Three former Canucks still in the playoffs

It can be tough watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Canucks having already been eliminated. While the games are still entertaining, it’s just not the same without a proverbial horse in the race. Cheering against the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings only gets you so far.

Fortunately for the dedicated Canucks fan, there are three significant former Canucks still in the playoff picture. At the very least, Canucks fans can cheer for the individual success of Willie Mitchell, Taylor Pyatt, and Steve Bernier. I thought it would be worthwhile to look at these three players and see how they got to where they are and how they have found a place with their respective teams where, perhaps, they were not able to on the Canucks.

Willie Mitchell

Mitchell played with the Canucks for 4 seasons and played a key shutdown role. Unfortunately, in the final season of his 4-year contract, he suffered a concussion on an ugly hit by Evgeni Malkin that caused him to miss the final half of the regular season and all of the playoffs. His recovery seemed uncertain even through the offseason and the Canucks were not willing to offer him more than a one-year contract.

Instead, the Canucks moved ahead with signing free agent Dan Hamhuis and trading for Keith Ballard. Mitchell moved on to the Los Angeles Kings, who were willing to take a chance that he would return to form after his concussion and gave him a two-year deal. This season, the second year of his deal, Mitchell has set a career-high in points with 24 and finished the regular season with 104 shots, eclipsing his previous career high of 88. Mitchell is even getting significant powerplay time with the Kings, as we saw when he scored a powerplay goal in the first round against Vancouver.

Mitchell is averaging nearly 25 minutes per game in the playoffs, while facing the toughest competition among Kings’ defencemen. It’s fair to say that his role would not be anywhere near as large on the Canucks.

Taylor Pyatt

Prior to the happy discovery that Alex Burrows, a left-shooting agitator, was the best fit with the Sedins, the prevailing thought was that the twins needed a big, strong, right-shooting power forward on their wing. Pyatt was Dave Nonis’s attempt at filling that need, acquiring him from the Sabres for a fourth-round draft pick.

The expectation created by the signing made it hard to view Pyatt objectively: while he worked with the Sedins for one season, scoring 23 goals in 2006-07, it didn’t last. Pyatt just didn’t quite have hands soft enough to tap in the multiple scoring opportunities the Sedins gave him and he didn’t really play the way fans expected a 6’4″ hockey player should.

2008-09 was a difficult year for Pyatt, on and off the ice. While he struggled offensively, he more importantly had to deal with the tragic loss of his fiance in a car crash. He took a leave of absence from the team, not returning until the playoffs. It was unclear in the following off-season if Pyatt simply wanted a change of scenery or if negotiations simply stalled between him and the Canucks, but he went to free agency and was signed by the Phoenix Coyotes for just $600,000, a significant cut in salary.

Pyatt found his legs in Phoenix, playing a third-line role that seems to fit him better than the top-six expectations did in Vancouver. He was re-signed by the Coyotes after his first season and is now in his third year with the club. Pyatt has 3 goals and 1 assist so far in the playoffs, but his role is mainly defensive: his line starts the bulk of their shifts in the defensive zone, with Pyatt starting just 35.7% of his shifts in the offensive zone.

Steve Bernier

Bernier was Mike Gillis’s attempt at filling the right-handed power forward spot on the Sedins’ right side, but he ended up with even more expectation placed on him than Pyatt. While he was also acquired from the Sabres, he cost the Canucks two draft picks, a second rounder and a third rounder. In addition, his acquisition occurred just after Mike Gillis had signed Blues’ forward David Backes to an offer sheet and, to a certain extent, Bernier was seen as a “Plan B” to Backes, a comparison that does not shine favorably on Bernier.

To make matters worse, the Blues then signed Bernier to an offer sheet of $2.5 million, well above what the Canucks wanted to pay him. Gillis matched the offer sheet, resulting in a larger cap hit and more expectations for what role Bernier would play on the team. Unfortunately, it wasn’t slated to be on the top line with the Sedins. Bernier lacked finish and ended up playing on the third line. That would have been fine if there weren’t expectations of him being a top-six power forward on the Canucks.

Unfortunately, Bernier just didn’t pan out and was traded to the Florida Panthers in the Keith Ballard deal. He didn’t seem to fit with the Panthers either, even to the point of being put on waivers and going unclaimed. The Panthers eventually chose not to re-sign him and Bernier couldn’t find a team willing to sign him. Bernier eventually signed a deal with New Jersey’s AHL affiliate, the Albany Devils, and later signed a two-way deal with New Jersey.

Bernier has found a fit on the Devils’ bottom-six, averaging just under 11 minutes per game in the playoffs with 4 points. He is also third on the Devils in hits with 42 in 16 postseason games, something he did do well for the Canucks. In all honesty, if Bernier had been brought in as a third or fourth-liner, with the contract and expectations that role carries with it, he would have been just fine with the Canucks.

Or maybe not. He still gets tossed around awfully easily.

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23 comments

  1. Rob
    May 22, 2012

    Adrian Aucoin?

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    Rating: +18 (from 18 votes)
    • J21 (@Jyrki21)
      May 22, 2012

      Also the very likable Jason LaBarbera, Raffi Torres (while he played), and Alexandre Bolduc (if he’s anywhere to be found).

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      Rating: +14 (from 14 votes)
      • Daniel Wagner
        May 22, 2012

        Jason LaBarbera is a great guy, but he was barely a Canuck. He played a grand total of 9 games for the team.

        Completely forgot about Bolduc, which seems somehow appropriate.

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        Rating: +8 (from 8 votes)
    • Daniel Wagner
      May 22, 2012

      I should have clarified: recent Canucks. Adrian Aucoin’s mom would be so upset that I forgot him.

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      Rating: +5 (from 5 votes)
  2. John in Marpole
    May 22, 2012

    ” While the games are still entertaining.”

    Apparently PITB hasn’t been listening to TEAM1040 or reading the Province, because both of those sports authorities insist that these playoffs are boring beyond belief.

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    • Nee
      May 22, 2012

      I wouldn’t go as far as TEAM1040, but I haven’t found the playoffs to be that entertaining in the 3rd round. The 1st and 2nd rounds were quite enjoyable to watch though.

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      Rating: +12 (from 12 votes)
    • akidd
      May 22, 2012

      zzzzzzz…oops, did the rangers get a shot yet? just an icing?…//rolls over…zzzzzzzz….

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      Rating: +7 (from 7 votes)
  3. Dan D
    May 22, 2012

    I’m especially happy for Mitchell. It was sad to lose him to a concussion that season, and it’s good to see him come back strong on a strong team.

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    Rating: +23 (from 23 votes)
  4. Steve_May
    May 22, 2012

    What? No Johan Hedberg? Disappointing.

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  5. Brad
    May 22, 2012

    What about Raffi Torr… oh yeah.

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    Rating: +17 (from 17 votes)
  6. sarah
    May 22, 2012

    I’m cheering for Taylor Pyatt because he has pretty eyes.

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    Rating: +20 (from 20 votes)
    • SteveB
      May 22, 2012

      Taylor Pyatt was always my favourite dreamy-eyed ex-Canuck.

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      Rating: +8 (from 8 votes)
  7. iceman
    May 22, 2012

    I like Willie Mitchell but to me it’s impossible to cheer for the team who eliminated us. It won’t matter much though, as LA already has a foot in to SCF.

    Right now I’m cheering for Team Pyatt but I’m almost certain it will all end tonight… Afterward I probably won’t find any hockey to be really excited about until October.

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    • John in Marpole
      May 22, 2012

      As I type this PHX is making the Kings work for it, but I suspect this is really less the Coyotes rallying to take back the series and more the Black Knight just after his second arm was chopped off.

      ‘Come back here, I can still kick!”

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      Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
  8. Mark in Steveston
    May 22, 2012

    I like Mitchell, wish we still had him. Insert him, delete Ballard, and you have a very, very solid D corps.

    I have no problems backing the Kings. They play that fast-paced, forecheck-you-into-the-ice hockey that I love.

    Besides, I love watching a team win their first Cup.

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    Rating: +5 (from 9 votes)
  9. akidd
    May 22, 2012

    too bad about willie. he was seriously messed up by that concussion. spending weeks/months lying still in a dark room doesn’t sound like much fun at all. while i understand the risk of the canucks resigning him i also felt that it might have been a good loyalty call for the team. if he couldn’t play there was always the ltir option.

    i had him pegged for the next canucks’ captain.a bc boy, and a solid, loyal character. plus, i’ve always had a preference for the ‘mike keane’ type of captain, meaning that your top scorer doesn’t have to be your top leader. let the scorer focus on scoring and let the captain deal with the media. and whatever you do , don’t make your goalie captain:)

    i think that, while understanding the business of the nhl, willie was still kinda hurt that the canucks didn’t re-sign him. and ya, him and hammer would make quite the shutdown pairing. so am definitely pulling for him and the kings. a large part of that though is also the chuckles i get from coach hollywood. gotta love d. sutter giving big, brash LA a little sample of understatement, or whatever that schtick is he’s got going.

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    • Dan D
      May 22, 2012

      I think he’s going for a “Canadian mumbler” kind of thing. Seems to work for him though.

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  10. Thursday
    May 22, 2012

    I’ll be fine with any of these guys winning it all: that will mean the Rangers *ptoo* lost.

    Bitter? Me?

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    • John in Marpole
      May 22, 2012

      Sign me up for the Anybody But The Rangers team.

      1994 wasn’t really that long ago, am I right..? Can’t be, I still feel the pain.

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      • Winsy
        May 22, 2012

        hey, whole different set of players and management… the only thing the same is the name of the team…

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  11. SteveB
    May 22, 2012

    Dreamy-eyed Taylor Pyatt has been rather prominent tonight.

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    • Winsy
      May 22, 2012

      that pass to Yandle’s leg was AMAZINGLY aimed!

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      Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  12. iceman
    May 22, 2012

    Well as expected, I cheered for PHX for the last time…. They couldn’t have fought any harder but all the stars seem to be lined up for Kings this year. My hats off to the desert dogs for their courage and effort.

    Yes, LA is playing like hockey gods right now and they certainly deserve to be in the SCF. No team can pass through their suffocating and ferocious forecheck. On offence they win almost every puck battle because they are so big and strong, yet so fast. Even last year’s Bruins would have a hard time playing against these Kings.

    But still, even with Willie on the team I just can’t be partial to them. Dustin Brown’s knee on knee against Rozsibal was a downright dangerous/dirty play but no ref had a gut to make the right call. And it cost Phoenix the game on the very next shift. How can you not call it when it’s blatantly obvious Brown stuck his leg out to hurt Rozsibal? I can’t believe they are talking about this guy for Conn Smythe candidate.

    As for the other Kings – Doughty, Kopitar, Penner etc… No thank you. I guess I’ll be cheering for whoever comes out of East.

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