Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Step in the Right Direction

It is for all intensive purposes common knowledge that most viewers in the Sportsnet Pacific region would rather watch a Canucks pre-season game over anything else that the station can offer. Whether it be the Toronto biased Bob McCown show, Poker After Dark or a Toronto Jays game, who are now back over the .500 mark thanks to a season-high five game winning streak and a 13-1 shellacking over the Minnesota Twins last night, just incase you were wondering.

Early this week, Sportsnet Pacific in correlation with the Vancouver Canucks announced that two of Vancouver’s eight exhibition games will be televised live come this September. The newly born Canucks TV will broadcast Vancouver’s fourth pre-season game against Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks, along with their eighth and final game against Northwest Division rival Edmonton Oilers.

The dedicated Canucks fan will now only be required to sit glued to his radio or computer screen for six games, trying to re-create Shorty’s vivid play-by-play in his mind. Michael Grabner’s blazing speed or one of Luc Bourdon’s notorious bone-crushing hits will now become a reality, rather than a figment of your imagination. We Canucks fans will no longer have to rely on hearsay or subjective reports on the performance of our players, because just as Shakira’s hips, the camera “don’t lie” (I just had to get that one in there).

As I bring this blog post to an end, I realize that I am in all probability making a much bigger deal out of this than it really is. I’m sure many of you even question if this merits a Press Box Blog post at all, but I represent Canuck nation when I say that this is definitely a step in the right direction for Sportsnet and the Canucks. Or at least I think I do. At any rate, hopefully it won’t be long before watching a Canucks pre-season game will become regularity on the SPAC.

I guess this is why they call them the dog days of summer.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Too Good To Be True

Although the Nashville Predators are fighting to stay alive in Nashville and although inflated player contracts and the salary cap have effectively rendered the 2004-2005 NHL lockout useless, Gary Bettman must be feeling pretty good lately. His league is no longer in the headlines for the negativities which were leaking in to the news while the NHL is in it's off season, due to the recent felonious happenings in other professional leagues, which now have bigger, badder, and more newsworthy problems.

The NFL is once again caught in a scandal which has Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick being investigated for his alleged underground dog fighting business the NBA finds itself in the middle of an ivestigation of one of its top level officials for fixing games to finance his mob debts. While this takes place, the MLB inches closer to having one of its most reverred records broken by a less than friendly player who is alleged to have taken streriods. Bettman's problems seem trivial compared to the webs of misdemeanour and treachery that commissioners Godell, Stern and Selig are respectively facing.

But just as the NHL commissioner was loosening his necktie and getting more comfortable in his recliner atop the NHL towers in New York, news comes down that now the NHL too, has athletes facing criminal charges. Today, news comes out that the brother's Staal, Eric (Carolina Hurricanes) and Jordan (Pittsburgh Penguins) have been arrested in Cook County, Minessota for disoderly conduct and obstructing the legal process after older brother Eric's bacherlor party seemed to lose control. The Penguins' young gun was also charged with consumption of alchohol under the age of 21. The Cook County Sheriff says that 14 people were arrested after harrassing motorists and Eric Staal was one of 10 who spent the night in jail.

While Eric's agent says that the charges are not too serious and may very well be dropped, it is still a black eye on the league which was always third best to the NFL and NBA and which seems to have (like Bettman always tries to do) tried to have followed suit with its counterparts with the deplorable actions of its employees.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Bright Future

For what seems like an eternity, the Vancouver Canucks have been dubbed as an organization with the inability to bring in young talent through the entry draft. The Canucks’ scouting staff has been the subject of continuous criticism from not only the media, but also the so-called die-hard fans here in Vancouver. I think this criticism has been completely unwarranted and unfair to chief scout Ron Delorme and the rest of his staff. In light of Juraj Simek’s signing yesterday, I thought I might analyze what Canuck fans have to look forward to possibly as early as next season with the arrival of a splendid new crop of talented prospects unearthed by Vancouver’s unappreciated yet accomplished scouting staff.

Two prospects from the draft class of 2004 headline the list of Vancouver’s prospects who are essentially ready to perform on the National Hockey League stage. Alexander Edler, Vancouver’s second round pick in 04, excelled as Manitoba’s number one defenceman last season in the American Hockey League and was heavily relied upon in all situations with the team. The native of Ostersund, Sweden also looked very impressive when filling in with the big club on more than one occasion last season. I would be shocked if Alexander Edler wasn’t on Vancouver’s opening night roster come October. Jannik Hansen, Vancouver’s ninth round pick in 04, has the potential to become one of the finest late round steals in not only the history of the Canucks, but also that of the entire National Hockey League. Hansen burst onto the radar of many Canuck fans during Vancouver’s playoff run last season. He gave the impression of being a seasoned veteran in only his first few games in the NHL. Many believe that his performance in the playoffs all but guaranteed his spot on the club this season. It surely won’t be long before the native of Herlev, Denmark will be featured on one of the Canucks’ top two lines.

Goaltender Cory Schneider and defenceman Luc Bourdon are regularly looked at as Vancouver’s top two prospects and in the case of both of these young men, the sky is the limit on their uncapped potential. Many consider Schneider to be the best goaltender outside of the National Hockey League, but it remains to be seen whether he will be able to live up to all the hype. The recent graduate of Boston College will share goaltending duties with Drew MacIntyre for the Manitoba Moose this season and will to further establish his game against professional skaters for the first time in his career. Bourdon, Vancouver’s famous first round pick in what is now being referred to as the “Sidney Crosby draft,” is another prospect who will get his opportunity to make the big club this season. In Bourdon’s first professional training camp, he impressed the Canucks brass so much that he basically set himself up for disappointment in his second kick at the can. Bourdon is continually making big strides to become a regular player at the NHL level, and will undoubtedly join Vancouver’s reputable defensive core in the near future.

Like many other Vancouver Canucks fans, when I first heard the name of these following prospects, I will admit that I didn’t know very much about them and consequently wasn’t a huge fan of the selections. But now, they deservingly headline the list of Vancouver’s top forward prospects. Michael Grabner, Mason Raymond and Patrick White all have the raw talent to make the next step in their careers. For Grabner and Raymond, that next step will likely be valuable members of the Manitoba Moose. They both certainly have world class speed along with pure goal scoring instincts, but need to bulk up in order to eventually crack the Canucks’ roster. White’s next step in his career will be with the University of Minnesota Gophers, where he too will be a valuable member of the club. White is definitely a work-in-progress and shouldn’t be expected to crack the Canucks roster any time soon but if his development continues as it has in the past, the native of Grand Rapids, Minnesota will certainly make his dream to play in the NHL a reality.

With several other talented prospects in the system such as Juraj Simek, Sergei Shirokov, Daniel Rahimi and Taylor Ellington, the future undeniably looks bright for the Vancouver Canucks. This upcoming season will be a very important year for the development and growth of several Canuck prospects but from what they’ve shown in the past, they will certainly rise to the occasion. The Canucks’ scouting staff is only now beginning to receive the credit they truly deserve and hopefully this will continue and ameliorate into the future.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

West Coast Express, Take Two?

Today, Canucks Senior Vice-President and General Manager Dave Nonis announced that the club had signed three players to contracts. Veteran forwards Byron Ritchie, Brad Isbister and goaltending prospect Cory Schneider are the newest members of the Vancouver Canucks organization. What do these signings mean for the Canucks and how do they impact the team?

At first glance, the signings of Byron Ritchie (formerly of the Calgary Flames) and Brad Isbister (most recently a New York Ranger) seem to be almost trivial. Ritchie, a speedy and hard-nosed veteran is a fourth line player at best who won't contribute much (if at all) offensively. And Isbister, who was expected to do big things early in his career has recently been a big underacheiver and has had a tough time holding on to an NHL job.

However, if you look deeper in to the first two acquisitions, you'll see that the two signings - although small scale - could possibly address two needs of the Canucks this off-season. Coach Alain Vigneault is on record saying that he would like this coming year's Canucks team to be more hard-nosed and gritty and more willing and able to drop the gloves while still playing the speed and defensive game which made the team successful last season. Ritchie fits this mold perfectly.

The Canucks have also expressed (through their actions) that they need a player that will help Markus Naslund produce. The consensus seemed to be that this player needed to be a big, talented center such as Scott Gomez or Patricky Marleau, leaving Brendan Morrison and his contract elsewhere. Now despite the fact that this scenario could solve the problems, we have seen that with the high prices of free agents that it is becoming more unlikely that it will occur. What would be more likely and possibly more acheivable would be the addition of a big, talented winger that has a scoring touch - somewhat like a Todd Bertuzzi of old - to play along side Naslund and Morrison and rekinldle the spark that they once had. This player could very well be Brad Isbister. Isbister showed in junior and in his first years in the NHL that he was an offensive player. With his size and hands and the fact that he has to be able to skate to play in the new NHL, the Canucks may just have found the right piece of the puzzle to take both Naslund and Morrison out of their so-called slumps. Effectively, with his quiet signing of Brad Isbister, Dave Nonis may have given the Canucks the tools for a threatening second line.

Of course, this would be the ideal situation. We saw last year that not all of the trio's that head coach Alain Vigneault threw out on the ice worked well together, chemistry has a large part to play. Adding a piece to the puzzle in Isbister, who at least isn't a square peg for the empty round hole that is a scoring winger, may just solve the Canucks' offensive woes. And if it doesn't pan out, Nonis always has the option of trading the other signing, Cory Schneider, for immediate offensive assistance.