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Ten weekly random thoughts: Week 24 – March 10-17 REVISED

It was another eventful week for the Canucks this week with a trio of games. The most anticipated and worst kept secret for the week was Quinn Hughes turning pro after his Michigan hockey team was eliminated from the playoffs over. I’ll talk more about that later. On Wednesday, the Canucks faced off against the New York Rangers for the second time this season. In the first meeting, they were edged 2-1 in the mid-November match with Jacob Markstrom keeping the Canucks close for most of the night. On Wednesday, it was a completely different story. The Canucks jumped out to a 3-0 lead by the end of the second period. However, the story of the game was the Rangers receiving two major penalties for injuring two Canucks players. One of those major penalties was warranted while the other one was completely bizarre. I will touch more on that later. On Friday, the Canucks faced off against Cory Schneider and the New Jersey Devils. The ex-Canucks goalie’s Devils team has been near the bottom of the league for most of the season, much like the Canucks. Chris Tanev saw his season come to an end in this game after blocking a shot mere minutes into the game. Elias Pettersson scored for the first time since Valentine’s Day in LA. Pettersson had several assists between Valentine’s Day and Friday’s game. He also scored a beauty of a shootout goal doing his best Peter Forsberg impression. Jacob Markstrom was strong in net, keeping the game scoreless through the first, as the Canucks got off to their usual slow start. He also gave his team a chance to win it in the shootout stopping 4 shots in a row before allowing the game-winning goal in the 7th round. After the game there was an unfortunate incident involving a drunk fan harassing Pettersson as he was in his vehicle trying to leave after the game. I will touch more on this later. The week wrapped up with a late afternoon matinee versus the Dallas Stars, who are in a fight for one of the two wild card spots. Tim Schaller made the most of his rare appearance in the lineup, scoring twice in the game’s first ten minutes. Pettersson tied Pavel Bure’s rookie scoring record with an assist on the second goal. Pettersson should have broken the record with an automatic goal on a penalty shot, but somehow all four refs missed Stars goalie Anton Khudobin throwing his stick at Petey and the puck. Jacob Markstrom stood on his head as usual, stopping 48/50, including all four in the shootout. Looking at the week ahead, the Canucks wrap up the road trip on Monday with a game versus the Chicago Blackhawks. The Canucks split the first two meetings against Chicago, with the home team winning both games. Josh Teves, a college free agent who signed a one-year contract this week, may make his NHL debut in this one. Teves was a participant in this year’s training camp for the Canucks, but he was eventually let go. On Wednesday, the Canucks open up their final home stand of the season taking on the Ottawa Senators. I’ve talked to a few times about the state of the pitiful Ottawa Senators, who in a bizarre twist are likely to have the highest odds of winning the draft lottery on April 9th for the Colorado Avalanche, who obtained Ottawa’s first round pick for the 2019 NHL draft in the Matt Duchene trade made last year. The Canucks should not take Ottawa lightly as they just finished beating powerhouse Toronto over the weekend and it wasn’t close. On Saturday, the Canucks take on the Calgary Flames for the final time this season. Had the Canucks made the playoffs this year, I believe that they would have had the best chance to win a game or even beat the Flames in a seven-game series, as they have won two of the first three meetings this season, and on paper the match up well with the Flames. Calgary is in a tight battle for the division crown with the San Jose Sharks. The winner of the Pacific Division will likely be determined in the final week as only a couple points separate the Flames and Sharks. The Canucks cap off the week with a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the final game of the season against an Eastern Conference opponent. Columbus made a big splash at the trade deadline acquiring Ottawa Senators Ryan Dzingel and Matt Duchene. They also acquired Adam McQuaid from the Rangers. They are engaged in a tight battle for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.the Blue Jackets currently have a three-point lead over the Montreal Canadiens for the final wild-card spot and if the teams are tied at the end of the season Columbus holds the tiebreaker because they have three more regulation wins than the Habs. If the playoffs started today, Columbus would be facing the Tampa Bay Lightning who are going to win the Presidents trophy for having the best record in the NHL. Here are 10 random thoughts from week 24 of the NHL.

Okay, let’s get right into it. I want to start this week off by breaking down the Wednesday’s game versus the New York Rangers. There are a couple issues I want to discuss. This game was bizarre to say the least as Chris Kreider and Brandon Lemieux were ejected from the game in separate incidents five minutes apart. I’m going to break down each incident separately. But before I do that, I just want to say that this game was really poorly reffed. Chris Kreider was ejected from the game for this vicious hit on Elias Pettersson. The Canucks rookie has been targeted multiple times this season as teams trying to prevent him from embarrassing them. In this case, an injection from the game was absolutely warranted. The timing of the hit was okay because the puck was on Pettersson’s stick at the time. Where Kreider crossed the line was when he purposely elbowed Patterson in bed, causing the Canucks rookie to hit his head hard on the glass. Pettersson left the game to briefly for concussion protocol and to get his bloody nose patched up. Kreider was fined $5,000 the next day and received no suspension. It is ridiculous that a player can get away with being fined so little when they make so much money in a single game. George Parros, a former enforcer himself, is the one responsible for handing out suspensions. First of all, he is not unbiased, as he played in the NHL not too long ago and he probably still holds grudges against certain players and teams that he faced in his career. The NHL should be hiring a completely neutral person deal with player discipline, not a former player and especially not a former player who only retired within the past five seasons. The NHL has always been really inconsistent when it comes to supplementary discipline. The same two plays should have similar consequences. I also think that suspended players should be out as long as the injured players out. For example, say Pettersson haf sustained a concussion and missed five games, Kreider should also miss five games. In order to prevent teams from milking injuries, a neutral doctor should be the one clearing the injured player to return to action. In my view, Kreider deserved a couple of games for that elbow to the head. He has a history of injuring players. In 2014, he injured Carey Price running the Habs goalie.

A little under five minutes after Kreider was ejected from the game, Brendan Lemieux suffer the same fate after Antoine Roussel fell to the ice awkwardly injuring his knee after it got caught under him on this play. As you can see, Roussel is cutting through the goal crease and stumbles, tripping over Henrik Lundqvist’s goalie stick. He then runs into Lemieux, who had no chance of getting out of the way. The injury did not occur because of Roussel running into Lemieux. He was hurt because his leg twisted under him when he fell to the ice. He did not sustain a concussion. To be frank, Lemieux didn’t even deserve a penalty on the play, let alone getting booted out of the game.  I believe he was ejected to keep the game under control and prevent line brawls from happening l;later on in the game. The NHL did not review this play because they didn’t need to. Unfortunately, Roussel’s season came to an end on the play due to a knee injury that will not require surgery. Roussel finished with 9 goals and 22 assists over 65 games, including an assist on the play that ended his season. Roussel was a great addition to the Canucks lineup this season, adding a grit factor to the top line, much like Alex Burrows did. Roussel needs to cut down on the bad penalties because the referees know he has a reputation for mixing things up and are more likely to pick him out of a scrum for penalty. Hopefully Roussel heals up fast and gets a full summer of training in.

On Friday, Chris Tanev saw his season come to an unfortunate end just a few minutes into the game after he blocked a shot that fractured his leg. Tanev briefly returned during the TV timeout          to test out the injury but quickly returned to the dressing room for the final time. The injury history of Tanev is lengthy. Every season that he has played in a Canucks uniform, he has suffered a        major injury and missed big chunks of the season. Many of the injuries are due to his playing style. Tanev tries to play hard and do the right things that you want in a defenseman,                        putting his body on the line blocking shots. He’s had a couple of injuries due to weakness in his core as well. It is highly unlikely that Tanev will ever ever play a full 82-game schedule because his body can’t tolerate the rigors of a tough NHL season. Some fans want to see Tanev traded while he still has some value. I can see the merits of this, but the team is better with him in the lineup than without. Next year is going to be critical for Tanev as his contract expires at the end of the 2019-20 season. The frustrating thing is Tanev probably won’t get a full summer training and I          suspect his body will be more vulnerable to injuries next season because of it. I wish him a speedy recovery.

Next, I want to discuss an incident that happened after Friday’s game. I’m not going to post a video here because I do not want to give this “fan” anymore credit than he deserves. Here’s what happened, Elias Pettersson was in his vehicle trying to leave Rogers arena. This idiot decided it would be a smart idea to make some rude gestures in front of his vehicle mugging for a friend who is filming the incident. At the end of the video, he turns around and tries to get Pettersson to fist bump him. First of all, he should have been nowhere near Pettersson’s vehicle. He violated Pettersson’ privacy. All this guy did was potentially ruin it for the rest of the fans who might seek Pettersson’s autograph in the future. One question I have is where was security? Clearly this fan was drunk but that’s no excuse for what he did. I hope Roger’s arena bars this fan for life from ever attending another Canucks game. Outside of the games, fans need to be respectful of the players. If they see them walking down the street, for example, it might be okay to say hello to the player and say good game. However, that should be where the interaction ends. Players don’t get a lot of downtime during the season and when they do, they should be allowed to enjoy it. Further, people should not be bothering the players after the game like this fan did. Pettersson was just trying to leave the arena in peace and get home to bed, likely.

And now for the biggest and worst kept secret of the week. Quinn Hughes officially signed his first pro contract on Monday after his Michigan hockey team was eliminated from the playoffs. His debut in a Canucks uniform, however, is delayed due an ankle injury suffered blocking a shot, ironically, and he joins Chris Tanev and Ben Hutton in walking boots. There is even a chance that he may not play the season if the ankle injury does not heal in a week or so. Presumably, the team will want him skating at least one morning skate or practice before playing a game. He finished his university season with 5 goals and 28 assists through 32 games played. He also had a pair of assists in seven games at the World Juniors. He was instrumental in helping team USA capture a silver medal in the tournament. It is expected that he was will be a big upgrade in helping the power play and he has elite skating abilities and hockey IQ. However, my expectations of his play are tempered as he adjusts to life in the NHL. I’m not expecting him to come out and be Bobby Orr his first game. I think, like most rookies, he’ll have his good and bad games in his first couple of seasons. Defensemen tend to develop slower than forwards. However, we shall see how he does when he gets on the ice. Hopefully he plays on March 30th when I go to a group game with the Facebook group I belong to, Vancouver Nuckleheads.

The Canucks signed college free agent Josh Teves to a one-year deal. It is likely he will get some game action before Hughes does. He did not play this week, but he has been skating with                the team for a few days now. Teves was actually in the Canucks training camp this year, but he did not make the cut. Teves had 3 goals and 17 assists in 30 games this season. I think it’s          important that he gets into most of the final 10 games this season because the Canucks defense is likely to get overhauled over the next couple of seasons with everyone’s contract expiring the next couple of seasons. The Canucks need to see what they have in their prospects.

Next I want to talk about the goaltending, and in particular how the Canucks should manage the goalie starts over the last 10 games. In my mind, Thatcher Demko should start at least half of            the games remaining. The playoffs are no longer possible.the Canucks know that Jacob Markstrom will be the starting goalie next season and they know what they have in him. Thatcher                  Demko has only played 4 NHL game so far, 3 of which he  started. It’s not fair to give Demko all the easy games or the ones that Markstrom is going to have trouble beating due to his history            against the teams. It is important that Green trusts backup Demko because it’s likely Dipietro is going to need a couple of seasons in Utica to develop and there aren’t many good backup goalies    available in free agent market at the moment. The Canucks could try and trade Demko or Markstrom for another goalie in the off-season. In the meantime, show faith in Demko. Five him at least    five of the games remaining and let him run with it. Jacob Markstrom started in Dallas yesterday, and if the Canucks don’t start Demko today in Chicago something’s wrong.

On a related note, the Canucks should be playing some of the younger players in the press box such as Nikolay Goldobin, instead of players like Loui Eriksson, who was not lived up to his contract. It is likely the Canucks will part ways with Goldobin in the off-season, with the Russian either returning to the KHL or the Canucks trading him. The last 10 games should be about giving the younger players an opportunity show what they got. The future is now. If the Canucks want to compete in the next year, they have to give these younger players an opportunity to shine in the NHL now or flop. It’s no longer about wins and losses in the standings, it’s more about seeing what you have.

Finally, congrats to the Calgary Flames for becoming the 1st Canadian team to clinch a playoff spot. There are likely to be three Canadian teams in the playoffs (Winnipeg, Calgary and Toronto are pretty much locks to make the playoffs and Montreal is in a tight battle, three points back of Columbus for the final wild card spot). Will this be the year a Canadian team wins the Stanley Cup for the first time in 26 years (the Habs last won it in 1993). I have serious doubts about that, but we shall see in about 3 months.

Canuck of the week: This week there are three candidates deserving of this much sought-after award. Tim Schaller scored the 1st two goals of his Canucks career Sunday. Elias Pettersson tied Pavel Bure’s rookie scoring record and really should have broken it the same game if not for a blatantly missed call on a penalty shot where the goalie threw his stick and should have been an automatic goal. The third candidate is Jacob Markstrom, who had a strong bounce back week after being pulled against Vegas. This week, the award goes to Petey. He also honed his Peter Forsberg on this goal. Again, so sorry for the poor editing job this morning. This post should be much better.

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