To start off, this article is not a reflection of Rick Nash the person who is apparently a fine individual who has done extensive charity work. But Nash the player? That’s a different story. I never really watched Nash much when he was in Columbus but I watched him play for Team Canada where he typically played well as he is very successful at the international level. In the NHL, Nash is considered to be a big time star player (he does have a Rocket Richard trophy and is a five time all star) whose his low numbers were attributed to the fact he played on a talent starved Columbus Blue Jackets team. But watching him in New York has been disappointing. Sure, he put up nearly a point per game pace in the regular season but once the playoffs rolled around, it wasn’t pretty. He was outpointed by Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Carl Hagelin. Not exactly $7.8 million dollar stars. Heck, Dan Girardi had more goals than Nash. 1 goal and 4 assists is not going to cut it for a guy who is being paid millions to score goals. Broadcasters on TV even made excuses for Nash saying how the Bruins did not give him any space. Come playoff time, you have to make your own space and if 5’9 Brendan Gallagher can make space for himself, then certainly a 6’4 218 pound Nash can if he wants to. He looked invisible out there at times and when asked about his playoff performance, he thought it was “good”. Tell that to Rangers fans who expected a Stanley Cup and your now ex coach John Tortorella whose inability to get the team going cost him his job. When Nash was reportedly being shopped around the league, the media made it a big story about how the team who was able to land him would be made an instant contender. Now, after seeing his playoff performance and his too high salary cap, I think the teams who were in the hunt are breathing a slight sigh of relief. Nash hasn’t shown me he is a great player and the excuses being made for him are unnecessary. A guy in his prime with his size and his skill to turn out a playoffs like that is extremely disappointing. Make no mistake, he is a very talented guy but the accolades he receives are not all deserved.
Pegged as a Stanley Cup contender early on, the Vancouver Canucks disappointed big time by being swept in four games by the San Jose Sharks. Since going up 3-2 in the Cup final series against Boston, Vancouver is 1-10 in the playoffs. For a team with such high expectations, the results have not been there.
Let’s start with the goaltending. I believe that Roberto Luongo should be the one to stay. After an injury to Cory Schneider, Luongo was given the reins to start the series and he did well. Despite losing both games he started, he kept his team in the game when the defense disappointed and the offense dried up. Schneider faltered in game three and was in net when they lost in game 4. Despite this, I think Schneider will be much easier to trade and some better assets will go Vancouver’s way. Eddie Lack, the goalie for VAN’s farm team could be ready to step in as the backup if he rebounds well from hip surgery.Vancouver will probably look to picking in late teens/twenties in this year’s draft and I think they should give goalie Zach Fucale of the powerhouse Halifax Mooseheads a good hard look as he is the top ranked goaltender available.
The defense relies on a committee like approach in comparison to having a defense built around a No.1 guy. Kevin Bieksa is a not top defenseman. He is more a second pairing guy who could play on the top pairing if paired with an elite defenseman. Alex Edler is just confusing. At times he looks like a top guy but other times he looks lost. After the Cup final, the Canucks were convinced Edler was their guy and let Christian Ehrhoff go. Since Ehrhoff’s departure, the power play has suffered big time. Dan Hamhuis has performed to expectations as he is a defensive d-man but managed to be the top scoring d-man on the team. Jason Garrison came in on a big contract with expectations to match. For the hype he was given, he has disappointed and it’s easy for me to see he misses having Brian Campbell (an elite defenseman) patrolling the blueline with him. Frank Corrado showed some promise as youngster thrust into NHL action but he needs some time in the minors.
The forward corps is where a lot of the evaluation will lie. I think highly of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, they are classy guys who have done so much for the city of Vancouver. But their inability to adapt and play well in the playoffs is tiring to watch. Their play has declined the past two years and they would tough to trade (with their cap hit and the fact they do everything in tandem) if management ever made the decision to do so. Ryan Kesler is the heart and soul of the Vancouver Canucks but his all out style has resulted in multiple surgeries that have taken their toll. Alex Burrows finally emerged in Game 4 but it wasn’t enough. Derek Roy, Chris Higgins, Jannick Hansen and Mason Raymond all disappointed. Zack Kassian, forever known for being part of the Cody Hodgson trade, has had a rocky development. A big player with a nasty side and an underrated offensive skill set, he flourished with the Sedins on the top line but coach Alain Vigneault had him all over the lineup and Kassian never really established himself. Kassian is still young and will hopefully become the power forward the Canucks need. The only really promising forward prospects for Vancouver are Nicklas Jensen, a big scoring winger and Brendan Gaunce, a player similar to Kesler.
Management is being scrutinized heavily in Vancouver. Similar to what the Montreal Canadiens did in cleaning house, the Canucks need a fresh start and a new attitude. Coach Vigneault’s time is up. Lindy Ruff is available and Phoenix’s coach Dave Tippett could be too and both men would bring accountability and structure to a club that needs it. GM Mike Gillis probably won’t go as the aforementioned Vigneault will be the likely scapegoat. Gillis has not done much to make this club better. Much of the team’s core was assembled by Brian Burke and Dave Nonis. Drafting under Gillis has not bore any impact players except for Cody Hodgson, whose time as a prospect/player was marred by controversy. His trades often ended badly such as the Keith Ballard deal with Florida. The Ballard deal cost the Canucks a first rounder in 2010 that became a solid prospect in forward Quinton Howden, a big scoring winger in Michael Grabner and Steve Bernier. Ballard now is often a healthy scratch and a candidate for a buyout. The Derek Roy deal this year failed as Roy was invisible in the playoffs as it cost them a defense prospect in Kevin Connauton and a valuable second rounder. The Canucks need a retooling but I don’t think that Gillis should be the one to lead Vancouver into the future. This organization will have some tough times ahead and will need patience from a fan base who expected a Stanley Cup this year only to be hit with the reality that that window has closed.
Congratulations to Team Canada for bringing home their first gold medal since 2008. Team USA’s streak of four straight gold was finally broken. Canada put out a well coached dominant squad that didn’t lose a game. They oozed skill and possessed a rare maturity for a squad so young. The goaltending was great as was the defense and forward corps. What else can be said about Connor McDavid, besides exceptional? He won tournament MVP and now holds the Canadian record for goals and points in the U-18 tourney and he is only 16. Canadian hockey fans don’t have to worry, Canada is still producing elite talent with McDavid at the head of the line.
Sean Day became the fourth player and just the second defenseman to be granted “exceptional” status to enter the OHL a year early. However, unlike Tavares, Ekblad and McDavid, Day did not go first overall but rather fourth to the Mississauga Steelheads. That becomes a sticking point for me in seeing kids given exceptional status. I think for a kid to be granted that status, should they not be considered the best and be almost a lock for the first pick? For comparisons’ sake, when you compare the two defenseman in Ekblad and Day, Ekblad’s resume stands out. He was over a point per game playing a year up in midget. Day was .5 points per game playing a year up as well. Stats don’t tell the whole story but that is a significant difference. Mississauga could end up with the steal of the draft in picking Sean Day but all we can do and wait to see how Day’s OHL career unfolds.
Tampa Bay’s poor start has cost head coach Guy Boucher his job. He went from taking the team to the Eastern Conference final back to the struggling squad before his arrival. Rumour has it players were tuning him out but Boucher is not completely to blame. GM Steve Yzerman has made some head scratching moves and have not them not pan out. Anders Lindback has been a disaster and Yzerman gave up a boatload of picks to get a goalie who is pretty unproven. He gave d-man Victor Hedman a big contract and doesn’t even look close to the franchise defenseman he was pegged to be. Ditto for Matt Carle, who is paid to be a No.1 d-man but has not performed to expectations either. The problem isn’t scoring goals but rather keeping them out the net. Something needs to change or Yzerman will join Boucher in packing his bags.
The 2013 draft looks to be a battle between Seth Jones and Nathan MacKinnon for first overall. But if I was a GM picking at the top of the draft, I would seriously consider taking MacKinnon’s Halifax Mooseheads teammate winger Jonathan Drouin. He has vision, hands, skating, an infectious enthusiasm for the game and out of this world hockey sense. He is the only CHLer averaging two points per game. He is not the biggest guy in the world but his skill outweighs that tremendously. He was one of the best players for a rather disappointing Team Canada squad in Ufa. His creativity was on full display and when the coach needed to shake things up, it was Drouin being placed on the top line ahead of other established players. He is the total package and whatever team has the privilege to welcome Drouin to their organization this June is getting a very special player.
The NHL lockout is finally over! When it looked like that there would never be a season, Bettman and Fehr were able to get a deal done. All I can say is, let’s watch some hockey!