It goes without saying how badly the Canucks could have used a functional fourth line in the Stanley Cup Final, but I’ll say it anyway: on numerous occasions, Boston’s fourth line gave the Bruins momentum-changing shifts while the Canucks’ fourth line sat on the bench, awaiting or reminiscing their only shift of the period.

It was clear that there wasn’t a single fourth-liner in the Canucks organization Alain Vigneault trusted. That’s pretty damning (especially since AV loves his depth guys). This might explain why the Canucks didn’t have much of a problem with the mass exodus that took place over the weekend, as they let nearly every fourth-liner they had sign somewhere else.

By Monday morning, Alex “Howard Moon” Bolduc was in Phoenix, Guillaume “Improperly Formed Fist” Desbiens was in Calgary, Mario “The Shiznit” Bliznak was headed to Europe, and Tanner Glass and Rick Rypien were off to Winnipeg.

Expect shots of Alain Vigneault gazing longingly at the visitors’ bench when the Jets visit.

None will  be missed for their effectiveness in Canucks’ colours. We at PITB shed a tear for Glass and Rypien, although less for the way they played hockey than for their other qualities: Rypien was perhaps the last convincing defense for keeping fighting in the NHL, and Glass was just a fabulous human being, whose inability to turn down a charity opportunity was beyond admirable.

(The Scrabble battle aside, I was most touched by his willingness to appear in support of the Dear Vancouver, I Love You movement, signing t-shirts two days before he knew full well free agency would be taking him out of town.)

All five of these players had their moments in Vancouver but, over the course of the last two or more years, each has been unable to maintain a job on the Canucks’ fourth line (Glass excepted, up until this postseason, when he regressed mightily).

Considering how low fourth-line expectations have dropped during the Alain Vigneault era, this too is pretty damning.

It was odd, then, to hear Canuck fans complaining about the team’s great loss as these players moved on. Granted, these guys gave the fourth line some toughness. However, the fact that they simultaneously rendered the line relatively unskateable went largely ignored.

Let’s be clear: none of these losses will be noticeable, and all of these players are replaceable.

The Canucks have plenty of personnel that could potentially fill these gaps. Victor Oreskovich and Aaron Volpatti already showed that they might be effective fourth-line wingers for next year. If they can improve their skating, both are capable of giving the Canucks what the departed guys gave them at the very least.

Mark Mancari and Steven Pinizzotto, two depth signing the Canucks made over the weekend could as well.

Jim Jamieson’s piece on Pinizzotto introduces him as a Brad Marchand type, but bigger, at 6’1″. Here’s Pinizzotto, on his game:

I played against (Marchand) in the American League. He’s not a fun guy to play against but you can ask anybody in that league and they’ll probably say the same thing about me. I feel that helped Boston out a lot, just him doing that, getting the high-end guys off their game. We have very similar styles. But I think I can be a lot more physical than him.

Meanwhile, Jamieson introduces Mancari as a bigger body, at 6’4″, 225 lbs, that put up big numbers in the AHL and can drop the gloves. He’s a long shot, but he could bring both size and skill to the end of the bench.

The wonderful news is that all of these players will have an excellent shot at making the team out of training camp, especially since Vigneault is now unable to default to the likes of Rypien, Bolduc, and Glass, as he normally does. With one of Malhotra or Lapierre holding down the fourth line center position (an improvement over the dearth of real options in September of last year), the Canucks have plenty of possibilities for grit at the wing.

And, if none of them can do the job, it’ll just be business as usual, anyway.


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10 comments

  1. Dave
    July 5, 2011

    If the grit never touched the ice, you didn’t have it to begin with.

    Losing grit players who averaged two or three minutes a game doesn’t make a team noticeably softer. If nobody noticed their presence, nobody will notice their absence.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      July 5, 2011

      Exactly.

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  2. swizzler
    July 5, 2011

    You have to wonder when Mike Gillis’ draft picks are going to challenge for a roster spot. So far he’s made up for it with savvy college free agent signings (Chris Tanev comes to mind), but if none of his draft picks are in the opening night line up, Dave Nonis might be seen smirking somewhere.

    Of course, losing your minor league affiliate certainly doesn’t helpt the cause.

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    • John in Marpole
      July 5, 2011

      Although it’s true that the Canucks ‘lost’ the Moose, they didn’t lose any of the prospects were playing in Manitoba that were signed to Canuck contracts. Those players are headed to Chicago as they remain Canuck property.

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      • Jim
        July 5, 2011

        I think the biggest loss with the Moose/Wolves situation is that Claude Noel isn’t the Canucks’ prospects coach anymore. I’m sure the Wolves Coaching staff will do fine (Is Don Lever still their coach?), but Claude Noel is clearly at least somewhat good at his job, being an NHL head coach for two different teams.

        Anyways, assuming Hansen gets signed and barring a trade, the Canucks have 11 forwards guaranteed to make the team out of camp (Henrik, Daniel, Burrows, Kesler, Raymond, Samuelsson, Malhotra, Sturm, Higgins, Lapierre, Hansen) meaning there’s only one spot available on the 4th. Granted, with Raymond out until November, that’s 2 spots available, but that’s only temporary.

        Keep in mind, that sees Ebbett, Mancani, Hodgson, Oreskovich (assuming he gets signed too), Volpatti, Schroeder, and Rodin all fighting for 1-2 spots.

        So what does this mean for the 4th line? Well, with a healthy Canucks team, it’ll probably be Lapierre, with one of the younger guys, and Higgins/Samuelsson/Sturm, depending on who’s playing well.

        Frankly, I think the Canucks have an embarrassment of riches in terms of moderately skilled forwards.

        I can see a deal being made this summer to trade away any combination of Raymond, Samuelsson, and Hodgson for a bonafide winger for Kesler, whilst opening an extra spot for someone who really impresses out of camp. I think Oreskovich played good enough in he playoffs to earn a spot, but I wouldn’t want to say no one else is deserving.

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        • Daniel Wagner
          July 5, 2011

          I agree that the Canucks will missing having Claude Noel on the farm. He taught the same system that Vigneault was using, which made for an easier transition from the Moose to the Canucks.

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          • Noodle
            July 6, 2011

            Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought you can’t trade an injured player…..isn’t that the reason why the Ryan Smyth trade took so long?

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            • Daniel Wagner
              July 6, 2011

              No, you can definitely trade an injured player. The reason you don’t see it happen very often is that most teams don’t want to take an injured player in a trade. There are often provisions in the deals that the team’s own medical staff can assess a player and void a trade if they feel they’ve been misled over the player’s status. But you can definitely trade an injured player.

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  3. Tom
    July 6, 2011

    I am strongly suspicious that Mr Desbiens broke his fist on purpose (like PITB suggested) so that he could keep making that NHL money (he was on a 2-way wasn’t he?).

    Who makes a fist like that? And who would want a player who would do that?

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    • Dave
      July 6, 2011

      I don’t know, but even the suspicion is worrying.

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