THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Vancouver Canucks

The Hockey News
The Vancouver Canucks. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

2013-14: 36-35-11

Acquisitions: Dustin Jeffrey, Radim Vrbata, Ryan Miller, Bobby Sanguinetti, Linden Vey, Derek Dorsett, Luca Sbisa, Nick Bonino

Departures: David Booth, Jeremy Welsh, Benn Ferriero, Zac Dalpe, Jordan Schroeder, Mike Santorelli, Ryan Kesler, Jason Garrison

Top five fantasy players: Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Radim Vrbata, Nick Bonino, Chris Higgins.

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: Ask a critic what “boom” should mean in Vancouver and they’ll tell you that’s the sound that comes after they blow up the Canucks roster. But new GM Jim Benning has no intention of doing that. It’s not rebuild or reload. Best word to use is “refinement.”

The additions of difference-makers Ryan Miller and Radim Vrbata are evidence the Canucks are in it for keeps this season. True, Ryan Kesler is gone, but the return they got in Nick Bonino and Luca Sbisa deepens a roster that was looking top-heavy. With the Sedin twins set to rebound from sub-par seasons, Vancouver is expecting to make the playoffs with its new resources. Read more

The ‘doctor’ is in – pro player/professor chases pucks and PhD

Ronnie Shuker
(Photo by Scott Wiggins/Scott Wiggins Photography)

Pro hockey and doctoral studies don’t often go together for a player. And even when they do, it’s rare for them to mix mid-career.

As a forward with the Coventry Blaze and a PhD student at Coventry University, Russ Cowley is doing just that – juggling professional hockey in the British League along with his anticipated post-playing career in academia. He’s heading into his 15th season, and for the past five he’s been teaching sports management at his university. He’s earned two degrees, a bachelor in sports management and an MBA in international business, while continuing to play pro, and last season he entered the PhD program at his university to study consumer behavior in sports. So along with the usual physical rigors of training for a new season, Cowley has spent his summer doing a ton of mental lifting.

“It’s so much reading right now,” he said. “It’s just reading, reading, reading.”

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The top 10 players in line for bounce-back seasons

Henrik Sedin and some reporter (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Even the best players in the world can have slumps and it’s not fun when it happens to your favorite. But with every fresh campaign there is hope for renewal and as we approach the 2014-15 installment of NHL hockey, some players may be a little more eager than others, since last season was such a downer.

Here’s a look at 10 players who are primed for bounce-back seasons:

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What have we learned since Bertuzzi-Moore? Not much it seems

Todd Bertuzzi (Photo By Karl Gehring/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

In the 10-plus years since the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident, you can be rest assured that NHL coaches and players have chosen their dressing room words very, very carefully when it comes to the issue of seeking retribution. And there hasn’t been an incident as egregious and disastrous since then, so the culture of revenge no longer exists in hockey, right?

Wrong. It has been speculated that with the civil lawsuit between Moore and Bertuzzi/the Vancouver Canucks finally settled, Moore will receive somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million. But there is so much we will never know. Such as, how was the amount split between Bertuzzi and the Canucks? That would go a long way toward determining whether Bertuzzi acted alone as a friend hell-bent on revenge or was simply a pawn that was contractually obliged to follow the instructions of his superiors.

Even though it went seemingly down to the last minute – the trial was to begin Monday – the reality is probably that this was never going to go to trial. Because if it had, the truth would have had to come out. And it would not have been pretty.

The NHL and its culture of violence/revenge would have been on trial every bit as much as Bertuzzi and the Canucks were. It’s a culture many in hockey would have us believe is no longer a part of the game. Fighting has been trending downward for some time and fewer and fewer teams have space on their rosters for the second coming of Ogie Oglethorpe.

But have we really learned that much from Bertuzzi-Moore? That’s debatable. At the very least, Shawn Thornton seemed to have missed the memo. Last season, in response to what he viewed as a dirty hit on teammate Loui Eriksson, Thornton attacked Brooks Orpik, then of the Pittsburgh Penguins, in an incident that looked eerily like the Bertuzzi-Moore attack. Thornton received a 15-game suspension for his act, with then director of player safety Brendan Shanahan justifying the ban by saying: “It is our view that this was an act of retribution for an incident that occurred earlier in the game, the result of this action by Thornton was a serious injury to Orpik.”

And did Thornton get ostracized from the game for what he did? Actually, when the Boston Bruins decided not to sign him after last season, the Florida Panthers offered him a two-year contract. As my colleague Adam Proteau pointed out recently, Penguins owner Mario Lemieux calls out the league to get violence out of the game, then allows his team to sign Dan Carcillo and Steve Downie because the Penguins star players get pushed around too much in the playoffs. I’m not sure that makes him a hypocrite. It’s more an indication that Lemieux knows his message is falling on deaf ears, that the league is not going to protect his stars and he has no choice in the matter. (There’s a reason why Carcillo, who is on his sixth NHL team, has the survival instincts of a cockroach. It’s because teams continue to see worth in what he brings.)

And when Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks seemed to push the envelope by getting a little too cute on his fourth goal against the New York Rangers, there were almost as many critics as there were admirers. One of them was Nashville Predators color commentator Terry Crisp, who said, “Let me tell you young man. You pull that move too often and somebody’s going to want retribution on you.”

And how often do we see a player being forced to stand up for himself and face an onslaught of punches after executing a perfectly clean, but devastating hit on a star player? How often do we see teams still “sending a message” to its opponent late in a game that is out of reach? And really it wasn’t that long ago that former director of hockey operations Colin Campbell made his infamous, “We sell hate. Our game sells hate,” comments. How often do we see the league’s own website tag a video as a “Must See” when that video involves fighting and mayhem?

It’s great to see the Bertuzzi-Moore incident finally settled, even though there are a lot of people who would have liked to see this thing go the distance. So, that has been put to bed and confidentiality agreements will likely keep us from ever knowing the minute details of the case. We know Moore will never play in the NHL and Bertuzzi, after reportedly rebuffing a pitch from Mike Keenan to play in the KHL for Mettalurg Magnitigorsk, is a veteran free agent still waiting to find a team. But to suggest the game and the NHL have made enormous strides since then is probably a stretch. A big one.

Steve Moore/Todd Bertuzzi settlement proves NHL can’t justify culture of revenge

Adam Proteau
Steve Moore (David Cooper/ Toronto Star)

More than a decade after it began, the Steve Moore/Todd Bertuzzi saga has come to an end. You don’t want to call it a merciful end, because the story of these two players, whose names will be bound together for the rest of time, never had much mercy at all.

This case was about the individual vs. the collective, and the terrible consequences birthed by a revenge culture that over the years has jutted out its chest and preened about how great it was, but that turned tail and scampered into the darkness when it was asked to defend its existence. Hockey players are among the toughest athletes on the planet, but the settlement announced between Bertuzzi and Moore late Thursday proves the game’s power brokers have no confidence in justifying professional hockey’s more contentious elements in a public forum that’s beyond the NHL’s control. Read more

Which Vancouver Canucks goalie has the better mask design – Ryan Miller or Eddie Lack?

Rory Boylen
lackmain

Ryan Miller signed a three-year, $18 million deal with the Vancouver Canucks this summer, giving the Canucks some stability in the position as they enter an interesting period. Was last year’s implosion a result of John Tortorella’s presence, or natural decline from the ageing core players? In acquiring Miller, Vancouver gave itself a chance at a bounce back year and to see just what they have left in the tank.

Wednesday, the team unveiled what Miller’s new mask will look like. The green, blue and white native totem pole design on the front is a beautiful fit in to the Canucks look.

On the back plate, Miller acknowledges his wife (Noureen), dog (Puck) and his cousin (MattMan) who passed away form leukaemia at the age of 18. They’re tributes he makes on all his masks. He did it on the Blues mask he wore for a short period and on his Olympic mask in Sochi.

What do you think of Miller’s new Canucks mask? Read more

Top 10 off-season NHL signings

Christian Ehrhoff (Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

As the beginning of NHL training camps draws closer, it’s natural for fans to debate and discuss which teams had the most productive off-season. And although the answer to that question won’t be confirmed for months, if not years, that won’t stop us from ranking the 10 best off-season unrestricted free agent signings:

10. Thomas Vanek, Wild (3 years, $19.5 million). Granted, Vanek didn’t help his contract negotiating stance with a poor playoff showing for the Canadiens, but his regular-season production has been dependably above-average – and given that Minnesota struggled to put pucks in nets last season (their 207 goals-for was third-worst in the Western Conference), he’ll help a great deal and isn’t locked up to a contract with an onerous term.

9. Ales Hemsky, Stars (3 years, $12 million). The 31-year-old Hemsky hasn’t reached the 20-goal mark since he had 23 for Edmonton in 2008-09, but he’ll play on Dallas’ second line – alongside former Senators teammate Jason Spezza, with whom he enjoyed some solid chemistry in his 20-game stint in Ottawa last year – and should perform well playing in a non-fishbowl market with increased minutes.

8. Radim Vrbata, Canucks (2 years, $10 million). Vrbata has been under most people’s radar playing in Phoenix, but the 33-year-old has proven himself to be a reliable 20-30-goal-scorer. On the rejigged Canucks, he’ll see time on the same line as the Sedin twins and will get first-unit power play minutes. The term of this deal also makes this a win for new Vancouver GM Jim Benning. Read more

Eric Brewer hopes to help turn around the Prince George Cougars

Prince-George-Cougars

Eric Brewer and Dan Hamhuis are old hands at the NHL game. Both are veteran defenseman out of British Columbia and both played their junior hockey with the Prince George Cougars. Now, as part of a new ownership group, Brewer and Hamhuis are hoping to help their old Western League team out of the doldrums and back to glory.

“It’s a city where the team and the organization has room for improvement,” Brewer said. “We want to re-establish the team.”

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