The Sunday Crease

The Sunday Crease: New Guys, Injuries and Positivity

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This week should’ve been a happy one in Vancouver. A positive one, if you will.

At Monday’s Trade Deadline, Jim Benning and Trevor Linden’s management team made two moves; one was the acquisition of developing winger Brendan Leipsic from the Golden Knights in exchange for defensive prospect Philip Holm. The second, and most controversial, was the one that sent Thomas Vanek to the Blue Jackets for another young forward, Tyler Motte, and salary cap dump Jussi Jokinen.

Leipsic and Motte stepped right into the lineup, and immediately made a difference. Even though the team lost their last two games to the Rangers and Predators in overtime, the younger, faster Canucks still played two of their most entertaining games of the season in both of them.

On Wednesday, commissioner Gary Bettman was in town to announce that the Canucks would be hosting the NHL Draft in 2019, at a time in the franchise’s history where the draft is the first date on every fan’s mind. The timing of the event couldn’t be better.

This should’ve been a great week for the Canucks. But instead, they decided to walk through the gates of hell.

If you’re someone who’s been able to avoid the temptation of using Twitter, you might’ve missed the war of the words going on in Vancouver. It started when Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman went on Sportsnet 650’s The Program and suggested that fans and media were giving management too hard a time for their work, particularly regarding the Trade Deadline last week.

To the frustration of fans, not a single draft pick was acquired by a team that sits in the NHL’s bottom five for the third straight year. It felt like Canucks management was trying to find driving shortcuts while ignoring the fact that their car is stuck in mud.

Enter Friedman.

“Listening to Benning and Linden yesterday, those guys are in that phase right now where they feel they’re getting torn apart by wild dogs,” Friedman said. “And it’s a really difficult place to be.”

Elliotte’s comments on the market were tough, but they were just the kindling. It was two tweets, one from SN 650 morning host James Cybulski and the other from The Province’s Paul Chapman, that provided the matchsticks and gasoline.

First up is Cybulski’s poll, which tries to determine whose responsible for all the negativity in Vancouver, but didn’t have the option of choosing management. Needless to say, that set a lot of people off, especially since he works for the company who owns the Canucks’ television and radio rights. Not exactly a minor error.

But the biggest bomb of all was the one dropped by Chapman.

This is what set me off. The fact that Canucks management is mad at fans and media for being unfair, as they currently hold the second worst winning percentage of any team in the NHL since 2015, is asinine.

I’ve already ranted about this on Twitter once, and a lot of other, better local writers have made their own opinions known in the last week too. But let’s do it again anyway.

When I started this blog back in 2016, I had a goal in mind; to write stories that could point out the issues surrounding the Canucks while also finding ways to fix them and turn them into positives. But there’s a fine line between “situational positivity” and “willful ignorance”, and it’s the latter that the Canucks want more of.

While there are certainly a lot of people in fan circles and media who are overly critical, it’s crazy to suggest that we all are. We wouldn’t be complaining if the team was either good or showing clear signs of moving in the right direction. Some of the players have, but the franchise as a whole hasn’t.

But even with that in mind, this is a ridiculous time for management to call foul on the fans. From what I’ve seen, Canucks Nation hasn’t been in this good a mood in a long time. They’ve been watching Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Jake Virtanen with so much joy and anticipation at what they’re turning into. A checked out fanbase doesn’t get their rookie voted in as MVP of the meaningless All-Star Game.

It pains me a lot that I have to talk about this. I would love to tell you that the Canucks are a Stanley Cup contender every year, but that wouldn’t be the truth, even if it’s what I tell myself everyday to preserve what little sanity I have left.

While I can’t speak for every fan or media member out there, I can tell you that my goal remains the same. I’m not going to tell you that every single move Vancouver makes is perfect, but I’m also never going to claim a decision is wrong without offering a solution. And if that’s not enough for the Canucks, then that’s just too bad.

After all, positivity is a two way street. You have to give it to get it back.

First Impressions

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This week we were introduced to two of the Canucks’ newest members, wingers Brendan Leipsic and Tyler Motte. Considering the hellfire they unknowingly walked into the centre of, it’d be unfair to judge the players solely because of the decisions that brought them here. So let’s take an impartial look at their first two games as Canucks, shall we?

First up is Motte, who comes to the Canucks as a 22 year-old that was unable to establish himself on either of his first two clubs in Chicago and Columbus, both of which have pretty stacked wings. His 56 points as a junior at the University of Michigan in 2015-16 showcased his offensive potential, but he’s yet to find that game at the pro level.

What I noticed most about Motte was the advanced level of his hockey sense. He didn’t get on the scoresheet, but he kept putting himself in the right places at both ends of the ice. The ability to read the play is something that takes a long time for players to develop, but Motte already has it down to a tee.

He also seems unafraid to throw pucks at the net in the hopes of getting a rebound, a style that’s been lacking in the Canucks’ forward lineup for a while. Given the injuries on both wings, Motte will get plenty of opportunities to improve his scoring totals down the stretch, and given time the points should follow.

Next we have Leipsic, who started his NHL career in 2015 with a highlight reel goal against his current team while he was a member of the Maple Leafs, and became a solid depth player on the stacked Golden Knights.

Leipsic’s past work under Travis Green as a member of the Portland Winter Hawks is likely how he ended up as a Canuck, and how come he was immediately given the high honour of playing with Brock and Bo.

And boy, did he run with it.

Leipsic was noticeable on nearly every shift he played, working down low in the Canucks end and making plays in the opponent’s. While he did get caught chasing the puck a couple times (most notably on the OT winner against the Rangers), he’s clearly driven to get possession and could end up winning the Canucks a lot of board battles in the future.

He also has incredible hands, earning two assists against New York, including a beautiful pass to set up Nikolay Goldobin. The potential he has as a set up man for Vancouver’s snipers is pretty big, and if he succeeds he could become a crucial piece of the Canucks plans.

Injuries, Injuries, Injuries

Injuries have officially claimed the seasons of Loui Eriksson and Sven Baertschi, thanks to a fractured rib Eriksson got on a hit from Arizona’s Max Domi and a separated shoulder Baertschi picked up in a collision with Predators defenseman Alexei Emelin.

For Baertschi the 2017-18 season has been one marred by injuries, and it’s tough after all the potential we saw from him as Horvat’s linemate last season. This season the chemistry just wasn’t there, partially due to the injuries both players suffered from, but even then it was Boeser who was locked in as Bo’s set winger once Sven returned.

I fully expect him to return to form next season, but with so many injuries it might be tough for him to reach his offensive ceiling again.

As for Eriksson, the season ends in the same his first with the Canucks did; in the press box on the injured reserve list. The massive six-year deal he signed in 2016 just seems to get worse and worse, and it doesn’t seem like he’ll ever find his game in Vancouver, especially with all the developing wingers itchingfor more ice time. Hopefully, for both his sake and ours, something clicks for him in Year Three.

Edler Makes History

Alexander Edler became the greatest scoring defenseman in Canucks history on Friday, passing Mattias Ohlund with point number 326.

Edler has quietly become one of the best defensemen in franchise history, and it’s an impressive feat with the adversity he’s faced over the course of his career. He’s never really gotten the same amount of love from fans that defenders like Ohlund and Jyrki Lumme have received in Vancouver, but hopefully this milestone changes people’s minds on his Canuck legacy. Congrats, Alex.

Food For Thought

During the 2019 NHL Draft announcement on Wednesday one reporter asked Gary Bettman about the league’s interest in the state of professional women’s hockey, and while Bettman’s answer was much more interesting than I would’ve expected, it did get me thinking.

The Canadian Women’s Hockey League recently expanded to China, adding two new clubs in the Kunlun Red Star and the Vanke Rays, creating a league of seven with the established teams in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Boston and…Markham? Alrighty then.

So where’s Vancouver?

The obvious answer should be that there’s currently no person or group interested in owning a Vancouver franchise, except that all five North American teams are owned by the league itself, with extra financial help coming from sponsors and local NHL clubs.

There’s plenty of places to put a team, including the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre at UBC or the newly vacant Pacific Coliseum. And it just makes no sense that there isn’t a team closer to the pair in China than Calgary. It seems like an obvious decision, but one that would require financial support from local hockey fans and, likely, the Canucks to make it happen.

Around the Rinks

The Capitals beat the Maple Leafs 5-2 in yesterday’s Stadium Series game at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and while outdoor games may not be the same “must-see TV” they used to be, the setting was still phenomenal. Bringing the outdoor games to more unique places like the Naval Academy or current candidate Regina could end up giving the outdoor spectacles a new life, as well as expand the NHL brand’s reach to a smattering of new locales. The ceremonial faceoff with the gold medal winning U.S. Men’s Curling team wasn’t a bad touch either.

I knew Seattle wanted an NHL franchise, but I didn’t know they wanted one this bad.

The dream of having a rival for the Canucks just a few hours down the road is so much closer to reality, and I couldn’t be happier. While I still hope that Quebec City gets the Nordiques back somewhere down the line, having Seattle become the NHL 32nd city is a incredibly exciting possibility.

LITC Update: 2.0 and Two Years Old!

It’s been over two years since I uploaded my first video to YouTube and the blog will have its’ second birthday later this month, so I decided to give us all a birthday present to celebrate.

Introducing…LITC Blog 2.0! In case you didn’t notice (or it’s your first time here), I made the big decision to update the website’s layout earlier this week. Here’s some photos for comparison:

This was a bit of a risk to take, mainly because the layout I had been using called “Apostrophe” was retired at some point in the last two years. There is an updated version of that layout, but I didn’t like it nearly as much as the original, or this new one called “Gazette”.

There’s some pretty obvious differences between the two, such as the featured stories at the top and article previews on the homepage. I’m still ironing out a few bugs, but that’s to be expected with any new site.

Last week I was able to try something new by doing a live blog for Trade Deadline Day, and I had an absolute blast (my fingers, less so). If you enjoyed it or not please let me know, because I’m considering doing it again for the upcoming NHL Draft and Free Agency Day if there’s enough interest.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank each and everyone of you for reading, watching and listening over these last two years. Doing this blog has been the most fun experience of my entire life, and the support and views I get each week from you guys has been nothing short of amazing. The next chapter of the blog starts today, and I hope you’ll stick around, because I’m just getting started.

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