Posts Tagged ‘Vancouver Canucks’

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If you are Canadian, I do not think anything in the sporting world tops the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. My friends and I do not say Merry Christmas to each other in December; we say it when the first puck is dropped in the round of 16. This first round had it all: a laughable sweep, line brawls, fat walrus accusations, Alex Ovechkin immediately flying overseas to play for Russia after another early exit (again), and of course, game sevens.

For most of us, our hockey teams run for Lord Stanley is over and we must accept, move on and pray that next year will be the year. There is another thing that you should be focusing on for the start of the 2013-14 season, and that is the future of your fantasy hockey teams. Chances are that you will not remember the second half Mats Zuccarello performances, but for your future fantasy purposes, you should. If you have been a fantasy GM for a while now, you know that it is the late round picks that will win you championships and even more importantly, ultimate chirping rights.

Eight teams were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, let’s take a look at what players could serve as a potential fantasy break out for the 2013-14 NHL season.

Marcus Johansson, Washington Capitals: Johansson saw his productivity increase this year in the shortened season, posting 22 points in 34 games and +3 rating. He was essentially invisible for the first two months of the season, but let’s be serious, so were the Washington Capitals. Take a look at his March and April; the kid recorded 21 points in 25 games. He is only 22 years old and will now head into the prime years of his career.  He should be considered as a late round add to your roster for next year.

Jonas Brodin, Minnesota Wild:  Before the season began, I highly doubt anyone could name the starting six defensemen for the Wild. I do not even think Mike Yeo could. There was nothing sexy about Brodins stat line this year (11 points in 45 GP), but there are fantasy implications that need to be considered going forward for the 10th overall pick in the 2011 entry draft. For starters, he is only nineteen. Secondly, look at the box scores in the first round. If we forget about Ryan Suter for a moment, Brodin led the way in ice time and on the man advantage showing how much trust the Wild have in the youngster. If an NHL organization can trust the kid with that much workload, so should you.

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues: I make this pick because everyone has already heard of Vladimir Tarasenko and know that he is going to be a force. Schwartz posted 13 points in 45 GP this year, but really found his stride in the second half (10 pts in 29 GP). I am not expecting Schwartz to break out to begin the season next year, but once the annual injuries of Andy McDonald and Alex Steen occur, Schwartz could spring into a top six role and shine. Go check out Hockey’s Future, he’s got game.

Kyle Palmieri, Anaheim Ducks: He did not really play in January and had a lackluster March, but his February and April have me intrigued. When you are playing under Bruce Boudreau’s system, you are going to have chances to put up points in bundles. His fantasy status for next year will depend on whether or not he can crack the top six. If he can, draft him late in deep leagues and enjoy the return.

Raphael Diaz, Montreal Canadiens: Chances are you picked Diaz to start the season as he and Andrei Markov tore it up on the man advantage. I laughed when I saw him 100% owned in ESPN leagues, but hey, production is production. If he did not suffer a concussion, then I do not think we would be having this discussion. Diaz will head the 2nd unit for the Canadiens going forward, who seemed to re-kindle their power play success after last season. Diaz’s upside here will depend on whether or not Markov can stay healthy, which is always in question. Diaz should be a fifth or sixth d-man on your team next year with upside to be a potential top four.

Josh Bailey, New York Islanders: If we learned anything from the Penguins and Islanders series,  it is that the Isles might actually be for real for the first time since… Alexei Yashin? Was he relevant? Who knows. They will not be worth noting for long, as they have too many vital pieces that are just too old (Streit, Visnovsky, Nabokov). Bailey has always had the talent but has been known to have attitude issues. He is now 23 and headed into the prime of his career. The isles looked good this season, I expect that to continue for a season or two with Bailey providing the secondary scoring they so desperately need.

Zack Kassian, Vancouver Canucks: Kassian was a nice surprise to start the season, racking up five goals in seven games in January. As for the rest of the season, well, you would probably rather have Scott Gomez over him. The 13th overall pick in the 2009 entry draft has everything that the Canucks need: size, grit, skill and scoring potential. The Sedins need a player like Kassian to protect them, as we all know Jannik Hansen does not fit that profile. With Alex Burrows seemingly on the second line for good, a lackluster pool of prospects, and the need to get stronger, I see Kassian getting every possible chance to break out, which I believe he will. Draft him late and laugh at those who didn’t.

Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs: I should not have to tell this to any Maple Leafs fan, but for the rest of you I will be blunt: this guy is legit. He is patient, smart with the puck, breaks into the offensive zone with ease and finally won over Randy Carlyle. Wherever he is projected to go next year in the fantasy rankings will more than likely be low, and thus a gift for those who wait on him to take him late. For keeper leagues especially, get him.

That is it for now, enjoy the second round and always be alert for possible fantasy surprises, it is what makes all the difference.

By: Alex Rodgers – Hockey Writer

Photo Credit: http://www.NHL.com

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Here we go!  The final two weeks of the season and the standings are nearly set in stone.  There will be some shuffling before it is all said and done, no doubt, but the playoff picture is getting clearer by the day.  For some teams it is just about seeding, others just want to clinch a spot, and yet a few are fighting for their lives.  I will give a quick run down of the contenders and pretenders of the Western Conference.

Contenders

1) Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks have to be considered a top contender in the West, especially after their historic start of 24 games undefeated in regulation.  Captain Jonathan Toews has been leading by example all season long with 44 points in 42 games and a respectable +27.  American sniper, Patrick Kane, is ranked 5th in the league in scoring (20 goals, 27 assists) for his best point-per-game totals to date.  These two studs are not alone in the offensive zone with Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland and newcomer Brandon Saad rounding out a lethal top six.  This team is starting to get healthy at the right time and there are not many teams that can match their skill.  I compare their young core a lot to that of the Pittsburgh Penguins in terms of overall talent and speed.  Even the defensive pairings are a strength of the organization, but much like the Philadelphia Flyers, goaltending will be their Achilles heel come playoff time.  If either Corey Crawford or Ray Emery can hold the fort, the Blackhawks should be able to get to the Stanley Cup finals.

2) Vancouver Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks have battled through a slew of injuries, but on the bright-side centre Ryan Kesler has made his return.  The two way forward has only played 11 games this season and despite his excessive diving, can be a difference maker.  Coach Vigneault will rely heavily on Kesler to shutdown the opposition’s top line and provide secondary scoring.  This team has had its ups and downs over the past couple years, losing in the finals to Boston and then a first-round knockout by Los Angeles.  The twins, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, are at the pinnacle of their careers, time is running out, and it is important for them to win now.  Whether it is some kind of freak telepathy or just raw talent, the Sedins have been able to find each other with the puck on a consistent basis and dominate offensively.  It will be interesting to see who starts in net, Schneider or Luongo, as neither was traded and the circus continues.  In the end, I don’t see this as being a huge problem, two capable goalies for a long playoff run is always a plus.  I expect Vancouver will persevere, their past experiences will help them, and hopefully they can bring a cup back to Canada.

3) Los Angeles Kings

The Los Angeles Kings are fresh off a Stanley Cup win and unlike most championship teams; their lineup is very much in tact.  They have played themselves into a better position than last year and they are enjoying a successful second half to the season.  Jeff Carter has had time to gel with linemate and good friend Mike Richards again; their chemistry together has been remarkable as a second unit.  However, the first line of Kopitar, Brown, and Williams will need to be sharp and contributing on the regular.  All-star goalie, Jonathan Quick, has struggled after offseason surgery, but I believe he will step up his play to defend their title.  Quick is the most acrobatic goaltender in the NHL and his phenomenal play in last years finals resulted in a Conn Smythe trophy.  Coach Darryl Sutter recently stated that Drew Doughty should be nominated for the Norris.  Sutter is not the type of coach to pump tires and talk up his players publicly.  Doughty has impressed the coach with his steady play and offensive output while logging serious minutes.  The Los Angeles Kings proved last year that they are a force to be reckoned with, they will fight right to the end and repeat if all goes well.

Pretenders

1) Anaheim Ducks

The Anaheim Ducks are one of the most improved teams this year, after finishing near the bottom of the conference in the 2011-12 campaign.  They can breath a sigh of relief now that superstars, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, are signed long-term and producing at their usual level.  One of the biggest stories of the season was netminder Viktor Fasth coming over from the Swedish Elite League and stealing the starting job from Jonas Hiller.  He has cooled off a bit from his torrid start, but still remains reliable between the pipes on any given night.  Coach Bruce Boudreau has my vote for the Jack Adams award, getting everyone to buy in to the new system after a subpar season.  With pretty much the same personnel, Boudreau has coached this team from bottom to top of the division (and conference).  I am tempted to categorize the Ducks as a contender in the West, but I predict they will falter before the big dance.  Viktor Fasth may be a 30-year-old rookie, however, he has not experienced the immense pressure of the NHL playoffs.   They will lose to another contender with more desperation (such as Vancouver) and come back stronger next year.

2) San Jose Sharks

The San Jose Sharks are currently in the 5th slot, pushing for home ice advantage in the opening round.  Not too long ago they were sellers at the trade deadline, sending depth defenceman Douglas Murray to Pittsburgh and power forward Ryane Clowe to New York.  The locker room does not appear to miss their departures and they are playing quality hockey at the moment.  Their offensive weapons consist of “Jumbo Joe” Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, and young gun Logan Couture.  Eventually Couture should take the reigns from the old veterans, but it looks like they are going to take at least one more crack at it.  Martin Havlat is another San Jose Shark synonymous with goal scoring, but he has been relatively quiet with only 13 points.  Former cup winner, Dan Boyle, still quarterbacks the powerplay and produces opportunities as his old age. But perhaps the MVP of the team and a possible Vezina candidate is goalie Antti Niemi with a league leading 21 wins.  San Jose is built like a winner, looks like a winner, but they are huge underachievers.  Top sports minds have predicted them to win year after year and been wrong.  This year will be no different and these same sports people have lost interest.

Sleeper

Nobody predicted the St. Louis Blues to take such a huge step back this year.  They were the Central Division champions last year and that was supposed to be the beginning.  They are a big-bodied team that plays well as a cohesive unit with stingy defence and goaltending.  Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk started off the season on the right foot, great fantasy picks, but couldn’t keep up the pace.  Apparently, St. Louis management was not confident in the remainders of their defensive pairings.  GM Doug Armstrong, maybe unwisely, went on a shopping spree for the top available talent at the position.  He reeled in Jordan Leopold of Buffalo, Wade Redden of Boston, and most significantly Jay Bouwmeester from Calgary.  If you were concerned about their defence before, it is absolutely stacked now.  Captain David Backes is no slouch as the top line centre, not as offensively gifted as some, but he makes up for it with leadership and grit.  The Blues have a lot of depth throughout the roster and even a budding star in Vladimir Tarasenko.  I would not take them lightly in a first round matchup and they could pull off an upset or two.

By: Andrew Smith – Lead Hockey Writer

Photo Credit: http://www.NHL.com

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The Vancouver Canucks are in an envious position with two proven starting goaltenders.  Bobby Lu, better known as Roberto Luongo, has been the main man for the better part of the last 6 seasons.   He has a track record for success during the NHL regular season and was even named team captain in his third year (with Henrik Sedin relieving him of his post in 2009).  However, many critics judge Luongo solely based on his past playoff performances and his ability to step up in meaningful games.  It is easily forgotten that the Montreal native led Canada to gold in the most recent Winter Olympics because as much as a gold medal run can unite a nation, the Stanley Cup is hockey’s ultimate achievement.  Roberto Luongo has failed to bring Lord Stanley to Vancouver, which has now become an expectation of the fan base.  They came close in the 2011 finals against the Boston Bruins, but suffered a shellacking in Game 7 on home ice.  We all know what happened afterwards with the rioting crowds setting the city ablaze.

In the other corner we have Cory Schneider, who has spent the past few years developing in the shadow of Roberto.  He has seen considerable game time as a backup goaltender in the NHL, including 8 games in the playoffs.  At age 26, GM Mike Gillis decided to invest in the young netminder, signing him to a $12 million dollar deal over the span of 3 years ($4 mil per).  It was expected that Schneider was finally ready for the “keys to the car”, especially after Luongo stated publicly that he would waive his no-trade clause for the better of the team.  Luongo was not ready to play second fiddle to the young star goalie and so the trade speculation began…

All through the summer there were rumblings, which then spilled into the NHL lockout.  Radio stations and sports channels around Canada were fiending for anything hockey-related to discuss (other than the lockout).  It kept coming back to the same question, would Luongo be traded from the Vancouver Canucks?  The front-runners appeared to be the Florida Panthers and the Toronto Maple Leafs.  However, GM Gillis was not ready to give away his prized goaltender for next to nothing and the other teams found his asking price far too high.  In the end, no deal was ever made once the new CBA was ratified and the season commenced.

Schneider was given the green light on opening night against the Anaheim Ducks, while Luongo waited patiently on the bench for his opportunity.  It only took 26 minutes for the veteran to get his chance after Schneider allowed 5 goals and a lousy 0.643 SV%.  Luongo was unable to salvage any points in the opener, but he displayed tremendous poise between the pipes.  It was clear that the aging goalie had enough left in the tank and might even fight for the starting role.  Coach Alain Vigneault began splitting the games between the two of them from that point forward.  The Vancouver Canucks struggled out of the gate but soon found a winning rhythm in the month of February.  The combination of Luongo and Schneider seemed to be ideal in a shortened season, with less time between games and the likelihood of injury on the rise.  The trade talks have quieted of late in the city of Vancouver as the team has taken over the top seed in the Northwest division.

For months I debated the best landing place for Roberto Luongo.  The Florida Panthers did not make any sense with goalie prospect, Jakob Markstrom, nearing a full-time job in the show.  The Toronto Maple Leafs were also too young and a move for the goaltender wasn’t in their long-term interest.  Let’s not forget that Luongo is already 33 years old with ten years remaining on a front-loaded contract.  This contract is a salary cap hit of $5.33 million per year and I would say Luongo is only worth it for the first 4-5 years.  The skill set of this player and the salary cap burden would only make sense for a team that is ready to win now.  A team that desires a proven goaltender of Luongo’s class would be the Chicago Blackhawks.  The Blackhawks already won the cup in 2010 and have one of the best squads in the league.  Since Antti Niemi left town to go to San Jose Sharks they have been unable to get the goaltending required to make it to the next level.  However, there is bad blood between Vancouver and Chicago that will prevent any deal from happening.

Right now, I realize the answer was there all along.  The team that needs Roberto Luongo the most is the Vancouver Canucks and they should rethink sending him packing.  The Sedins are at their prime and the core of the team is built to win the Stanley Cup this season.  As much as Schneider is a promising young goaltender and perhaps the future of the Vancouver franchise, he is not the guy to get the job done at the moment.  Luongo has played in more big games than the majority of his peers, he brought them there once and he can do it again.  The Vancouver Canucks need to get on Roberto Luongo’s back and make a Stanley Cup run before it’s too late.  Schneider will have to wait his turn for at least another year and his agent can continue to whine behind the scenes.

By: Andrew Smith – Lead Hockey Writer