Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 18-17-6   Canucks 21-15-4

PUCK DROP: 9pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

GARBAGE THROWERS: Canucks Army

The Hawks start 2020 in Vancouver, which in some way was where everything started. Not only was it their biggest rival and site of some of their biggest wins, but it’s where Seabrook, Keith, and Toews won a Gold Medal before they’d won a Cup, which you could argue only set off their appetite for more silverware. Now they’re just barely alive in the playoff race. Tonight they’ll see another one chasing the postseason after an absence, which hasn’t been something that’s gone well for them in the past.

The Vancouver Canucks have won five in a row, which actually has them in the third spot in the Pacific but only one point above the trap door in the West with the Flames, Jets, and Oilers right on their ass. You’d think the Flames will get their act together soon, which probably means the Canucks are still looking at a wildcard spot. The Hawks claim they’re looking at those two. Which would make this something of a four-pointer. But the Hawks have biffed pretty much every one of these when they’ve had the chance. You remember games against the Avs, Stars, or Coyotes last year where they couldn’t even manage a point that they needed. If they’re serious, a regulation win is needed and then to be backed up with a bunch more.

So how did the Canucks get here? Mostly goaltending. Jacob Markstom has been great in December, with a .927 SV%. The Canucks mostly have been getting domed in games of late, but Markstrom has seen them through. They don’t do anything particularly well other than the power play, which is just an extension of their magnificent top line. The trio of J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson (WHO WANTS TO WALK WITH ELIAS?!), and Brock Boeser has some of the best metrics in the league, and has been murder in both zones. Earlier in the year they were some of the best defensive marks in the league, though that’s slipped of late.

But beyond that, the Canucks have the common problems of not enough depth. Jake Virtanen has done what he does which is score goals you’ll never remember, and Bo Horvat is much more comfortable as a second center behind Pettersson. But beyond that there isn’t much, and that’s something the Canucks will have to improve in the near future.

There is a genuine star on the blue line in Quinn Hughes, who has 25 assists. Tyler Myers sucks, has always sucked, and will always suck, but the Canucks were hard-ons to sign him as a free agent for years so he’ll be polluting their third-pairing for the next five years. Christoper Tanev and Alex Edler are still here, though one might think moving both at the deadline will improve the Canucks long-term. But the long-term has never been their priority, and if they’re in the thick of it–given the nature of the Pacific they probably will be–they’ll never justify stripping their blue line of the two dependable veterans they have.

For the Hawks, nothing much should change. One would think Robin Lehner will continue to ride the roll he’s been on, though they won’t want Corey Crawford to go stale. Sikura has earned another game, there’s not much more he can do honestly. Maybe Koekkoek comes in for again but you’d tend to doubt it.

As stated above, the Hawks have utterly sucked in games against direct competitors at the bottom of the picture. They won’t get anywhere if they can’t change that. As we’ve said, the schedule is a little light right now. They’ve won three in a row, but they’ll need more. They need weeks of this, not days. So keep it going.

Hockey

We comment on it every time the Hawks and Canucks get together of late. It’s just still so jarring how little you think of the Canucks now, given what they used to mean around here. Then again, Canucks fans probably don’t think about the Hawks much either anymore, aside from Duncan Keith. Even if the Hawks outlasted the Canucks relevance in ’14 and ’15, they’ve both faded from the scene in the past three or four years.

For the same reasons? Maybe. While it’s always fun to laugh at Jim Benning, and you should, the real obstacle in Vancouver is the Aquilino family that owns the team. They have never sanctioned a full rebuild, and strive to make the playoffs every season. There’s a feeling amongst the ownership that the fanbase would never accept a total teardown, even though most of the fanbase was screaming for one for a while now.

And perhaps that window has passed. Benning has done an excellent job of providing Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes as the building blocks of the future. There was even a nifty trade for J.T. Miller. With just the first three, you’d say that’s a great base to build a contender down the road with.

But because of the playoffs-or-fuck-you mantra from above, the Canucks are saddled with comedically bad contracts. Now, it’s Benning after all who chose those players and deals, and he gets most of the blame as he should. But he still has bosses to answer to, and they’ve sent out this directive.

Which is why the Canucks have only $30K in cap space this year. It’s why they’re dragging around Loui Eriksson, who was finished four years ago, or Antoine Roussel, or Tyler Myers. Even Jay Beagle is overpaid, as is Brandon Sutter. We could dig into the past and find more bad deals, but we’re not trying to be cruel here.

Which leaves the Canucks on a funky path. There’s some cap space next year, with only Jake Vrtanen an important piece to re-sign though how important is hard to gauge. Maybe Chris Tanev, but that’s not vital either. But they need a second line. They’ll need a long-term partner for Hughes, and it’s not going to be Tyler Myers no matter how many drugs they take to delude themselves. They probably need a second pairing. They’ll also need to either re-sign Jacob Markstrom or find a new goalie, which is going to cost a hell of a lot more than $3.6M they’re paying Markstrom now.

With Boeser, Pettersson, and Hughes, the Canucks are past doing a total rebuild. If they’re not stupid, they can buy out Eriksson or just pray that he retires early (he won’t). Another complication is that they’ve got $3M in cap-recapture penalties from Roberto Luongo retiring for another two seasons. Edler has one more year left. Sutter has one more. Beagle two. There’s some light at the end of the tunnel, but they can’t afford any more impulsive mistakes, otherwise they’ll be what they’ve been for the past five seasons, just sitting outside the playoffs with no clear direction.

But will the Aquilini’s finally show some patience? The Canucks haven’t seen the playoffs since ’15, even though that’s always been the stated goal. They have an outside shot this year, though you wouldn’t bet on it. Will they see that six or seven years without the playoffs is no different than five? Or will they go all in for more free agents next year? It feels like if they do, they won’t go anywhere again.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Canucks 9-3-3   Hawks 4-7-3

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THEY FILMED DEADPOOL THERE: Canucks Army

We’ve had to do this the past couple years now. Whenever the Hawks meet up with the Kings or Canucks, we have to do something of a “Remember when these mattered?” comment. This used to be the the fiercest rivalry in the league. That stopped some seven years ago. With the Kings and Hawks, there just isn’t much more to discuss because both teams are lying face down in the muck. Sadly, that might not be the case for the Canucks anymore.

The Canucks find themselves one point out of the lead for the Pacific Division, behind the Oilers and one ahead of the Coyotes, just to let you know how backwards everything is and how many different teams seem to have better ideas than the Hawks right now.

Is it real? The numbers suggest it might be. The schedule does not. The Canucks have seven regulation wins, and they’re over the Sharks at home (some teams can do that, in fact a lot of them have), the Kings twice (some teams do that), the Red Wings twice, the Rangers, and over the Panthers at home. Only the last one is a team that’s probably good and playing well at the moment. But hey, you can only play whom the schedule says you do, and the Canucks have made hay against that.

And they haven’t just squeaked by, as their metrics are pretty glowing. They’re one of the best teams in the league in terms of Corsi and expected-goals, and they’re doing some explosive work in the offensive end. Most of that comes from the top line of WHO WANTS TO WALK WITH ELIAS?-JT Miller-Brock Boeser. They’ve combined for 52 points in 15 games, with Elias Pettersson on track for a 109-point season. That’ll play.

Coach Travis Green has taken the training wheels off this line, starting them in any zone against any opponent, and pretty much doing the same with his second line centered by Bo Horvat. This has freed him up to put his plugs in more advantageous spots, which is maybe why you’ve seen scoring spikes from the likes of Brandon Sutter and Tim Schaller. What a time to be alive…to cut yourself.

That doesn’t mean Lady Luck isn’t waving her ass a bit at the Canucks, too. Again, the soft schedule helps, and they’ve ground up the chuck they’ve been served (is that how that works? Let’s just go with it). But this is a team with a 102 PDO that’s getting a .918 from Jacob Markstrom and a .938 from Thatcher Demko. The latter has been the hope for the future for what feels like 17 years now, but he’s not a .938 goalie. The Nucks are also shooting at a team-rate of 9.4% at evens, and while Pettersson and Boeser are most certainly top-level scorers, the rest of this outfit most certainly is not.

That said, they’re a top-10 specials teams outfit on both sides, with an excellent penalty kill, and with the possession they’ve gotten at evens and what they’ve done with it, you can’t really ask for any more.

And they have hope on the blue line. Somehow, and this for sure won’t last, Tyler Myers has been a possession-driving monster, with a Corsi of 56.5% while just shading most of his zone starts in the defensive zone. Should you expect that to continue? Cue Russell Westbrook:

Still, nice to have for now. That has freed up Quinn Hughes, who is going to be a thing, to take easier assignments, and he’s dinging opponents upside the head to the tune of a 57 xG% while getting third-pairing minutes and 67% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Must be nice to be able to bed in a young, dynamic d-man like that so easily. We’re looking longingly at Vancouver, folks. Eat Arby’s, puke it up, and then eat that.

Right, the to Hawks. Corey Crawford will rotate back in to the starter’s net after Lehner once again did enough to keep the Hawks from getting utterly embarrassed. This is starting to be like the end of “Little Miss Sunshine,” where Paul Dano is trying to convince Toni Collette that she has to keep Abigail Breslin from getting embarrassed by the actual pageant girls. I think Lehner is Collette in this metaphor, but I’m not entirely sure as the Hawks have basically broken my brain.

Coach Kelvin Gemstone, in his infinite wisdom, has decided to scratch one of the Hawks’ best two-way and fastest forwards tonight in Dominik Kubalik to give us more Zack Smith. Because all the kids out here with their skateboards and backwards hats have been demanding more Zack Smith. The world needs more Zack Smith. Zack Smith is the key to salvation…

…I’ve just had a brain bubble.

Everything is fucked.

Anyway, the Canucks can do pretty much whatever they want here. They can try and out-skate the Hawks, which they can. They probably have the defensive structure to use the “advanced trap,” that the Sharks used to strangle the Hawks into paste, which is just a trap but ahead of the red line. Or anything in between. And the Hawks will probably still try and dump the puck in and get it back with their not-fast-enough and not-strong-enough forwards.

I’m going to go look for a strong tree branch. You folks enjoy the game.

 

 

Everything Else

vs

RECORDS: Canucks 30-32-10   Hawks 32-30-9

PUCK DROP: 7:30PM CDT
TV/RADIO: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network, Sportsnet, WGN-AM 720
SEA TO SKY TOILET: Canucks Army, Nucks Misconduct

Every season in every sport takes on a complexion of its own, for better or for worse. Water finds its own level, and certain truths are exposed over a large enough sample size whether they make sense or not, and they seem wholly confined to within the context of that league year. So it’s with that being said, that despite the two teams tonight being objectively horseshit, it is a critical, must-win, FOUR POINT game on West Madison for both the Hawks and Canucks.

For the visiting Canucks, this is precisely where any right-thinking fan of theirs (and there are about six of them, admittedly) does not want the team to be. Sure, they are bad, but they aren’t fully bad enough to put themselves in the best position possible to draft a transformational forward (whose brother just happens to be in the Canucks’ farm system), and they aren’t at the tail end of any window with any aging veterans who could realistically justify a go-for-it mentality, or at least not anymore, with the last remaining holdover from the “glory” years of nearly 10 years ago now being Alex Edler and his elbows. Sure, they have the likely Calder trophy winner in Elias Petterson, who has been sensational and leads all rookie scoring despite a) being hurt a significant portion of the year and b) basically doing it with zero help, as Brock Boeser has been hurt just as often as Petterson has.

At 60 points in 61 games, Petterson is the Canucks’ leading scorer in all three categories, and has all the tools one would ask of a true superstar in the making – he’s fast, he’s an elite stickhandler and passer, has a quick shot, and has great scorer’s instincts. He’s currently centering the aforementioned Boeser and his huge shot, along with fellow prospect Nikolay Goldobin, who has taken a slight step back in his first full season in the NHL with only seven goals in 62 games after eight in 38 last year. It could be a bout of bad luck as he’s only shooting 6.7% this year while getting more shots on net, but even still he’s good for 1.67 per game in all situations, as opposed to Boeser’s nearly three per game.

So at least with those three forming a top line, GM Jim Benning can get a good look at what the future might hold while deluding himself that his team is in a playoff chase. Behind them however, things are far less interesting. As of last night, Bo Horvat is centering whatever is left of Loui Eriksson and Leafs castoff Josh Leivo, and Adam Gaudette is getting another look at the show with bottom six minutes between the suddenly well-traveled Tanner Pearson and Zack-Kassian-Cosplayer Jake Virtanen. Big free agent acquisition Jay Beagle still patrols the fourth line, just more expensively now, and between the likes of the other Granlund no one cares about and Fifth Feather’s favorite guy Tyler Motte.

On defense the Canucks are even less conspicuous, with the aforementioned Edler being about as default a #1 defenseman as there is in the league. He’s paired with the potentially useful Troy Stetcher, but it’s difficult to say how useful he could end up being considering he’s only ever been on teams that’ve gotten their dicks kicked in. And when looking at the rest of this blue line its easy to see why Quin Hughes would want to take his time getting here, unless 21-year-old former 3rd round pick Guillame Brisebois getting his first taste in the league or the corpse of Luke Schenn excites you, which it shouldn’t.

In net tonight will be another prospect after Jakob Markstrom made 44 stops in a shootout win in Dallas last night, Thatcher Demko, who might have the worst name in the sport. After two years in Utica, Demko has spent most of the year hurt, with four appearances for the Canucks and 16 in The A. He hasn’t been particularly impressive to this point, with an .895 overall and an .892 at evens, which is always impressive when the EV mark is lower. But Demko has consistently put up solid numbers at every level when he’s been healthy, and given the far more protracted growth curve for goaltending, none of this should preclude him from future success.

As for the Men of Four Feathers, getting four points in regulation against Toronto and Montreal when they weren’t expected to get any kind of makes up for shitting their pants against the Kings and failing to capitalize on the Avs and Stars a few weeks back, but not fully. And Corey Crawford throwing up a shutout in his home town (where he always performs well) is certainly a bonus, but everyone involved would have preferred it not taken him 48 stops to do so. Granted, the dam didn’t break until the Hawks went up two early in the third, but 48 shots is still 48 shots. He’ll get the call again tonight, as all of the sudden Crawford’s posted a .929 overall in March.

In front of Crawford the Platoon of Ineptitude between Slater Koekkoek, Carl Dahlstrom, and Gustav Forsling is likely to continue, though Forsling has managed to stay in the lineup by some act of god. There’s nothing really that can be said about this unit, they’re historically bad and they’re not going to stop any time soon, so just duck and cover and try to get out of each 60 minutes alive.

Up front, the Brendan Perlini Debutante Cotillion continues (just as Fifth Feather sooth-said on the podcast), as on top of his insurance marker on Saturday he’s just today been named the NHL’s second star of the week with five points in three games. It’s all well and good, and certainly playing with the Otter Boys maximizes his obvious tools, but he’ll need to continue this output if the Hawks are going to keep this charade of playoff hopes alive.

Whether anyone likes it or not, this game has playoff implications for both teams, such is the fetid state of affairs in the Western Conference this year. Even that context aside, given the rosters of both teams and the fact that the Canucks were on the road last night and took the maximum time necessary to come away with two points, the tale of the tap says that the Hawks should walk away victorious. But this team has found new and exciting ways to trip over its own dick when encroaching on competence multiple times this year, so to assume this game is a gimme would be stupid. In any event, six is better than five. Let’s go Hawks.

 

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Canucks 24-24-6   Hawks 21-24-9

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THE BENNING WARRIORS: Canucks Army

First off, I realize it probably doesn’t square up to keep using the train-wreck picture when they’ve won five in a row, but I also don’t want to mess with what’s working. So there.

So this is stupid, and with pretty much everyone playing tonight it could shake out any number of ways, but the Canucks currently hold the last playoff spot. And with a regulation win over them, the Hawks will honest-to-god be one point behind them. In fact, should the Blues not win tonight–and they’re in Tampa so you wouldn’t count on it–a regulation win would see the Hawks no more than a point out no matter how the other results go. Sure, they might still have to climb over five goddamn teams, but it’s all a fucking mess so let’s do our best to enjoy it.

And getting one over on this Canucks team at home shouldn’t be that big of an ask, but the Hawks have whiffed on easier exams. Vancouver is at the end of a four-game Eastern swing, so they could have the bus running. Since the turn of the year they’re a middling, at best, 5-5-2. They’re coming off two-straight losses, where they scored three goals total. They have five division games after this, which they’ll consider more important. This is the donut-hole, as it were.

What the Canucks are doing here at all is another question. This is not a team that should even think about a playoff spot, and should really be more concerned with another top-five pick to line up next to Quinn Hughes next year. Sure, it has Elias Pettersson (I SAID WWE STANDS FOR…), who is the runaway Rookie Of The Year and the main reason anyone is paying any attention to the tears-blue and puke-green these days. He’s made Bo Horvat somewhat useful, which is a real trick, and Brock Boeser is still scoring at a decent rate when he’s upright. Jacob Markstrom has been good enough in net to not get them killed.

But much like the Hawks, this isn’t a good team and there’s no number to suggest they are. They’re fifth-worst in possession, third-worst in expected-goals percentage. They’ve shot an ok percentage, but even their special teams are nothing to notice. In fact, since a barely-hot start that had them at 10-6-2, they’re 14-18-4. Much like the Hawks, they’ve profited from a middle and bottom of the conference that can’t separate or distinguish itself in anyway, and hence everyone gets to be a hanger-on like a late night at a casino (believe me, I know).

The Canucks offer a decent top-six through Pettersson (with a record), Horvat, Boeser. Nikolay Goldobin and Jake Virtanen have not lived up to any expectation, and in Virtanen’s case it feels like the 17th straight year we’ve said that. The top pairing of Ben Hutton and Troy Stecher has been under-the-radar good, but the rest blows and you know that because it has Erik Gudbranson on it. Alex Edler is out because he tried to bob for apples on an ice surface, and he’s past his sell-by date anyway. So might be Chris Tanev, who the Canucks have refused to trade for what seems like a decade and now no one would want him. This is Canucks management at its best.

Surrounding the admittedly promising talent are some of the most hilarious contracts in the league. Go to their CapFriendly.com page and just marvel at Eriksson, Gagner, Beagle, Sutter, and a few others. It’s like something out of the modernist wing of your local museum. It has shapes and colors but no discernible statement or plan other than “I put this shit on a wall.

For the Hawks, they’ll be without David Kampf for the next month, and that’s a bigger deal than it might first appear. Kampf had become Kruger II, and you could start him against top lines in his own zone and he’d find a way to come out on top. He and Brandon Saad had combined to form a pretty hellacious combo on the third line, and the Hawks will miss that. Maybe the original Marcus Kruger can roll back the clock for a couple weeks, but you wouldn’t be the house on it. He’ll slide to center and Brendan Perlini will come in at wing there.

The only other changes are Gustav Forsling in for Carl Dahlstrom, which makes all the pairings muck, and Collin Delia will start.

This is a matchup game for CCYP. The Canucks bottom-six is a toxic waste dump covered in dogshit and seasoned with squirrel carcass. He should try and get his top lines out against them as often as possible and watch the havoc ensue. See if Kruger can deal with Pettersson like old times, and if not you can always change the plan. For once the Hawks won’t have the worse bottom lines, and should try and maximize that.

It doesn’t make any sense, and it’s probably worse for the organization that it is this way now, but let’s see how far this dumb, silly, but fun ride goes. Six is better than five.

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@Petbugs13 is one of the stranger Canucks characters floating out there in the internet. Which is saying something. Check out his work as Graphic Comments on Canucks Army

The Nucks appear to be in a similar spot to the Hawks, in that making the playoffs wouldn’t really be as beneficial as getting another top five or three pick, right?
Oh my God yes. There are some in Vancouver that think the rebuild is over and that this team will soon return to the good old days when they would be battling toe-to-toe with the Hawks in search of the ultimate prize. Now, to be fair, they aren’t wrong. Except this time around, the ultimate prize is named Jack Hughes, not Lord Stanley.
But seriously, there really are people that think this. And unfortunately, those people happen to own/run the team. Now, I’m sure that for business reasons, they would love the revenue from a few playoff games and hope that getting back in would boost season ticket sales for next year. But from a hockey perspective, you’re absolutely right. This team needs at least one more top 10 pick, and for another one or mid round picks to turn into solid NHLers if they hope to compete.
Beyond that, the real danger of getting back in to the playoffs prematurely is that they’ll then continue down the Edmonton Oilers’ path. Making the playoffs two years ago was the worst thing that could have happened to Edmonton. It’s not just missing out on another pick, it’s how the team then reacts to thinking everything is fixed.
Pettersson, Horvat, Boeser are at the top of the marquee, but is there anyone beyond that who has looked promising for the future?
Not at the NHL level. Those are the three guys they are building around at this point. Virtanen and Goldobin are both struggling to live up to their promise, each in their own way. The rest of the roster is filled with guys you could pick up for $250 on the waiver wire at least once or twice during a season, or role players you go after for depth when you want to fill in gaps for a Cup run. And don’t get me started on the blue line…
If there’s any real help for the future, it’s going to come from the prospect pool. Adam Gaudette and Jonathan Dahlen look promising, and last year’s 7th overall pick, Quinn Hughes, could finally bring a true offensive threat to the Canucks’ defense corps. He is expected to join the Canucks once his season at University of Michigan finishes up.
When is it Thatcher Demko time?
Realistically, I think we can expect to see Demko as a full time NHL goalie next season, but I suspect it will still be in a backup role but with the opportunity to play himself into a bigger share of the net. It will be Markstrom’s last year under contract, so the timing is right for Thatcher to get acclimatized to playing in the league.
That means learning to watch out for a number 97 flying at him out of nowhere when he’s playing in Edmonton. You know, just in case it lands on his head and then he can’t see the puck. And, since he plays for the Canucks, he’s also going to need to eat, sleep, shower while wearing headphones playing Chelsea Dagger on a loop. There’s no way that song is going to rattle another Canucks’ goalie, dammit.
The Canucks have a ton of cap space for next year, and a bunch of RFA’s that wouldn’t appear to be urgent to re-sign. So I guess our question is how are they going to fuck this up?
I think you just answered your own question. Jim Benning has not met a ton of cap space he couldn’t turn into a lump of lead or two. Actually, scratch that. He would overpay and definitely only be able to afford one lump of lead.
I mean, here’s a guy that dodged a bullet when his old boss, Peter Chiarelli, outbid the Canucks for Milan Lucic three years ago, but he still managed to throw the inadvertent win away by signing Loui Eriksson to an untradeable six year, $36 million deal! He signed Brandon Sutter to a five year extension and gave him a retroactive no-trade clause for the one year he had left on his existing deal!! He is paying Sam Gagner $3 million to play for Toronto’s farm team!!!
Have no fear. Jim Benning has no shortage of ways to burn Francesco Aquilini’s money.

 

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 6-3-3  Canucks 7-6-0

PUCK DROP: 9pm 

TV: WGN

THEY DON’T THROW GARBAGE ANYMORE: Nucks Misconduct

It still doesn’t feel right. This trip is supposed to take place at the end of November. That’s when the Hawks go to Western Canada. That’s how it always was. It was understood. There was a rhythm to this.

But thanks to Rocky Wirtz making the (correct) decision to do away with the circus (though maybe not for the right reasons but whatever), the “Circus Trip” is no more and the Hawks are headed to the land of darkened arenas and misplaced Olympic bids now instead of on either side of Thanksgiving. They’ll kick it off tonight in Vancouver, where the memories of past epic battles and triumphs are starting to fade and yellow. That wouldn’t be a bad way to describe the opponent, either.

The Canucks will tell you they’re in a rebuild, and that’s partially true. The Children Of The Corn have toddled off to wherever strange twins go (Argentina, boss?), and the Canucks are moving into a new era. And they have found some young players where you can see the foundation of something at least useful could be built upon. The new toy is Elias Pettersson (WHO WANTS TO WALK WITH ELIAS?!), 2017’s first-round pick. He joins last year’s phenom Brock Boeser. So does Adam Gaudette, who made Dylan Sikura look like something we should care about last year at Northeastern. Bo Horvat continues to have an upward trajectory that no one really saw coming. Troy Stecher on defense is at least a piece if not a big one. Quinn Hughes likely is that big piece on defense when he joins next year. They’re not bereft of hope.

But those kids are surrounded by some of the dumbest-ass signings and trades which make you wonder what it is exactly they’re trying to do here. Here’s a tidy list: Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, Sam Gagner, Erik Gudbranson (twice!), Michael Del Zotto. And none of these guys were just one-year signings that they hope turn into gold at the deadline. These were part of a plan, or something they thought was a plan, or maybe just part of a ton of shit being thrown at a wall (which is how Canucks fans celebrate and court the opposite sex, as we know).

Not that if the Canucks used all that money wisely they would be a contender. But they’d be better positioned when they are one, that’s for sure.

Anyway, for tonight the Canucks also come in pretty beat up. Baertschi, Beagle, and Sutter are all out, depriving them of a whole line. Christopher Tanev and Alex Edler and his amazing rising elbows are both out as well, taking their top pairing away. Which means Ben Hutton and Gudbranson have to fill in there. Might have something to do with them losing three of their last five, and one of those wins was a shootout.

For the Hawks, there don’t appear to be too many changes other than Marcus Kruger might pay the price for his penalty-happy ways lately. This seems a touch short-sighted, as Kruger is just about the only one not giving up better chances than he’s on the ice for, especially given the dungeon zone-starts he gets. But it’s one game, so we’re not going to sweat it too much. Perhaps Jan Rutta slots back in after being banished to a timeout on Sunday after his magic show for a confused cat on Saturday, replacing Brandon Davidson. EAT ARBY’S.

The Canucks only threat is Pettersson and Boeser. And they are heavily sheltered, starting 80% of their shifts in the offensive zone. Q might be loathe to do it, but it would make sense to use Toews in his own end more than most of this season to keep the two kids quiet. It’s certainly beyond SuckBag Johnson or David Kampf. If you can keep the Vancouver’s top line off the scoresheet, it’s hard to see where else they’d get it unless you really fuck up and Corey Crawford has a full-body dry heave in net.

It was a disappointing weekend for the Hawks, and they’ll need to make up for it on this trip. While we’ve been slightly encouraged by the Hawks’ start, it still leaves them behind four teams in the Central and you’d have to think this is the pace that’s going to be necessary all season to be relevant. The Oilers and Flames don’t suck out loud but can be had. The Canucks very much so. Get it while you can.

 

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 at 

Game Time: 9:00PM CST
TV/Radio: WGN Channel 9, WGN-AM 720
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Because no road trips make any sense anymore, the Hawks will head to Western Canada for a return engagement starting tonight in Vancouver with whatever the fuck the Canucks are these days, complete with NHL ALL STAR 3 ON 3 CHALLENGE MVP Brock Boeser.

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We sent out the clarion call for Canucks experts. We found @PetBugs13. He also goes by Graphic Comments on CanucksArmy.com.

Ok, this should be fun. Why won’t the Canucks trade Gudbranson and/or Vanek at the deadline even though they’re not going anywhere?
Um, do you guys remember when Dale Tallon couldn’t figure out how to work a fax machine? Well, Jim Benning is like that, but with an NHL roster.
That’s the short answer. The long answer is they think they need Gudbranson to provide the grit they lost in Derek Dorsett, as if fourth line tough guys aren’t a dime a dozen in the NHL. And although the plan all along was to trade Vanek at the deadline, now they think they need to keep him around for next year if the Sedins decide to retire.
Wow, that’s even more depressing when I see it written out like that.
Is Troy Stecher anything worth getting excited about? The Canucks don’t have a Boeser on the blue line so they have to start somewhere, right?
I don’t know about getting excited, but the kid has potential. What he lacks in size he makes up for in hockey smarts. He’s probably been the Canucks’ best defenseman the last two years. Sure, that isn’t exactly saying much on a blueline that has featured Luca Sbisa, Erik Gudbranson, and Michael Del Zotto, but he’s probably been better than Chris Tanev overall. Mind you, Tanev has had to carry a lot of that aforementioned dead weight most of that time, so he’s had some bad stretches. But yeah, Stecher has been a pretty solid defenseman, for a 23-year-old that probably doesn’t crack six feet even with his skates on. He doesn’t so much battle for the puck in the corners as use positioning and his stick to come away with it, and he has the skating ability to carry the puck out of the zone probably better than anyone else on this defense. So no, he’s not exciting, but he’s dependable. And on this team, I’ll take it.
Jake Virtanen is only 21 somehow. Are they ever going to be able to turn him into anything to join Horvat and Boeser in the next wave or is he this and that’s it?
Let’s put it this way, the hope is that he’s another Bertuzzi. The fear is that he’s another Neely. The reality is probably that he’s another Kyle Beach.
But seriously, what Virtanen has in size and speed, he lacks in hockey smarts. He had a great Junior career because he used that size and speed advantage to manhandle the kids he was playing against. But those advantages disappear when you get to the NHL, and I’m not sure he has the hockey sense and skills to fall back on. Even his hitting, which was a huge part of his game in Junior, has disappeared. Not sure if that’s because he hurt his shoulder and has never recovered, or if he’s just gun shy after getting hit with a two game suspension in his rookie season. This is a guy that could really have used a couple years in the AHL to round out the rest of his game and learn what it takes to be a professional hockey player. But the owners and management desperately wanted him in the NHL, so here we are.
What will the Sedins do this summer? They’re old and won’t play anywhere else and obviously the Canucks are years from a Cup. But it’s not like they’re useless either. 
It has pretty much been an open secret that they want to play at least another year, and if you look at their performance this season, they still can still control play when they’re on the ice and they’ve found new life on the powerplay now that they have a trigger man in Brock Boeser. The big question is how much they’ll want to be paid if they come back. They’re definitely not $7 million players any more, but they’re not $3 million players either. So will the Canucks be willing to give them $5 million each to come back?
(In an alternate universe, they agree to a trade to a contender at the deadline for a chance at the Cup and then re-sign here as free agents in July.)
There seems to be a fear among Vancouver ownership that Canucks fans won’t stand for a full rebuild. But surely they’d have more patience for that than watching a barely middling team run in place, no?
Absolutely. What this fanbase rally wants is some hope for the future. Well, the smart half of the fanbase, anyway. The dumb half always has hope and thinks are going just fine, thank you very much. So yeah, a full rebuild is exactly what this market needs. As long as the trajectory is on a downward descent, the fans are going to be restless. If you can bottom out quickly and show that there’s hope for the future and the team is starting to get better, the fans will get behind it. The team has almost turned the corner, but it’s taken four years. More if you count the last couple of years under Mike Gillis, when he was prevented from tearing it down by the owners. But even that little hint of hope that has started to creep into the fans since last year’s trade deadline can be just as quickly snuffed out if they don’t stick with it and turn guys like Vanek and Gudbranson into useful assets at this year’s deadline.

 

Game #51 Preview

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Corsica

A few days off, some time away with family members, a little breathing space—all of these things should have helped the Blackhawks to bounce back from two crappy losses, right? Wrong. The break clearly did little to cure what ails the Hawks right now. To the bullets:

– Anisimov went down with an injury early in the game, but I gotta tell you, I didn’t even see it. Suddenly, he was just gone. Maybe he tripped over his own wide dick and needed to ice it for a while. Who can say in this league where they tell you nothing? But what it led to was Q hitting the blender extra hard tonight. Unfortunately, it was mostly a shit smoothie that he got out of it. And should anyone be surprised? Throwing combinations of guys who haven’t played together and not even giving them three shifts to figure stuff out? I, for one, am shocked this isn’t working.

At first, we saw Kane-Schmaltz-DeBrincat, and I thought I might weep with joy. But nope, that didn’t last, although they did make a brief reappearance in the third. Next up was Kane-Toews-Saad (nothing doing). Then it was Kane-Schmaltz-Kampf (huh?). And in case you didn’t notice a pattern there, Garbage Dick led the team in ice time through two periods, and he finished second only to Keith by the end of the game. So clearly, Q has a lot of confidence in his supporting cast and it’s definitely sustainable to quadruple-shift Kane.

– The Gustav Forsling Experience needs to draw to a close. Seriously, he’s lost in his own zone, useless on special teams apparently, and thus generally worthless at this point. It’s especially poignant against the team from whence he came. Pairing him with Jan Rutta is aggravating the situation, as we saw for example on Vanek’s second goal where the two of them couldn’t find either one of their asses with any of their hands. I’m tired of sounding like the president of the Michal Kempny Fan Club over here, but this is getting ridiculous. And if Connor Murphy turns out to have a case of brown brain after Biega flattened him into the glass, we’d better not see Cody fucking Franson in his place.

– Continuing his run of worst luck in the NHL, Anton Forsberg played decently through much of the game until the wheels really fell off in the third. He could have stopped the first goal, but a bunch of the ones in the middle were due to his defense crapping the bed yet again. The second goal was the aforementioned Foreskin-Rutta defensive breakdown, and the third goal he was screened by Seabrook’s nacho-laden ass. Forsberg isn’t blameless in all this, don’t get me wrong, but he got little help defensively or offensively. Because also of note, the Hawks had five power plays and only converted on one.

– Ah, the power play. Still as shitty as before Christmas. For a moment it seemed like they got things figured out as Schmaltz and Kane’s positioning took advantage of their right hand/left hand combo. But the man advantage quickly returned to form as they couldn’t manage a zone entry on their next four power plays.

– I was interested to see wunderkid Brock Boeser in action, and lo and behold he had a goal and three assists. He and Thomas Vanek connected for three goals between them, and they both assisted on Gagner’s goal. Gee, it must be nice for a rookie with a hot hand to play with teammates that complement his skills while he also has the confidence of his coach.

– Despite one dumbass move on a power play, Ryan Hartman was pretty much the Hawks’ best player tonight (Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane could also make a case, I know). He was all over the ice, either repeatedly getting shoved into Markstrom, or more importantly keeping the puck in the zone while his linemates did everything they could to cough up control of it. He finished with a 77.8 CF%, which led the team, plus a pyrrhic goal at the end to make things look a little less pathetic.

– OK, so this isn’t directly game-related, but the Hawks have been running some promotion or attempt at a social media campaign called “Blackhawks Authentic Fan” which cracks me up because 1. we’re called Real Fans Program here so nice try, and 2. they’re using “BlackhawksAF” as the hashtag. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think of “authentic fan” when I see something as “af.” However, it’s actually perfect—we should take advantage of the description “Blackhaws as fuck.” To wit: That zone entry where they fell over the blue line and Saad and Hartman ran into each other? That was Blackhawks as fuck. Or: That power play where everyone stood in place doing jack shit? That was Blackhawks as fuck. So thank you, Hawks, for giving a description to the frustrating shit you pull night in and night out.

It’s obvious that every point counts, and that winning these games against the rest of the western dregs with whom we’re fighting for a wild card spot is damn near crucial. And yet, we’re picking up right where things left off. If a shitty Canucks team on a 3-game losing streak isn’t the antidote right now, then what is? Maybe the Oilers? We’ll find out soon enough.