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March 6, 2011 :: 11:13pm ET
Canucks don't care

LOS ANGELES, CA -- The reality in Vancouver is that unless the Canucks win all 82 regular season games, a portion of their fan base will think they're underachieving. Despite being the top ranked team in the NHL and enjoying a 17 game stretch in which they've earned a point, their current 6-6 record since early February has fans from Kelowna to Surrey fretting.

Some see it as a precursor for yet another playoff failure thatís marked the Sedin era in VanCity. They'll bemoan the usual reasons; lack of team toughness, the inability of Roberto Luongo to win in the clutch and the likelihood of Alain Vigneault getting outcoached by the opposing bench.

In the room, man to man, they don't care.

Team captain and Hart Trophy winner Henrik Sedin is an unemotional realist when it comes to the team's late winter blues. He admits that the team is not playing its best but backs that up by saying there is zero panic in the room. Vigneault, in his best coach speak reminds observers about the parity in the league. League leading scorer Daniel Sedin thinks the team should be grateful that the soft play is occurring now and not a month later.

Dan Hamhuis, new to throngs of media attention after toiling for six seasons in the hockey outpost that is Nashville, says it's only one thing that needs to be adjusted. In the midst of his finest professional season, he didn't minimize the less-than-championship streak put forth.

"We're definitely concerned about it," he said. "We have high expectations in the room and it's certainly higher than .500 hockey. There were some games (in the stretch) where we didn't play well and won, while others we played well and lost. Overall, I think we were most disappointed with our consistency."

Henrik believes it's less about the scoreboard than the quality of the work.

"We don't look at win and losses, we look at the way we're playing," he said. "We haven't been happy with the way we've been playing the last couple of weeks. Our last home game was good and they way we played against Los Angeles is another good sign. If we play our game, wins and things like the top seed in the West will take care of themselves.

"There's nothing we can do about teams like Detroit or San Jose winning their games, they might catch us, they might not. It's been the same from Day One here; outsiders focus on wins and losses, we look at our game."

In true Sedin fashion, he closed with a look at the emotional side of the game: "If you look at every win and loss, it's going to be too emotional, like a roller coaster and we don't want that."

The Canucks have the requisite talent to win the Stanley Cup, they were our selection in October and we're sticking with them as they've done nothing to make us switch horses in mid-stream. The current inconsistent play is a function of a grinding 82 game marathon that includes a run of mediocrity for every squad in a league that defines parity.

Their forwards as a deep as any team, including the Philadelphia Flyers and while their blueline contingent doesn't possess a superstar, pound for pound it's one of the most talented in the NHL.

That leaves the pressure of winning on the shoulders of the player that's had it since trading in the warm Atlantic shores for those of the colder Pacific, former Captain and Olympic Gold Medalist Roberto Luongo. His calmness and professional demeanor belie the pressure cooker he's worked in since the trade with the Florida Panthers in 2006 that got bad guy Todd Bertuzzi out of town. Suffice to say that if Luongo had won the Stanley Cup every year, it still wouldn't meet some Canuckleheads expectations. Possessing the proper perspective to play the most pressurized position in a hockey crazed city, Luongo evaluates this trying stretch by looking at the big picture.

"It's tough to go full throttle for 82 games," Luongo said. "Obviously, we feel we're not playing our best hockey night now, but we're still a .500 team during this stretch; that says a lot about our group. We just need to get ourselves in gear. There's a lot at stake and we have to find ways to win."

SILENT BOB'S DEVILS STRIKE BACK

There's a lot of talk about the New Jersey Devils' run to within striking distance of the playoff spot in the East. In any season, in any league, 19-2-2 is a major accomplishment, although this one is a bit muted by the fact that it was done by a last place team sitting a mere 27 points out of a playoff berth. Our thoughts are that San Jose Sharks 17-3-2 run to likely another Pacific Division title is far greater given the level of competition in the West but the Devils sojourn this season makes their story the more entertaining one.

Even with extremely winnable games coming up against the likes of Ottawa, Atlanta and the Islanders, it's asking a lot to jump three teams with 17 games remaining. The Devils also have five back-to-back matches over the next month reducing their post season chances further. Even film producer Kevin Smith, the most famous Devils backer, would grudgingly admit that the last game to be played in Newark in anger will be during the second week of April, but the streak established a few things:

1) Ilya Kovalchuk is really worth all that green after an embarrassing start. The defining moment in his turn was the failed shootout attempt viewed over half a million times on YouTube. Not only has he produced (9 game winners so far) but brought his dynamic game to a dead Prudential Center and importantly, brought back crowds.

2) Jacques Lemaire is not only a Hall of Fame player, but coach as well. Asked to man the bench by GM Lou Lamoriello after rookie coach John MacLean was overwhelmed, he's brought back defense, discipline and added to his deep legacy.

That's the good news. The bad news is that if the Devils' ship hadn't taken on so much water from the beginning, they would have been safely nestled in the top eight in the East. And that's because:

1) Lamoriello killed this team, from the roster/salary cap flubs during the summer and early season to the wrong selection of a coach (the current one likely doesn't return next season), if his name was Joe Smith, the GM would have been whacked by the All Star Game.

2) It's curious that the run has been made without injured winger Zach Parise. Lost after 12 games with a torn meniscus, the Devils most popular player has just resumed skating, but without the ability to make any hockey maneuvers. With a return only to occur if the Devils play a unlikely Game 83, Parise becomes a restricted free agent on July 1.

So, was the Devils' run actually helped by Parise's absence, making Kovalchuk THE man, leading to the riveting return the play fans are accustomed to? With Parise unable to put any numbers on the board in a contract year, what does that do to his negotiating leverage?

Before this season, Parise's short-term production was equivalent to Kovalchuk's, so there's speculation that Zach would be looking at a $50 million deal over 7-years to cement his days in the Garden State. Despite the salary cap issues Lamoriello experienced this season, there is some cap space available when the season ends to fit such a demand into the structure.

The bigger issue is that there's cap space and then there's cash outlay. Given the fact that minority ownership is bailing on Jeff Vanderbeek, is he willing to commit to $150 million in contracts to two players with his partners in flux? More importantly, can these two players co-exist on the ice or does their greatness collectively mute the other?

Can there really be an NHL version of what the New York Knicks are trying to accomplish (see Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire), as Parise and Kovalchuk have yet to prove that they can mesh together. The small sample of the pairing doesn't show promise with last year's five game playoff ouster and the Devils morbid start as prime evidence.

Martin Brodeur is entering his final contract year next season and back up Johan Hedberg is no lock to return due to his $1.5 million salary and entering unrestricted free agency this summer, so we think Lamoriello could wheel Parise for a young starting goaltender and defensive depth.

Dennis Bernstein, the man behind SCORE! Media and an NHL Analyst with ESPN Radio, is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine and a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com. You can also visit Dennis on Twitter.


 

 

Archives:
Feb. 27, 2011 Trade Deadline: Tracking the West
Feb. 15, 2011 Same Merde, Different Day
Jan. 02, 2011 Kings of Queens?
Dec. 17, 2010 The Price is Correct
Nov. 16, 2010 Sweet Blues under the Arch
Nov. 01, 2010 A Fine Mess
Oct. 07, 2010 Two Bucks on Canucks
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