The More Things Change...

Rich Lam

OK. Everyone pull out your pocket Canuck roster, ( what, you have one, right ? ), and take a look. Since it is on your phone, click on some of the more familiar names. There is a fair amount of career worst or close to it seasons that occurred under the tutelage of John " Walked his dogs while calling off practice" Tortorella. It can't be all that bad though, can it ?

Start at the top and work your way down.  Burrows, Alexandre is the logical place to start.  After being prodded by AV and becoming a regular NHLer in 2008-2009, he was a fairly high shooting % guy ( yeah, yeah, the Sedins.  Guys have to work hard to get open in the NHL with everyone, including the purveyors of Sedinery... ), averaging in the 16 percentile, until being at 9.5 % in the lockout shortened year.  That is roughly in the top 10 % of the NHL.  Not bad for a one time Greensville Growler.

In 2013 - 2014 , he had a 4.8 % over 104 shots over 49 games.  A player who had played at twice that in two fewer games, against totally Western ( higher QualComp, just because it is ! ) competition, tallying 13 goals and 24 points over 47 games, had 5 goals and 15 points.  I can't remember how many times I noticed that those were decent shooting opportunities that he would have buried in any non - cursed season.

Injuries sure are a b**** sometimes, and there is no mistaking that they had to of played a factor in that decline as well, continually in pain and moving in and out of the lineup.  Mr Everything even had some of our rabid base murmuring about "buyout" on a team that had David freaking Booth, and only one more buyout to use !

Jannik Hansen had one more goal and 7 less points than his 27 in the lockout year, while maintaining a close to his career average 10.3 %, at 9.8% last year.  Now, I know Torts yoyo-ed him up and down the lineup, a bit like AV used to, but the perfect 3rd liner that can produce a little was not cursed by a mad gypsy like his teammate #14 above, obviously.

But the man that might give us a glimpse into how much more we can hope and expect next year is the 14th overall pick in the 2002 draft.  Chris Higgins was dash 14, but there were a lot of dash players during the reign of Monsieur Tortorela.  That "practicing as often as a corporate beer league team does" thing might have had something to do with it.  You just have to look at how well the different teams in the playoffs worked their systems to realize that.  Guys knew where they were supposed to go.  Mr Higgins actually had a more productive year otherwise. He almost matched his best year with the Canucks in 2011-2012, with 17 goals ( 18 in '12 ) and 39 points, compared to 43 then.

Sure, he played 78 instead of the 71 of that year, but the number that stands out is his shooting percentage, which was 10.9% then, and a full 3 % points lower than that while taking a 3rd on the team 216 shots. ( behind leader Kesler with 239 shotsscoring on 10.5 % oof them, and D Sedin, with an equally as illuminating 7.1 % on 224 shots ).

When you look at the team, it is not all bad.  Of all players that took at least 50 shots, who had the best shooting percentage on the team ? The KassSquatch.  Zack Kassian had a 15.4 % on 91 shots, followed by Brad Richardson, with a 12.9 % on 85 forced saves.  Captain Henrik Sedin was an 11.3% on 97 shots, while Mike Santorelli was an 11.0 % on 91 attempts.  Then Kesler over that team leading 239 shots, and Jannik Hansen just missed the 10.0 % Mason Dixon Line for forwards in the NHL, at 9.8 %.  ( For some context... Jordan Schroeder was a 12.0% on 25 shots, Niklas Jensen had 3 goals on 30 shots, and Dale Weise was a 10.3 % on 29 attempts, while Yannick Weber is the leading defenseman on the team, with an 8.5% on 70 shots )

So, unlike Higgins, when you look into it, there are a lot of forwards who seemed to be a bit lower in their production and shooting percentage, and with ample room to meet their career average once again.  With a new coach, one who seems to have the rep for actually doing the young person teaching thing in a way that makes his players love him, veterans and rookies all, perhaps there is some improvement already baked into next season.

Buy low, sell high, right !?  With all the low brought upon by the Canucks by both the coaching situation and practice ( Is it just me, or do the teams that practice more, seem to get less injuries? )  Unless their coach runs mini training camps mid season after not practicing enough.  That's just groin pull city Torts, not "I'm Olde School".

Our last coach talked of the "wear and tear of the West", and, I think, overreacted to what he had heard, and threw all the rest days in he could, when the players probably could have used a skate for half and hour.  Just because those days were ones where a nice beach walk with the dogs and wife seemed to be on the menu was just a happy coincidence...right ?  Players are used to the grind, and practice is a part of that. ( w/o even getting into how players who are overused play differently than those that get the 18-20 that comes with being 1st liners on a four line team ).  It just seemed Torts was on a different page, his line up usage so convoluted that the scoring leaders on the team had the worst seasons of their career while playing some of the most average minutes in the NHL.

I kind of wondered if veteran coaches looked at Torts when he did the Calgary Thing, or when he had a freaking mini camp at a break in the schedule all of the sudden, saying he was "troubled" about having to do so.  The guy that would blow off practice for Point Roberts was troubled.  By having to work on systems because his players didn't know what was expected of them.  Like it was all their fault.  "Stoopid players, grumble grumble...I got to go through Customs every day because I didn't want to live there..ratsafratz... WHO'S CELL PHONE WAS THAT!!???..."

It was amazing. I was sucked in like a lot of us a bit, and he was such a great quote to the media, and totally against type, that by sheer force of will, he could get his increasingly wrong message across in the media that was, until the end, quite enamoured of the Italian Charmer.  ( Best.Job Interview. Ever. )

That won't be a problem this time around, if the strong smoke signals from Rogers Arena wafting across the media are true. Willie Desjardins seems to be a decidedly different cat. Check out this article from Jason Botchford. The ShapDaddy does not often gush, even when his interview subjects are doing in this article. A teacher, and a guy that has the players backs, instead of a guy who was just promised as such.  I like that he is one of those lifer coaches getting his first shot at 57, and that he has won at every level he has been at.

He seems like the kind of guy I can see coaching a team of vets and youth, and getting more out of them.  But then I like to look at the best instead of the worst.  The thing is, with this year's addition, I just may be right.  It all depends on a series of things going right, is all. ( why yes, they can go wrong too ! )  We have a rookie president, GM, and now coach ( in all probability, the official word on Willie Desjardins is rumoured to come Monday ).  New beginnings always have the lustre of newness.  This year, the blank slate is on so many levels, one can't help but be interested.

The draft will bring the excitement it always does, and with the nugget dropped in this TEAM interview that Ryan Kesler is not JUST trade bait, along with strong hints about moving up in the draft ( I agree with Harrison Mooney here on Sam Reinhart. ), Jim Benning is going to be in the middle of it.  Young Reinhart as the future is a nice player to get to fill in the eventual Kesler departure, or even to learn from him in the next year or so.

The Canucks have all sorts of ways they could go this year.  While the playoffs is what our new guys tell us is the goal next year, and while the style that Willie Desjardins employs is definitely one more in line with what Mr Linden said he wanted in that first interview, you will never really know this year.  Personally, I am just going to try and let it wash over me, and not try to adjudicate every move this year.  That way, I'll either be pleasantly surprised, nodding sagely while repressing the "I told you guys they would be good", or at arms length from what would be a hugely entertaining media and Canuck Nation spasming while everyone else tells me the same thing, and mutters about how far we could fall to get Conor...since they suck this year anyhow...".

This calm before the storm will probably only last until Monday.  Then, ( hopefully ) the euphoria of a new coach getting introduced will dovetail nicely into a whole bunch of moves, drafts, trade ( s ) speculations coming true or falling apart, and even the rapacious appetite for Canuck news here in LotusLand will be tested.

But while all those new moves and stories to come will be exciting, spare a moment for the players already here.  The ones that have proven in the past that they have what it takes to be NHLers.  Whether it is Higgins, and knowing he has even more to give after almost matching his best year production in a year of turmoil, or Mr Everything getting back to the situational excellence that defines his career, as well as the scoring that comes with just matching his career average for shooting percentage.  I know some folks lost the faith with Burrows ( I thought that was a little quick on the doubts considering his career arc ).  That's fine for them.  Myself, I just can't see that steep of a permanent decline for his career, when his is one that has come to define hard work.  A guy who went from making less money than some of us in a week in the hockey hotbeds of Greensville and Baton Rouge to the NHL's 1st page of 5 on 5 scoring has earned a few more doubts from me.

Burrows, Hansen and Higgins were all at various points in how they produced versus their career average ( and did I mention both Daniel and Henrik Sedin had career worst seasons during the Reign of Error ? ) last year.  There are several players in all areas of the team, from defenders to goalies to the forwards discussed today and others, who look at the statlines from last year with cold fury.  I do not profess to know a single pro athlete in any personal way, but from the info we glean about them, and the very human nature ( any runners in the audience will talk for hours on how they can best last weeks time... ) that would make players embarrassed,  ( especially ones of the character of the Sedins and Burrows, to name only a few, ) makes them push up that weight that one last time, or react with only the thinnest of smiles to any mention of how they did last season.

So. while we navigate through all the exciting moves and hopefully better days soon ahead, take some solace that just math and the Laws of Probability ( well, we Subjectivists.  Objectivists look at it differently...weirdos. )  could just mean that one of several underperforming veterans, or rookies and sophomores about to break out ( looking at you Kassian and Jensen ), and the unknowns that will surely come from Trader Jim and his travels through the lineup.  It is not like we need the very best season of everyone's careers next season.  Just career averages is going to be an improvement !

Ask yourself if, for instance, two men ( yes, I know, 33 years old. Also the fittest players on the team for more than a decade in pre season testing regimens ) whose character is beyond reproach like the Sedin Twins will not be training a wee bit harder this year.  Or as motivated to prove everyone wrong about them as they were in 2000-2001. They went all in on what Torts asked of them last year, because he is the coach, and they respect that.  But I expect they might have a big bounce back just by being used differently. I know they will be motivated.

The new coach will have players eager for structure and practice, after the confusion that exemplified last year.  They just want to play, each and every one.  Last year is something that can only be learned from now, and maybe as motivation.  But it is always nice when the math seems to be on your side as well.

After Hunter's almost prescient comments about the Bush and Cheney goings on at the time in our last installment, how about something a bit lighter ? One of my favorite comedies of all time...

Enjoy...

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