After listening the other morning on a local radio sports program on TEAM 1040, to an interview in which Canucks GM Mike Gillis commented that he does not think his team needs to get tougher, I thought to myself (after I spit out my cereal), either he cannot see what the rest of the Canucks Nation sees or he’s in complete denial.
This team has been soft and small for many years, even before Gillis became GM. Maybe it has to do with having nine Europeans on the roster.
As one of the TEAM announcers said, he wouldn’t care what country they came from as long as they were “greasy” and “hard to play against.” I would have to agree with that comment as there are many NHL players that are tough to play against that come from outside of North America.
The problem with the Canucks, though, is that they do not have enough of these types of players on their team or within their organization.
With the exception of Mikael Samuelsson, I do not see any other non-North Americans that play that way. Alex Edler showed in game one against the LA Kings that he has the potential but that was fleeting (one game) to say the least.
He’s a big body that is easy to play against because he refuses to be aggressive and very seldom takes his man out with a check instead relying on the stick check.
So you’re not about to change the Sedins, and that’s OK as long as you surround them with the much-needed grit. Sami Salo and Edler are not physical enough and are under contract so you’re stuck with them.
Mario Bliznak (Manitoba Moose—not enough scoring talent nor size), Sergei Shirokov (Manitoba Moose—too small), Michael Grabner (lightest player on the team at 170 lbs., never was tough to play against), and Jannik Hansen (tries, but at 195 lbs. is too light and bounced off the Chicago players he threw hits on).
So let’s look at what Mike Gillis must consider his toughness. Rick Rypien, best pound for pound fighter in the NHL—not enough scoring talent and too small.
Darcy Hordichuk, the ‘Nucks designated heavyweight, is too small for that division, slow for the tempo required in the playoffs, also no finish and Tanner Glass, a gamer but also no finish around the net.
Since the fourth line has to be upgraded, do you really see anyone remaining there?
Actually I should re-phrase that question. Since Hordichuk and Rypien are under contract, what do you do with them?
You could put them on waivers and Glass you just don't re-sign.
The third line that needs to be upgraded has a diminutive Kyle Wellwood at center, who gives his all in the playoffs, but at 180 lbs. is not strong enough physically. Also, that position should be a 45-50 point player, not 25.
Steve Bernier will probably contribute 15 goals a year but still doesn’t look fast enough as was obvious in the playoffs. When he can finish his checks, he can be tough to play against but is not consistent or mean enough.
Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, and Mason Raymond are all that’s left for the grit factor. Kesler and Burrows have yet to display that in the last two playoff seasons due to injuries.
Guess what? All players have injuries at that time of the year, so how come the Blackhawks, with their injuries, dominated those guys?
Raymond definitely has the speed to get in on the fore-check but is too light and is like a fly bouncing off his checks.
The back end is missing a horse like a Chris Pronger or Brent Seabrook to patrol the front of the net or a talent like Duncan Keith and you sure not going to find it on the prospect list or on the farm.
The Canucks Captain is a goaltender, while Chicago's is multi-talented Jonathan Toews and the Flyers' is tough and talented Mike Richards. Who would you rather have?
So Mr. Gillis, please don’t spin us the line that this team has enough toughness. You don’t end up second to last in the NHL in hits because you’re hard to play against nor get dominated by the ‘Hawks, if you have big, tough and talented players predominately on your team.
It’s time to blow up those two bottom lines and try again.
Next up: the cost of goaltending.