After a little break for the holidays (well, for Beggsy at least. Welcome back, mate!) we’re back talkin’ smack about issues that affect the Canucks and when we can, the NHL in general. This post is best read with a nice lager or perhaps some good whisky.
1.- The Canucks are in first place in the Pacific Division. Now that we’ve had a couple days for this to sink in: How much of this is the Canucks actually being better, and how much of it is the Pacific Division being a giant dumpster fire?
Kent - I think it’s some of column A, and some of column B. There’s absolutely no doubt the Canucks are a far better offensive team than they’ve been in years. The power play’s been good, the penalty kill’s been good, they’re getting great goaltending, and the core of this team that’s being assembled are to a man turning out to be everything we’d hoped. There are still issues with this squad. Defensively they’re not good enough to go on a run. They provide the goaltenders with far too much work, and create holes the team has to try and score themselves out of, which is not a blueprint for success. The division is a mess, and it’s kind of strange that the teams that are lumped into this pile of mediocrity are all getting credit for playing well, when it’s simply a numbers game. That being said, these points aren’t magically appearing from nowhere, and all you have to do is look at the schedule for the rest of the season to realize this log jam will break up soon. And it’s not just that the Pacific is bad, there’s some pretty terrible teams in the Central, which I think doesn’t get talked about enough. Anyway, none of these teams are terribly impressive, but the Canucks might actually be the best of the bunch. Hail Mediocrity!
Beggsy - As much as I want to turn my post-vacation optimism into a rosy answer, the appropriate response to this question is that the Canucks are in first because the Pacific is a dumpster fire.
Are the Canucks a better and improved team? Without a doubt. Are they worthy of being a division-leading squad? Uhhh, no.
Every team in the Pacific has flaws, but Calgary and Vegas in particular have to be kicking themselves for underachieving. The division lead is nice, but the Canucks would be sixth if they were in the Metropolitan Division.
Rob - The Canucks are 6-4-0-1 against the Metropolitan Division and have outscored teams in that Division 28 to 26 in direct competition. Two of the regulation losses were to New Jersey...yes New Jersey...and one other regulation loss and the OT loss were to Pittsburgh and Washington in two games they blew big time and should have won. They should be 10-1-0 against the Metro. The Canucks need more games against the easy Metropolitan and less against the titans of the Pacific Division!
I think the Canucks 11-3-0 streak heading into the Break is not an illusion. You have to play in the Division they put you in. I think they will start to put some space between them and their Pacific competitors after the Break. The Pacific is probably the NHL’s weakest Division right now so that has played a part in the Canucks nabbing first place prior to the Break.
jimmi - They deserve it. Did they buy off Gary and his crack team of officials? No, they did not. Did the other teams in the division start the season with -5 in points? No, they did not. Any of those other teams could have been in first at the break, but chose to be weaker. Not the Nucks fault. Other than the [redacted] little trip of Floridian horrors and a couple other forgettable losses that I can’t remember (was November actually a month this season?), the Nucks have started to play the full 45+ minutes for almost an hour.
Tengeresz - It’s not just the Pacific, it’s the entire Western Conference that’s weak. After 49 games the Canucks have a very modest +13 goal differential, but that’s good for 3rd in the West. In the East that would be 7th. In the whole league it’s 9th. That’s playoff territory, but shouldn’t be division leading. I’m happy with the development of the team, and willing to ride out the roller coaster of good and bad games, and still feeling like we will see the Avalanche in the first round.
westy99 - I would like to thank all of California for following the same plan, “Team gets old and slow and sucks.” I’m not sure what happened in Vegas to get Gallant fired so early, but let’s hope there is no cure. Both Edmonton and Calgary are roller-coaster teams that I hope beat the crap out of each. that just leaves Arizona. Arizona bores me.
Markus - It’s probably bit of both. The Canucks have legitimately been playing well, but at the same time they would almost certainly not be a division leader in any other division in the league. So I don’t want to take away from their peformance — which has been strong — but they’re not a heavyweight right now.
2. There was a time where we were all pretty united in the need for the Canucks to fire Loui Eriksson into the sun, or failing that, Utica. Given the strength of his play over the last few weeks, let’s revisit those feelings:
Kent - Hi, my name is Kent, and I think I might owe Loui an apology. Sort of. I mean, does this erase the last couple seasons? No, not it does not. It does however show that when he was given what was likely a final opportunity to stay in the lineup, we finally got to see the Loui Eriksson that Jim Benning thought he was getting. His play with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson has been a revelation, and who the hell knows why it even works? Is he the catalyst? Is it Tanner Pearson (who we’ll discuss more below)? Is it the Captain rubbing off on him? Maybe it’s just one of those times where you put a line together and it clicks. I will say that even though he had a ton of abuse dumped on him (some of it coming from this location), he handled it amazingly well. And if he can ride out his time as a Canuck, however long that may be, playing meaningful hockey every night? That’s fine by me.
Beggsy - This has to be the most shocking revelation since I returned to Canada. Do people actually like Loui Eriksson now?
I haven’t been watching games in full over the last couple of weeks, so I’m not as drunk on Loui as everyone else. “The Insurance Line” certainly has solid underlying numbers and a slew of empty-net goals, but I can’t help but feel that this is one of those weird, flash-in-the-pan midseason stories that will quickly dissipate.
Rob - I am a softy at heart. After trashing Loui endlessly for a couple of years, I now want him to score the game-winning-goal for the Canucks in Game 7 of this year’s Stanley Cup Final...and I do mean THIS year.
It brought a tear to my eye when he smiled with pure joy for the first time ever on camera in the blue-and-green jersey after he scored the opening goal against San Jose on Saturday.
jimmi - I’m with Rob on this. As the Nucks fortunes have turned this month - at just the right time - so has the play of Loui. At NM we love redemption stories. Is this a $6M story of a long shot Cup run? Probably not. But so far, so good.
Tengeresz - Let’s face it: HCTG has been keeping Eriksson hidden as the secret weapon to unleash when all other parts of his master plan were in place! The fortunes of the team depend on 1st Line Loui, and the proof is in the record since Loui and Bo have become the top line.
But seriously: I’ve never been as down on the $6 million man as most. I view him as a legit NHL player who is getting older and losing a step, but better (and a better fit) than any replacement available in the system now. The problem is the cap hit, and the contract that can’t be bought out. Burkie made good point when he said something like: never blame a player for getting a good contract.
westy99 - Loui needs to go. A handful of games out of 49 he plays well, not great, and people start swooning again. Empty net goals and riding the work of Pearson/Horvat.
Markus - Well listen, it’s a great story and I’m glad to see it. It won’t hold, most likely, but he’s at the very least an NHL caliber player that can be useful. That contract is still atrocious though. But i’ll save that rant and just let Loui have his moment of glory, cause he’s earned it.
3. News just out today that the Canucks and Jacob Markstrom are in discussions on a contract extension, so let’s get your thoughts on term and length, or in the case of Westy (since he’s usually the one to object to everything) why this is a mistake:
Kent - The Canucks will have to be careful, and there’s likely to be some tough decisions made down the road, but getting Marky re-signed, even if it’s a small deal with the knowledge that he may pursue greater riches down the road, it’s gonna help them. Thatcher Demko is developing into a heck of a goalie, but he’s not ready for prime time just yet. Keep easing him along, which has served him and the Canucks well so far, and that gives Micheal DiPietro a chance to prepare to be the next backup.
Beggsy - Let’s crunch some numbers, shall we? Westy had a good post on the Canucks cap situation, but as an overview the Canucks already have about $63.5 million tied up for next season. If the cap rises slightly to, say, $83 million, then they’ll have $19.5 million to sign Virtanen, Motte, Gaudette, Leivo, Tanev, Stecher, Fantenberg, Tryamkin and Markstrom.
Let’s be real, Markstrom is the most important free agent the Canucks have among that group. I wanted to see more of Demko before making a decision on Markstrom, but the 30-year-old Swede has proven worthy of an extension. What the Canucks can’t do is give him a no-move clause, because he might not be the best guy to protect in the expansion draft.
They also shouldn’t sign him to a long extension because of Demko and the unpredictability of goalies. I wouldn’t be comfortable signing him for more than three years, but if he keeps his play up, he’s probably fetching $6 or even $7 million per season.
Rob - I’ve always had Marky in my mind as a place-holder until Demmer was ready to take over. I now think they will sign him for 5 years at about $6M per season and they will end up trading Demko before the Expansion Draft. Mikey DiPietro will then become Markstrom’s heir apparent. I love Demko so I still have to wrap my head around this development.
jimmi - 5 years from now when we’re all buzzing the ROG in our flying cars and the Nucks are playing 3D hockey with 3 goalies on 3 sheets of ice, Marky’s contract extension will seem the obvious move. If the ultra-conservative NHL continues with its 2D hockey format, then it might be prudent to extend Marky for just 2-3 seasons. Without Marky this season we wouldn’t be NUMBER ONE in the Pacific now! The 4th toughest division in the entire league!
Tengeresz - We all want a 2 year deal for $5M without any restrictions; and a pony for Christmas. Not likely. Marky is due for a raise, and he’s at the age and stage where he might test the market. There’s an important set of restrictions that kick in at age 35, so my guess is that he’s going to want either big bucks on a shorter contract that allows him to bet on himself, or lots of term that takes him past 35 years of age.
westy99 - There were some earlier in the year raving about the goalie factory the Canucks organization was. Marky/Demko/Mikey.... “Oh the choices we have!”
This will shock Kent, but the only one I trust is Marky at this point. And I don’t like that feeling because I fear Benning will wear his over-payment tie to negotiations.
I would be ok with 3 years at $5.5 million/yr.
I doubt Marky’s agent will be.
Markus - Best case scenario here is 2 or 3 years at $5-6 million each. Jim needs to be careful here. Goalies are crazy unpredictable, and I’d be very hesitant going long term with Marky, as good as he’s been. Will he take a short-term deal? Maybe not, but it’s the only reasonable option in my view.
4.Which acquisition by Jim Benning was better, the one for J.T. Miller or Tanner Pearson:
Kent - That’s a tough call. J.T. Miller has been so damn good, changing the minds of the doubters who bemoaned this trade. But when you look at what Tanner Pearson has done, and what he was able to get the Canucks out of (the cement shoes that are Erik Gudbranson), it’s not quite Markus Naslund for Alex Stojanov, but it’s nice to see us put it to the Penguins again. Getting this kind of production for a pylon like Guddy might go down as Jimbo’s finest hour.
Beggsy - J.T. Miller’s performance has likely turned many doubters of that trade into fanatics based on his performance. Miller has been a dominant force all season long, and looks well worth a first-round pick.
But was that Benning’s better trade? Tanner Pearson hasn’t been as good, but the fact that Benning turned Erik Gudbranson into a top-six forward who’s on pace for 50 points is downright remarkable.
Rob- J. T. Miller is the number one line forward role model that Pettersson, Boeser and Virtanen needed to see operate day-to-day in order to be convinced they still needed to play even better. He is one of the best player trade acquisitions in Canucks’ history in my opinion.
On the other hand, Benning acquired Pearson for Gudbranson. He deserves a medal for that one. I wouldn’t trade Pearson for McCann so Benning should also be credited with a great save of an initial bad trade.
jimmi - Yes, Millsie is the JB’s best acquisition. And yes, Pearson was JB’s best acquisition. It’s a tie!
Tengeresz - this is a great question, because it’s so hard to answer. Usually when evaluating a trade we say whoever got the best player won. In this case J.T. Miller is the much better player so that’s how I’m going to call it. Miller is everything we hoped for and more. Pearson is good too, and I agree with everyone about his low cost, but Miller is a complete package.
westy99 - Pearson. 2nd line size and scoring is a necessity to get to the playoffs. Pearson on that line frees up Jake to go on the 3rd or 1st line. More options. Miller is first line or nothing for this team.
Markus - Pearson by a wide margin. I love what Miller is doing, but that was an overpayment at the time. Giving up just Gudbranson for Pearson was great value at the time, and looks like highway robbery now given how useful he’s been, and that he could be a 60-point guy.
w5. Is Jake Virtanen finally showing the promise we were expecting from a first round draft pick?
Kent - He’s definitely making the most of his opportunities, and in the process starting to develop into a 200 foot player, which likely has a lot to do with the influence of Elias Pettersson and how he approaches the game. We’d seen flashes of brilliance, but what we’re getting now is a night in-night out player who shows up and is one of the hardest working Canucks every night. Having a local guy like this who could very well be one of the support role players of a core that is building up for great things is a huge thing for bringing people back to support this team.
Beggsy - Sure looks like it. While he’s probably been a bit lucky on the scoresheet, we’re finally seeing a consistency out of Virtanen that we’ve yet to see since he became a full-time NHLer.
Rob - Since he grew up in Abbotsford and went to the same high school as my two kids did, I’ve always been extra supportive of him. When he showed up at training camp not in peak shape this past September he lost my support for a bit. But as the wise old Todd Bertuzzi said, “Be patient with him and Canucks’ fan will be rewarded”.
I also had decided that this was Jake’s last season as a Canuck and he would be traded or Hutton-ed out of town because of his arbitration hammer. Now if he finishes the season strong and does well in the playoffs, he may join our current core of four, as the fifth member.
jimmi - Jake’s play and consistency have improved. We might just be rewarded with the first round pick we always/seldom were certain/sceptical would bloom into the power forward of opponent’s bad dreams. While his on-ice performance is where we hoped it would be (2 years ago), his interview style needs more sass and style. Suggest we send Kent, Beggsy & Westy to help Jake acquire some bad interview habits and media shunning techniques.
Tengeresz - I’m liking the extra vision Shotgun Jake seems to have developed recently. He’s not blowing people up with reverse hits like he did in Junior, but he’s turning into a better playmaker, and is doing enough of he physical stuff to be effective. I’m giving this a cautious “Yes” he seems to have arrived. Let’s see if it lasts.
westy99 - No. Jake will never be the player that was advertised at the draft. He may score more points down the line due to his speed and shot, but he will never be the tough presence in front of the net.
Markus - Well no, but he’s obviously still a useful player. 20 goal wingers are hugely valuable, even if you want more from a 6th overall pick. I like what I see in terms of development but that’s still a bad pick in hindisght.
6. Will you actually be watching the All Star Game/skills competition?
Kent - Yeah, because the rest of these guys are slackers and someone has to do it.
Beggsy - Hah, nah man. I thought the age cut-off for that was 16-years-old?
(Nucks Misconduct does not endorse making fun of those over the age of 16 who watch the All-Star game. You do you.)
Rob - I hadn’t watched the All Star Game/Skills competition in many years. But then Brock Boeser made me watch again. And then Elias Petterson sucked me in. Now Quinn Hughes means it will be three years in a row for me.
Will it be four in a row for me next year because of Nils Hoglander, Tyler Madden, Jack Rathbone or Brogan Rafferty? What a fun time to be a Vancouver Canucks’ fan.
jimmi - Hell, yeah! On the PVR. Will skip the league self-aggrandisement and shitty little econo-box giveaway portions. Will FF>> to the Pete, Huggy and Marky features. Also... hope Marky getting lit up in the ‘game’ section of the program doesn’t affect his actual game. Altho... couldn’t be worse than [redacted] gatorland.
Tengeresz - Despite the plethora of Canucks, and the nice addition of great women players, I’m not much interested in any All Star game. Except the one where John Scott stole the show. That was awesome.
westy99 - No.
Markus - Yes, gotta see what Hughes and Petey do withall that space in a skill-based setting.
BONUS QUESTION: Who is the bigger asshole: Zack Kassian, Matthew Tkachuk, or George Parros?
Kent - I think it’s all of the above. The entire situation was, is and is going to continue to be a giant flaming clusterfuck because of these three gentleman, and as a Canucks fan who was around for the Todd Bertuzzi era, I tell you that watching this unfold leaves me with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. Tkachuk should have received some type of punishment for his actions on the ice that night (so let’s throw that officiating crew in on this, they’re assholes for the way they handled that game). It’s like they don’t even remember that they can call charging penalties anymore. Kicking him out of the game would have solved a lot. And Kassian made things exponentially worse with his comments. They were very, very familiar, and trust me when I tell you that they do not want a situation like this to fester. But the biggest asshole in all this has to be Parros. His tenure as the league’s disciplinarian has been an utter disgrace, given the slaps on the wrists and outright failures to hold players accountable for unacceptable actions on the ice. He needs to go, and if anything bad happens when these teams meet next, the blood is on his hands.
Beggsy - As a guy who would get his ass kicked by any of these three dudes, I’m not sure how I want to answer this question...
But the answer is too obvious not to say, right? It’s gotta be the guy who takes dirty runs at players and refuses to fight.
Rob - Tkachuk. I dislike his ‘hit-and-turtle’ style so much. Give me Olli Juolevi instead any day, even if he never plays one game for the Canucks (BTW, he will play and he will be a top four defenceman in Vancouver for many seasons).
I hope Kassian crushes him at the upcoming post-suspension rematch. But nothing of course will happen because Parros’ pre-game warnings and presence at the game will stop it from happening. Although, Kassian is a bit of a loose-cannon so you never know. One can hope.
jimmi - The official asshole rankings according the NM Book of Asinine Rankings states:
1a - Tkachuk. Cheapest hurtling turtle in the west.
1b. Parros. Worst Director of Player Unsafety. Since the last one.
2. Kassian (with a tinge of nostalgia when he was our asshole.)
Tengeresz - Kassian is not an asshole at all. He plays and honest game, he gives an honest interview, and he loves his grandmother. He’s also very self-aware, and takes responsibility for himself. Kassian is the only Oiler that I like.
Parros was obviously given a tough job, because he was a tough guy. He’s doing what Bettman and the owners wanted him to do. I don’t like the way this was handled, but I don’t make the rules. Minor asshole.
Tkachuk is, as others have noted, a punk. He plays a game on the edge and then turtles. That’s pathetic. I’m guessing he’s a secret graduate of the Boston Rat school of jerkiness. I like good physical play and big hits, but I despise rats. This Flaming asshole wins the prize as worst of the lot.
westy99 - Tkachuk means asshole in many countries. Wait....we can swear on here?
Markus - Tkachuk, Parros, Kassian in that order. Side note, highly reccomend listening to the recent Kes and Juice podcast episode. Did a great interview with Kass last week.