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ten weekly random thoughts – Week 5: February 8-13

It was an absolute brutal week for the sports radio industry in Vancouver with Bell communications abruptly pulling the plug on Team1040 Vancouver, as well as similar programs in Winnipeg and Hamilton. There was no warning given, but listeners on social media got a hint of what was coming when the twitter handle was deactivated. On Friday, 1040 relaunched as a comedy station. I’m going to get more into this issue a bit later, but to say the least, like everyone else, I was stunned and gutted to go into my twitter feed and see Jeff Paterson tweeting that he had had a good run. At first, I thought he had found another gig, but a quick scroll through my feed revealed the devastating news. On the ice, things weren’t much better. Monday, the Canucks wrapped up a tough eastern road swing that saw them finish 1-5 after dropping Monday’s game 3-1. The Canucks were much better than they had been in recent games, outshooting the Leafs by a 27-7 margin through 2 periods. Unfortunately, one bad minute in the 3rd period where the Leafs tallied twice in ten seconds was the difference in the game. Elias Pettersson quietly put together a solid 20 minutes, scoring the only Canucks goal, while winning 57% of the faceoffs – this has been a big improvement for the Swedish center. Braden Holtby couldn’t have been happy with Quinn Hughes on the 3rd goal when Hughes was stripped of the puck in the corner to the left of Holtby. Before the first game of the week started, it was learned that Tyler Motte was going on the IR with an upper body injury, thought to have occurred on an awkward hit on the weekend (more on that later). On Thursday, the Canucks opened a crucial 4-game mini series against the Calgary Flames with the first three games at home. It turned out to be the 6th straight loss for the Canucks. Two of the three goals against were unlucky bounces off Canucks defenders. The third goal was the result of a giveaway at the end of a PP. The big issue was the inability to solve ex-teammate Jacob Markstrom, who stopped Unfortunately, the Canucks lost Justin Bailey, who left the game with an upper body injury after being driven into the boards from behind by Milan Lucic. The Canucks nearly lost Tyler Myers to injury when the hulking defenseman was drilled in the hand by a shot. Luckily he was able to continue. On Saturday, the Canucks were back at it, trying to get back in the win column. Jake Virtanen and Loui Eriksson both drew into the lineup, one as an injury replacement for Bailey. The Canucks finally got the ape off their backs taking the lead halfway through the 2nd period. While the Flames tied the game 75 seconds later, the Canucks kept the pressure up and beat Calgary with 2 goals in the 3rd period. Thatcher Demko was solid in net and made the saves he had to make. Ot was a great 60 minute effort. Looking at the week ahead, the Canucks will wrap up the mini series with Calgary with a home and home. After splitting the first two games of the week, this becomes a critical week. The Canucks need to get a decent winning streak going in order to overtake Winnipeg and Calgary for the 4th and final playoff spot. Teams in the North Division still have games in hand on the Canucks. Owner Francesco Aquilini tweeted out a vote of confidence for Benning and the coaching staff prior to the game Saturday, but he may be forced into a move if the Canucks fortunes don’t turn around pretty quick. Luckily, the Canucks end the week with a pair of games at Home against the Jets. The Canucks will be trying to snap a home losing streak that dates back to December 22, 2016. The last time the Canucks beat Winnipeg at home was December 20, 2012. Yours truly was at that game. Here are ten random thoughts from week ten of the NHL.

1. Let’s start  with the big news maker of the week and it happened off the ice. As described in the opening couple of sentences, on Tuesday morning at about 9:30, Bell Communications abruptly pulled the plug on TSN Team1040 and took the station, as well as stations in Winnipeg and Hamilton off the air. Literally, the show hosted by Jason Brough and Mike Halford went to commercial, and after the commercial there was a prerecorded message that the radio station was no longer going to be a sports station and to go to TSN.ca and iheart for other podcasts from TSN that were still operational. At the same time, a similar message appeared on the TSN website and the Team1040 twitter handle was deactivated. Comically, Bell decided to replace the sports with music for three days and the first song it played was “Good Riddance” by Green Day. The radio station is now a comedy station (doomed to fail). I saw the news about 5 hours after it went down. The first tweet I  saw was from Jeff Paterson saying that it had been a good run. My first reaction was that he had found a different and better opportunity. However, a quick scroll through my twitter feed showed that the station was done as a sports station. I know a few retired radio personnel through my volunteer job. One of them, who I shall keep anonymous, mentioned how much better radio was before the big phone companies, who don’t care about the workers, took it over. Salaries for the hosts dropped drastically and job security was not guaranteed. I feel for every host and staff member who lost their job Tuesday, especially during a pandemic. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many options for the displaced workers at the moment if they want to remain in Vancouver. Sportsnet690 is the only major radio station left in Vancouver. Don Taylor has already stated he won’t take a job that comes at the cost of someone losing their job. My radio friend mentioned that the displaced workers couldn’t start a new station even if they wanted to because all the radio stations are filled and you need some distance between frequencies to avoid having the various stations jumble into each other. I’m sure buying out Bell would be an expensive entity, but a potential option if fans banded together enough money. A lot of fans cancelled subscriptions to Bell and its affiliates. As far as I know I am not subscribed to any Bell products and I wouldn’t go that route anyway as I am happy with my internet, TV, phone and cell plans. I will avoid watching TSN and going on the website. I have no need to anyway since Sportsnet broadcasts all Canucks games. It was a sad day for Vancouver Sports and it will never be the same.

2. Prior to the game Saturday, Franceso Aquilini took to twitter to try and quell the circling sharks that were calling for Jim Benning to be let go. With the team off to a bad 6-11 start after nearly making the conference finals last August and then losing every pending free agent they had, the expectations were high that the Canucks would compete with Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Montreal for one of the three playoff spots (the consensus was that Toronto would, and is, dominating the temporary division and should be a playoff lock, barring a horrible stretch). Aquilini also threw the media on the fire for adding gas to the fire with misinformation and rumours. For sure Aquilin will continuously reassess the situation as the season progresses and Benning and/or Green could very well be gone by the end of the season, but Aquilini believes in this group, and likely had a large say in approving the signings and trades, so he’s going to give this group of players every chance to turn things around.  By the way, the Canucks roster is pretty much going to be what it is for the remainder of the season due to the mandatory 14 day quarantine if the player is coming from a US team or 7-day quarantine if coming from a Canadian team. Not to mention that every GM knows the Canucks might make a panic move and would sell high on any player. Plus, the Canucks are right against the cap to maximize the cap relief they are getting from Motte and Ferland on LTIR so trades would need to be of equal value on the cap hit or one team would need to retain salary on a player. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It takes time to build a championship team. The prospects are still developing and some are learning on the fly, so there are bound to be growing pains.

3. The Canucks received bad news right off the bat to start the week. Tyler Myers was heading to the IR (and five days later the LTIR with Michael Ferland). Motte’s biggest asset is his physical game and that puts him at a high risk of getting injured. Like Ferland, his career will likely be limited because the human body can only take so much abuse. The latest injury appears to have been from an awkward hit last Saturday vs. the Leafs. It’s believed that Motte banged up his shoulder on the play. In the interim, the Canucks will turn to Jake Virtanen and hope he uses his body consistently. When he got hurt, Motte was leading the team in hits with 70 and he was 5th on the team in blocked shots with 16. Motte has struggled to stay healthy in his career, never playing more than 74 games in a season. In last season’s pandemic shortened campaign, he missed 35 games with an upper body injury. The concern has to be whether injuries will eventually limit his effectiveness or lead to a forced early retirement.

4. The Canucks forward depth was further tested on Thursday when Justin Bailey was crushed into the boards by Milan Lucic. There was no penalty on the play. The league is supposed to review all questionable hits, but they saw nothing wrong with the infraction. The career minor leaguer was slotting on and off the taxi squad as Travis Green tried to find the right mix of players. In recent games, the bottom two lines have been more effective than the top 2 lines. When Bailey has been in the lineup, he’s been a third liner with Antoine Roussel and Brandon Sutter. Bailey has no points in 3 games and is -2 with a pair of hits. His absence gives Jake Virtanen another opportunity to get into the Canucks lineup. Virtanen would help himself if he performed well because it doesn’t appear he has much future with the Canucks as long as Green is the coach. Virtanen could be a piece if the Canucks went for Ryan Dzingel, traded this week to Ottawa

5. The Canucks have a couple of other players on the shelf. There’s good and bad news to report. The good news is Jayce Hawryluk is now available to play. He’s missed the entire season to date after suffering an upper body injury in training camp. He’ll likely be rotated on and off the taxi squad. He was available to play Saturday, but was a healthy scratch. The bad news is Travis Hamonic is still a bit away from returning from an upper body injury he suffered in his 5th game of the season. Hamonic will likely be paired with Quinn Hughes – the pair was demonstrating good chemistry together before the injury. Hamonic was essentially signed to replace Troy Stetcher.

6. Let’s talk faceoffs for a minute. Last season, the Canucks were pretty solid on faceoffs with Captain Bo Horvat leading the way. Manny Malhotra was the Canuck consultant who was working with the centers in practice last season. Malhotra was snapped up by Toronto to be an assistant coach in a bigger role. The Canucks have not been as sharp in the faceoff circle this season. For a while, Jay Beagle was having a disastrous time. This week Beagle was above 50% success rate, and hit 75% success rate Thursday. Horvat, who was right near the top of the league in faceoff win rate last season. In the first 8 games of the season, Horvat was 50% or better every game, and had a season high 71.4% success rate January 16 vs. Calgary. Since then, he’s only been 50% or above 3 times in the last 10 games. Faceoffs are such an underrated part of the game and can directly or indirectly lead to goals. It’s clear that the Canucks are missing Malhotra’s expertise in the faceoff dot.

7. In a normal regular season, the league would be into the official second half of the regular season with the all-star game in the rearview mirror. Of course, with the abbreviated schedule, there will be no all-star game this season. If all goes according to plan with the rollout of the vaccine the all-star game will be played in 2022, likely in Sunrise, Florida, home of the Florida Panthers (the game was supposed to have been held Jan. 30 with the All-Star skills competition on the 29th.) I posed this question this week in the NHL Hockey Teams facebook group I belong to and am admin of: Using any player (past or present) from your team (Canucks) create an all-star team of 3 forwards, 2 defensemen and a goalie. Here’s what my team would look like (please comment below with yours):

Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Pavel Bure

Ed Jovanovski-Quinn Hughes

Kirk McLean

8. Let’s do a  little COVID-19 update with the NHL. I may make this a weekly feature as the pandemic is the single biggest factor impeding the NHL’s ability to successfully and completely finish the season. The NHL does not want to be playing into July because with the Seattle Kraken entering the league for the 2021-22 season, there will be an expansion draft to add to the off-season calendar. Also, the regular draft may be modified with the minor league teams either not playing or playing abbreviated schedules, it will be difficult to scout the draft-eligible players. As well, the NHL would like to start next season on time, in October. To date, COVID-19 has more greatly affected the American based teams when it comes to postponements. The COVID situation is significantly worse in the US and Canada has done a much better job of handling the pandemic, as a whole. Only the Canucks (JT Miller and Jordie Benn) and the Jets (Tucker Poolman) were on the COVID-19 inactive list and all three players have since returned and neither team had games postponed as a result. This week, 12 games were postponed, affecting the schedules of 10 teams (LA, Philadelphia, Boston, Buffalo, NY Rangers, Minnesota, Colorado, NJ, St. Louis and Washington). A big concern has to be the new variants circulating in the communities that are thought to be more contagious. The state of NY approved fans to be in the stands to 10% capacity starting February 23rd, adding the Rangers, Islanders and Sabres to the list of teams allowing fans. Dallas, Nashville, Arizona, St. Louis, Columbus, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay were already allowing fans in the arena. I think it’s highly unlikely any of the Canadian teams will approve fans in the stands anytime soon

9. Finally, let’s end the week off with some controversy. On Tuesday, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban announced the Mavericks would stop playing the national anthem prior to games.. While Cuban backed down a day later, it does raise the merits of playing the anthem(s) before games. Maybe the NHL should do what the IIHF does for international tournaments and play the anthem of the winning team. For example, say the Canucks were playing the Kraken next season and the Canucks won then the Canadian anthem would be played. Or, the league could play the anthem of the home team only. The thing about only playing the Canadian and American anthems is every team has several players from European nations. Most of those players won’t get a citizenship of the country they play in. The NHL should either scrap the anthems or tweak them so both aren’t played if a Canadian and an American team is involved

10. Canuck of the week: Quinn Hughes. The 2nd-year Canuck is in the league lead for points by a defenseman. He was the most consistent Canuck in a bad week. Hughes had two points this week, including a huge goal to give the Canucks their first lead since Nils Hoglander scored 8:17 into the 1st period of a 4-1 win over the Jets back on January 30.

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