The World Hockey Summit started in Toronto Monday. With it came a meeting of many of the greatest minds in the sport, all at one event, talking about ways to innovate & improve the game.
Of course, men's hockey will dominate much of the talk as expected. However, the great minds of the sport will also talk seriously about the women's game. In fact its such a notable topic of discussion at these meetings, that on the summits official website http://www.worldhockeysummit.com/ it was women's hockey & their need for a pro league that is the 1st story shown before the event opened Monday.
Attention to the women's game is high right now. With comments from IOC dinosaur Jacques Rogge back during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics suggesting the women's hockey tournament could be dropped from the games... despite it growing internationally, advocates & critics alike jumped on the words of the IOC boss.
Of course critics were quick to point out how its "always the U.S. & Canada" in the championship games. Sadly, this is the ONLY argument this side of poorly informed, and frankly, outdated neanderthals can really make about the women's game, so they cling onto it desperately like the last lifeboat leaving a sinking ship.
Its true, the women's game has been dominated by the Canadian & American girls. They have won every World Championship, Olympic Championship & major tournament that has had both nations in it since the inaugural World Womens Hockey Championships back in 1990.
Its also true that at this past Olympics, the other countries, most notable Sweden & Finland, the "next two" in women's hockey seemed to take a step backwards in their development. At the 2006 Olympics there was hope on the horizon of the next tier of teams closing the gap after a shocking silver medal performance by Sweden. However since then, the Nordic countries seem to have taken a step backwards again. Sweden even managed to be bumped out of any medal game at the 2008 Worlds when Switzerland upset them and went on to a 4th place finish.
Going into the 2010 games, Finland seemed to be making waves & showed signs of maybe being the contender to put a scare in the mega-powers this time around. they had earned a win over the U.S. in a tournament last summer. Sweden had a win over Canada the year prior. They might seem like baby steps, but this was the largest chinks in the impressive North American armour yet. It looked like the Nordic countries were going to be some type of threat at the Olympic games.
Instead of a closing of the gap, the gap seemed to be widened to levels not seen in a few years. With a 13-1 win over Sweden & a 5-0 win over Finland, Canada had run the European contenders right out of the buildings by a combined 18-1 total. USA had a similar romp of them, beating Sweden 9-1 and Finland 6-0 for a total of 15-1. The North Americans had beat the top 2 Euro teams 33-2 All the anti-women's hockey crowd agreed, women's hockey should go.
On the other side of the coin, the advocates of the game. The level headed group that realizes great strides had been made...and whom had some pretty strong defense of the women's game, when compared to the feeble beginnings of the mens game. You see, the men were themselves, a little lopsided in those early years...infact, they were even worse.
In the 1st Olympics in 1920. Canada won gold by a combined score of 29-1 in 3 games. USA was second with a combined score of 52-2 (including a 16-0 win over Czechoslovakia in the silver medal game). Canada won games of 15-0 over Czechoslovakia & 12-1 over Sweden in that tournament. USA had similar domination with a 7-0 win over the Swedes, and 16-0 over the Czechs. Not to mention a 29-0 win over Switzerland. A country that would win 2 bronze medals in the first 6 Olympics. Two countries that now, are considered medal contenders every games, Sweden & Czech Republic, have won the last three Olympic gold medals that werent put around the necks of Canadian players. Imagine if Jacques Rogge was IOC bigwig in 1920. Hockey might have been scrapped. The development of the game in the now Czech Republic, Sweden, as well as Slovakia, Finland, Russia, Switzerland and many other countries might never have taken off...at the very least, it would have been stunted considerably.
By 1924 it wasnt even a challenge anymore. Canada would go to Gold again, this time with an insane goals for-against total of 85-0 in the group A round. Wins of 22-0 over Sweden, 30-0 over Czechoslovakia and 33-0 over Switzerland would surely have made Mr. Rogges blood boil if he were in charge. The U.S. only managed a 52-0 group b score. In there was a saddening 11-0 win over Great Britain, the team who would go on to win the bronze. The 4th place team in the tourney, Sweden, lost by scores of 20-0 and 22-0 in the medal round to Canada & the U.S. The gold medal Canadians had a goal for-against tally of 132-3 in the entire event. I mean really, why even have the games? Its clear these other countries will never level the playing field. USA is so strong, and Canada is even stronger. Clearly no one will stop them for many years.
That being said, in the 3rd Olympics. Canada ONLY won by a total of 38-0 in 3 games to take the gold. Sweden managed to keep the route to only 11-0 this time.
The 4th tournament, with only 4 teams, including 2 that had never medaled in a games prior, had fairly competitive games. Only Poland, who finished 4th lost a game by double digits, and only once did it happen, to Canada 10-0.
By the time the 5th Olympics rolled around. Teams were finally starting to catch up. Canada won their group a round easily, but with only a 24-3 score it was clear the lesser teams were now defending them better & had improved their scoring some. USA had it even tougher, finishing 2nd in their group to Germany, with only a 5-2 Goal for against total. It was in this tournament that Canada would lose its first ever game...and it wasnt to the Americans as you might have thought. Great Britain would beat Canada, not once, but TWICE. Sending Canada to a silver medal for its first time ever, the Americans went home with the bronze.
Not once was the idea of killing mens hockey at the Olympics considered back then. They were given time to develop the game & let competition between elite & poorer countries continue as one of the ways to improve & promote the game to the struggling nations that were still just learning the sport. There are now ranked countries by the IIHF in Mexico (32), Australia (34), South Africa (42), Mongolia (46) & United Arab Emirates (47) in mens hockey. Would ANY of these countries be playing, and recognized by the IIHF without the game being on the Olympic stage for all these years?? I doubt it.
This year, the women's game should have been celebrating all its accomplished. They had an Olympic year. The CWHL, 1 of 2 major women's hockey leagues based in Canada (along with the WWHL out west) had the first ever draft in a womens major league, and to top it off Angela James & Cammi Granato will be inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame this fall. Marking the first time women have been inducted to the HHOF as players.
Yet all the narrow-minded, sexist, money grubbing & greed based IOC can think of is, getting rid of an event because of a current competition disparity. In beach volleyball, the U.S. and Brazil have 7 golds, 5 silvers and 3 bronze between them in the 8 total events that have ever been played in that sport at the Olympics. No crying for it to be pulled. Yet it seems pretty clear, they are more than dominant in the sport. I guess its more acceptable to allow a sport to stay when 1 of the countries benefiting is a country that is somewhat of a 3rd world country. I guess it also helps when the girls in that sport take to the court in bikinis. Suddenly, competitive imbalance can be overlooked.
Hey IOC, if you want a more competitive women's tournament, I have a novel idea you will not be fans of...but it will likely work. Invest some of that obscene wealth that WE, the paying public helped line your organization with into the sport. Go to the next tier of countries & put money into their programs, make it a viable option for coaches & trainers to work in outside of Canada & the U.S.A. Stop putting all the onus on the athletes & teams to figure the problem out. Take some of the responsibility on yourselves. If you want Finland or Sweden to have a legitimate shot at standing ontop of the podium in 4 or 8 years, make their programs more stable. Give Switzerland, Slovakia, Russia and other countries a boost.
The blame doesnt go solely on the IOC's shoulders though. They get the brunt, because they made the idiotic statement. But they arent alone in this.
The IIHF does little to boost the other countries programs either. Sure, they help some, and legitimately, they probably are the largest contributors. But at the end of the day Canada & the U.S. are still probably getting more financial & resource help than the other countries. right? Right. Its also unbelievable how much the IIHF puts into mens hockey, a sport that runs off the efforts of multi-millionaire athletes compared to women's hockey, a sport run off the efforts of people who work non-hockey related jobs to pay the bills. I realize the men make you more money at the end of the day...but, they are also going to miss it the least. So take some of their earning power & invest it where its needed....in the women's game. I doubt at the end of the day Martin Brodeur, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin or Ryan Kesler will be crying if they learned you took 25-50% of the income made off the mens tourneys and invested it into the women's game. The IIHF isnt going to go broke by taking some of its resources and putting it into an entire gender inside the sport. What are you afraid of IIHF? People might like the sport & it will start to chip into the mens popularity?? Dont worry, mens hockey will certainly always be king...at least for my lifetime. But instead, you could have TWO marketable, highly profitable products, instead of 1. All it takes, is some time, some effort, and some of that mountain of money you are sitting on.
Team Canada & Team USA. You both are funded by very well to do organizations. NEITHER OF YOU is going broke anytime soon. How about giving your competition a boost to get going?? Or are you afraid of competition? I get it, winning is better, its all that matters blah blah blah. I get that. I was a competitive athlete at one time, and I certainly didnt like losing. But at the end of the day, whats the sense of being the best at something if no one else cares??? Do you really want to be proud of being the best? Well, make better competitors. Give yourself legitimate, steady competition. If you give other countries help, sure, the pocketbook is thinner on your end...but lets be honest, what really are you in danger of losing financially?? So you might not be able to hire a 4th media relations consultant. Oh boo hoo. You already have too many suits roaming around the team with no necessary purpose already.
The NHL. All we hear of is how business is on the up & up since you royally raped your entire fanbase 6 years ago. There is the legitimate chance another lockout will happen soon. Its possible there may be another year without hockey because your egos cant be put aside. Heres an idea, that works on 2 levels. Invest in the women's league(s). The NBA has deep fingers into the WNBA, why cant the NHL act the same way? It is another way to market your game too. Dont be shocked to hear there NHL PR department, but some people are still mad at you and arent going to your games, despite still going to hockey games in other leagues. You want to win some over... start being notable contributors to those leagues...and the women's league is a good place to start. Get some NHL owners on board as owners in the league, and cross-promote. Who knows, when the big boys have a temper tantrum next lock out because you wont allow 45 year long contracts and are willing to sit for an entire season again, the ladies might be able to fill that gap for the fans... and you, the NHL, could get some financial kickback from the upswing in the attendance.
Other countries hockey federations, you are disappointing. Sure, you are not as rich as Canada and the U.S. We get it, funds are limited. But that doesnt mean you cant make stronger women's teams still.... hell, in some of the cases where your mens team is soft & the womens team isnt, maybe its time to put your efforts heavier into the women's program. Countries like Finland, Sweden, Russia, Switzerland and China had the same or better rankings at the Olympics with their women's teams than their mens...why not reward them for doing better by raising the level of support?? In fact, only Slovakia in the women's tourney had a lower rank than on the mens side...and considering Slovakia came into the Olympics ranked 15th in the IIHF women's rankings, I would say they performed quite well. Kazhakstan and Japan are both ranked in the top 10 in women's hockey, and are far away after thoughts in mens hockey...why not build those programs over your mens teams?? Great Britain 18th in women's, 23rd in mens. Your mens program IS NOT making an Olympics anytime soon...but the women's team..maybe with more focus on them, they could make it 2 Olympics from now. I have seen websites for teams in Britain in women's leagues...theres obviously an interest in the sport there, GROW IT!.
NHL players. Yes, that group of millionaire hockey players who so often talk in interviews of the love they have of the game still and how great they thought it all was growing up playing for free. Guess what, the women still do play for practically free. If even 2 players from each countries team invested even 2% of their contract annually to their opposite sexes teams programs, that would help considerably. I suspect at the end of the day the Finnish Women's team could find a good use for a few bucks from the likes of Teemu Selanne, Olli Jokinen or Sami Salo, each of whom hasnt made less than a million bucks in a season since the lockout. Do the NHL Swedes really think their female counterparts would object if Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Lidstrom or Henrik Lundqvist put some of the ridiculous fortunes they are sitting on, into their program to help strengthen it? I know its absurd to expect Jaromir Jagr to do anything that doesnt immediately benefit him, but maybe Tomas Kaberle or Dominik Hasek could help boost the Czech women's program, as well Mark Streit could give the Swiss women's team a boost, while maybe Marian gaborik or Marian Hossa could use some of their obscene wealth to help the Slovakian girls improve on their monumental 8th place showing last Olympics. Hockey players are supposedly the nice guys, the charitable types... yet at the end of the day, how much help do they give to the women's game? Dozens of current & former NHLers have sisters, daughters and wives who did or are playing the sport competitively. How hard is it to stand up & be proud of your family & put your money behind them??
The media also has a role in this. I so often see a story on women's hockey make a publication, and they never follow it up. Its a 1 off. Only time it makes the scoresheet in the paper or on TV is at the Olympics, or here in Canada, a World championship/4 Nations Cup maybe. We arent expecting you to know every women's player, from superstar to 4th liners over night. We are just asking, you pay attention and give it as much attention as other leagues you talk about in far more depth. The AHL and CHL teams get considerable attention by their local media outlets and even national broadcasters. The women's leagues however... rarely see the light of day in the papers, and even less often on the national broadcasters. Why? Some will say its because those mens leagues are more popular...and perhaps thats so..but thats also years of experience & marketing that give them that boost in that area. When Roller Hockey first got its own major league, it got play in all the local papers, it was always in the scoresheets, and it was covered well in The Hockey News. Where is/was that same respect for the NWHL, WWHL or CWHL over the years?? Time to stop acting like an old boys club & start expanding your wheelhouse of leagues you cover to include the women's game.
This last Olympics, Canada won Gold in both mens & women's hockey. USA was silver in both. Finland was bronze in both. I dare anyone to go up to the likes of Hayley Wickenheiser, Angela Ruggeiro or Noora Raty and tell them the medals they earned werent that impressive because the competition isnt there. I talked to some of the girls after the tourney, and there was a common statement on why the girls, on both the winning, and losing sides, thought the skill level between USA & Canada seemed to suddenly surge ahead again after the Nordic countries being so close just several months earlier... TIME. The Swedes & Finns didnt have the same amount of time together, as the Canadians and Americans did. They certainly didnt have the funding to hold the in depth camps those two countries did...and it showed at the end. Its entirely possible that Canada and the U.S. won the Gold & Silver medals solely because of money & having the time to gel as 1 group. Why cant Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and other countries get that same oppourtunity?? Because groups like the IOC, IIHF, NHL, NHL Players & their countries organizations arent willing to help even a playing field that is clearly tilted.
I am trying to wrap my head around when the IOC turned from an organization who was there to help promote & grow sports, to an organization who only cares about whether something is popular or if several countries already have well developed teams? Its absurd to think that they would drop women's hockey from the Winter Olympics, considering how thin those games are on events... but, this is the same committee who axed softball & baseball recently from the summer games.... so suddenly, the lunacy of dropping a marquee winter event doesnt seem so crazy with them.
I doubt my logical rant will make too many waves and be the catalyst for making the women's game grow quickly overnight. I dont think its going to be read aloud at the summit obviously.. I mean for one, I take too many shots at too many people. Odds are everyone there falls into 1 of the groups I just criticized. I will probably find myself here a year or more from now angrily stating the same things again. Afterall, I have said them before without anyone listening. I am hopeful someone will be at the summit, who has a thought maybe something close to mine, that will get to voice that thought to the panel. Maybe that thought will even snowball into an idea that will eventually start helping make changes to the women's game. I am hopeful, but I wont hold my breath. Because everytime I think the game is about to take large steps forward, it doesnt. Its so often just on the cusp, but it doesnt get that big push over that it needs. Maybe things will be different this time though. It is after all a big step to at least be a topic at the summit this time.
Well, the 2009-10 Vancouver Canucks season is over. Frankly, it was not that large of a shock to me, but still stings anyways. We were playing a team that had equal or stronger talent up front, far superior defense & had a goalie who had better stats than Luongo in most categories. Yet still, there is that feeling this team should have done better.
A lot of the Canucks sudden ending came at the hands of some of its most reliable players thru the regular season. Guys like Kesler, Demitra, Burrows, Raymond and Ehrhoff who were stable & even at times exceeding their expectations pretty much vanished come playoff time. A parade to the penalty box did not help their cause much either. But the non-efforts of some of their biggest players was more concerning to me.
I think a lot can be said of a teams effort when guys like Kyle Wellwood, Jannik Hansen & Shane O'Brien might have put up the best efforts on the team in the game that mattered the most, the final one. No desperation or "we MUST show up now" effort seemed to ever show up in guys like Kesler, Raymond or others.
The same "we can overcome anything" mentality the Canucks had used all season in their late game come from behind victories, the same mentality they even displayed against the Kings a round earlier was non-existant in the Hawks series. Chicago outscored the nucks 11-3 in the 3rd period of this series, they beat them all three times in GM Place, where the Canucks had a 30-8-3 record this season. The Chicago Blackhawks schooled the Canucks in the building they had schooled so many teams this year, the way they had schooled so many teams this year.
Over the next few days, a variety of excuses will come to the surface for sure. "This player was playing with this injury" will be common. but lets face it, does anyone for a second doubt the Hawks players are not also banged up & playing thru adversity? Seriously? With the exception of Sami Salo, who truthfully probably shouldnt have played in the last game, but kudos to him for doing it, no one on the team really has a severe enough injury that they can say that was the reason for the sudden drop off in productivity. Aches & pains are expected in a playoff fight. If it was TOO serious, they wouldnt have been able to play thru it as is. So, an injury really is a thin excuse, not a reason, for a drop off in productivity. Yet fans will eat it up when it comes out that this player & that player were fighting thru a really irritating flea bite or a *GASP* an itchy beard. But seriously, things like shoulder, knee & back injuries in the playoffs are going to be suggested. So, either the Canucks palyers are less able to fight thru adversity, or the entire Hawks franchise were playing in Iron Man suits.
The blame of this season ending on the same day as it did the year before does not solely fall on the players shoulders though. Coach Alain Vigneault (aka- the 2nd best coach in the series) without question shoulders some of the blame. His irrational coaching decisions thru the series were without question as much of the problem as the players wearing the jerseys.
AV took Mikael Samuelsson, who was still producing with the twins, off the Sedin line. Replacing him was offensively invisible (and a major reason for the Canucks game 3 loss after a penalty of idiotic levels which caused the 3rd goal) Alex Burrows. He seemingly rewarded one of the teams least effective stars with a promotion to the top line. This was after Burrows caused the team to not only lose a great scoring opportunity off an icing call with the Sedin line coming out against a tired Hawks line by taking a penalty, but was also at a time that the player in question had ONE playoff goal (not including an irrelevant empty netter against the Kings) in his last 15 playoff games. This is compounded when you realize that till the 3rd period of Game 6, Burrows was more or less the Sedins linemate. For the record, he scored ZERO goals with that promotion (not including an irrelevant empty netter). Burrows has 1 playoff goal (not including 2 empty netters) in 18 consecutive playoff games, got promoted to the top line, where Samuelsson was still producing...BY ALAIN VIGNEAULT!!
The same coaching decisions were evident in round 1 when Andrew Alberts (granted he settled down later in the playoffs) was possibly the worst player on all 16 teams in the playoffs at the time, kept getting chance after chance despite continually blowing it. Odd part was that double A had shown no signs during his short regular season time here to believe he warranted multiple chances. The same Vigneault demoted the teams top goal scorer to the 3rd line after he had slight slump where he only scored 1 goal in 2 1/3 games. Top goal scorer in the playoffs, demoted 2 lines for a slump that even Conn Smythe trophy winners are bound to go thru during a playoffs. Pathetic.
Then comes Vigneaults decisions between the pipes. Roberto Luongo is an elite goalie, no question....when hes on. When he isnt on, its scary though. He clearly was not "on" at home, yet AV kept going back to him & in fact, he went to back-up Andrew Raycroft only once in the entire playoffs, and that was back against the Kings. Luongo gave up 21 goals in 6 games. A goals against average of 3.52 and a save percentage of .862 from the starting goalie in the 2nd round series, and you never once go to your back up?? How about his 5.35 GAVE at home in round 2? Shouldnt that warrant a look at the back up? A back up that in the regular season had a better GAVE & only slightly less SPCT than your 7 million dollar starter?
When did AV turn into Marc Crawford? When did Vigneault quit being a coach, and start being players "buddies"? He played the playoffs like he was trying to win friends with some of the players. Burrows, Alberts, Luongo, Bieksa, Kesler and Raymond were all given ample chances to "step up" & all of them kept wasting their chances for the most part. Yet players who did produce, who were showing up, kept getting the short end of the straw. Mikael Samuelsson told Team Sweden to go fuck themselves earlier this year after getting left off the Swedish Olympic team. What could he have to say about a coach that demoted him 2 lines for essentially having 1 off game or so in the face of all these other non-performers getting handed chance after chance??
AV can perhaps explain why in a do or die game that you are only down a goal or two, your top line is not being double shifted?
- The Sedins had ice times of 18:51 and 18:40 each in the final game.
- Burrows (he of the ONE non-empty net playoff goal in the last 18 games) 19:37??
- Kesler (he of 0 G in the last 7 playoff games & 1 this post-season all together) 18:42??? Wellwood 18:52
- Samuelsson (teams leading goal & points scorer in the playoffs) 16:10.
- Raymond (0 goals, 0 points, -3 +/- in last 4 games) 16:47 played more than the teams best contributor offensively.
The top 3 lines were grossly mismanaged in the final game perhaps more than any other time in the playoffs.
Coach Vigneault one night suggested that Luongo was the 2nd best goalie on the ice that night. He wasnt wrong. He was the 2nd best goalie that night. However, no one once made note of the fact that this comment came from the 2nd best coach in the series. Alain Vigmeault was grossly outcoached by Joel Quenneville and to be brutally honest, maybe a tire iron could have outcoached him.
If the blame is to be broken down into a percentage basis. I would have to split it up like this.
Bieksa & Ehrhoff 5%
Rest of the forwards 5%
Rest of the defense 5%
Sure some of that blame seems unfair. I mean the defense core was eating up minutes they werent really qualified to take on at times with the various injuries. But still, the fact is they had jobs to do & at times werent able to do it.
This team didnt win because of several performances on the ice, and one performance behind the bench.
With the season just slightly over 1/2 over, the race for the playoffs is starting to clear a bit. Teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets & the Carolina Hurricanes are already trying to envision what to do about the team in the off season. While at the other end of the spectrum, teams like the Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Chicago Blackhawks & San Jose Sharks are looking ahead & trying to figure out what they might need to tweak for their Stanley Cup pursuits.
Mired in the middle is a cluster of teams that frankly includes the majority of the league. Right now they are either just in or just barely out of the playoffs, a simple 3 game slide here, or 4 game streak here can put them out or in the playoff race in a flash. Mixed right in the middle, the Vancouver Canucks.
Currently 6th in the west with 58 points in 48 games, the Canucks sit just 2 points ahead of the 9th place Detroit Red Wings and only 7 ahead of Minnesota Wild & Dallas Stars. They are also only 2 points out of 3rd in the conference, behind their divisional foes from Colorado. But if the Canucks know anything about their season to date, its that they are probably more focused now on maintaining a playoff spot than chasing a division title.
While they are in the mix for a division championship, the fact remains that the Canucks, will be road warrios for the longest road trip in NHL history coming up very soon. Its a road trip that will span 14 games over 6 weeks. See the Canucks are being evicted from their home to make way for the Olympics. Because of this, they will play 20 of their final 35 games on the road....a place that has not been all that pleasant for them this season.
In their first 21 road games, the Canucks have a 9-11-1 record. While they run wild at home with an 19-7-1 record, they have struggled on the road. If there is any saving grace, its that only 10 of those final 20 road games are against teams currently sitting in a playoff spot. They can also take some comfort in the fact they are 3-1-1 in the last 5 road games perhaps. All that aside though, this extended road trip will certainly be the true test of this team.
In the middle of this road trip is a 2 week break for the Olympics. If they struggle in the first half of the trip, they will at least have time to correct the problem perhaps. This can also work against them though. If they have a decent first half on this raod trip, they could potentially lose all the momentum they have built up with 2 weeks away from the rink.
There is also the potential fatigue factor of their top players. With 7 Olympains on the roster, including their most notable pieces, Roberto Luongo, Daniel & Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler & Christian Ehrhoff, the 2 weeks of elite level do or die play could really wear on some players. Granted every team has this problem, but every team isnt going to be doing this in the middle of a 14 game road trip.
In a league where a team that is 8 games above .500 is not in the playoffs right now in their conference, the Canucks can not afford to have a mediocre road trip. A .500 road trip could conceivably end their playoff hopes. By the time this marathon is over, they will have just a little over a month of the season left to rally back from any holes they have made for themselves.
The top line of Sedin-Sedin-Burrows is magical in their own building where line matching benefits them, on the road however, they are less magical & this will mean the Canucks will need to rely on secondary scorers like Mason Raymond, Ryan Kesler, Mikael Samuelsson & a hopefully healthy Pavol Demitra to pick up the slack. They could use the likes of Kyle Wellwood and Steve Bernier to pick up their play as well.
Their defense core is solid, when healthy. Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler and Sami Salo are quite capable puck moves, while Willie Mitchell, Shane O'Brien and Aaron Rome are capable defensive defenders. But when they have injuries they do seem to be out of sync a bit. Brad Lukowich is a decent NHL defenseman, but the level of skill drops off considerably from there. With Kevin Bieksa out, the Canucks will need to keep healthy thru this trip on the back end.
How will Luongo react to this stretch? He could in theory be playing close to 20 games over this stretch if he plays the majority of Canucks games, and Olympics games. Of course, the likelyhood is he will get only some starts at the Olympics. Which means he should have a bit of rest. Problem will be if he gets too much rest (say he doesnt play for the final 4 or 5 games). Luongo has a long history of starting slow after any type of extended break away from action. This has to worry the Canucks going down the stretch where points will be vitally needed & they will be on the road to start. A cold Luongo might end the Canucks playoff hopes in early March. Andrew Raycroft, the back up has been very good this year & could be relied on to take some of the load off, but if coach Vigneault has one flaw in his coaching, its that his confidence in his back up goalie, despite a very good record, seems to not be there for whatever reason.
This team has been ravaged with injuries this season & over a 14 game stretch, the probability of an injury is realistic. What the Canucks cant afford, is injuries to any of their major pieces, this goes for the entire top 2 lines, defense pairs, and of course Luongo. Any pieces missing could literally destroy a team that will probably struggle thru this venture.
If the Canucks get out of the odyssey close or still in the playoff race, they will probably be ecstatic. They have 10 of their last 15 games of the season at home, a place they have been exceptionally strong this season. But that is a long way away & they first have to worry about getting thru the adventure that will be the make or break part of their season, an incredible 14 game road trip. No team in the league will have any homestand or road trip more vital to their playoff positioning than this 6 week, 13 city, 14 game road trip.
If the Canucks miss the playoffs, fans & critics alike will probably look to this horrible schedule as the downfall. While players & coaches generally dont like to use easily found excuses for shortcomings, this is a blatantly obvious one that cant be overlooked. Of course, if the Canucks do make the playoffs, even if by the thinnest of margains, you will have to take them very seriously at a run in the playoffs. Afterall, if they can survive the road trip & still have enough in the tank to pull them thru it & into the playoffs, then you have to wonder what does it take to put them down. To make the playoffs would likely mean a winning record on the road thru that stretch, and ontop of that, confidence in their abilities on the road. This trip will either break them, or will rally them around each other & possibly create the type of team building that championship teams desperately hope for.
The season might say 82 games on the schedule, but any Canucks fan, reporter, player or staff member knew when the schedule came out, their season really came down to 14 games and 6 weeks.
Finland is coming in the 4th ranked country by the IIHF.
A silver medal last Olympics & a silver & 2 bronze in the last 4 World Championships has the Finnish team seriously thinking medals here too & they certainly are capable of the feat.
In goal, they might have the strongest duo in the tourney with Kirpusoff & Backstrom. Whoever they pick for the 3rd goalie is also very likely going to be a decent pick for the 3 spot, whether its Nittymaki, Rask or new up & comer Antti Niemi.
On defense, they have a capable unit. Although it might be their weakness overall, its still not too shabby with the likes of Timonen, Salo & Pitkanen patrolling the line. But it is a more offensively skilled than neccesarily defensively skilled unit.
Up front this team has some offensive skill, but if Teemu Selanne cant go, it will be offensively challenged in comparison to the other top tier countries. The Koivu brothers & Olli Jokinen will be expected to fill in as secondary scoring to the Finnish Flash.
Miika Kiprusoff- CALGARY FLAMES (NHL) Kipper has come out & said he wont go if he isnt the starter. Since then he has done pretty much everything he can to justify him being the starter. Finland will quite likely give him the spot. But if he falters even slightly, they will not hesitate to jump to Niklas.
Niklas Backstrom- MINNESOTA WILD (NHL) Could be the starter if Kiprusoff falters even slightly. Most deserving of a number 1 spot, but will probably play back up so that the Finns can keep Kipper happy.
Tuuka Rask- BOSDTON BRUINS (NHL) Has been a top prospect for awhile & has played very well this year, Tuuka will probably be the 3rd goalie, although he has some competition lurking around in the form of Nittymaki & Niemi. But I think hes just been more consistent & consistently good out of the 3, so he'll get the nod.
Kimmo Timonen- PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (NHL) Leads in every offensive category for Finnish defenders. Will be on the top unit & top PP unit. Will also be expected to play considerable SH time.
Sami Salo- VANCOUVER CANUCKS (NHL) Although hes having a quiet year offensively so far, the potential for what he can do on the PP gives Sami a lock on this team. Maybe anchoring the 2nd unit & the other option on the 1st PP unit.
Joni Pitkanen- CAROLINA HURRICANES (NHL) Has been a decent set up man this year, but defensively is struggling greatly. Expect to see in even strength & PP situations.
Sami Lepisto- PHOENIX COYOTES (NHL) Will very likely round out the 3rd unit & get some PP ice time.
Toni Lydman- BUFFALO SABRES (NHL) He'll get some game action, whether its just as a 3rd unit piece, or if he gets any SH & PP time is still up in the air.
Lasse Kukkonen- OMSK AVANGARD (KHL) The best of the bunch overseas has probably been Kukkonen, so he will probably beat out part time NHLer Salmela & SEL PP star Puistola for the final spot.
Ossi Vaananen- MINSK DYNAMO (KHL) A former NHL defenseman who has had a resurgence in Russia this season. Not going to be relied on offensively, he will be able to work solely on being a shutdown dman.
Teemu Selanne- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) Assuming he is back in time to play, Teemu is a lock. He will be their top offensive weapon & will be relied on heavily in PP situations. If he cant go, the Finns are going to notable struggle offensively, even with the other NHL level players they have.
Saku Koivu- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) He might not be an offensive dynamo anymore, but he still has a touch. he'll get top 2 line minutes for sure & some PP time on the top unit perhaps.
Mikko Koivu- MINNESOTA WILD (NHL) An offensive weapon who is also a strong checker, Mikko will be out there probably the most of all the forwards as he can play in all situations.
Olli Jokinen- CALGARY FLAMES (NHL) An underperforming year offensively right now, Olli is still looked at as one of the countries top offensive weapons. Expect lots of PP time & top 2 lines time.
Niklas Hagman- TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (NHL) A strong offensive year from Niklas will get him a look as a top 2 line forward. He has done the role of checker before, so if needed he can fill in there too.
Antti Mietinen- MINNESOTA WILD (NHL) A recent offensive struggle has perhaps triggered some concerns for a guy the Finns probably had penciled into their top 2 lines. Regardless, he will still be here, even if its as a 3rd liner.
Tuomo Ruutu- CAROLINA HURRICANES (NHL) Having a relatively good year offensively, they will look at Tumo as a probable top 2 line player.
Jarkko Ruutu- OTTAWA SENATORS (NHL) A tough checker who has some offensive skills. Jarkko will be a 2 way player on the 3rd line that they will rely on to aggitate the other teams top players.
Jussi Jokinen- CAROLINA HURRICANES (NHL) A reasonable offensive year & a penchant for shootout goals, Jussi will come in as a 3rd line type player who will be relied on heavily if a game is headed to the dreaded shootout.
Jere Lehtinen- DALLAS STARS (NHL) Getting a bit older, but still has a decent grasp on the defensive side of the game. A checking role is his for sure.
Valtteri Filppula- DETROIT RED WINGS (NHL) If he is unable to go, this spot will go to his teammate Leino. If he is able to go, expect him to be out there potentially in all situations.
Niko Kapanen- KAZAN AK-BARS (KHL) In Russia he has developed into a decent checking forward. Will probably get a role like that here.
Petteri Nokelainen- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) Will be there solely for his defensive game & not much more.
maybe- Antti Niemi, Antero Nittymaki, Anssi Salmela, Ville Koistinen, Pasi Puistola, Ville Leino, Jarkko Immonen, Jukka Voutilainen, Tuomas Pihlman, Ville Peltonen, Hannes Hyvonen.
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