5.5 million for his 29 points, next are 2 former Canucks, Derek Roy with 27 points for the Blues making 4 million and finally a pretty good bargain but someone I am glad moved on, the Leaf’s Mason Raymond with his 25 points and a near double cap hit of 1 million. The hometown boy Santorelli is playing at a discount but with his play and the fact the cap is going up next year, I’m hoping the Canucks can lock him up long-term to a fair contract.
Last but not least is Strombone1, otherwise known as Roberto Luongo. The man no one thought would be back but luckily came back with a positive attitude and a willingness to let the past be the history it is. His goals against and save percentage are under his career average. Among goalies with at least 20 starts he ranks 9th in wins and save % and 6th in goals against. Considering Lou is notoriously a slow starter who heats up as the year goes on, I believe when all is said and done Lou will once again be in the Vezina running and hopefully after leading Canada to another Gold medal bring the Canucks back to the playoffs for a lengthy run.
As always you can follow my thoughts on the Canucks and anything else that peaks my interest on Twitter @F4SLanceHornby. Have a safe holiday season and a Happy New Year.