In honour of the country that gave us The Pogues, Guinness and Yeats, we offer a belated St. Patrick’s Day version of the musings and meditations on the world of sports. Slainte.
The beauty of the Vancouver Canucks’ swoon — and, sorry, 5-6-4 over their last 15 games constitutes a swoon — is you can point to just about any area of the team as the cause of the problem.
Want to pin this one on head coach Alain Vigneault? That’s easy enough to do. Target GM Mike Gillis? Again, not a problem.
The goaltending? As colleague Steve Simmons points out, the Canucks have $9.3 million tied up in Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider and the Leafs have $2.3 million invested in James Reimer and Ben Scrivens, who both have superior save percentages.
The defence? The Canucks have sunk just over $23 million in their blueline, which is one of the higher totals in the league. Suffice to say their play doesn’t reflect that level of investment.
Forwards, you ask? Of the 12 forwards who played against Detroit on Sunday, six had combined for seven goals this season. One of those, David Booth, is now out for the foreseeable future and it speaks volumes that the Canucks will miss his one goal and two assists because they don’t have a lot of other options.
Add it all up and you might argue that one or two of these points are overly critical, but you can’t argue about the overall effect. Heading into Saturday night’s nationally televised tilt with the Detroit Red Wings, the Canucks had a little momentum and a chance to make a clear statement about the direction of their team.
Instead they looked flat and fragile against a Wings’ squad that was playing its third game in four nights. With back-to-back home games coming up against Minnesota on Monday and St. Louis on Tuesday we’ll know soon enough if that performance was just one of those nights.
Unfortunately, it looked like something far more serious.
More good news. The Hockey News Future Watch has the Canucks’ group of prospects ranked 29th among the 30 NHL teams and not one Canuck property was named in the top 50.
That’s enough of a concern, but the real story will be when the bill comes due for their record at the draft table. If you’re looking for a comparable, look at the Calgary Flames’ draft record from 2004 to 2009, then look at the Flames now.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Talked to a senior hockey man last week who’s already lamenting the direction the game is heading under the new CBA.
Here’s why. While the NHL gained some huge concessions, they failed to bring in a system that limits the players’ leverage going into their second contract. This week, 21-year-old Phoenix defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson signed a six-year, $33-million deal. The week before it was 22-year-old Colorado centre Ryan O’Reilly and his two-year, $10-million contract. Earlier in the year, it was 23-year-old Dallas forward Jamie Benn signing for five years and $26.5 million.
OK, the circumstances were different in each case. But the common denominator is all three players jumped from their entry-level deals to star-level money, and that’s not a healthy development for the game. It puts huge pressure on teams to lock up their good young players or risk losing them in the peak of their careers.
It’s also clogged up the trade market. If the player with the long-term deal is productive, you don’t want to trade him. If he isn’t, you can’t.
The NHL sacrificed half this season to get a CBA that makes the owners more money. But the system around that money remains as flawed as ever.
Finally, the Raptors’ Andrea Bargnani is far from the worst first overall pick over the last 30 years (see Michael Olowokandi, Kwame Brown), but his failure highlights the cruel randomness of the NBA draft.
Picking first, you have a better than 50-50 shot at landing an all-star and a better than one-in-three shot at a Hall-of-Famer. The Raptors, of course, got neither when they took Bargnani in 2006 (other first overalls around that time: LeBron, ’03, Dwight Howard, ’04; Derrick Rose, ’08, Blake Griffin, ’09) and that killed their program.
You generally only get the opportunity to pick first once in a generation and you’d better make it count. Sadly, the Raptors didn’t.
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