On Spec: Are the Canucks still contenders?

Rookies on the Vancouver Canucks are excited to get their NHL careers going as they prepare for their first preseason game in the NHL.

It is less the “right now” that is a concern for fans of the Vancouver Canucks, and more the direction of the franchise.

Canucks fans have watched Calgary and Edmonton sink into obscurity through poor drafting and development. Now they look at their own crop of “prospects,” and no matter how hard you squint, it’s hard to spot the cavalry that can bridge the gap until Bo Horvat can become an impact player.

The Canucks will be picked as a playoff team by most out West. But they’ve been a playoff team for five years running, and the question becomes: Are the Canucks getting closer to being a Stanley Cup contender, or further from being one?


Watch the Vancouver Canucks take on the San Jose Sharks in pre-season action on Sportsnet Pacific starting at 7:00 p.m. PT Broadcast Schedule


“The last two playoff exits have been so disappointing,” Daniel Sedin told reporters in Vancouver on Sunday. “We know we have the team to go a long way and that’s why it sucks losing out so early. You know it’s tough in the playoffs and anything can happen. I don’t want to say we threw it away, but we didn’t play our best.”

San Jose swept the Canucks out of last year’s playoffs and was clearly the better team. The Sedins went goalless, and the Canucks couldn’t win a single game.

The Sharks have filled in their roster underneath Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau however, with high level, younger players like Olympic hopefuls Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

The Sedins need help, making the oft-injured Ryan Kesler perhaps the most pivotal player on the Canucks roster this season.

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On top of his “game”

They say that today’s NHL player seldom falls out of shape over the summer. He is that committed to fitness, for the most part.

Well, Patrick Kaleta is an example of that, as he hit the ground scurrying on the weekend, jumping Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk after a clean hit delivered by the Habs’ 19-year-old. Then, predictably, Kaleta took to the high road when challenged by a bigger, stronger Brandon Prust a few minutes later, typically declining a scrap with someone who was practised in the art.

Hockey people argue daily about the pros and cons of fighting in the NHL, and the value of those players who ply that trade. If you can identify the purpose of a having rat like Kaleta on an NHL roster — a player who would rather hurt you than fight you — you’ve a keener eye for talent than me.

“Kaleta tries to injure people every time he hits,” Prust said. “(Galchenyuk) makes a hit, and he goes after him. I don’t get it.”

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Forgetting No. 99

First new Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins cleanses the dressing room of every picture featuring an old Oilers player from the team’s dynasty years. And now the league tells players they can’t even tuck one side of their jersey in, the way Gretzky did since he was a kid back in Brantford.

The NHL has broached a major push for uniform and equipment standardization this season. The aim is to protect sponsors and clean up the overall look, but individuality is being stomped out as well.

“I think if NHL wants to make a show, this is a show,” Alex Ovechkin, the most prominent jersey-tucker in today’s game, told the Washington Post. “You can see the young kids look at the players. They do — like tinted visors or yellow laces — they do the same what the NHL players do.

“Right now, what are they going to do? Everybody going to be on the same page? We (are) individuals. Everybody wants to do their own thing. It’s stupid.”

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A vote for change

Speaking of Ovechkin, I am a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, the guys (and girls) who forged that voting debacle that cost Taylor Hall a spot on the second all-star team last year. And it was exactly that — an inexcusable debacle.

The PHWA is working to change the system used in last year’s failure, while the NHL — which had Ovechkin wrongly listed as a left-winger last season — has finally changed Ovechkin’s position to RW on NHL.com. Of course, any hockey writer worth his or her salt should know that already.

As the game evolves however, we’re seeing far more right-handed shots on the left wing, or vice versa. Like right-winger James Neal, a left-hand shot who is still listed as a LW on NHL.com despite having been a RW in Pittsburgh for at least two years now.

What if Hall starts the season at centre for a month or two, then goes back to left wing, but subs in a few more games at centre late in the year, what should his designation be?

Joffrey Lupul shoots right, plays left wing in Toronto, but was a right-winger in Anaheim before that.

The solution, for this PHWA member, is easy: Name a centre and two wingers, regardless of side, on the all-star ballot. Done.