March 2, 2012
NHL Saturday: Canucks playoff run should be interesting
By Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency
Here is another offering of notes and quotes from the NHL Saturday head office as we try to figure out if the Vancouver Canucks made the worst deal at the trade deadline Monday or the best.
NHL Saturday has discussed the Canucks-Buffalo Sabres trade with scouts and GMs and we still haven't come to a consensus even as we sit here five days after the deal.
Winger Zack Kassian and defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani moved to the Left Coast for centre Cody Hodgson and defenceman Alex Sulzer.
Some people like it, although few love it.
Some hate it.
That's what will make the Canucks foray into this post-season pretty interesting.
The two schools of thought are:
1. Bad. The Canucks gave up third-line scoring in Hodgson (and a forward who was good on the second unit of their power play) -- and scoring depth in the playoffs is critical. Although Kassian addresses the Canucks' apparent decision that they needed more size up front, he has little NHL experience (29 NHL games so far) and some scouts wonder what he will be able to contribute when the season is at its most critical. Consensus is the Canucks won the swap on the defensive end, adding a decent puckhandler in Gragnani. "They did get pushed around a bit by the Bruins (in the Cup final)," one scout said, "but I'm not a fan of going out and making moves because of what one team may or may not do. What if you wind up playing a speed and skill team? The Canucks might wish they had Hodgson then, because he can play that kind of game."
2. Good. The Canucks, who are a top-four team in goals per game, could afford to give up some scoring outside their top six to bring in a big player (Kassian is 6-foot-4 and 228 pounds and still growing, apparently) who will make them tougher to play against. He has played about 12 minutes in the two games he has played with Vancouver. If the Canucks think they're getting a Milan Lucic-type player they're going to be disappointed, but Kassian is at least a step in that direction. There are also rumblings Hodgson had worn out his welcome with the Canucks, chafing over his playing time (he has had an uneasy relationship with the Canucks going back to how his back injury was handled in 2009-10). Getting Gragnani helps the Canucks in the deal. "He's a decent puckhandler and gives the Canucks some depth on the blue line, which is always valuable in the playoffs," one scout said.
I think the Canucks will miss Hodgson's offence. They scored only eight goals in a seven-game final against the Bruins. Kassian will make them bigger, but the issue is their top-six forwards need to play grittier. Kassian doesn't help them there unless he rapidly progresses and can pull some shifts on the second line.
There are a lot of different questions about this deal -- and we have to wait a month or so to start getting the answers.
HEAR AND THERE: Not a great time to a be a scout for the Los Angeles Kings. After the deal to get Jeff Carter, they don't have a pick until the fourth round ... Andrei Kostitsyn, acquired by the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline, played 12 minutes in his debut without the benefit of a practice. "He's going to have to work on pace. Obviously, Montreal plays a lot different than us," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "Montreal plays more of a back-up, control-type of game. He's going to have to adjust there, but you could see he could do some things." Montreal plays differently? Really? Like they're in last-place different and Nashville is a solid playoff contender?
THE BUZZ: There's at least one general manager who, when he says he likes his team, I believe it. Ray Shero of the Pittsburgh Penguins let it ride at the deadline. The best acquisitions the Penguins will make will be getting captain Sidney Crosby and top defenceman Kris Letang healthy for the playoffs. Unfortunately, that's not something Shero can fix with a phone call ... Speaking of the Predators, they have a challenging schedule down the stretch. They have just six home games in March thanks to NCAA basketball tournaments.
JUST SAYING: It was interesting hearing Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller talk about how, if he had more influence in the Sabres organization, perhaps friend and former teammate Paul Gaustad wouldn't have been traded. Gaustad was shipped to the Predators for a first-round draft pick at the trade deadline Monday. Well, the fact is Miller has lots of influence in the Sabres organization. If he had played for most of the season the way he has played in the past couple of games -- he stopped all 82 shots he faced in back-to-back wins -- the Sabres would have been buyers and not sellers at the trade deadline and Gaustad would still be in Buffalo.
JUST WONDERING: How will awards voters regard the exceptional season by Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson? Typically, just points are not enough to win a Norris Trophy. There has to be the at least the perception of not being a defensive liability. Case in point are the great offensive seasons by Washington Capital Mike Green in 2008-09 and 2009-10, who led defencemen in scoring those seasons but wound up as the runner-up to Boston's Zdeno Chara and Chicago's Duncan Keith. He was perceived as weak in his own end. Karlsson has had the same perception, but the fact is his defensive game has come a long way this season.
THE LAST WORD: The San Jose Sharks refused to include centre Logan Couture in a deal for Columbus Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash, but they did wind up trading Jamie McGinn, Couture's best friend on the Sharks. The two have been road roommates since Couture was 16 and they played with the OHL's Ottawa 67's. Hockey is a business, right? "I've known that for a while," Couture said. "You can know that but it still sucks. You play with someone since you're 16 years old and you build that friendship. You spend so many years together on the road and he's close to where I'm from (southwestern Ontario) so I see him all the time, but he's going to do well in Colorado and I'm happy for him to get a fresh start."
Like Christmas, the NHL trade deadline has come and gone and we are left to sort through the presents, the Play Station and the thermal socks, the good and the bad. Here's who's looking good now with the last-chance changes having been made.
1. Vancouver Canucks. They've given up a good, young forward in Cody Hodgson and might miss his third-line offence, but they have added size in Zack Kassian. Kassian is a tough, 6-foot-4, 228-pound winger, albeit a 21-year-old rookie. Most importantly, Cory Schneider has emerged as a bona fide option to Roberto Luongo in goal. Three good lines.
2. New York Rangers. General manager Glen Sather made a small move adding 6-foot-8, 258-pound John Scott and resisted the urge to rip his team apart to land Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Henrik Lundqvist has been tops in the blue paint, but they might need him to be almost perfect during the post-season.
3. Detroit Red Wings. Trading for Kyle Quincey in the days leading up to the trade deadline boosts the blue line depth and Jimmy Howard, back from a broken finger, gives them solid, consistent goaltending. "Win one more for Nick," might be rallying point as Nicklas Lidstrom's Hall of Fame career might be down to his last or second-last season.
4. Boston Bruins. GM Peter Chiarelli got some depth at the deadline. The Bruins' big issue is dealing with their inconsistency and they must hope the emotion of the playoffs will straighten them out. Goalie Tim Thomas gives them a chance against anybody but would do his team a favour staying off Facebook for a while.
5. Nashville Predators. They have a great goaltender and the advantage of having played playoff-style hockey all season. Picking up winger Andrei Kostitsyn was a gamble, and giving up a first-round pick was overpayment for centre Paul Gaustad, but they might be motivated by the fact this might be defenceman Ryan Suter's last season in Nashville.
The Sleepers: It's hard to consider the Pittsburgh Penguins as sleepers, but they are the great unknown given the status of captain Sidney Crosby and top defenceman Kris Letang because of concussions. With those two in the lineup, they are right there in the East ... The St. Louis Blues have been great under coach Ken Hitchcock, but they don't have a great record against the other top teams in the league ... The Phoenix Coyotes went unbeaten in February and could get a huge mental boost if the NHL gets the team's ownership resolved before the playoffs.
Injuries that are having, or could have, a big impact
Pittsburgh defenceman Kris Letang will be re-evaluated Sunday once the Penguins return from the road. He is out with concussion-like symptoms after taking a hit from Eric Nystrom of the Dallas Stars Wednesday night. Letang missed 21 games earlier this season with a concussion after being hit by Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 26. Losing Letang -- with captain Sidney Crosby already out -- would be devastating for the Pens. Letang is their power-play quarterback, contributing 14 points, and is tied with defenceman Brooks Orpik for most ice time on the team at even strength -- 19 minutes a game.
THE GROCERY STICK
Who is -- literally or figuratively -- heading for, or in, that comfortable spot on the bench that separates the forwards and the defencemen?
Winger Rene Bourque came to the Montreal Canadiens in the trade for Mike Cammalleri in early January but has seen his effectiveness dwindle over the 21 games he has played with the Habs. He has four goals since the deal, but just two over the past 16. He has been held shotless in four of the past seven games despite averaging about 19 minutes in ice time. He's also minus-9 in those seven games -- not that a poor plus-minus mark makes him unique on the last-place Canadiens.
BY THE NUMBERS
26-The number of penalty minutes for Pittsburgh Penguins winger Matt Cooke. He's projected to have 34 PIM this season. Cooke averaged 112 penalty minutes over the previous three seasons but made a vow to change his suspend-able ways after pressure was brought to bear by the Penguins.
27-The number of points for Cooke this season. He's projected to have 35 points this season which would be the second-most of his career. Cooke had a career-best 42 points (15 goals and 27 assists) in 2002-03 with the Vancouver Canucks. He has a shot at beating his career-best single-season goals total of 15.
14-The number of goals for Florida Panthers defenceman Jason Garrison. He had seven goals in 113 career games with the Panthers before this season. Nine of his goals this season have come with the Cats down by a goal, tied, or up by a goal. Three of them are game-winners.
52-The number of assists for Philadelphia Flyers centre Claude Giroux this season. He's the first Flyer to have 50 helpers two seasons in a row since Mark Recchi (1999-2001). Overall, Giroux is just the fourth Flyer with back-to-back 50-assist seasons, joining Recchi, Bob Clarke (eight years in a row) and Brian Propp (three years in a row).
Power plays: 205
When you look at teams with a shot at doing well in the playoffs, you look at the special teams. They're not critical (the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup with a bad power play last spring) but, at the very least, you need to have either your power play or penalty killing doing the job. The Predators are ninth in offence, thanks in large part to a power play that has been running first or second in the league for the past few weeks. Defenceman Shea Weber leads them with eight power-play goals with that big shot from the point and they have four other guys with five power-play goals or more, so the Preds have some balance there. Defenceman Ryan Suter is fourth in the league in power-play assists with 19.