Radim Vrbata unanimous choice as Canucks MVP: Sun writers

 

Chris Tanev, Alex Edler both worthy of best defenceman honours

 
 
 
 
Radim Vrbata #17 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates after scoring a goal against Winnipeg Jets in NHL action on March, 24, 2015 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
 

Radim Vrbata #17 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates after scoring a goal against Winnipeg Jets in NHL action on March, 24, 2015 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

Photograph by: Rich Lam, Getty Images

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The Vancouver Canucks team awards will be announced next Saturday night when the club plays its final game of the regular season against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Arena.

Last season — you remember last season, don’t you? — it was difficult to pick a winner in some categories as the team limped to the finish line to complete a miserable campaign that cost both general manager Mike Gillis and head coach John Tortorella their jobs.

This season, it’s difficult for another reason — the Canucks’ solid regular season means there are a number of players who deserve consideration for the four main awards.

Below, Sun hockey writers Iain MacIntyre, Elliott Pap and Brad Ziemer make their selections for most valuable player, best defenceman, most exciting player and unsung hero.

As a refresher, last season’s winners were: Ryan Kesler (MVP), Dan Hamhuis (top defenceman), Zack Kassian (most exciting player) and Eddie Lack (unsung hero).

IAIN MACINTYRE

MVP: Radim Vrbata

Some players, glimpsed from a distance two or three times a year on other teams, lose their lustre when viewed every day. Vrbata is actually a better player when seen up close. Sure, he’s the best pure finisher the Canucks have had since Markus Naslund. But he checks too, is terrific with teammates and makes players around him better. His ability to keep scoring after head coach Willie Desjardins moved him off the Sedins’ line deepened the Canucks’ offence. Oh, and the team is only 20-4-4 when he scores. The best free agent $10 million can buy.

Top Defenceman: Chris Tanev and Alex Edler

I’m naming Tanev and Edler co-winners of the top defenceman award because, as with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, their sum value exceeds their individual value. Tanev just doesn’t make mistakes in his own zone, and that dependability has helped free Edler to be confident with the puck and have a huge bounce-back season — going from minus-39 last year to plus-12 heading into the Canucks’ Saturday nooner in Winnipeg. They play against every team’s top line and usually win the matchup.

Most Exciting Player: Bo Horvat

For the first two months of the season, the most exciting thing about Bo Horvat was his age. The Canucks hadn’t had a 19-year-old play a regular stretch of games for them since Ryan Kesler in 2003-04. But Horvat did something more impressive than merely sticking as a 19-year-old: he grew faster, stronger and more confident and since the all-star break has been Vancouver’s fourth-leading scorer. It has been inaccurate for a while to call him the fourth-line centre. In a few years, Horvat will be spelled with a C.

Unsung Hero: Yannick Weber

I would say Jannik Hansen, but he’s not unsung anymore, and I just named Tanev my co-top defenceman. So my unsung hero is Yannick Weber, who was the seventh defenceman when the season began and was still clinging to NHL employment when a crush of mid-winter injuries took three top-four blue-liners out of the lineup. Weber not only played, but joined Dan Hamhuis on a makeshift top pairing and flourished as Vancouver survived the health crisis. Weber is embedded in the lineup now.

BRAD ZIEMER

MVP: Radim Vrbata

Was there a better free-agent signing last summer than Vrbata? The classy 33-year-old Czech is finishing off a brilliant regular season and leads the team with 31 goals. Vrbata not only helped kickstart a rebound season for Henrik and Daniel Sedin, he continued to produce when he was moved off the top line and lately has helped re-energize new linemates Nick Bonino and Chris Higgins. He leads the team with 12 power-play goals.

Top Defenceman: Alex Edler

The Canucks desperately needed a bounce-back year from Edler, who suffered through a miserable 2013-14 campaign under former head coach John Tortorella. Edler has given them just that. He leads the team in ice time, averaging 24 minutes a night, and has formed one of the NHL’s best defensive pairings with the steady Chris Tanev. Edler’s plus-minus has gone from a team- and NHL-worst minus-39 last season to a team-best plus-12 this season.

Most Exciting Player: Jannik Hansen

He hasn’t finished many of them, but Hansen surely leads the Canucks in breakaways this season. The speedy Dane has enjoyed another solid season and has been a settling influence on what has become a highly effective line with rookies Bo Horvat and Ronalds Kenins. With 15 goals, Hansen is just one shy of matching his career high and he has been a consistent contributor on Vancouver’s highly ranked penalty-kill unit.

Unsung Hero: Derek Dorsett

There are a number of players who fit this category and that’s a sign of a good team. We’ve decided to go with Dorsett, who has brought exactly what general manager Jim Benning wanted when he traded a third-round pick to the New York Rangers to get him. Dorsett is as tenacious as a wolverine. He is top three in the NHL this season in both fights and overall penalty minutes and most of his opponents have been bigger. Through all that physical play, Dorsett has managed to chip in a career-high 25 points.

ELLIOTT PAP

MVP: Radim Vrbata

At age 33, who knew what to expect from Radim (rhymes with dream) Vrbata? He had spent much of his career in the relative anonymity of Phoenix and Carolina with a little bit of Colorado, Chicago and Tampa thrown in. All he has done is lead the team in goals, power-play goals, game-winning goals and, in March, all kinds of clutch points, both goals and assists.

Top Defenceman: Chris Tanev

He doesn’t pound people physically, fight, or score much, so what makes him so valuable? He is one-half of the all-important shutdown pairing alongside Alex Edler. He’s an integral part of the Canucks’ excellent penalty kill, he makes superb first passes out of the zone and he blocks shots. As a bonus, he’s helped turn partner Edler back into a front-line defenceman again after the latter’s disastrous minus-39 campaign under John Tortorella.

Most exciting player: Radim Vrbata

He doesn’t possess the speed of the Russian Rocket — like, who does? — but when the puck is on Vrbata’s stick, there is no one more exciting on the Canucks. Will he shoot? Will he deke? Will he fake the shot, and dish the puck to a linemate? How about the bounce pass to Nick Bonino in the 2-1 win over the L.A. Kings? Or the shootout clincher in Nashville? Pretty good stuff. This Czech has been pure money.

Unsung Hero: Bo Horvat

Maybe we have sung the praises of the Canucks’ prize rookie a little too much to call him unsung. But we’re still going with Bo. From his faceoff work to his surprising double-digit goal total to his penalty killing and speed on the attack, Horvat has added a badly needed element to the Canucks’ lineup.

 
 
 
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Radim Vrbata #17 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates after scoring a goal against Winnipeg Jets in NHL action on March, 24, 2015 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
 

Radim Vrbata #17 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates after scoring a goal against Winnipeg Jets in NHL action on March, 24, 2015 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

Photograph by: Rich Lam, Getty Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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