Vancouver Canucks

The other day I came across a little back-and-forth blog entry on the worldwide leader of not hockey coverage concerning what the Vancouver Canucks should do with goaltender Cory Schneider. The debate is the same one that any good team has around the trade deadline: do we keep our guys regardless of position or remaining years under contract, or do we trade some guys off for added depth and/or bolstering weaknesses?
Craig Custance argued the only rational side — that the Canucks have to trade Schneider’s expiring contract this month in exchange for skating help, because not only is the soon-to-be 26 year-old scheduled for a huge raise in conflict with the team’s marriage to starter Roberto Luongo, but also because championship windows are only open for so long, and the team is obligated to stock up on as many players that can actually help in a playoff run while the squad is good enough to snatch sport’s greatest trophy.
Scott Burnside argued that the Canucks can only win the Stanley Cup if Schneider plays a decent role in doing so. He went on to state that Luongo “cannot go all four rounds” necessary to win the Stanley Cup. Folks, it’s time for some good ol’ fact exploration, myth debunking and rationality in the hockey media.

Cory Schneider’s contract is up this summer, and he’s probably the hottest name amongst young goalies ready to become full-time starters somewhere in the NHL. This means that he’s going to be offered more than his current $900,000 salary he’s making this season. How much more? Just remember that Mike Smith scored a $2 million per year contract with Phoenix last July based solely on a few good games late in the season, including one in the playoffs. Schneider’s last few years have undoubtedly garnered more confidence in his ability to guard the line than Smith’s had. So… is the number $3 million a year? More? Of course, it will depend on supply and demand, but highly coveted free agents tend to get very good contract offers.
Whatever the offer will be, the Canucks would have to be willing to match it and then be alright with blowing around or above $8 million a year on goaltending. That would be possible, but given the Canucks’ penchant for spending to the salary cap, it may lead to a rude awakening that all of a sudden leaves the team’s skaters downgraded. I know this doesn’t necessarily pertain to next season, but as it stands right now, the Canucks have the least amount of cap room this season of all 30 teams in the NHL.
I’ve written extensively about the need to spin off expiring contracts that a team knows it can’t re-sign. Despite all the man love for Schneider, this situation is no different. The Canucks are set up to compete for the Stanley Cup right now. There is no guarantee that the Sedins will be this good forever, or even next season given the way concussions are ending careers these days. Vancouver has already seen how much Ryan Kesler’s health means to their playoff successes, so why can’t people see the need for as much skating depth as possible during a war of attrition?
If trading Schneider this month can get the Canucks a contributing skater and maybe even a draft pick, the team is almost obligated to pull the trigger. When was the last time a young goaltender entered the playoffs as a backup and won the Stanley Cup? One could look to Antti Niemi in 2010, but by the time the playoffs had started Chicago had clearly chosen Niemi as the team’s number one. Unless Vancouver is planning a similar seat change, we can’t use the 2010 Blackhawks as a “see, I told you so” anecdote. On the other hand, Chris Osgood came into the 2008 playoffs as Detroit’s backup, but went on to win 14 games and the Cup. But one disqualifying piece of evidence is that Osgood had done it before. He “went all four rounds” in 1998, so he can’t be linked in with the Luongo / Schneider debate as Burnside crafted it.
Of course, the whole of Burnside’s and the rest of anti-Luongo nation’s argument is that Luongo is incapable of winning the Stanley Cup. I hate it when I’m forced to defend a person or stance that I don’t entirely believe in, but you’ve all forced me to be Luongo’s de facto apologist. Let’s take this time to get a grip, because if Luongo backstops Vancouver to the Cup this year I don’t want to hear the popular sentiment change. Here’s your chance to take in the facts and decide whether you want to be an anti-Luongo extremist or a person who acknowledges that the future is unknown and that the past indicates that a Luongo-led Cup win is entirely within the realm of possibility.
Why Do We Think Luongo is a Loser?
To debunk the myth that Roberto Luongo is a mental midget who is “incapable of going all four rounds” of a Stanley Cup playoff, it’s important to go back and figure out why we have this abstract feeling in the first place.
I remember when I used to waste my time watching college football. There was one particular game in 2007 when USC traveled to Nebraska. I remember watching the Trojans dismantle Big Red, and thinking, “Wow, I forgot that playing football really well was what USC actually did.” Over the previous five seasons, the USC Trojans football scene was surrounded by such hyperbole (“best team ever in 2005”… until they lost) and celebrity (akin to L.A. Lakers games) that I had forgotten they were at their core a highly successful amateur football team. Like when the rock star dominates the pages of the pseudo-tabloids, it’s easy to forget sometimes what the star actually does.
I think that while a lot of the Luongo hate is based in recent playoff losses, more of it is based in… we forget. Prior to 2007, Roberto Luongo had never played in a playoff game at the NHL level. But that 2006-07 season was his first in Vancouver, and it is remembered as an absolute stinker for Luongo because of the way that it ended, with him seemingly complaining to the referee seconds before allowing a soft wrister from 57 feet out.
Here’s how that ’07 playoff series ended

But even in that game, Luongo stopped 50 of 52 shots. In his first career playoff game a few weeks earlier, he saved 72 of 76 in a win over Dallas. His GAA for the 2007 playoffs was 1.77, and was accompanied by a .941 save percentage. These brilliant stats don’t account for the fact that the Canucks were beaten by the eventual champs, the Anaheim Ducks, who many still regard as one of the best teams in recent memory. But nobody cares to look up the numbers, because Luongo screwed it up. I believe this lapse in concentration has led to all of the current Burnside-esque assumptions about Luongo’s supposedly low mental strength, but most people would need some time to remember this root of the argument.
The following season was a bad one for Vancouver, as they missed the playoffs and caused the media to pick up the “blow up the team” reaction, which in some ways was followed by team brass. Some of the old guys were out, and the team started to look like its current self around the 2008-09 season. One quick note about 2007-08: Luongo had a 2.38 GAA and .917 save %. Just sayin’.
2008-09 was another good season for Luongo, as he slightly improved his regular season stats from the prior year. The playoff exit came at the hands of the young and uber-talented Chicago Blackhawks in the second round. Despite the clincher being a 7-5 win for Chicago, Luongo still sported a so-so 2.52 and .914 in those playoffs. And here’s another point: the idea that this was an upset is misguided. Vancouver had home ice solely based on winning the weak Northwest division. The Canucks gained 100 regular season points to the Blackhawks’ 104. The better team won.
The following season was easily Luongo’s worst. He brought a 2.57 and .913 into the playoffs, and put up numbers that were much worse once he got there. The 3.22 GAA was not good enough, and an .895 save % is simply never going to win Stanley Cups. But this playoff was again lost to the Blackhawks, who went on to win the Cup in a finish that surprised exactly nobody. The Blackhawks were the odds-on favorite to win the thing to begin with. And he did win the Olympic gold medal game in overtime at home, and there has never been more pressure on him than in that game.
The 2010 series against Chicago was a stinker, as only one game of the six was decided by as little as two goals. Luongo was not very good. But anyone watching the series knew who the better team was anyway. The mark of a goalie who cannot get it done is that he fails despite having the better team in front of him. No sane person would argue the 2010 Canucks were better than the 2010 Blackhawks.
Then there was last year, when Luongo put up much better regular season numbers and in doing so was a finalist for the Vezina. His playoff stats were almost equal to those from the 2009 playoff season, except this time, his team made it fifteen games further. How does one explain that? One possible explanation is that the Canucks were a much better team in 2011 than in 2009. I think that’s a big part of it. Another explanation is that 2011 was a weak year for Chicago, who lost to Vancouver in seven games after not being able to find the defending champion magic. I would even agree with that assessment.
Chicago was down last year, and Vancouver still needed OT of the seventh game to finish them off. But here’s the point — they did finish them off. And Luongo was clutch in the 2-1 win to close things out. He was equally clutch in two shutouts during the Stanley Cup Finals against Boston, one of which being the at-the-time “must win” Game 5 on home ice, where the Canucks prevailed by a goalie-friendly score of 1-0. Not a lot of mental weakness there. So why do we still spew the same tired analysis of his so-called mental weakness five years after the embarrassing playoff exit?
Because thinking is hard, and the story of life and reality is so much more comprehendible once we start using motifs and putting everybody in their box. Few people want to acknowledge that the future is unknown and many different results are possible. Ideologies are preferred by the less intellectual; extremism and bigotry are on the particularly non-thinking side of the spectrum. So here’s one that makes it easier: Luongo is a loser who always loses and therefore will always continue to lose, no matter the facts, moving parts or reality that surrounded past losses or future outlooks. There, we did it! We came to an absolute conclusion. Doesn’t that feel better and safer than contemplation?
Now that we’ve rooted out the source of the widespread anti-Luongo sentiment, let’s go fact finding.
Luongo Has Won Pressure Packed Games
We have this thing called the Triple Gold Club that includes players who have won the Stanley Cup, IIHF World Championship, and an Olympic gold medal in their careers. These players are seen as inarguable winners.
Luongo needs only the Stanley Cup to join this list.
In winning the gold medal in 2010, Luongo led Team Canada through four elimination games. The last two were 3-2 victories. The Games were in Vancouver. The entire country of Canada was demanding a gold medal and nothing less. Luongo won the games.

You think Luongo would have gotten out alive if he had lost this game?

During last year’s playoffs, Luongo was the winning netminder in two of the three games that he started when facing similar pressure. He won Game 7 against Chicago, he won Game 5 against Boston, and lost Game 7 against Boston. Before we write off that fifth game of last year’s finals, let’s think about what a Canucks loss would have meant. It was one of those clichéd “closest thing to a must-win” game. Vancouver won it 1-0. It looked like this:

And that seventh game that proved once and for all that Luongo didn’t have what it takes to “go all four rounds,” well, Vancouver scored 0 goals in that game anyway. Boston won and Vancouver lost, but the three wins the Canucks did get were largely influenced by Luongo. Show me the loss in which Luongo was the difference.
Luongo Has Gone “All 4 Rounds”
Deciding games are always the end of the chapter. Many underdog teams hope to even make the seventh game of a given series, despite the fact that it will be a road game, because “anything can happen in a one-off situation.” Fact: Luongo made it to the seventh game of the final round. Yes, the Canucks had home ice and lost. Yes, he allowed too many goals in Games 6 and 7, when the Cup was one victory away. But the argument that he “cannot go all four rounds” is not at all supported by the evidence.
Rocky & Apollo after the first fight

In Rocky, it was the Italian Stallion’s mission at the Spectrum to “go the distance” with heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. Despite Rocky Balboa’s split decision loss, he is professionally proud that he “went the distance” with the champ. A fifteen-round split decision loss is about as close as one can get to actually winning. So is losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
If Luongo’s Past Disqualifies Him from “Going All 4 Rounds” & Winning the Cup, Then Everyone Else’s Does Too
If we’re going to say stupid things like, “The guy who got to the final game of the final round can’t go all four rounds,” then no other goalie who has yet to win the Stanley Cup can go all four rounds and win it either. This conclusion is of course asinine, but it logically follows from Burnside’s argument.
Here is the list of current NHL goaltenders who have shown they can “go all four rounds” and win the Cup, since we’ve determined that getting the the seventh game of the Finals is not doing so: Martin Brodeur (comical at this point), Nikolai Khabibulin (is there anyone more unlikely given age and team?), Cam Ward, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Marc Andre Fleury, Antti Niemi and Tim Thomas.
Hey, a betting man may love the idea of getting Boston, San Jose and Pittsburgh against the field when it comes to winning the Cup this year, but to say that these are the only teams that have a shot in 2012 because they’re the only teams with goalies who have done it before is so ignorant that it really doesn’t warrant all of the contemplation we’ve given it just on this blog entry. But sometimes absurd things have to be called out.
Will Luongo ever win a Stanley Cup? I don’t know, although I would say the likelihood substantially drops if this isn’t the year. But he’s capable of doing so, and let’s not forget two key facts about the way everybody analyses sport.
First, too many of us have become obsessed with the destination. Putting all of the emphasis on finishing first is a good way to promote actually finishing first, but it also causes us to forget just how hard and statistically unlikely it is for any one team or person to actually finish first, especially in a league of 30 teams with a salary cap.
Not appreciating the journey also has some insane side effects, aside from the obvious obsessing over the destination. It causes us to demand ends to stories far too quickly. Remember, before Luongo sucked and was incapable of winning, he was young and awesome and the highest goalie ever drafted at the time and “if only he could get out of Florida he could really be a winner.” He’s lived through just four playoff seasons, and only one with a legitimate Cup contending team, but now he’s done and dusted. He sucks.

Photo via
Remember when Luongo was the hot 26 year-old that just needed to get out of town?

The Buildup Always Precedes the Tear Down
I’ve yet to hear anyone point out the hypocrisy needed to declare Luongo a failure while touting the Stanley Cup credentials of Schneider. Let’s not forget that six years ago Luongo was in a similar position to Schneider. The talk was, “Man, that Luongo sure is good but he’s stuck in a hockey black hole with Florida. If only he could get out.” While Luongo had been the Panthers’ starter for a bit, in contrast with Schneider’s zero seasons as an NHL starter, the sentiment and their ages (26) at the specific point are very similar. Since finishing first and winning titles is very difficult, is there any doubt that in six years time we’ll be doing the same deconstructing of Schneider’s game, barring a Stanley Cup somewhere between now and then? Not bloody likely.
Photo via
Now Schneider’s the fawned-over mid-20s goalie that needs a new spot

I’m not sure how to prove this as “fact,” but there is no way at this current moment that the statistical odds of Vancouver winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 are noticeably greater with Schneider in net than they are with Luongo. If you disagree with me, then you almost certainly also believe that Tim Tebow is a good NFL quarterback and other various illogical, irrational, bad takes that are wholly unsupported by any critical analysis or evidence. But I’m not talking to those people, because if you’re still reading this you’re obviously a smart person capable of thought. Help me help you. Let’s clear our heads of the lazy, all too easy “Luongo sucks” garbage.
Do I believe Roberto Luongo is the best goalie in the NHL? Not at all. I’ve been a Henrik Lundqvist honk for years. Do I see issues with the way the Canucks have exited the playoffs in the last four tries? Sure. The only game in which Luongo played well and still suffered elimination was that 2007 blunder in Anaheim, with two blowouts from Chicago and one from Boston coming since. Am I picking the Canucks to win the Cup this year? I don’t think so, but we’ll see come April.
One Goalie Must be Traded this Month
My point is this: the championship window is open right now for Vancouver. It won’t be for long, if history of sport is any indication. This spring should provide the Canucks another opportunity to achieve the greatest success in hockey while offering their mobbish fan base the spiteful victory they may not know how to handle.
The move is simple. If the Canucks do not want to or cannot trade Luongo and the remaining nine years on his contract with the intention of moving forward with Schneider as the starter in the fall of 2012 and beyond, then they should definitely trade Schneider for something that will help them win the Stanley Cup in four months. If they think that letting Schneider play out the string, sit the bench (or even play) for another elimination, and sign a contract to be someone else’s starter is the smart move, they may want to re-read this sentence.
Fan sentiment changes over time, and ultimately is based solely on titles. To let Schneider walk for free in July and end up with zero Stanley Cups in Vancouver ten years from now would be unacceptable. To trade Luongo and end up with zero Stanley Cups in Vancouver ten years from now would be unacceptable, albeit popular for a short period of time. To trade Schneider now in exchange for a deeper squad that allows for a more honest run at the Cup this year while also selling the fans on the impossibility of re-signing him this summer would be by far the most acceptable move to a fan base that, like all others, is fickle, vindictive and a prisoner of the moment.
The Canucks should not give in. They hold a very valuable piece that a few teams may covet. No team ever plans on winning the Stanley Cup with its backup goaltender, and therefore, if all goes well the team will not need to use this valuable piece until they no longer own it. They are married to the man who sits in front of the player in question. The decision is obvious: sell, sell, sell. In the interest of the sporting attitude, go for it. Because what’s another playoff loss going to do for you moving forward? Nothing except more whining and riots.

The only way keeping Schneider through the playoffs makes sense is if the Canucks’ skaters suffer little to no injuries. Good luck with that.

Sometimes writings take on a life of their own and go in a direction in which the writer hadn’t planned on going. It seems Richard Bachman has grabbed this blog and ran with it, at least for the time being.
For the second time in three nights, The Pen Name will lead the Dallas Stars out of their home tunnel and onto the ice in front of a national TV audience. Mind-boggling, if you ask me.
I’ve been very supportive of Bachman in his string of starts over the last two weeks, but that isn’t exactly to say I’ve gone out on a limb. The Pen Name is 4-1 as a starter since relieving Andrew Raycroft mid-game at San Jose on December 8. Tonight will be just his second home appearance after playing in five consecutive road games.

The opponent is the Philadelphia Flyers, who under normal circumstances would be heavy favorites to beat Dallas anywhere. But after the maiming over the weekend on home ice at the hands of the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, the Flyers skated decently to a disappointing result in Colorado two nights ago.
Philadelphia outshot the Avalanche 33-27, scored 1 power play goal in its 4 opportunities, and killed off the only two instances it had of being shorthanded. But Avs goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere was just good enough to steal the shootout win, and extend the Flyers’ “losing streak” to 1.5 games (I mean, we can’t really call it a 2-gamer, now can we?). These struggles probably make HBO very happy, since the Rangers are cruising ahead of the Winter Classic, and nobody wants to see two teams in cruise control.
Phoenix will bring its road warrior hockey club into Carolina tonight for a game against Cam Ward and the last-place Hurricanes. The Coyotes rock a 10-6-1 record away from the apathetic confines of the Arena, while playing even in front of the raucous crowd (7-7-2 home record). Apologies to Coyote fans for my exaggeration; you do create a pretty good scene during playoff games, and according to your Wikipedia page, ticket sales have increased and season ticket renewals are at an all-time high.
The Hurricanes have played some dreadful hockey this season, and look poised for a high draft pick. The results haven’t come yet under Kirk Muller, but the latest in a line of NHL ’94 stars-turned-head coaches (or in Randy Cunneyworth’s case, NHL ’94 bit players-turned-head coaches) hasn’t had nearly enough time. It was nice to see the Canes were able to unload Tomas Kaberle to Montreal recently, but the fact that he was on the roster only highlighted what I believe to be an uncertainty over the direction of the club. Carolina has multiple rookies and/or prospects that many still believe to be future impact players in the NHL. What they don’t have is a calming influence on the blue line, and with the only man on the team capable of delivering that, Joni Pitkanen, out indefinitely with a concussion, things look very bleak for the Canes this season.
Speaking of bleak outlooks, Montreal heads into Chicago tonight with very few believers left on the bandwagon. Professional writers are using terms like “gongshow” and “lack of direction” rather frequently these days to describe the Habs, and it’s hard to argue with any of them. The latest uproar surrounds new hire Cunneyworth’s lack of a grasp of the French language, but I’ve never been to Quebec so I’ll save any comment on that.
The Habs will concede the game try to spark the team by starting Peter Budaj at the Hawks, who just possibly might be tired from last night’s loss in Pittsburgh. One would have to expect a Chicago victory. Corey Crawford is expected in nets for Chicago, but nothing is yet confirmed at the time I write this, and Ray Emery has started the last six games to the tune of a 5-1 record. If it is Crawford tonight, it is an absolutely huge game for him. Most people expect Crawford to be the Hawks’ goalie going forward, but the season is almost halfway gone, and at this moment it’s hard to justify Crawford over Emery. A game against Montreal at home is the kind of game that any division title contender should wish for right now.
What should be noted is that this is exactly why the Blackhawks were so smart in giving Emery a tryout, and subsequently a contract and the backup job. I urged the Red Wings to make this same move, but instead Razor Ray is winning for the rival team. Things may turn and nothing is certain, but right now, credit must be paid to Emery for persevering through his terrible hip injury and to Chicago for realizing how important he could be to a roster capable of winning another Stanley Cup, but backstopped by a second-year starter.
St. Louis will start Brian Elliott at Colorado, who will counter with Giguere. Some people will go on about the Shattenkirk trade (my ode to MvsW), but I think enough time has passed that we can evaluate a game between the Blues and the Avs in a way that includes players besides Shattenkirk, Stewart and Johnson. Since I never pick the Avs, give me the Blues. David Backes will be the anti-Paul Stastny tonight in a micro-matchup between young American centers on different sides of the slope right now.
Tampa Bay plays at San Jose tonight, and I’m not going to waste anybody’s time going into detail on a game that, quite frankly, I’m not going to watch. I expect the Sharks should get this one done at home, but the NHL, like all professional sports leagues with built-in parity, is unpredictable. Not many people may remember this or care, but this game is a matchup between last season’s conference final losers. Give the winner a bronze medal, I say.
In what’s probably the game of the night, my Detroit Red Wings travel to Vancouver for the first time this year. Detroit beat Vancouver at Joe Louis Arena 2-0 on October 13 in a game that was unexpectedly dominated by the Wings, but that was when the Canucks were still in the beginning stages of their hangover. It seems the headache is gone now, and the home/road records would suggest a Vancouver win tonight. The Canucks are 9-4-1 at home this season, while the Red Wings are a simple 8-8-0 on the road. Detroit is usually a pretty good road team, but has instead opted for an eyebrow-raising 13-2-1 start on home ice en route to another good record through 32 games (21-10-1). Jimmy Howard is confirmed as the starter for Detroit, while Roberto Luongo is expected for Vancouver. That game starts at 10 p.m. eastern time.
It’s time to prematurely prognosticate the NHL’s Northwest Division for 2011-12. I wanted to write this about as much as you want to read it, but if you bear with me, we should all come out on the other end a little bit smarter (and older).
Let’s take the title race off the table right now. There’s almost no combination of cosmic events that can lead to anything but a Vancouver Canucks division championship for the fourth straight year, and fifth in six seasons. And by saying “almost,” I’m accounting for the possibilities that war cancels the season, the Canucks’ plane crashes (sorry, that joke might never be acceptable), the Flames unite the deathly hallows, or that professor Brian Cox and the rest of the scientific world has woefully underestimated the life span of the universe, and entropy maxes out around the time of the all-star break, leaving the universe as a silent nothingness with no life or hockey arenas in which to finish the season. Of course, this last possibility wouldn’t really keep the Canucks from the division title anyway, since they should have the division locked up by the all-star break.
But each of the other four spots in the Northwest appear to be up for grabs, so let’s do what we do and take an early look at why things should shake out a certain way.

1st: Vancouver Canucks 2010-11: 117 points, 1st in conference
The only way the Canucks fail to win this division, outside of those examples listed above, is if they suffer a combination of injuries and a general emotional malaise that can follow a person or group of people when they work so hard and get so close to their goal, only to see it ripped away from them at the last minute. Vancouver didn’t lose the Stanley Cup in the last minute, but they did go into both Games 6 and 7 with the opportunity to hoist and parade for the first time in franchise history, only to lay two eggs and get comprehensively beaten by Boston. Even if there is a hang over, I still think the Canucks can be counted on to win this division and contend for the top seed in the conference.
The only real loss of consequence in the offseason was defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to Buffalo. The Canucks knew they couldn’t keep both Ehrhoff and Kevin Bieksa, and the franchise chose the guy that fit what they wanted their identity to be. Of course, they wouldn’t necessarily have had to choose one over the other if they weren’t on the hook for four more years with Keith Ballard, but we all make mistakes.
Even without Ehrhoff this year, the defense should be pretty good. Bieksa returns along with Dan Hamhuis, who was very noticeably absent from the Finals in June. Vancouver convinced Sami Salo to re-sign for another year, and the team also Alex Edler to play top-four minutes. Andrew Alberts, Aaron Rome and Chris Tanev are all back for the Canucks as well, which means that coach V has seven options before he even has to think about playing Ballard, the $4.2 million man. Losing Ehrhoff hurts, but if Edler, Alberts, Rome and Tanev are able to step their games up, they can fill the hole. Salo probably isn’t getting any better at his age, but he still can help the offensive side of the game, something that will need to be done after the loss of Ehrhoff.
Vancouver should have nothing to worry about in net. Everyone wants to pile on Roberto Luongo, and I admit that I’ve made fun of him and his mental makeup in the past, but the guy was a Vezina finalist on the backs of some really great numbers and he also backed it up in the playoffs by winning Game 7 against Chicago when few people thought the Canucks could stop their slide, and then scoring two 1-0 shutouts in the Finals in that losing effort against Boston. Sure, Luongo didn’t do enough in the four losses, but the Canucks scored a combined three goals in those four games. Two of those goals came in Game 6, which left two Canuck losses as shutouts. You can’t blame Luongo for losing games in which Vancouver scored zero goals.
As far as a tandem goes, Luongo said himself that he and Cory Schneider were the best tandem in the league, and it might be hard to argue against that point if it’s something that the two of them truly believe. Schneider must be chomping at the bit to become an NHL starter, but as long as the two of them can coexist and put team ahead of ego, they should be lights out again this year. The real question will be whether Vancouver keeps Schneider on the roster through the trade deadline. He is in the final year of his contract, but will only be a restricted free agent next summer, which pretty much means the Canucks will have the option as to whether or not Schneider stays on. If the Canucks somehow tank this year, then that could justify a Schneider trade, as having the great tandem only helps if you’re going to win the title, although you’d have to think a tanked season would mean little or no confidence in Luongo moving forward.
It should be noted that the Canucks also have goalie Eddie Lack in the fold, who they (and a lot of hockey people) are crazy about. He’s 6’5” tall, 23 years old, and had a great year in the AHL last year. After going undrafted in 2009, Lack spent the ’09-10 season backing up Florida Panthers’ uber-prospect and fellow Swede Jacob Markstrom with Brynas IF. Lack is also entering the final year of his entry-level deal, and like Schneider, is set to become RFA next summer. Vancouver has some decisions to make, but it must be nice being in a position to have to make them. Just ask Washington GM George McPhee (also a former BG Falcon).
Offensively, the Canucks will be fine again. The Sedin twins regularly lead the league in stuff (yes, that’s the scientific term). Last year, Daniel and Henrik placed first and fourth in overall point totals in the NHL. The year before, Henrik led the league and Daniel was on pace to tie Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin for second with 109 points, but Daniel’s season was interrupted due to injury and he only played 63 games (and still finished 11th in points). In 2010, Henrik won the Hart Trophy as league MVP. Last year, Daniel won the Ted Lindsay Award (formerly Lester B. Pearson Award) as the MVP of the league as voted by the players. There’s not a whole lot to talk about with these guys. Haters say they’re soft, that they don’t rise to the occasion, etc. The Sedins are great hockey players, and without them the Canucks would be a team lost in the middle (and I mean middle, not just the annual 3 seed that loses in the second round, which somehow people have adopted to mean “middle”). In fact, without the Sedins, the Canucks would look and play a lot like the Minnesota Wild.
After the Sedins, Vancouver will rely on a couple of their scorers to return well from playoff injuries. Ryan Kesler was a shadow of his normal self after tearing his labrum in the final game against San Jose in the conference finals. He had no goals in the Finals, after scoring 41 in the regular season. Mikael Samuelsson is also coming back from injury, as he had sports hernia surgery following his unfortunate fall in Game 5 against Nashville. Samuelsson is best known for winning the 2008 Stanley Cup with Detroit, and also giving one of the greatest quotes of all-time in the lead up to the 2010 Olympics regarding being left off of Team Sweden’s roster. Samuelsson told the Canadian press just days after Christmas ’09, “I pretty much have one comment and maybe I’ll regret it. But they can go fuck themselves. That’s what I really think.” Brilliant.
The Canucks also must wait on winger Mason Raymond, who went ass first into the boards and fractured a vertebrae. Bruin defenseman Johnny Boychuk was on the giving end of the hit, although it looked more like a freak play given Raymond’s body positioning than a malicious play on Boychuk’s part.
Vancouver still has Alex Burrows, who scored timely goals, bit fingers and is responsible for the most-read post on this blog. On the bottom lines should be Manny Malhotra and Maxim Lapierre at center, and Jannik Hansen, Victor Oreskovich, Marco Sturm and Chris Higgins at wings. Raymond’s injury leaves one spot available, which could go to a number of players, including those who normally play center since Vancouver is set with their four in Henrik, Kesler, Lapierre and Malhotra.
All in all, too much firepower and not enough contention from the other four teams. Vancouver is the team in the Northwest that has the best combination of talent and maturity. Calgary may be very mature, and Edmonton appears to be extremely talented, but no team in the division can match the combination that Vancouver has right now.
2nd: Calgary Flames 2010-11: 94 points, 2nd in division
At first I thought picking Calgary to finish second in this division was an emotional response, but then I really looked at the other three teams behind them and it makes sense. I used the word “vomit” countless times early last season to describe the Flames’ skaters to my brother, and the twelve-and-six did very little to disprove my evaluation. But the team stepped its game up late in the season, and even saved face with a 10th place finish in the west (only 3 points behind 8th-place Chicago). I wanted to take Calgary second because I love Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff, as well as the scene that is the Red Mile, but really this pick is justified by the lack of readiness of Edmonton and Colorado, as well as my perceived lack of improvement from Minnesota.
Despite the Flames suspect offense, the team has been able to depend on one man as much as any team can depend on any one player. Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff turned in another time card that saw a laughable amount of overtime. What’s funny is that while Kipper’s 71 starts were third in the NHL, that number was actually his fewest number of games since the lockout ended in 2005. Kiprusoff’s peripherals suffered a little bit last season, but he trended upward along with the results of the team. It has appeared for a while now that as Kip goes, so go the Flames. The only problem with this situation is that Kiprusoff will turn 35 early in the season. The positive is that he’s been a great bounce back goalie, and that’s what he’ll need to do from the outset in order to give the Flames a shot at a playoff spot. Henrik Karlsson is back as Kiprusoff’s backup, and provides some stability given his lack of playing time.
At forward, the Flames still look pretty limited. Iginla is a pure stud at right wing, but after him the list of Calgary’s forwards reads like a balance sheet from Enron. Six other forwards will count against the Flames for $3 million or more this year, five of them have some sort of no-trade clause, and none of them have really earned their money. Olli Jokinen tweeted this week that he’s really excited about the new season. Calgary fans may have tweeted back that they were really excited to trade him to the Rangers in 2010 and didn’t expect to see him back. In Jokinen’s defense, he’s a very talented player who appears to be upset at his lack of recent production, and so there’s at least hope for his resurgence. Alex Tanguay was solid last year, coming in second in team scoring ahead of Jokinen and behind Iginla. Calgary’s second line could consist of Curtis Glencross, Rene Bourque and Brendan Morrison. Daymond Langkow should also be back for the Flames after suffering a scary injury (puck to back of neck). He finally made it back on April Fools’ Day this year, and as far as I know is ready to continue playing after beating his “50/50 odds” of ever playing again.
The Flames also have forwards like Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman and other various players that look like they were born to play foot hockey on a cement rink. For a while these two were putting up actual numbers for Toronto, but I watched them play and their point totals didn’t make sense. Last year may have been more of the norm, as they went for 31 and 27 points, respectively. I must give a shout-out to Hagman, however, for scoring a huge $210 goal for me in the third period of a scoreless 2010 Olympic game against the Czech Republic while playing for his native Finland. Like most of Hagman’s goals, this one didn’t make sense, but I loved it.
Calgary’s blue line has never been the same since trading away Dion Phaneuf in one of the worst trades since the Lindros deal. The Flames sent Phaneuf, Keith Aulie and Fredrik Sjostrom to Toronto in exchange for Stajan, Hagman, Ian White and Jamal Mayers (only Stajan and Hagman remain from the deal). That was a bad one, but it was predicated upon the Flames’ belief that Jay Bouwmeester was interchangeable with Phaneuf. That belief was based on JayBo’s huge size and gifted hands and feet, but it didn’t take into account what many describe as a lack of passion to get to the top. I’m not going to criticize an NHL player’s desire, as it must always be tough to get to The Show. But Bouwmeester is almost 28 years old now, and it’s time to take the training wheels off. Most analysts think it’s a lost cause, and they’re probably right, but the Flames absolutely need Bouwmeester to figure out whatever it is that’s holding him back and just go out and play every game like it’s his last.
Aside from Bouwmeester, who at least gives the Flames 26 minutes of ice time a night, Calgary has a real stud in Mark Giordano. The idea of a grown Giordano playing with Phaneuf must give Flames fans a real case of conflicted emotions. But it wasn’t to be. The next defenseman on Calgary’s depth chart has to be Anton Babchuk, who the Flames re-signed in the offseason. The fourth spot is unclear to me, as it should probably be Cory Sarich based on both production and salary ($3.6 million this year). The Flames want to get T.J. Brodie up, but he may spend another season headlining the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat. If Brodie does not make the Flames this year, that probably means that two of Chris Butler, Brett Carson and Brendan Mikkelson do (or all three, with one being the scratch).
3rd: Minnesota Wild 2010-11: 86 points, 3rd place
A new coach, a new leading scorer, and a new top defenseman all total up to… I’m not sure. I think third place is the safest prediction for the Wild this year, and I think it’s the spot in which they will actually finish.
Minnesota traded leading scorer Martin Havlat to San Jose for Dany Heatley, who should instantly replace Havlat as the Wild’s top scorer this season. If Heatley has a bad enough season to not lead the Wild in goals this season, third place may be a little out of Minnesota’s league.
The reason I don’t like Minnesota to make the playoffs this year is that I don’t feel they adequately replaced their departing players in a way that makes them four spots better in the west. Aside from losing Havlat, the Wild also lost Andrew Brunette, who should play a key role in Chicago’s attempt to win another Stanley Cup, and also Brent Burns, who skated a smooth 25:03 per game last year while tying for third on the team last year in points and fourth in goals despite being a defenseman. In fact, Brunette was third on the Wild with 18 goals, and Burns came in just behind with 17. Replacing that scoring will need to be not only Heatley, but also the other former Shark, Devin Setoguchi, who has scored 20 or more in all three of his full seasons in the NHL.
At top-line center is Mikko Koivu, who is a really solid player all the way around. He wins a lot of faceoffs, has good size and speed and creates many of the Wild’s chances. Koivu could be flanked by the two former Sharks, although Pierre-Marc Bouchard may get the call at top-line right wing ahead of Setoguchi. Matt Cullen is also likely to be a top-six center, although he and Kyle Brodziak had similar point totals last season despite Cullen’s 2:15 of extra play per game. It’s unclear who the final winger will be on the Wild’s top two lines, but the argument could be made for moving Bouchard to second-line LW, which would allow Setoguchi and Cal Clutterbuck to be the two RWs. Clutterbuck perennially leads the league in hits, but was also second on the Wild with 19 goals last season. He fits the mold of a third-line player, but given the Wild’s roster and Clutterbuck’s inarguable production, it’s probably worth it to move the tough guy up.
Also at forward for the Wild are Guillaume Latendresse, Eric Nystrom, Darroll Powe and others. Gone are right wings Chuck Kobasew and Antti Miettinen, as well as center John Madden. Madden has been a great penalty killer his whole career, while Miettinen appears to be a decent scorer to those who don’t actually watch him play. The guy has had to be benched for long stretches during his career for basically pulling a Keith Ballard. Miettinen will continue his career in the KHL. Nystrom is not only a former captain of the Michigan Wolverines (2004-05), but is also the son of legendary New York Islander Bob Nystrom, who won four Stanley Cups in the ‘80s with the club and also has his number 23 retired by the team. The elder Nystrom had nicknames that included “Mr. Islander” and “Thor.” The younger Nystrom and I shared words in a hallway in early 2005 regarding the antics of Nystrom’s Wolverine teammate T.J. Hensick, who is currently a member of the St. Louis Blues organization.
The loss of Burns appears to cripple Minnesota’s blue line, but they had to at least think they had something with the youngsters on the club. Playing top-four minutes will probably be Marek Zidlicki, Nick Schultz and Greg Zanon. The fourth D man to join them could be Clayton Stoner, although the Wild have a trio of up-and-comers who may be ready to take the next step in Marco Scandella, Justin Falk and Tyler Cuma. To add some depth, the Wild also signed 24 year-old Mike Lundin, who played 69 regular season games for the Lightning last year before skating in all 18 playoff games. The squad should be alright, but whether the Burns deal was a good one this year will depend on the success of the top three and the progress of the young three.

In net, starter Niklas Backstrom will resume his regular duties, but without the backing up of Jose Theodore, who now looks like the starter in Florida. It is assumed that Josh Harding will once again be the Wild’s second stringer after missing the entire 2010-11 season with ACL and MCL tears in his right knee. Harding showed promise in 2008-09 before taking a step back the following year, which of course was followed by the injury that brings us to today. Expect Backstrom to go 65+ games if he can, although he’s only been able to top 60 games once in his career (2008-09).
4th: Edmonton Oilers 2010-11: 62 points, last in NHL
I don’t expect the Oilers to kill it right out of the gates this year, but by the end of the season I trust their 82-game body of work more than Colorado’s. Edmonton looks like one of the most talented teams in the league. Unfortunately, they’re not competing in the under-20 world championships against similarly-aged teams.
There are a lot of questions surrounding the Oilers this year, but one I’m interested to follow is whether this is the year the team finally anoints Devan Dubnyk as the starting goalie. The 6’6” native of Regina, Saskatchewan is now 25 years old, and outperformed starter Nikolai Khabibulin last season anyway. The Bulin Wall went 10-32-4 last year with a 3.40 GAA and .890 save percentage. Those numbers are amongst the worst of the modern era (since players stopped putting up ridiculous 2+ points-per-game figures fifteen years ago). Dubnyk, by contrast, sported a 12-13-8 record for the worst team in hockey. He had a much leaner by comparison 2.71 GAA and .916 save %. Those numbers were good for 29th and 17th in the league, which isn’t that bad when we remember that the guys in front of Dubnyk simply did not constitute an NHL squad last year.
But aside from the fact that Dubnyk probably gives the Oilers a better chance to win games now anyway, I think there’s another element at play that demands the ascension of the younger goalie. People often cite team chemistry as an important factor in winning, and can often look at a core of players that grew together as a team. The most comparable example to what Edmonton looks like now would be the Pittsburgh Penguins in the middle of the last decade. Not only did they draft Fleury, Malkin, Crosby, and Staal from 2003-06, but they actually let those guys play together from day one. Maybe the Pens would have made the Finals in 2008 had they sat Fleury in 2006 and ’07 the way the Oilers are doing to Dubnyk, but I don’t think they would have. On their album Oracular Spectacular, MGMT has a song called “The Youth,” in which they reveal that the title group is “starting to change, together, together, together, together…” Regarding the Oilers, what is the point of letting the skating youth change together, but leave their capable peer of a goalie on the sideline to pick his hangnails? There is no point, and although I love what The Wall has done in his career, it’s time for the Oilers to do what they need to do in their crease.
In front of Dubnyk and Khabibulin could be a surprisingly capable group of defensemen. I’m not saying “very good,” I’m saying “surprisingly capable.” The Oilers should get Ryan “Un-fit-ney” Whitney back this year, and in him a guy that is able to skate big minutes and help out offensively. Whitney had 27 points in 35 games with Edmonton last year before succumbing to a right ankle injury just before New Year’s. Alongside Whitney will be the best #1 defenseman that nobody knows / talks about, Tom Gilbert. I understand that nobody talks about Gilbert because he plays on a team that has not warranted discussion recently, but I’d like to see the silence on Gilbert stop this season. Like Whitney, Gilbert is 6’3”, but carries himself as if he is even bigger. Gilbert’s right-handed shot is a perfect compliment to Whitney’s more common left-handed stick. The two could combine to be one of the more difficult top pairings to play against from a standpoint of trying to score on big players and also trying to shut down Whitney’s offensive eye (and Gilbert’s isn’t awful either).
After the clear top two, Ladislav Smid awaits a second-line partner. Most assume it will be one of two newly-acquired bit hitters — Cam Barker or Andy Sutton. Barker’s upside is probably higher, but Sutton’s actual hockey game is probably just as good right now. For some reason Theo Peckham appears to have hit his ceiling on the third pairing, despite arguably playing better hockey than either Sutton or Barker last season. Perhaps he fights too much — Peckham had a cool 198 penalty minutes in 71 games last season for the Oilers. It will likely be Barker, the 3rd overall pick in the 2004 entry draft, who joins Smid on the second line. Sutton and Peckham should make for a meaty third pairing. None of this includes the possibility that Jeff Petry makes the club, but that is certainly a possibility. The Michigan State product played 35 games in his rookie season last year, and placed third on the team in average ice time. It is arguable that Petry can and should beat out one of the guys assumed to be part of the six Oiler defensemen.
The Oilers are something of a tale of two prototypes at forward. They have their young and extremely talented group, and they have their older, solid group that bleeds blue and orange but has a lower point ceiling than that of the kids’ futures. The top line will probably be made up of the latter group, as Shawn Horcoff should center the first line, and be flanked by Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth. The Oilers get Smyth back from Los Angeles, and he is a good one. Smyth was an Oiler from 1994 to 2007, and played a huge role in getting Edmonton to within one win of the Stanley Cup in 2006. He’s a physical power forward-type, but Smyth has some finesse to go with his bashing style. He’s been a 30-goal scorer four times in his career, and has scored at least 22 goals in each of the last three seasons. What’s more important is that he wants to be an Oiler. I can’t think of a more appropriate winger to teach the kids the ropes than Smyth, who captained Team Canada in the World Championships a record six times, winning gold in 2003 and ’04. Smyth also won Olympic gold in 2002, which leaves only the Stanley Cup to enter him into the Triple Gold Club. While he may never get the same chance that he had in 2006, it would be neat if his career came to a close right as the kids paralleled the title-ascending story of the Penguins.
Speaking of those kids, the second line should feature two sophomores in Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. It’s even possible that they are centered by rookie and 2011 top overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but that’s unlikely given that Sam Gagner has probably earned the right to be second-line center over a guy with zero professional experience. It’s assumed that if Nugent-Hopkins does not win the second-line center job that he will start his career in the AHL, as Edmonton is confident in Gilbert Brule and Eric Belanger as bottom-six NHL centers. Additionally, it may benefit the kid more to play a whole season on the top line in the AHL than to play lowered minutes and miscast as a third or fourth-line NHL center.
The lower-line left wingers for Edmonton should be sophomores Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and Linus Omark. The last two right wings will likely be newly-signed 2010 Cup winner Ben Eager and 2008 Hobey Baker Award finalist Ryan Jones, whose legendary flow lost out to fellow CCHA star Kevin Porter of Michigan (Jones played all four years with Miami University, and ended the collegiate careers of my favorite class of Falcons in the 2008 CCHA playoffs).
The Oilers lineup will again be among the least experienced in the league, but not only will they have some sparse veteran leadership, they will also be able to continue to change. Together, together, together…
This is a team that is looking to grow, improve, and set themselves up for future seasons. I love coach Tom Renney and many of the players, but for the love of hockey, start Dubnyk in goal for at least 42 games (more than half).
5th: Colorado Avalanche 2010-11: 68 points, 4th in division
On paper, the Avalanche should not finish last in this division this year. On paper, they have two very good offensive centers, a bunch of huge defensemen, and two proven NHL goaltenders. The problem is that on paper they also have their management team. And while teams can overcome bad leadership on a year-to-year basis, I cannot believe the continued incompetence that’s been par for the course in Denver recently.
I know Joe Sakic’s on board now, and maybe he’ll have the same influence and success that his long-time rival, Steve Yzerman, did behind the scenes. But who can love what they’ve seen so far?
Colorado had the worst goals allowed number in the NHL last year by a staggering 19 goals (288 to Atlanta’s and Edmonton’s 269; no other gap between any two adjacent positions was even close to 19 (one was 10, the next largest was 5 GA)). They had a good goalie in Craig Anderson, but he intelligently didn’t want to be there and had all his dreams come true when he was dealt around the deadline to Ottawa, where he signed a big four-year extension. Backing up Anderson, and even inexplicably starting ahead of him for prolonged periods of time was Peter Budaj, who had numbers almost as bad as Khabibulin last year. Budaj, one of the better guys in the league, got an opportunity to continue his career as Carey Price’s backup in Montreal for the upcoming season. Brian Elliott started some games for Colorado after coming over in the Anderson trade, but really he was just an alright goalie who caught fire during a memorable winning streak for Ottawa in 2009-10.
To solve their goaltending mess, the Avalanche went out and traded for a solid young player who has charted in the top-five of peripheral categories while shouldering a smaller workload. Semyon Varlamov’s time with the Washington Capitals had clearly come to an end after they refused to play him for a single second of their embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Game 4 was the night after Game 3, and despite the quick turnaround and an 0-3 series deficit, Varlamov didn’t get a sniff. He was ready to continue his career in his native Russia until Colorado made the move for him. But it’s the price that the Avalanche paid that has everyone talking. They gave up a future first and second-round pick for the 23 year-old goalie, even though signing Varlamov to an offer sheet would have only cost them a second-round pick, and Washington almost certainly wasn’t going to match any offer sheet since they were ready to let him walk away to Russia for free. But, like I said, continued incompetence.
The Avalanche also got 2007 Stanley Cup champion and 2003 Conn Smythe winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere to join the club via free agency. Giguere and Varlamov make a very interesting 34 and 23 year-old tandem, although I’m not sure how much Varly will learn from the trophy winner. Additionally, it’s unclear as to whether Colorado even has a goalie coach, as a few in the know have reported that they do not, despite Varlamov’s belief in early July that longtime Canuck netminder Kirk McLean worked for the Avalanche. I’m not sure what to make of intra-organizational misinformation, but again, continued incompetence.
There are a couple of roster-related stats concerning the Avalanche that blew my mind. First, the team has 23 players signed to NHL contracts, but still remains nearly $3 million beneath the salary cap floor. Needless to say, Colorado stands right now as the team with the lowest payroll in the NHL. Additionally, 17 of the 23 players under contract have deals that expire at the end of the upcoming season. If this were a video game, the financial freedom would look enticing. But this is real life, and we know that the Avalanche aren’t going to score Zach Parise, Nicklas Lidstrom, Alex Semin and the rest of the 2012 free agent class like they might in a video game. So it would be interesting to know what exactly the plan is for the Avalanche moving forward. I foresee a repeat of the 2011 summer for the Florida Panthers, which is to say, sign a bunch of third-line players to laughably inflated deals in an effort to reach the cap floor because that’s what you need to do to convince players to go somewhere that cannot yield them a Stanley Cup.
Moving along, those big defenders who will skate in front of Varlamov and Giguere should be led by Ryan O’Byrne and Erik Johnson. O’Byrne has earned playing time with his efforts last season, but inevitably Johnson will be given the lion’s share of minutes due to his status as the 1st overall pick in the 2006 entry draft. Never mind the fact that the St. Louis Blues were doing jumping jacks when they were able to unload Johnson to get Av’s power forward Chris Stewart and defensive prospect Kevin Shattenkirk. Continued incompetence. In fact, that trade was so good that it prompted center Paul Stastny’s father, Peter (Hockey Hall of Famer) to weigh in on the continued incompetence of the Avalanche front office, saying they “destroyed the team.” Too bad his son is one of only six players signed beyond this year.
Along with Johnson and O’Byrne are Kyle Quincey and Ryan Wilson, who probably will be second or third-liners. Gone is John-Michael Liles, and in to replace his role is Jan Hejda from Columbus, who will skate in the top four with Johnson, O’Byrne and that fourth defenseman to be determined. Also on the roster are newcomer Shane O’Brien and Matt Hunwick, while Kyle Cumiskey continues to be a restricted free agent at this moment. The Avs have a couple young defensemen that they’d like to bring along in Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott, but it doesn’t really look like the spots are open given that the team already has seven D men signed without Cumiskey.
The forwards are headlined by centers Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene. The latter is entering his third season in the big leagues, and has scored 55 and 67 points in his two seasons thus far. Duchene was the 3rd overall draft pick in 2009 and came straight to the big club afterward. His 67 points led the team in scoring last year. Coming in second in team scoring was Stastny, who had a disappointing 57 points. It could be that the guy sees things the way his father does, but I’m just speculating as to what is almost certainly true. Stastny could make a great trade deadline acquisition for a contender that needs a top-six center, but first he has to force his way out, which might not be his style. Before we feel too bad for Stastny, he is scheduled to receive $6.6 million for each of the next three seasons, before he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2014 at the age of 28. That could be the start of Stastny’s real hockey career, if he hasn’t depressed himself out of the league by then.
Surrounding Stastny and Duchene on the wings for Colorado will likely be David Jones, Peter Mueller, Milan Hejduk and “room for error.” I think Kevin Porter (remember from the Oilers’ section of this post that Porter won the ’08 Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s best player) should get the opportunity to play top-six minutes as a left wing, but we’ll see. Jones has been solid in his four seasons with Colorado’s organization. Last year was his first full season, and Jones scored 27 goals and 18 assists in 77 games. Hejduk is the other right wing, and he played a key role in the Avalanche’s 2001 Stanley Cup victory. Yeah that’s right, he’s still playing top-six minutes, and actually acquitting himself very nicely. Mueller would normally be on one of the top two lines, but he is returning from a concussion that sidelined him for all of last season, so you never really know how ready he’ll be to play big minutes.
Aside from the six mentioned, Colorado has wingers T.J. Galiardi (from St. Louis in the trade that “destroyed the team”), Cody McLeod, Daniel Winnik and newly-signed Chuck Kobasew from Minnesota. Right wingers Brandon Yip and Joakim Lindstrom could also see time for the Avs. At center, Colorado is rounded out by Jay McClement and Ryan O’Reilly.
Colorado has the players to make the playoffs. They have the combination of youth and experience that can yield just as much or more success than any team in this division outside of Vancouver. But I’ve followed and watched closely for the last couple of years, and I find myself more on board with Peter Stastny than Avalanche brass.
Following the Boston Bruins’ hoisting of the Stanley Cup last week, many in the media were using the old clichés about teams beating talent and will beating skill.  I understand what those phrases are supposed to mean, but I think it’s a little misleading to insinuate that the Vancouver Canucks were not united, or that the Bruins lacked skill or talent.  The better team won the series.  Boston won four of the seven games.  They won their four games by 7, 4, 3 and 4 goals, respectively.  They lost their three games by one goal apiece.
I read a lot of opinions that the Canucks blew a golden opportunity.  I know on the surface it sounds nuts, but I disagree.  In fact, had the Canucks won Game 7 at home like the -150 money line said they were supposed to, it would have been the Bruins who blew the opportunity.  You see, when teams take each other seven games, it’s the team that lost games that it could have won that really has the burden of a blown opportunity.  Vancouver lost exactly zero games that it could have won, if we agree that the 4.5 goal margin equates to no opportunities, which of course it must.  Boston is the team that twice blew stellar one goal allowed efforts from MVP Tim Thomas, and tacked on an overtime loss to boot.  People can misremember this series all they want, and talk about how Vancouver really let it slip away, but the facts show that the Canucks truly almost stole the series from the Bruins, who would have had a hard time dealing with their blown opportunity.
With this said, I want to look ahead to next season to see which, if either, team can be expected to get back to the Stanley Cup finals.

Vancouver Canucks

For some time now, people have been applauding the job that Vancouver has done to build such a great roster despite the limitations of the salary cap.  While I agree that the Canucks looked rather stacked, they were a team that was really built to win in 2011.  The pieces are in place for a smooth transition into next season, but the Canucks have ten roster spots to fill in the offseason and only about $13.7 million with which to do that.  This average of $1.37 million per roster opening ranks 24th in the league.
The biggest of the big names are all back for the Canucks.  The Sedins are signed for 3 more years; Ryan Kesler is locked up for 5 more campaigns.  Manny Malhotra and Alex Burrows are entering their penultimate seasons under contract, and Mikael Samuelsson and Mason Raymond both have one more year left.  Whether or not the Canucks buy out Samuelsson’s $2.5 million contract remains to be seen, but they can probably expect some delays in production from Raymond, who is out at least four months from now after suffering that terrible injury to his back in Game 6.  The rest of Vancouver’s forwards — Maxim Lapierre, Jannik Hansen, Chris Higgins, Raffi Torres, Jeff Tambellini and Tanner Glass — are all free agents on July 1.  It should be noted that Lapierre and Hansen are RFAs, which will make it much easier for the Canucks to retain them, should they want to do so.  Remember though, only $13.7 million to go around…
The situation on the blue line really makes it clear how important the 2011 championship was to this team.  Going into the free agency period, the Canucks have Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard and Alex Edler locked up past the upcoming season.  They have Aaron Rome on retainer for this upcoming season at a discount price of $750,000, after which he will become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) if not signed to an extension beforehand.  The Canucks’ once-heralded stable of defensemen is now down to four, and one of those players is Ballard, who brings a $4.2 million cap hit for the next four seasons, and the Canucks refuse to use him in games that mean anything.
This leaves Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, Christian Ehrhoff and Andrew Alberts all as UFAs in eleven days, and again remember, there’s only $13.7 million to go around.  While the Canucks can bring some players up from the AHL at six-figure prices, there’s almost no way they can pay all of these defensemen the money that other teams will be able to offer.  I would assume that of the four listed above, the Canucks would soonest part ways with 36 year-old Salo, but just refusing to resign him doesn’t add money to that $13.7 M pool with which to pay the other three D men.  All three played well this season, but one would think that Alberts can be had at the lowest price.  The soon-to-be 30 year-old Alberts came with just over a million dollar price tag last year, and Vancouver seemed to get at least what they paid for out of him.
Bieksa and Ehrhoff, on the other hand, are coming off $3.5 and $3.4 million seasons, and at 30 and 28 years old, probably aren’t looking to make financial concessions.  Even if those two will sign for the same money, that’s 7 of the 13.7 in available funds.  Doesn’t seem likely, does it?
All the rumors are that Bieksa will be the one to leave, and while I understand that Ehrhoff is the better defenseman per se, I don’t particularly like the idea of a team known for being “soft” washing their hands of one of the few hard-nosed producers it has.  I mean all they would have to do at that point is trade Kesler for Ilya Kovalchuk, and the caricature would be complete.  But alas, the salary cap restrictions…
Even if Bieksa is allowed to walk and Vancouver brings back Ehrhoff and Alberts to add to the four blue liners under contract, there’s no denying that on its face the 2011-12 squad would be worse off just without Bieksa, let alone Salo.  The elder statesman from Finland wasn’t worth the money he got last year, but he was still an effective hockey player, usually.  Ehrhoff and Alberts would probably cost the team somewhere in the vicinity of $6 million next season, given that Ehrhoff is an outstanding player and Ballard makes $4.2 million.  This would leave $7.7 million for more defensemen and all forwards beyond the seven currently under contract.  What would solve Vancouver’s problem is finding a taker for Ballard’s contract.  While it would seem obvious that nobody could be that dumb, I assure you there always is that one moron who tilts the game in someone’s favor.  If Islanders’ owner Wang is serious about taking on more payroll, perhaps Vancouver should give Garth Snow a call.
The Canucks are set at goalie for next season, as Cory Schneider will turn in his 28 games with a 2.30 GAA, and all for less than a million bucks.  Roberto Luongo is entering his tenth-to-last year on his contract.  Gulp.
Boston Bruins

As far as the Bruins go, I was really impressed after looking at their roster entering next season.  I mean the bottom line here in Beantown is, damn near everyone is coming back!  The Bruins have five roster spots to fill, and just over $7 million to do it with.  Their average number, only one spot ahead of Vancouver’s, is $1.43 million per opening.  But the key difference is that the B’s don’t have a lot of big earners who need to be resigned.  Assuming Mark Recchi is serious about retiring, the only Boston forwards not under contract already for next season are Brad Marchand and Michael Ryder.  Marchand is due for something of a raise after his integral role in bringing home the Cup, but a raise is acceptable when the starting point was an $821k cap hit last year.  I expect the Bruins will do everything necessary to keep Marchand, and I also expect the price not to exceed $2.5 million.  Ryder is somewhat of a different story, as he banked $4 million in each of the last three seasons.  But I have a feeling he’s a guy that the Bruins will be alright parting ways with, since they must see Marchand as a more valuable piece in their efforts going forward.  Ryder is a very good talent, but he even still has lacked the consistency to justify such a large salary.  Ryder tallied 41 points in 79 regular season games.
On defense, Boston brings back five of its six Cup-winning regulars.  Only trade deadline acquisition Tomas Kaberle is a free agent, but the Bruins are likely to bring up Steven Kampfer before giving Kaberle close to half of their available offseason funds.  Whoever the sixth D man is, he will join the ring bearers Chara, Seidenberg, Ference, Boychuk and McQuaid.  To make matters better for the Bruins, only Boychuk and McQuaid are even entering their final seasons.
Like the Canucks, Boston is also bringing back its two goaltenders, Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask.  Also like the Canucks, the Bruins have around $1.4 million per player this offseason.  But unlike the western champs, Boston only has five spots to fill, and only one must-sign — Marchand.
In order to properly evaluate which team has a better chance to return to the SCF, one would have to do a similar accounting of each’s opponents, but for now, I must say that contrary to popular belief — Vancouver is an early 5 to 1 favorite to win next year’s Cup — it is the Bruins who are better set up to make it back next year.
Thanks for being patient with me over the past week.  Like my brother’s favorite, Craig Anderson, I had to avoid burnout.  I’m strongly looking forward to doing some more of these team offseason evaluations.  Feel free to join me via comments, Twitter or email.
What do you guys think?  Will either of these teams defend their conference crowns?  Will we have a rematch in 2012?  Or are we looking at new blood next year?

I want to add, I get all of these salary numbers from, and I highly recommend it for anyone desiring to know anything about player salaries, team cap restrictions, or anything related.
I remember my Game 7 day like it was yesterday.  Friday, June 12, 2009 was one of the most optimistic days of my life.  I was unemployed at the time — a result of a combination of the terrible job market and my own apathy following another year of law school — and I couldn’t have been happier.  My Red Wings were about to do the deed on the Penguins for the second straight year, and we were in for an aggressively emotional parade that was going to feel like a defense of the Motor City, much like the Eminem Chrysler commercial did during the Super Bowl a year and a half later.

What was going to stop us from having this three-month celebration, anyway?  Sure, it was Game 7, and in the past I would have been a nervous wreck over the possibility of losing, but the two teams had shown nothing to suggest a Pittsburgh win on that Friday night.  Aside from dispatching of the Penguins in six games the summer before, Detroit had won its first three home games of the series by a total score of 11-2, with no one-goal games in that stretch.  This was the scene at the end of Game 5.  The Red Wings had shown that they ran the best puck possession system in the league.  If anything, the Penguins were just a junior varsity version of the Red Wings.  That argument held up in 2008, so why not in ’09?
It was a hot and sunny day, and I felt obliged to amp up my strangely calm heart rate with about seven cups of coffee over the course of the afternoon.  I made the obligatory Sour Patch Kids run, my lone superstition applying to Red Wings home playoff games.  I made the mistake of buying them from the package, instead of hitting up a candy shop and getting my magic candies in a stock white bag, but what could that hurt?  We had this thing on lock.
At that time I was lucky enough to live far enough north to get CBC, and I will never forget Don Cherry’s intro to Game 7.  Click the link, and do not go away from it if you have not yet reached the 2:45 mark of the video.  “Nine months of war for one game.”
Then the actual game happened.  The Wings looked flat early, and found themselves trailing 2-0 after 40 minutes thanks to a pair of Max Talbot goals.  It was around that point that I realized this thing was getting away.  Sure, the Penguins lost Crosby earlier in the game, but the Red Wings were doing nothing to convince anyone that they planned on scoring any goals that night, let alone three.  All I remember are a lot of blank stares, trying to get a head start on processing the devastation that was headed my way.  This was it.  My team was going out like suckers.  Not like the defending champions that they were, but like overmatched weenies afraid to push back.
Then the third period unfolded, and the Wings outshot the Pens 8-1.  Jonathan Ericsson cut the deficit in half with just over six minutes to play, and the Wings proceeded to throw everything they could at Pittsburgh.  They decided that if they were going out, they were going out like champions.  The dream for the repeat finally collapsed when Marc-Andre Fleury stoned Nick Lidstrom from point blank range with about a second to play.  What I remember next was a mixture of pain, shock and a quickly developing sense of appreciation for what the Penguins had just done to my team.  They came into a building in which they had been beaten down three times to conclude a series that, for the second straight year, they had never led.  And they won the game without their best player.
Fleury saves. Internal crying commences. It hasn’t stopped yet.

It didn’t seem at that time that the loss was the end of the Red Wings, and until Lidstrom retires it won’t be, but we Detroit fans have spent the past two years hoping desperately for a return to that very spot.  We haven’t come close, and there appears to be a two-week window now in which Lidstrom might lock up that era of glory that ended on a Friday night in June of 2009, and throw away the key.
My advice for Canucks and Bruins fans is this:  relax, remember this moment, and enjoy the lead up and the game.  When it’s over, it’s over.  Even if your team wins, attention will soon turn to offseason moves and trying to defend what you already have.  If you lose, it will be hard to take.  But life will go on, and all the losing team can do is attempt to get right back to where they are today — on the brink.
“It’s the deep breath before the plunge.” – Mithrandir

But that’s what makes today so fun.  Everything is on a knife’s edge.  History is hanging in the balance.  It hasn’t happened yet, but it will soon, and we know it will soon.  It is very possible that as fans, your team will never get to this point again.  And even if they do, there’s no telling how you’ll feel about it as compared to this 2011 campaign.  So don’t fret about losing, and don’t pray for a win to come and go as quickly as possible.  Enjoy the game tonight, and go get your Stanley Cup.
Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals is tonight at 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT live on NBC, CBC and RDS.
On Wednesday night the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks will stage one game for the Stanley Cup, and will give all hockey fans all we could ask for: a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals.
This is even funnier now.
In this 21st century world of saturated media (I offer as evidence that I have a blog, and you’re reading it!) we seem to have become obsessed with assigning blame to teams or athletes that lose.  The word “choke” is thrown around by hate mongers to describe each and every time someone comes up a little short, even when that loser was the underdog to begin with.  Everyone’s loving Tiger Woods’ life implosion, and he is talked about more now than he was when he was winning at an incredible rate.  America rejoiced the other night when the Miami Heat had to eat the platter of excrement that they prepared for themselves when they talked about winning seven or more championships before they had ever ran a drill together (going out of your way to stick it to an entire franchise on national television didn’t garner any sympathy points either).  And as great as Roger Federer is and was, he got more chatter relating to his decline (which lasted all of 16 months, by the way) than any of his amazingly dominant grand slam runs.

Remember when Federer was “done?”

The list of examples of our obsession with piling on losers rather than celebrating winners goes on and on, but it should not see a single entry from the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs on it.  Up to this point, I believe the playoffs have played out exactly as they should have.  Obviously, there was Ilya Bryzgalov quitting on the Phoenix Coyotes, and the much maligned Sharks doing what they do, but nothing has really happened in these playoffs that loosely resembles a choke.  Even the Capitals did what they always do, which is lose early to a team that nobody foresaw beating them.  And even then, the story was predominantly Washington, not Tampa Bay.
We’ve already laid the foundation for the Roberto Luongo “choke” in Game 7, and everyone rooting against him is ready to invalidate his entire career with any loss Wednesday night.  The jokes are locked and loaded — Monday night saw the term “Roberto LeBrongo” trending worldwide on Twitter (see paragraph 2).

Today is the biggest game of Luongo’s career, again.

But as hockey people, we’ve always held ourselves to a higher standard than fans of the other big sports, so let’s do what we should do, and focus on how wonderful it is that we have this series of moments that is a Game 7 in the season’s final series.  Someone will win, and let’s focus on celebrating them, before turning our attention to next season.  Oh, and our next season will be played in a few months, unlike those other leagues.  So absorbing yourself in Game 7 won’t go without value — you’ll get to carry that backstory into this fall and pick up where you left off.

As far as who will win Game 7, nobody knows.  But Canucks MVP candidate Daniel Sedin thinks he does.  Sedin said that Vancouver will win Game 7, just as they’ve won every home game in the series so far.  Most people are doing what we do these days and calling it a guarantee just to get eyeballs and clicks, but Sedin never used that word.  All he did was say that he believes his team is going to win, and really, there’s nothing to criticize about that.  If he’s right, then maybe he will elevate his and his brother’s status in the eyes of North American hockey fans, who have long been slammed for being “soft.”  But I don’t think Daniel making these comments have anything to do with the aftermath of a Canucks win.  For one, a Canucks win make all talk and former panic irrelevant.  Also, Sedin probably feels more free to go out and make things happen knowing that he quipped the talk early and said that the team will just win the game.  It sounds obvious that he should go out and play freely and create and score goals in the biggest game of his career, but it’s not always that easy to feel free in these games.  The magnitude of big moments has restricted the weak of heart for as long as mankind has existed.  This is Sedin saying “screw it, let’s just play.”

Luongo scared? That’s not true! Come after me, I’m a man! I’m 30!

Another possible motivation for Daniel to speak out and “guarantee” a Game 7 win is that it will lead people to talk about his statement, and not Luongo’s state of mind.  This is a tactic that has been used by coaches for a while, but it’s not something we’ve seen come from the quiet Swede before.  To me, this is proof of Sedin’s continuing evolution as a hockey player and as a man.  It takes guts to make declarations prior to do-or-die games, despite the obvious reality that these statements do not really matter.  We’ve been asking for heart and grit out of the Sedin twins for a long time.  Here’s a start.  Wednesday can be something of a finish.
Regarding Luongo’s state of mind entering Game 7, there are conflicting schools of thought, and either could prove to be right.  The conventional thinking seems to be that Luongo has been money at home, and therefore should continue to be.  A dissenting opinion is that a man can only be beaten down so many times, and Game 6 solidified that the earlier beatings in Boston were no fluke.  Luongo has been pulled twice now in the finals.  Perhaps the 19-8 overall score line has Luongo shaken in the lead up to what is close to a 50/50 game for all the marbles.
But Luongo has prevailed in this situation before.  Granted, he had an amazing team in front of him for the 2010 Olympic gold medal game, but he also had exponentially more pressure on him.  This Stanley Cup run has been very important to all Vancouver Canuck fans for the last few months.  The Olympics were an all-or-nothing proposition for the host country for four years.  Luongo managed that game well, despite allowing a game-tying goal with under a minute left in regulation.  On top of that, he fared just fine in Game 5 after two shellings, and was superb in Game 7 against Chicago in the ultimate panicked negativity situation around the team.  I wouldn’t expect another yanking of Luongo in Game 7.
A better reason that Luongo and the Canucks won’t bring home the Cup is the man in the other crease.  Tim Thomas has had one of the most outstanding goaltending seasons in recent memory, and he only upped his game for the Stanley Cup finals.  By all accounts, Thomas already has the Conn Smythe Trophy wrapped up.  There’s no reason he shouldn’t, as both teams are 15-9 through 24 postseason games thus far.  If Thomas is the unanimous MVP through 24 games, what could happen in the 25th to turn that on its head?  Nothing, and Thomas should bring home the hardware tomorrow.  The only question is whether he will do it Giguere style.  He, and Bruins nation, hopes not.

Tim Thomas wants no part of a J.S. Giguere dichotomy tonight.

Besides the goaltenders, one key for both teams is to be aggressive and not find themselves trying to counterpunch.  I think both teams will come out assertive, but Boston probably has the bodies to do it a little bit better.  While the Bruins don’t have Nathan Horton up front, they still have Chara, Lucic and the rest of the lumberjacks to bend some wills.  And speaking of Horton, how cool was it to see him at the glass swinging a towel and rooting on his teammates?  

Thank the Lord I’m somewhere that cares.
You think that guy loves finally being on a competitive hockey team after wasting the first six years of his career in South Beach?
But the Canucks won’t let the B’s come into their own building and shove them around.  I expect Vancouver to bang as much as Boston, and that’s another reason I have no problem with Daniel Sedin saying the Canucks will win.  If anything, it should galvanize the team.  Makes you wonder if the right Sedin is looking to become the second european captain to ever win the Stanley Cup (Lidstrom ’08).
I don’t think Boston has to do much differently to win the Stanley Cup in Game 7.  They’ve been in every game this series, dropping all three losses by one goal.  We know Thomas and the rest of the Bruins’ vets are going to show up.  It just comes down to who executes better and gets some breaks.  One positive thing the Bruins have going for them is the power play disparity in the series.  Vancouver, who brought a 28.8% power play success rate into the finals, is sputtering at 6.5% in the finals.  Boston, on the other hand, couldn’t throw in a power play goal leading up to the finals.  But the Bruins have bucked the trend and rolled at a 19.2% clip against the Canucks.
Moving onto strategy, one thing I would do if I was Vancouver is roll out Dan Hamhuis.  I know he’s probably very hurt, and it seems unlikely that the defenseman will play in Game 7.  But if he can skate, he needs to play.  Ryan Kesler has been doing it the whole series.  The only question really is, who gives you more, Hamhuis or rookie Chris Tanev?  That’s a rhetorical question, and therefore I just can’t see how Hamhuis would be held out of this one if he can give the Canucks even 12 minutes of pain-impaired but responsible hockey.  What do they have to worry about, next year, when they might not have a home game to win the ultimate prize?

Guess who’s feeling better Wednesday morning

Another question for Vancouver is who will replace winger Mason Raymond, who fractured a vertebra in Game 6.  By all reports, Raymond’s injury is a vicious one, and I hope he can get through his time of pain.  He is listed as out for at least four months.  It seems that CCHA product Jeff Tambellini would be the most likely replacement, although coach Vigneault has not indicated his Game 7 roster at this moment.
With all of this said, let’s realize again that these two teams have given us everything that we ask for as sports fans.  Both teams have given it everything in taking it to the final game, all while playing as collectively hurt as they’ve been in their hockey careers.  Wednesday will be the 107th game for each team this season, and it will be that magical seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals.
In many ways, we’ve become spoiled with these Game 7s in the Cup finals.  This will be the sixth Game 7 in the finals since the turn of the millennium.  The home team won the first four, before the Penguins prevailed in Joe Louis Arena in 2009 in the single most painful loss of my adult sports life.  But these games are a treat.  Just ask anyone who watched hockey from 1966 to 2000, only to see three such spectacles in those 35 seasons.  And so the moral of the story is this: enjoy the hell out of this Game 7 between the two most deserving teams in the league, and don’t pile on the loser; instead, celebrate the winner.  Not much more to say, good luck to all parties, and let’s have a great game.  Can’t wait to look ahead to the offseason.
The Stanley Cup will be in Boston tonight, but the Bruins intentions are to keep it in its case and next day air it back to Vancouver.
The Vancouver Canucks are looking to win the first road game in these Stanley Cup finals in Game 6 tonight.  If they are successful, the Stanley Cup will be theirs.  We’ve seen this same situation in Game 6 of the finals the past three years, with Detroit and Chicago clinching the Cup on the road in 2008 and ’10.  If the same result happens tonight, the Canucks will win the game’s biggest prize for the first time in the franchise’s 40 seasons.  Conversely, the Penguins stayed alive at home in 2009 before hitting the road and winning the Cup in Detroit in Game 7.  Boston will want to channel that black and yellow home ice success tonight.
Everybody has an opinion, but nobody knows what will happen tonight.  Here’s one thing I’m thankful for: that Dirk Nowitski and the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA title last night.  Before my hockey readers get upset, here’s two reasons why.  First, and most obviously, they beat the jerks that are Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.  But second, and more importantly for the NHL, the NBA finals are over.  Tonight, the sports world gets to fully turn its attention to Boston for what could be the last game of the season.  There’s no “superfight” of a Miami Heat game 7 to worry about (yes, NBA playoff games are “games;” NHL playoff games are “Games”).  All of the casual fans will be locked into Game 6 tonight, and if necessary, Game 7 on Wednesday night in Vancouver.  There’s no quantifying how important it is for the NHL that the biggest and most polarizing story in the NBA in decades is now over, or at least on hold for a while.

Photo courtesy
Dirk Nowitski is excited to bring you an uninterrupted game or two of the Stanley Cup Finals. You’re welcome, world.
As far as tonight’s game goes, anybody can point to any stat they want to make their case for which team will win.  For Boston, there’s the fact that they outscored Vancouver 12-1 in their two home games, and have won nine of ten games at home since dropping the first two games of the playoffs to Montreal.  There’s the resiliency that the Bruins have shown with their backs against the wall in two Game 7s just to get to this point.  But, then there’s the fact that the man who scored the game-winning goals in both of those Game 7s, Nathan Horton, is not walking through that door, at least not this season.
Photo courtesy
Nathan Horton: Not Walking Through That Door

For Vancouver, there’s no reason not to be confident tonight.  Sure, they fared terribly in Boston last week, but it’s a new day, and funny things happen when championship trophies are in the building.  I mean honestly, did anybody think Miami wasn’t winning that game last night?  As far as actual on-ice results go, the Canucks can look to the fact that they finally may have figured out their post-Hamhuis/Rome defensive lineup, as rookie Chris Tanev joined the lineup as the sixth D man, relegating Keith Ballard back to the bench.  The result was Roberto Luongo’s second 1-0 home shutout of the series, and thus we can probably expect the same six on the blue line tonight for Vancouver.  Hamhuis travelled with the team, but that was a foregone conclusion, seeing as they might be skating with the Cup tonight.  He is listed as out for tonight’s Game 6.
Photo courtesy
Luongo won’t win the Vezina this year,
but he hopes to raise the Stanley Cup.

Photo courtesy Getty Images
Thomas will win his second Vezina, but
hopes to avoid being awarded the Conn
Smythe Trophy for Playoff MVP — at least
not tonight.

What do you guys think will happen tonight?  Will Vancouver finally win the most coveted prize in hockey, or is this thing going back west for a Game 7?  And in the event of a Canuck win tonight, is Tim Thomas still the Conn Smythe winner?  I would have to say yes.