Hello all, my name is Sean Desjardins and I currently live in Fort St John, BC after moving from Vancouver three years ago. My favourite teams are the Canucks and the Lightning and I love aggressive, puck control, pinching teams like the Lightning and Nashville. I love hockey at all times of the season, but fully understand the draw of the playoffs as the effort and stakes are raised. Here's my thoughts on the Capitals Stanley Cup win and the current state of the Canucks.
Well what a crazy season that was. After two consecutive seasons of the Washington Capitals being heads and shoulders above the league in both depth and skill they were gutted in the offseason by questionable trades (Marcus Johansson for what?) and expansion draft choices (Cost controlled potential top pair defenseman Schmidt! over Grubauer) and departures (Jason Williams and Kevin Shattenkirk). They countered these losses by replacing them with........nothing. Somehow, someway the team realized that some goals are scored close to the net and managed to convert on an ungodly percentage of one timers and odd man rushes to waltz their way to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Now I'm not one to buy into the whole Ovechkin is a playoff bust theory. I find the mainstream media is often lazy and an echo chamber for the first opinion to make print. It was only a few seasons ago that Ovechkin had the highest goals per game in playoff history. Yes, that's right. The big bust was above Gretzky in an era where goals are harder to come by. Not one reporter or talking head failed to notice that fact while they were still losing in the first and second round. Still, it was impossible to watch old Capitals playoff games and not lament how they let worse teams even the odds by taking too many perimeter shots and of course most of these shots were blocked. This seasons team seemed to find the loose pucks fast and efficiently around the net and were mentally stronger.
Also, previous versions of the Capitals did not push their skill advantage. Trotz does not know how to coach a better team. A better team should always try to keep the puck in by pinching with D at the blueline. After years in Nashville with no offensive talent Trotz's coaching style does not compare to other coaches in the league who manage to get the most out of their forwards such as De Boer, Laviolette and Jon Cooper. It was sad to see the Capitals top players wear down other teams like Pittsburgh in the offensive zone only to allow an easy exit that could've been nullified by pinches not even bordering on overaggressive.
This year, Trotz was not overburdened by an overtalented team and as such they seemed to have more of an identity and realized they couldn't just outscore their problems. Thanks to incredible motivation and an obvious breakout performance by Kuznetsov (could've easily been Conn Smythe) that was lacking in previous playoffs they were able to ascend the great mountain. Well deserved.
Now on to other more pressing Canuck matters. It was Willie Desjardins fault. No wait it's Benning's fault. Yeah, well more likely it was none of the above. I thought my namesake Willie Desjardins got a ton out of the Canucks. I knew when he left they were in for a drop. You can't get blood out of a stone and you can't get goals out of people with stone hands.
Even though it's not as extreme as the NBA the NHL is a best player driven league. Your top lines, defense, goalie have to outplay the other teams top lines, defense and goalie. If they can't, well then you are hooped. Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Kane, Toews, Keith, Kopitar, Doughty. Those are some of the best of the best in terms of both leadership, competitiveness and skill. It's not a huge surprise that they all have their names on the Cup. The Canucks had a good team a half decade ago, but have only recently begun restocking the talent level. There are numerous reasons for this decline, but they clearly held on too long without trading for younger talent. I honestly wish they had gone all in even more when they were close. I'd take one Cup and two decades of futility over what transpired.
So how do you build a contender? Try, try and try again. You definitely need talent. The draft and bad GMs like Peter Chiarelli are the best ways to get this talent. Top players can be had at any pick in the first round, but franchise players are more often found in the top 3. No luck yet for the Canucks on this one. Do we have a franchise player at the moment? I'd say no. We have some pieces. Bo Horvat seems to constantly train and improve. Who knows what his ceiling is, but he looks like a good second line centre on a winning team (big difference between just a second line centre or one on a winning team). Elias Petterson looks like the real deal, but will he win a matchup with McDavid, Matthews, Scheifele, Johansen, Crosby, Malkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov or Kopitar? Getting one or even two franchise centres is the hardest and most important thing to do for a team to contend for a Cup in the future. Horvat and Petterson? Hard to say. The Canucks also currently have Sutter (good effort, bad vision 3rd line centre on a bad contract) and Adam Gaudette (promising).
Similarly the Canucks are a work in progress at other positions. Boeser is a stud and a star. One timer scorers are the most important type of goal scorers in the league. They seem to have the best success against both good and bad teams and also key your power play. The Canucks haven't had a good one timer since Kesler left. On a side note and rant why don't more NHL players practice this skill? Mark Letestu has a great one timer and he's not an overly skilled player. Ovechkin, Stamkos, Giroux, Laine, Hoffman, Malkin and a few others have one as well. No coincidence that they are some of the top goal scores in the league. I'd say it'd be more valuable for your team to have players with great one-timers than face-off ability. One of those skills results directly in goals whereas the other one just results in possession. Come on coaches and GM's figure it out. Do more one timer drills. Please.
Other than Boeser the Canucks wings are underwhelming. Baertschi, Virtanen, Granlund, Goldobin, Dahlen and more seem like bottom of the lineup players until proven otherwise. I would have no problem with the Canucks drafting more wings or other positions if they had game breaking talent like a Filip Forsberg or Vladimir Tarasenko. No point in passing up one of those guys if they are availbable.
As for the D. Well that's an even bigger problem. Edler and Tanev are Canuck greats, but they aren't getting any younger. The other problem is the Canucks best D prospect is in Russia. Yes, that is right I believe Tryamkin is the Canucks best D prospect. If you had a chance to see him play in Vancouver you would easily notice a few things.
1. He can make life difficult for top players. The games where he effortlessly sent big Jamie Benn flying with clean checks are evidence. Twice Benn tried to fight Tryamkin out of frustration.
2. When he played in Vancouver he had the rookie treatment from refs. The NHL refs are an embarrassment. They seem to be the only referees in the league that change the definition and enforcement of rules based on time of game, time of season, and experience and respect level of the player involved. Just call the rule book and stop managing the game. You are professionals. Come on.
Tryamkin was too often sent to the penalty box for simply being too big and a rookie. His checks sent players flying and were clean, yet he would get penalized for it. It was sad to watch a player not being able to play the right way due to referee bias.
3. Misuse by coach and GM. Benning and Desjardins wanted their highest potential defenseman to constantly take himself out of the game with straight up hooliganism. When your young defenseman wants to be Chara teach him how to become even close to that good. The enforcer nonsense is just that, nonsense. Teams will be way more frustrated if they can't get close to the net or a rebound than if one of their guys has to eat a few punches and then gets your best defenseman off the ice for 5.
Well the wait is two years now for the return of the big Russian. I for one can't wait. He's a legitmate top 4 D and was an All Star in the KHL this year. As for the other prospects......Juolevi seems driven but may not have that high a ceiling. Another top 4 D isn't bad. We definitely don't have a number one or top pairing prospect on our roster right now. Stecher looked great as a rookie, but stalled last year? Partying in Vancouver, complacency, lack of confidence? Who knows. Come on Stecher. Locals are cheering for you. Walk that blue line with skill, work like hell on your skating and work on those one timers. Watch hours and hours of Ryan Ellis videos and aspire! Do it buddy!
The last position is goaltending. In the NHL this is the hardest position to draft and plan for. As such it's almost better to poach other teams good backups until you find gold. Hasek, Martin Jones, Fleury and many more have been found this way. No point spending top draft picks on a crapshoot. Goalies work their way into greatness. Will Demko get there?....maybe. Markstrom, doesn't look like it. If I were the Canucks I would be looking to poach Juuse Suaros of Nashville. He has future star written all over him. Let's see if that prediction holds true.
With the draft just around the corner let's see what the Canucks do. There's chatter about the 7th overall pick for Noah Hanifin. I'm not opposed to that. He is only 21, cost controlled and already has 3 years experience. I haven't seen him play too often, but his possession stats seem strong and he will fill a top four role for a half decade or more. If the Canucks think they can't hit a home run at 7 then this trade makes perfect sense and will potentially accelerate a rebuild. Of course if they pass up on a future game breaking D (Boqvist maybe) then that is just lowering your talent level over the long term and is a step backwards.
Here's to hoping the Canucks do well at the draft and add another big piece or two. Hope you all enjoyed my first blog. I love talking and debating hockey so feel free to leave any comments below.