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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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.