32 Thoughts: Could slow start push Canucks into a rebuild?

Watch as Vegas Golden Knights' Phil Kessel breaks in on the rush and flicks in a beauty goal top shelf to pick up his 400th career goal on the night he set the Iron Man streak against the San Jose Sharks.

Phil Kessel scored his 400th career goal on Tuesday, during his record-setting 990th straight game. As this incredibly unique — to say the least — personality celebrated both achievements, you couldn’t help but wonder if this is the last time we’ll see something like this.

Brent Burns, who will be 38 in March, has the NHL’s second-longest active streak, 305 games behind Kessel. After that, it’s Johnny Gaudreau, at 302 games played in a row. (This is a good time to point out that hockey’s truly unbreakable iron man record is Glenn Hall’s 502 consecutive starts in goal. I’ve got a better chance of dating Margot Robbie than anyone has of beating that one.)

Several factors are conspiring against a recurrence. 

First, will there ever be another player allowed to be like Kessel? Think of all the things you read about him the last few days: Doesn’t like working out, doesn’t take care of himself like others, avoids contact at all costs, etc. Who else in the NHL is like this? It’s almost like he’s grandfathered in. Everyone understands that’s who he is, but imagine a rookie coming into the NHL now, saying, “Yeah, that’s going to be me.” No way. 

Second, a dirty secret is most teams despise these streaks, because they make it difficult to pull a player from the lineup. One of the reasons Kessel was not traded from Arizona last season is contenders didn’t want the streak hanging over their roster decisions. Keith Yandle, who held the record before Kessel, had real challenges with Florida and Philadelphia.

There was a dressing-room revolution when the Panthers tried to end it, and the Flyers’ compromise was to let Yandle play long enough that Kessel couldn’t pass him last season. But they drew a hard line when they felt other players didn’t deserve to be scratched. The longer these go, the more impossible it gets to end them without very hard feelings.

Third is, I wonder if we’re headed into a new era of injury prevention. MLB and the NBA are much more into load management than the NHL, but look what’s happened in the NFL since Tua Tagovailoa’s two injuries in five days. The league changed its concussion protocols and it’s obvious from watching the games no one’s being given much latitude. 

In the aftermath of Tagovailoa’s first injury — which the Dolphins maintained was to his back — Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow told Colin Cowherd that anxiety about head injuries is an “inherent risk” of playing the sport.

“You’re going to have head injuries,” Burrow said. “You’re going to tear your ACL. You’re going to break your arm. That’s the game that we play. That’s the life that we live. And we get paid handsomely for it. I think going into every game, we know what we’re getting ourselves into.”

I know myself. And, if I was good enough to play a professional sport, my attitude would be the exact same. Man the torpedos, full speed ahead. And it’s very possible the NFL relaxes its standards when everyone’s attention moves to the next social-media firestorm. But our attitudes to head injuries in particular are changing, with the U.S.-based National Institute of Health becoming the latest to acknowledge a link between repeated blows to the head and long-term neurological damage

Back in high school, perfect attendance was the least-desirable award. Seriously, who wanted to show up every day? As an adult, you have a greater understanding of how hard it is — especially in the era of COVID — to consistently be healthy. 

When Doug Jarvis’s streak ended at 964, I never imagined it would take 35 years for Yandle to get there. Kessel seems so much safer than Jarvis ever was. 


1. A lot of great stories were written about Kessel as he passed Yandle. One thing that should be known: in both Boston and Toronto, he bent over backwards to visit hospitals or see children going through very difficult times, doing everything possible to keep it out of the spotlight. When he was traded from the Maple Leafs to the Penguins, someone reached out to tell about one such circumstance where the winger went above-and-beyond. But Kessel got wind of it and shut down the story. He didn’t care it made him look good, he didn’t think it was anyone else’s business.

Two more typical Kessel stories: When he was in Boston, I heard then-head coach Claude Julien wanted Kessel to use a stronger stick. Before a Bruins game, I asked Julien about it during a broadcast meeting. He called what Kessel was using a “peewee stick,” but shook his head and basically admitted it was impossible to get the young winger to switch. Kessel arrived in the NHL stubborn and never changed.

The second was at a BioSteel camp. One player came out of the gym swearing and annoyed. Kessel was reading a magazine while everyone else sweated away, and this player (who prefers to remain anonymous) asked if Kessel was going to bother joining everyone. Kessel replied, “Want to see what I can do?” He proceeded to destroy everyone else in the leg press, and went back to the magazine. 

2. Vancouver has two points in seven games. I can find one team that made the playoffs since 2005-06 in a full 82-game season despite such a poor start. That was 2013-14 Philadelphia, which went 1-6. The Flyers then went 41-24-10 to get there.

Of all the things Jim Rutherford said in his riveting After Hours appearance with Scott Oake, this is the most relevant right now: “We may very well be in a rebuild in the direction we’re going. But ideally, we’d like to transition this team on the fly. We do have some core players, some young players that are really good.” He also promised to be “cautious” with any move he makes, recognizing panic moves are the worst thing he can do when your ship is taking on water. He addressed the team face-to-face on Sunday, basically demanding more pride and accountability from them. (Stan Smyl did the same when he was interim GM last season.)

From a pure talent perspective, the Canucks have a strong base, even with their holes. “I definitely have faith in this core,” GM Patrik Allvin said Wednesday. “I believe we’re the sixth-youngest team in the league. This young group still has a lot of things to learn, and part of it being facing adversity and how they come out of it.” At the very least, what Rutherford is going to do in the short term is ascertain the market on his roster. There are some untouchables — Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson — and that doesn’t mean he trades half the roster, but he’s going to be doing his research.

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3. With a big Canuck fan (Connor Bedard) at the top of the draft — he picked Vancouver as “an easy choice” to win the Stanley Cup this season on WHL Regina’s TikTok — there is a real case for the organization to take its best shot at him. The lottery, however, is a fickle mistress, ripping the hearts out of more organizations than it has rewarded.

The bonus of doing it this season is the 2023 draft is deep, deep, deep. Punting on the year with 75 games to go can be brutal, but there is a case to be made for deciding who is part of the solution, adding one of those upcoming pieces and starting again in 2023-24. Organizationally, the Canucks don’t like the idea of a full rebuild and, as Allvin said Wednesday, “I still think that we’re building something here every day.” A couple of executives warned not to underestimate the economy and COVID losses as being a significant part of that philosophy at this time. Canadian teams, in particular, lost a landfill worth of revenue and, even before the Aquilinis owned the Canucks, there were always concerns about softer attendance when the team wasn’t good.

Someone else reminded me of another story: The only owner we can ever remember in a losing dressing room after a Stanley Cup Final was Francesco Aquilini in 2011. He didn’t hide his disappointment at the loss and disgust with the way he thought his players had been portrayed. When you’re that close and that affected, you don’t give up trying to get there.

4. I thought Rutherford was great on After Hours, and, as a broadcaster, appreciated him doing it. A couple coaches felt differently, not liking how Bruce Boudreau was portrayed. (Thought it was interesting that, on Jeff Marek’s show, Dallas coach Peter DeBoer sidestepped a question about how he’s changed the way the Stars play, because he didn’t want to be seen as dumping on Rick Bowness.)

I’m not convinced the Canucks are racing to fire Boudreau, though. They know what’s happened is not all on him, because the same flaws also plagued Travis Green. The Canucks are paying around $2.75 million for Green not to coach, and Boudreau’s salary pushes that over $4 million. That’s a lot of cabbage, and Vancouver may not want to offer term until a full search is available. Boudreau told the Canucks about his 2015-16 Anaheim Ducks, who started 1-7-2 before winning the Pacific. He definitely does his best to make players feel comfortable.

“We’re working close (with Boudreau),” Allvin said. “We’re trying to find solutions. At the end of the day, we’ve got to start winning hockey games. That’s the bottom line.” I do think that if the organization makes a change, it will consider bringing in the exact opposite kind of persona.

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5. I think the Canucks knew they’d have a problem if Jack Rathbone didn’t get to play. It’s time to see what he can do.

6. Surging Buffalo has a problem on defence. Mattias Samuelsson is out (although thankfully it’s not as bad as it initially looked). Henri Jokiharju is out. I could see GM Kevyn Adams examining what’s out there. You know when your team deserves help, and the Sabres sure are showing it. 

7. One defenceman whose situation is coming to a head is Ethan Bear‘s. Players want to play, and he hasn’t dressed yet this season. It’s nothing nefarious, Carolina’s doing what it thinks is best, but he can’t be happy and it’s really hard when you don’t play a game like the one in Edmonton — since you always want to prove your former team to be wrong.

After mentioning it last weekend, a couple of sources indicated there was a trade request last summer. The Hurricanes’ position is as follows: They consider Bear a legit NHL defenceman and, since they don’t have cap issues, won’t eat part of his salary for “minimal return.” It’s possible Bear ends up on waivers to see if anyone claims him, and word is he would go to AHL Chicago, just because he wants to play. Vancouver has shown real interest. Washington did around the draft. It’s believed Toronto’s poked around too. I’m sure there are others, we will see how it ends up. 

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8. Montreal acquired Nicolas Beaudin from Chicago Wednesday, fitting with their idea of acquiring players who might have a more long-term fit. Joel Edmundson’s pending return means the Canadiens don’t need to worry about a shorter-term need. But they remain interested in solutions to their forward logjam.

9. Cult hero Arber Xhekaj’s reputation soared with his Zack Kassian fight and first NHL goal. One retired player pointed out how Xhekaj smartly realized Kassian was adjusting his elbow pads, pouncing on the veteran’s mistake of taking his eye off an opponent. That ex-player added every NHLer would notice Xhekaj is not just tough, but also very perceptive.

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10. Bit longer of a timeline for Jakob Chychrun, a couple of weeks until he’s ready to play. A bit more conversation, but there’s zero doubt once he returns, he’s going to be a man possessed. Teams want to see him go out and be immediately impactful. One of the lurkers I think was the Islanders, but does it makes sense for them to give up draft picks right now?

11. This is a big week for the Coyotes. They ended their season-starting six-game road trip with a 6-3 win in Columbus, and finally play their home opener on Friday. It was their second victory, coming eight days after a stunner in Toronto. “It means a lot,” alternate captain Christian Fischer told Kyle Bukauskas after that first victory. “There’s a lot of talk about this team. A difficult year, and all this outside noise. … It doesn’t matter. We care about our 23 players and that’s it. Gonna have a nice cold beer and enjoy this one with the boys.”

My attitude in life generally is “make the best of everything you can.” That’s what Arizona is trying to do with its current situation, pumping up the Mullett Arena uniqueness and collegiate atmosphere, with commissioner Gary Bettman saying at the Board of Governors meeting that the team’s revenues will increase at the new, smaller facility. Behind the scenes, not everyone around the league is happy with this, thinking it is disingenuous for media in particular to “slap a nice coat of paint” on it. It will be interesting to see how visiting teams react to the facilities. Winnipeg and the Rangers arrive this weekend.

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12. Fischer started that interview with Kyle by saying, “I’m sure the fans got all $300 worth — or whatever it is — out of their ticket tonight.” I see why he’s an alternate captain there.

13. At the governors’ meeting, Bettman was asked about the effect the NBA Suns’ sale could have on the Coyotes future. One of the working theories is that the Coyotes could end up moving to that arena, although it would need a refurbishing for hockey. Bettman correctly pointed out it could take more than one summer to do those renovations and said an estimate of $200 million could be too low. He was prepared for the question, which tells me he’s done his research on the issue.

14. Several sources described Bettman’s revelation that the cap could go up $4 million next season as “ambitious,” but have also indicated that the league legitimately believes this is possible based on early-season revenue projections. While I was surprised at the possibility, I wasn’t surprised that Bettman would paint an optimistic picture. That’s what he’s always done, and we shouldn’t expect otherwise. It’s also very possible he wants to show that the NHL is a healthy investment in a challenging economy. One of the indicators to watch is the Canadian dollar. Apparently, the estimates include a valuation of the Canadian buck at 75 cents; it’s at around 73 cents now. 

15. I see some of your DMs about the board advertising. I do think everyone is looking at solutions for horizontal movement. Vertical doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue. 

16. Growing complaint among fans who gamble: changes to shots on goal well after initially awarded. You’d be surprised at the number of people who comb these odds much more carefully than I comb my hair. If you’re going to take gambling money, you’ve got to make sure the changes are minimal.

17. I believe the Australian city the NHL is surveying will be Melbourne. It’s an awesome idea, some place unexpected for the league to go. No guarantee it happens, but it’s on the radar. Don’t be afraid to take chances. A lot of people ripped referee Chris Rooney’s “opening night welcome,” but my perspective is this: at least something different was tried. This is a league that needs to step out of its comfort zone much more often than it does.

18. The Senators have shown if they want to get someone signed, they will. The cap is a puzzle, and it wouldn’t surprise if Ottawa desires to have an idea of Alex DeBrincat’s thinking before nailing down Artem Zub.

19. Check out Auston Matthews’ eye roll when Colby Armstrong informs him Morgan Rielly says the sniper could score 70. It’s hilarious. Don’t forget he had one goal in October last season. They will come.

20. Jake Muzzin on long-term injured reserve is also about roster flexibility, but it’s an indication that the team and player are going to be very careful here — as they should — and a recognition they have to prepare for the possibility he won’t be back anytime soon.

21. Someone asked last summer if Nazem Kadri would lose his edge now that he’s a Stanley Cup champion. We have our answer, and it’s the exact opposite.

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22. Does Dan Vladar get Edmonton again on Saturday? Jacob Markstrom’s got to be aching for this one. I’m sure Flames coach Darryl Sutter will consider all of our opinions.

23. Love, love, love Mickey Redmond’s nickname for the Michael Rasmussen-Elmer Soderblom-Oskar Sundqvist line: The Treesome. And if Redmond says it, you know Red Wings fans accept it. 

24. In our preseason interview with Leon Draisaitl, he was asked about last season’s NHLPA Player Poll, which named him best passer in the league by a good margin. “Expected,” he replied, before sheepishly backing away and thinking maybe he shouldn’t be so bold. I said he shouldn’t back away if that’s what he felt, because I do think fans want to see a bit more boldness from the league’s stars. We can’t rip people for being boring, then rip them for being honest. You can’t have it both ways. “I take big, big pride in my passing,” he continued. “The guys who’ve played with me, they know that.”

25. If you want to slow down Dallas sniper Jason Robertson, put some brussels sprouts or kale in front of him. Robertson hates the former, and grew a distaste for the latter after suffering a broken bone in his finger in minor hockey. Told that recovery would be quicker if he ate kale, he ate it “until I couldn’t have it anymore.” He didn’t miss a game, but now, “I go to the restaurants, and see Kale Caesar Salad. I can’t eat it.” Robertson said that when he first started, defencemen Marc Staal and Erik Cernak were his nemeses, “I just couldn’t get around them.” Obviously, he’s figured it out, with 41 goals last season and seven points in seven games this season. 

26. Not surprisingly, as his contract stalemate leaked into camp, waiting was the hardest thing on Robertson. He said agent Pat Brisson warned him in May it could go deep into September, but, “at the time, you’re like, ‘That’s three months (from now).’ But it did.” He skated with brother Nick, Carolina’s Jalen Chatfield and a couple of college goalies, but when they went back to school and their NHL camps, he thought, “I’m by myself now, what am I going to do?” He said the fact his father, Hugh, is an entertainment lawyer, helped, since he’s got an understanding of how this all works. Happily for everyone, the contract was done before games began. He joked he would take his teammates to East Side Mario’s or Swiss Chalet for a celebratory meal.

27. Hugh and Mercedes Robertson (Jason and Nick’s mother) bought a 42-foot RV to drive to their sons’ games. It’s not unusual for this monstrous dwelling to go from California to Texas or Florida or Michigan.

“It looks like a truck. My parents are full-on truckers now,” Robertson said. Can he drive it? “No, I don’t drive. It’s too big, too many buttons everywhere.”

The parents have one big television and one smaller one for watching at home. Who gets the bigger one? Robertson said if the Toronto game starts earlier (a regular occurrence), Nick will get the bigger one. But if they start at the same time? “I think my dad puts me up there because …” He pauses and gets a little sheepish and uncomfortable, “I don’t want to say it, but I get more minutes. Hopefully Nick gets to that point where it’s a lot harder (for his parents to make that choice), and he probably will.” Nick’s making an impact in Toronto now, for sure.

28. Congratulations to 1,023-game NHL veteran Keith Acton, elected to represent Ward 3 in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont., this week. Advice to other councillors: don’t let him con you into a skate. No one ran a harder bag skate than he did.

29. For everything that’s happened with Hockey Canada, one fact is emerging: there is a ton of interest in the open CEO/board positions and there are plenty of qualified candidates. Jeff Marek’s been all over it, but one name to watch is Alpine Canada President and CEO Therese Brisson, who won one Olympic gold and six World Championship gold as a Team Canada defenceman. One of the questions being asked is if there will still be emphasis on winning international events and tournaments. Everyone recognizes what changes need to be made, but there’s desire to maintain a high standard.

30. Take your time, Rick Bowness. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

31. Monday night, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was in Toronto. Invited by the Simon Wiesenthal Center as part of its Spirit of Hope 2022 event, he did an interview-style address. At 75, he’s still such an imposing figure. Abdul-Jabbar talked at length about life and his career. (On my list of books to read is his Brothers In Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, World War II’s Forgotten Heroes.)

Asked about his favourite NBA title — he won six — Abdul-Jabbar picked 1985, because that was the one the Lakers beat their longtime tormentors, the Celtics, in Boston: “That (trophy) has a special place in Jeanie Buss’s office.” There were some other great lines: “Walking through airports, people still come up to me and say, ‘Tell me about Bruce Lee.’” He added Lee always studied and prepared with “a real purpose.” He said the producers of “Airplane!” wanted Pete Rose for the part he got, but Rose wasn’t available because the movie was filmed during the summer.

“I was much better than Pete could ever have been,” he said, laughing, saying Rose agreed with this assertion when the two talked about it. Abdul-Jabbar was nominated for an Emmy as documentary narrator, but lost to Barack Obama, smilingly saying, “Since he beat me, I’m not going to vote for him anymore.” In conclusion, Abdul-Jabbar said, “I hope I set a good example.” If he doesn’t, no one does.

32. We’re going to end this week’s blog with some crowdsourcing. The 32 Thoughts written version as we know it is coming to an end. If you’re going to do something, do it properly — and, over the past year, I haven’t been doing it right. It hasn’t consistently arrived on a weekly basis (which many of you have noted) and, quite frankly, I don’t think it’s been good enough. I’m not thrilled about this and consider it a failure on my part.

That said, getting it done basically requires one sleepless night per week. (Somewhere, Pat Byrne, the brains behind the Canucks’ sleep patterns a decade ago, is cringing reading this.) My wife thought I was nuts; so did co-workers and friends. But I was stubborn, enjoyed putting it together and, let’s be honest, my entire existence is full of terrible personal choices. As editor Rory Boylen put it, “You’re getting old.” Yes, that’s true. At 52, It’s getting harder to recover from intentional sleep deprivation. All of this said, I love writing — it started my career — and don’t plan to stop.

My initial thought is to write a little more often (maybe two-to-three times per week), but shorter. You might get 32 Thoughts, but in smaller bunches. Hopefully, you find it a fair trade-off. I’m open to ideas.

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