Sunday, May 02, 2010

It is time to believe?

1-May-2010 Blackhawks 1 Canucks 5

I have not written about the Vancouver Canucks in a very long time. The definition of a long time is the time elapsed since Dave Nonis was the GM and that does seem like a very long time ago. I was finding the emotional investment in West Vancouver’s NHL team a losing venture. It seemed the resources expended did not match with the dividends paid. The ownership change / dispute and the installation of an ex player agent as the GM, at the time, did not seem to be sound hockey moves. I think I was justified in being skeptical.

Last year’s exit in the Stanley Cup tournament second round to Chicago was after a 5-3 Game 1 win. That series the Nucks held home ice advantage. The final result was Hawks in six with the Chicago crew outscoring Vancouver in the final three games 13 to 8. Thus the hatred of The Fratellis’ Chelsea Dagger – and if I hear it three or four times over the next four or five games, I’ll think it is nice catchy tune. But an average of 4.33 times per game over three games as in ’09 and I’m not responsible for the brick though the HD TV. Opps there is that emotional investment again.

What is different this year?

Goal – Nucks’ Luongo then, now and forever. Since stopping a Game 4 Frolov break away, when the game and series was still in question, Bobby Luo has looked solid. Hawks’ then Khabibulin now Antti Niemi or Cristobal Huet. Either of the Hawk goalies could get hot but edge here is in Vancouver’s favour.

Defense - Nuck’s are banged up with Mitchell, Rome and even call up Nolan Baumgartner out of the line up. New comer Andrew Alberts proved he can be a penalty liability in the LA series. And Shane O’Brien proved he can be wing nut at most every opportunity. With top-top D-men like Campbell, Keith and Seabrook give the edge to Chicago.

Top Line – Nucks Sedin times two and Mikael Samuelsson vs. Toews, Kane and Bickell? If I were a GM, I’d take Toews and Kane over the wonder twins, but Samuelsson is on a mission to prove something. Henrick is a legit contender for the Hart Trophy and already has the Art Ross. That said if the going gets ruff you know Toews and Kane will be up for it and you suspect the twins will disappear. Which will prompt Burrows return to the top line? Let’s call this one a draw.

Forwards – Vancouver has four fast and solid lines. Kessler, Burrows, Raymond, Wellwood, Bernier (sometimes) all make up a sold core of second liners. Rypien, Grabner and Hansen provide a creditable fourth energy line. Pavol Demitra seems to be the only Canuck forward still searching for his role. Glass and Hordichuk are healthy scratches that can be called in if the series gets ruff. Chicago has Hossa, Madden, Sharpe and Ladd as their second tier core. Marian Hossa is a real wildcard as he can win games on his own or not be heard from (much like Wellwood). I’d wager that Vancouver’s core forwards are the ones that will, or will not, win this series. In Game 1 all four lines scored. If that pattern continues Vancouver will win.

Grit – Burrows has a real claim on top irritant in the league. Rypien is a good middle weight. Kevin Bieksa and Shane O’Brien can hold their own with the best. For Chicago, Ben Eager has the top penalty minutes followed closely by Byfuglen. I believe this area is also one where the Canucks are stronger than they were in the 2009 match up. Byfuglen is going to take trips to Luongo’s kitchen. I recommend the follow up be for one of Vancouver’s fourth lines to dance him to the sin bin for five on every incident. I suspect this is a trade off Vigneault / Bowness, and Luongo for that matter, would all accept.

Bench / Box – No changes on the bench or up in the management box. Vigneault vs. Quenneville. A pair of veteran bench bosses. Neither has won a cup. Vigneault likely has a better support cast with Bowness running the defense and Ryan Walter running special teams. Stan Bowman under the guiding hand of hockey management guru, and his Dad, Scotty Bowman is impressive. Just look at the results for Chicago since the days of “Dollar” Bill, son “Rocky” Wirtz and Dale “I forgot to sign the paperwork” Tallon at the helm. From the outside looking in it appears Rocky has decided to sign the cheques and leave hockey operations to the Bowmans. Vancouver was a good team for Brian Burke and struggled with Dave Nonis. At this point, even more so if Vancouver were to advance to the conference finals, it is safe to argue that Mike Gillis and his crew of Law Gilman, Lorne Henning and Dave Gagner have lifted the team to a slightly higher success level than Burkie did. And let us never forget, it was Nonis who got us Luongo. No edge either way.

In my opinion the Nucks have the tools to win this series over the Chicago Blackhawks. Will they? No idea. But I intend to be glued to the HD TV every second night until we find out.


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