Canucks: The enigma heading into the trade deadline

Vancouver Canucks right wing Zack Kassian photo by Elise Amendola/Associated Press

As usual, there is not much the Canucks can do

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 3, 2015

Not even Alan Turing can solve the Vancouver Canucks this year, as the team nobody expected much from is currently hanging on in a tight race towards the playoffs. It’s hard to tell how the Canucks will play heading down the stretch. Winning games against teams like Pittsburgh and Chicago, and losing games against Calgary, New Jersey, and of course, Buffalo, leaves a lot to question. Such inconsistency is nothing new for the Canucks, but one wonders what good exchanging players would actually do for the team.

The team has been plagued with injuries since October, and, as trends continue, will remain so deep into the playoffs. If I were in Jim Benning’s shoes, I would wear some slippers because it’s going to be an uncomfortable few months. The Canucks need depth on defence and another top-six forward to play the role of goal scorer if the third or fourth round is where they want to end up. But gone are the days of blockbuster trades. Acquiring a game-changing player is almost impossible, especially for the Canucks. And yes, I am ignoring the whole Mats Sundin thing.

While the focus on whether to deal or keep Zack Kassian is the storyline heading into March, many are forgetting about Shawn Matthias, who has also been contributing with stellar plays the last couple of weeks. As an unrestricted free agent in the summer, it might be an opportunity to see what the market has to offer while their stock is still high. Derek Dorsett and Brad Richardson are two other players who may be shipped off early for prospects, but that is unlikely to happen. Yes, in terms of baiting teams to offer us their superstars or future superstars, we are pretty much doomed.

And assuming Ryan Miller can return to form in time without rust, we can least feel confident that the net will be secure. But that is only if Eddie Lack can carry the team for a month. He had his chance before when Roberto Luongo was injured last year, and the result was far from impressive. Well, here’s his chance to earn his position again. If only J. K. Simmons were behind the bench yelling at (motivating) him, right? The community has shown nothing but love for Lack, but believe me, if he chokes and causes the Canucks to miss the playoffs this year, we’d better pass the Sedins a couple of shovels to dig him a grave between Alex Auld and Dany Sabourin.

I’d be thrilled if the Canucks are able to make a trade before the deadline. I believe they need one. But for what? There’s nothing out there, and if there is, the prices are too high. It’s time for us Canucks fans to do what we do best and just sit on our laurels and wait until it’s all over—yet again.

Canucks quarter mark grade

The Vancouver Canucks have an optimistic start

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. December 2, 2014

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Although I’m hesitant to give the Canucks an “A” grade for the first quarter of the season, I cannot deny that they have exceeded expectations. The Sedins look to have found the spark that made them league leaders in bygone years, and with secondary contributions from the likes of Nick Bonino, Alexandre Burrows, and Chris Higgins, Vancouver supporters are hopeful that the production will continue at the same rate, if not better.

Currently holding onto first in the Pacific Division, right in the crosshairs of the Anaheim Ducks, the new-look Canucks have placed themselves in a formidable spot for the playoffs. The concerning detail is that some contenders who have made the post-season in prior years are currently absent; the San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, and Colorado Avalanche all have had a disappointing start to the 2014/15 season. Surprisingly, opponents such as the Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators, and Winnipeg Jets are proving to many that the Canucks aren’t the only ones who can have surprise success.

A season is full of unpredictable events. Last season the Canucks went 22-11-7 before New Years and ended up 36-35-11. They finished in the 12th position and missed the playoffs by a wide margin. One can anticipate the Tortorella-esque antics aren’t going to repeat themselves with Willie Desjardins behind the bench. Desjardins has kept his cool in pressure situations and has shown to make solid decisions that benefit the team, although they may appear to be risky.

Keeping Bo Horvat has been a defining moment in the season, and a key decision for Desjardins and the Canucks as the season progresses. While some coaches will choose to send rookie players back to junior for more conditioning and a chance to participate in the World Junior Championship, Desjardins recognizes the tangible and intangible skills that Horvat has. The 19-year-old first round draft pick’s 81.2 per cent face-off win against a Chicago team with Jonathan Toews makes him an asset the Canucks can ill-afford to lose.

In the crease, Ryan Miller is performing as advertised. Leading the league in the only category that matters—wins—Miller has an opportunity to take the Canucks to a level that the Blues and the Sabres could not reach. His attitude and persona are a fresh taste for fans that had gotten used to the Luongo/Schneider controversy. Vancouver, dubbed the goalie graveyard in the late ‘90s, has been a place where goaltenders’ careers fade into obscurity. Miller, being an aging veteran, understands that he doesn’t have many chances left to make his mark, and Vancouver in the next few years will likely be his resting spot.

The Western Conference is as brutally competitive as ever with eight teams having only six points difference. The standings will likely be shuffled a few more times before the clock runs out on the season. Although the Canucks are doing well in the first few months and fans are optimistic, all it takes is a rough streak to put them off the mark for the playoffs. And it’s also important to mention that the Canucks only have one more game left against the Oilers. So all the easy games are pretty much gone.

‘Don’t let it hit my beautiful face’

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An interview with the world’s most shamed/famed goaltender

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published by The Other Press. Feb. 17, 2014

I first met Charlie Winston on a rainy day at a coffee shop in Tsawwassen, British Columbia. I approached the man and bought him a cup of decaf. We sat in the back corner—we had to, for fear he’d be recognized—and he told me about the most traumatic moment of his life.

It all began in third grade when Winston was just a fragile little prepubescent boy with an afro: “There are two things kids do when they are growing up in Canada,” he told me in a hushed voice as if he were gossiping about the homeless man at the adjacent table. “One, we don’t talk about Fight Club, unless we mention how great Edward Norton is in it. And two, we play hockey.”

Such a statement left me caressing my soul patch, a personal project that I don’t care to mention in anymore depth. As I began encouraging him to delve further into his deep dark memories, he shuddered, almost breaking down into tears, recovering enough only to excuse himself to go to the bathroom.

Winston left me at the table for 45 minutes before he returned. What he was doing is still unknown.

“Every recess, while all the girls made up rumours about me,” said Winston, “I would be alone, making rumours about them.”

“Strange,” I thought, before vocalizing that same sentiment—“Strange.”

“Yes, very strange,” he agreed before continuing. “One day, the boys saw me sitting there on a tuffet, eating my curds and whey. They shyly walked over and asked if I wanted to play hockey with them or talk about Edward Norton. I told them that I thought Norton deserved an Academy Award for his performance and they agreed.”

According to Winston, the boys were satisfied by his opinions about the acclaimed actor and left him alone; he continued eating his food and gossiping to himself. Suddenly another boy appeared out of nowhere and asked if he would like to join them in a game of hockey. Never thought of as athletic, Winston declined.

“Pleeease!” said the boy. “You’d make such a good goalie.”

Never athletic, but always easily wooed, Winston agreed.

“Before I knew it I was standing there in front of the net feeling like Little Miss Muffet,” said Winston. “I was so vulnerable, more so when they started shooting rubber discs at me. I freaked! See, I didn’t really understand the rules of hockey at that time, so I thought they were trying to kill me with a thick novelty flying disc. I had to defend myself, you see! I could not die this way! They had to die!”

One save, two goals against, three fatalities, and 17 injuries were the result of Winston’s first game in net.

“I can still remember the screams,” he told me as his voice dropped to a secretive level. “I’m not sure if it was me screaming or the children—but I heard it: ‘Don’t let it hit my beautiful face!’ It still haunts me to this day.”

At the end of our interview, I stood up and shook the man’s hand. And then it dawned on me: I was shaking Charlie Winston’s hand.

Charlie Winston, the simple man, the murderer, and the new starting goalie for the Vancouver Canucks.

Vigneault to go

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Formerly published in The Other Press. June 4 2013

By Elliot Chan, Staff Writer

The argument is not whether or not Alain Vigneault’s seven years with the Vancouver Canucks was a failure. After all, he is the winning-est coach in franchise history and the recipient of the 2007 Jack Adam Award. He coached two Presidents’ Trophy teams and got the Canucks all the way to game seven of the Stanley Cup finals. He has done everything possible, except win the cup and that is why it’s his time to go.

With Vigneault’s leadership, the Canucks have become a tough team to cheer for. An undisciplined team that whines over every call and flail like soccer players at every check. “We deserve it,” felt like the mentality of the Canucks these past few seasons, instead of most other teams’, which is, “we’ll earn it.” They expected everything to be handed to them and that made them consistently lose in the playoffs despite having such an elite team. The Canucks might be straight-A students in the classroom, but out on the playground they are incompetent.

He is always diplomatic and polite, but he never had any fire. In his press conference after game four of the 2013 Stanley Cup quarterfinals against San Jose, Vigneault looked absolutely defeated as he answered questions. Meanwhile, his players were in the locker room complaining about a bad penalty against Daniel Sedin in overtime. It was a pathetic image, far worse than getting swept in the first round.

The Canucks have never been a team with killer instincts. A long history of losing to bad teams and playing well against good teams made Vancouver an incoherent group. Leadership has always been a problem with the Canucks from the days of the soft-spoken Markus Naslund to “unable to do much because he’s a goalie,” Roberto Luongo, and then to the other soft-spoken Swede Henrik Sedin. The team needs a passionate leader that doesn’t only lead by example, but also by exclaiming it. Vigneault was not the type of man that gets his team fired up, he couldn’t rock the boat and he never won a championship.

Vigneault might have squandered the best years of the Vancouver Canucks, and any coach after will be working with the remains of a first-class team, but there are a few Head Coach-calibre candidates out in the market that may be suitable for our deteriorating Canucks squad. Former Rangers bench boss, John Tortorella has a quality that might just force the team to the next level. His fiery attitude is exactly what this undisciplined team needs, and he would do wonders when it comes to short-term goals, such as winning the Stanley Cup.

Another candidate would be Lindy Ruff, who for many years has been waiting to join a competitive hockey team. Renounced as one of Canada’s top coaches year after year, it would be interesting to see what he could bring to a team that has metaphorically been colouring within the lines for so many years.

Vigneault was not GM Mike Gillis’ organic choice. He was the hand-me-down of former GM Dave Nonis, and although they had a successful six-year partnership, Gillis will now search for a coach that can lead with an iron fist and not just a courteous smile.