Weekend Takeaways: The good and bad of the Canucks’ woes

Elliotte Friedman and Damien Cox take a look at the NHL’s biggest stories, with the Predators trying to sign Jimmy Vesey and the AHL cracking down on fighting.

There’s good news and bad news for the Vancouver Canucks, and both ends of that are somewhat counter-intuitive.

The good news is eight straight losses has the Canucks, after being generally in the playoff picture most of the season, two points out of dead last in the NHL with seven games to play. This is exactly the predicament Vancouver needs to be in, with the chance to acquire a top-end prospect through the draft for the first time since drafting the Sedin twins second and third overall in 1999.

The Canucks have some good young players like Bo Horvat, Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen, among others. But they don’t have a front-line, elite prospect along the lines of what looks to be available in the top three or four picks of the 2016 draft.

The sense is ownership didn’t want to go in this direction, but the team’s performance has taken it there. President Trevor Linden and GM Jim Benning know this is a good thing, and now they just need to get the highest draft pick possible and hope ownership doesn’t decide they don’t like the direction and order wholesale changes in management and coaching.

The only bad news to all of this is that it’s been done with the Sedins in the lineup along with veterans like Alexandre Burrows, Ryan Miller, Jannik Hansen and Dan Hamhuis. Any sense that the Canucks had enough established talent to retool on the fly has been shattered, and it's once again is clear the opportunity that was lost when Benning failed to move any of the team’s UFAs at the trade deadline for picks or prospects.

Yakupov Trade?
Nail Yakupov demanding a trade. Or “requesting” a trade. Interesting.

It seems a little odd to demand a trade when the hockey world pretty much knows the Edmonton Oilers have been very open to moving the disappointing first overall pick for some time, but couldn’t get an offer they liked.

With six goals this season, it’s obvious that it’s not working for Yakupov in Edmonton. That 17-goal rookie season is now a distant memory. Four Oiler coaches - Ralph Krueger, Dallas Eakins, Todd Nelson and now Todd MacLellan - have been unable to entice the genius that lurks within Yakupov to show itself.

It’s possible he might develop for some other team, but unlikely. We would have seen something more by now, and it’s unlikely that suddenly he’ll emerge as something akin to Vladimir Tarasenko simply because he gets moved.

Most likely, he is what he is. But that won’t stop somebody from thinking they’re smart enough to develop the potential Edmonton could not. Hey, Alexandre Daigle played for five teams after he left Ottawa.

Wait Game
The Ottawa Senators will have to wait until next season for the Dion Phaneuf trade to pay dividends.

The veteran defenceman will miss the final days of the regular season with a fractured foot, the Sens announce on Monday morning. The 30-year-old, acquired in a nine-player deal with Toronto on Feb. 9, had one goal in 20 games with Ottawa.

Inconsistent Coach's Challenge
NHL general managers had barely finished patting themselves on the back for their belief the coach’s challenge system has been a big success in its first year when the league’s referees, specifically Mike Leggo and Ghislain Hebert, showed on Saturday that its been remarkably inconsistent at times.

Those two referees didn’t detect Milan Lucic kicked the right skate of Oiler goalie Laurent Brossoit, upending the goaltender and allowing Lucic’s Los Angeles Kings teammate Jeff Carter to score moments later.

No problem, right? It was clearly the kind of egregious error the coach’s challenge had been invented to correct, which was the logic the GMs expressed when they met earlier this month in Boca Raton, Fla. Forget the small stuff, we were told, the fact they’re getting the big ones is what matters.

Except Leggo and Hebert didn’t. They consulted their tablet for a few minutes at the penalty box, and then called it a good goal. The reasoning was unclear, but it seemed to be that they felt Brossoit had enough time to get back on his feet after being knocked down to reset and be in position to stop Carter.

So they missed the penalty that should have been called on Lucic, then covered up for that error by saying it was Brossoit’s lack of hustle that created the goal. The fact replays showed the Edmonton goalie had only 2.7 seconds between being knocked down and Carter’s shot entering the net shows just how preposterous a notion that was.

If that’s going to be the standard for the post-season, look out, folks.

Kadri and the referees
Part of the reason for going to a two-referee system, and stripping the names off the back of officials jerseys, was to de-personalize the NHL system, and get away from decades of having the quirks of various referees dictate the calls on the ice as they “managed” the game.

Whether you agree or disagree that change was needed, that was the intent of changing the system.

But as we’re seeing these days with the curious case of Nazem Kadri, the days of “managing” the game aren’t over.

Kadri had great success in the first half of the season drawing penalties, and in the past few weeks NHL referees or their supervisors seem to have decided those days are over. Some of the calls that haven’t been made on the Leaf centre in recent weeks, and the embellishment call against him last week when not one but two Calgary players slashed him the back of the knee, suggest an unspoken campaign to put Kadri in his place.

That one was a classic example of the fact that if you allow referees to continue twinning diving calls with other fouls, and ever calling diving on its own, you allow them to hedge their bets and punish perceived divers without actually having to centre them out.

It’s a bad system.

In the dying moments of Saturday’s loss to Boston, meanwhile, Kadri was hit from behind into the corner boards. Even Boston players seemed shocked there was no call by referees Jean Hebert and Tom Kowal.

The weird thing here is that, at least up to now, Kadri hasn’t been fined by the NHL for diving as many other players have. But the referees seem to have decided they’re better judges on this than league officials.

Fighting
Interesting story broken on Saturday's Headlines by Elliotte Friedman (see video above) about the AHL looking at ways at instituting new rules to curb fighting, particularly rules that would more aggressively penalize fighters who just fight.

These are the kind of rules the Ontario Hockey League put in several seasons ago in an effort to limit one-dimensional players focussed on fighting their way to the big leagues.

It will be interesting to see how far the AHL chooses to proceed down this road.

Vesey watch
All eyes are on the Nashville Predators and their ability to sign prospect Jimmy Vesey, whose career at Harvard ended on Friday.

This is a story that’s been percolating all year after Vesey declined to sign with the Predators following his junior season. He can sign now and join the Preds immediately for the rest of the regular season and playoffs, or become an unrestricted free agent Aug. 15 and entertain offers from 29 other teams.

Nobody seems to know where this is headed. Nashville sent out a release on Saturday saying they’re still hopeful he’ll sign and are still doing their best to sign him.

You could read it any number of ways, either that they were being cautious, or that they’re nervous they won’t be able to convince him despite promising him a place in their lineup.

The Calgary Flames are in a similar position with Providence centre Mark Jankowski, a former first round pick, except that Jankowski isn’t as good of a prospect. The Flames have an offer out and hope to hear from Jankowski as early as Monday.

The Michigan Wolverines were knocked out by North Dakota on Saturday, leading to speculation Winnipeg may try to sign speedy forward Kyle Connor and Columbus will look to get defenceman Zach Werenski under contract. Forward Boo Nieves signed with the Rangers today, choosing not to go to unrestricted free agency on Aug. 15.

Yale goalie Alex Lyon, who actually played for the U.S. at the world championships, is now a free agent and could be a hot commodity. UMass-Lowell goaltender Kevin Boyle is also now a free agent.

OHL priority draft
The OHL priority draft on April 9 will be fascinating to watch, with the dynamics of U.S. players threatening to join the U.S. National Team Development Program in Plymouth, Mich., and the mess that is the OHL's Flint Firebirds playing big roles.

Guelph has the first pick, and might covet U.S. prospects Bode Wilde and Blade Jenkins, but may not want to risk taking them, but then losing them to the Plymouth program.

Flint, meanwhile, has the third and fifth picks, and there’s lots of chatter that because the Firebirds situation isn’t likely to be sorted out by draft day, the team might take Russians Kiril Nizhnikov and Sergei Popov from the Toronto Jr. Canadiens organization. Flint's thought is that they’ll at least be able to control those two young players, who won’t have the same options as others.

Burning the ELC
There’s so much talk these days about “burning” a year of entry level contracts that it’s interesting to see teams using different strategies.

The Leafs decided to burn William Nylander’s first contract year and keep him in the NHL for the rest of the season, thus bringing him closer to a contract that will come after his entry level deal.

Colorado, meanwhile, has decided to do the opposite with first round pick Mikko Rantanen, who had 21 goals in 44 AHL games but none in nine NHL games before GM Joe Sakic announced the team will not let him play a 10th this season.

Some teams just want to put off having to negotiate the next contract as long as possible. Other teams imagine that getting through the ELC as expeditiously as possible lessens the possibility players put up big numbers and can then demand bigger dollars.

Under-18 worlds
The Penticton Vees, who won the BCHL regular season title and put up some long winning streaks along the way, were shocked in the first round of the playoffs by the West Kelowna Warriors.

That’s bad news for them, but good news for Hockey Canada, which is in the middle of the always challenging process of putting together a team for the IIHF under-18 world championship, which are being held next month in Grand Forks, N.D.

Penticton forward Tyson Jost and defenceman Dante Fabbro, who are both rated as top 20 picks for the NHL draft in June, should now be available to play for Canada in that event. Neither played in the world juniors, so if they do play, it could give both a chance to hike their draft status.

Medicine Hat’s Shaun Clouston is coaching the team. Flint forward Will Bitten and Medicine Hat defenceman David Quenneville are the only players named so far. The strategy is to wait as long as possible to see which CHL teams are eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, giving the under-18 team a larger pool of players from which to pick a team.