Spitballin’ on Kesler’s injury, Luongo zingers, and Sedin marine trivia

Spitballin’ (or Super Pass It To Bulis: All In, if you love adventurous acronymizing) is a feature that allows us to touch on a multitude of things really fast, because in the world of hockey, there are always lots of things to find and colour. Here are a few topics that deserve mention.

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Canucks lose Aaron Volpatti to waivers, may as well stop trying, season is over

When Aaron Volpatti was placed on the waiver wire on Wednesday, I think most fully expected him to clear waivers and report to the Chicago Wolves. After all, there are no shortage of fourth line grinders who are willing to fight out there.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the case: media sources on Twitter are reporting that multiple teams put in a claim on Volpatti, with the Washington Capitals getting first dibs thanks to their record. That’s right, it’s good that they’re doing so poorly. Who looks like a clownshoes management team for firing Bruce Boudreau now?

And who knew that Volpatti would be such a hot commodity?

Also unexpected, though I suppose I should have known better, was the fan outrage. I saw some Canucks fans cussing a blue streak at Gillis for “giving him away” and others calling Volpatti a “great player.” I saw emotional fans decrying the move as “stupid,” while more reasonable fans, well, also called the move stupid, but used bigger words.

There’s nothing wrong with fans being upset about a player leaving town. That’s part of being a fan: you grow attached to the players on your favourite team. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that Volpatti was the Canucks’ thirteenth forward and was thoroughly expendable. Losing him on waivers isn’t the end of the world.

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This is the near-miss that ended Manny Malhotra’s season [VIDEO]

Manny Malhotra caused quite the kerfuffle when he skated with the Canucks at Wednesday’s practice. With Ryan Kesler out with a broken foot and Aaron Volpatti on waivers, Malhotra skated on a regular line for drills, leading some to jump to the erroneous conclusion that he might be returning.

Let’s face it: as much as it would be nice to have Malhotra back in the Canucks’ lineup, it would be a clustercuss of unimaginable proportions. It already looked suspicious to have Mike Gillis announce that Malhotra was done for the season just as Kesler was cleared to play; to have Malhotra return as soon as Kesler is out of the lineup again would be a PR nightmare for Gillis and the team. It would put to lie everything that Gillis said about why he made the decision he did and turn it from concern for a player’s long-term health to a cold-hearted and calculated business decision.

According to Dan Murphy, the Canucks have shown Malhotra video of incidents where they felt he was at a higher risk of injury in an effort to convince him of the danger to his long-term health. Murphy specifically indicated one particular incident, where “if Dany Heatley was Cal Clutterbuck, Malhotra could have been in trouble.”

So, I decided to track down this near-miss to see it for myself. How bad was it, or rather, how bad could it have been?

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Ryan Kesler has broken right foot, probably also has Mummy’s Curse

Manny Malhotra skated with the Canucks Wednesday afternoon, a move that, just like last time, sent many Canucks fans into the sort of panic they exhibit when something doesn’t make sense. (Why is he skating if he’s gone forever? Didn’t the Canucks neuralyze him and send him back into the world? What’s happening?)

But the explanation was very simple. Malhotra may not play any more games this year, but he’s still going to skate with the team on occasion, since they aren’t a threat to catch him with a blind-side head shot. Wednesday was one such occasion, especially as the Canucks found themselves in need of a 12th forward after waiving Aaron Volpatti and giving Ryan Kesler the day off because of his broken foot.

HOLD ON. WHAT.

Feel free to let that sink in one more time: Ryan Kesler has a broken foot. In fact, Ryan Kesler has had a broken foot for almost a week. He broke it three games ago, last Thursday in Dallas after blocking a shot, but the team just discovered it today. Thus, according to Alain Vigneault, Kesler will be out “a little while”.

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Canucks waive Aaron Volpatti, remind everyone they have a guy named Steve Pinizzotto

Mired in a two-game losing streak, the Vancouver Canucks decided it was time for some bold moves Wednesday. To that end, they announced that Aaron Volpatti has been placed on waivers, and I say good. Volpatti’s done nothing in three of the last five games. Total no-show. I mean, sure, you can say he’s been a “healthy scratch”, but if injures aren’t an excuse, then neither is health, am I right?

That was a dumb joke.

The move makes room on the roster without risking a defenceman to waivers, a wise course of action considering the team’s early good fortune when it comes to injuries on the backend appears to be normalizing. Kevin Bieksa has recently gone out with the first Vancouver blueline injury of the year, and if this team’s history is any indication, others are likely to follow. That in mind, they can’t just be waving their NHL depth defenders around, willy-nilly, asking if anybody wants one.

Of course, the question is, for whom are the Canucks making space? The recently-waived Andrew Ebbett made the most sense, until Bob McKenzie mentioned a different name in explaining the roster move.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs. Phoenix Coyotes, February 26, 2013

Don’t despair just because the Canucks didn’t win this game. In fact, it’s good that they didn’t. Hear me out: In 2010, the Canucks were blown out by a Central Division team — the Chicago Blackhawks, in a 7-1 debacle — then went on to face the Phoenix Coyotes in their next game. They played much better, but still lost. But then they got their act together and immediately went on a run that culminated in a Stanley Cup Final appearance!

Wouldn’t you know it, just two nights ago the Canucks were blown out by another Central Division team — the Detroit Red Wings, 8-3. And here they are in their next game, versus the Phoenix Coyotes. Again, they lost. But this can only mean that history is repeating itself and they’re definitely going on another Cup run this spring. There’s no other conclusion to reach. Rejoice, friends, just as I did when I watched this game!

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When it comes to taking penalties, Alex Burrows is Mr. Versatility

The Canucks are taking far too many penalties this season. At least, that’s what it feels like just 18 games in. It doesn’t help that the Canucks are currently 19th in the NHL in penalty killing at 79.4%. Penalties tend to be a lot more memorable when a goal is scored during the subsequent powerplay.

Sunday’s game against the Red Wings is a good example. While there were certainly some questionable calls by the officials, it was the Canucks’ lousy penalty killing that helped make them part of the story of the game. With some better penalty killing in the second period, the Canucks would actually have had a chance to get a point out of that game instead of it becoming an 8-goal debacle.

Over the past couple seasons, the Canucks have had one of the league’s best penalty kills, which played a big part in their back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy wins. This season, the Canucks have given up 15 goals while shorthanded. At 5-on-4, they’re tied for the second most goals-against in the league. That has to be a combination of their poor penalty killing and taking too many penalties.

The biggest culprit so far has been Alex Burrows, who has found himself in the box far too often this season. This just makes matters worse, as he is also one of the Canucks’ best penalty killers.

Over at Backhand Shelf this morning, I looked at the trends in penalty minutes across the entire NHL. I’m going to do the same here, focussing on the Canucks.

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Why realignment is scary for the Canucks; conversely, why it’s really, really awesome

With realignment rumoured to be on the horizon, this may be the final year the Vancouver Canucks get to reap the benefits of playing in the Northwest Division, the lamest party of five since season five of Party of Five. It’s a truly abysmal hellscape of a grouping, with one team team in contention and four teams that, through the first third of the season, are decidedly not.

At the time of this writing, the Canucks are the only Northwest team that isn’t amongst the league’s 10 worst teams. And in the Western Conference, only the futility of the Columbus Blue Jackets prevents the Northwest from occupying spots 12 – 15.

How bad is it? Colorado, Minnesota, Edmonton and Calgary are all sitting at about 17 points through 17 games. Supposing they keep up this pace, they’ll all finish below 50 points. If 50 points is all it takes to win the Northwest Division, the Canucks would need just 13 more wins. There are 30 games remaining.

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Breakdowning Daniel Sedin’s second goal versus the Detroit Red Wings

Sunday night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings ended up being a complete debacle — a full-on fiasco, if you will — but it didn’t start that way. The first period of the game featured five goals, four of which showcased impressive hard work and skill. It was entertaining, fast-paced hockey, and the Canucks thrived, finishing the period up 3-2, partly thanks to the Sedins working their wizardry.

Daniel Sedin’s first goal of the game was gorgeous, but it was also a little too typical: Henrik dipsy-doodled with the puck behind the net, Alex Burrows ran some interference, and Daniel got open in front to finish off the perfect pass. What I really appreciate from the Sedins, however, is their constant innovation. It wasn’t enough for them to score such a humdrum tally; they needed to do something new.

Daniel’s second goal certainly accomplished that, as Henrik intentionally iced the puck, banking it directly to the on-rushing Daniel, who flipped it past Jimmy Howard with casual ease. It was an electrifying goal that tied up the game and gave fans the misleading impression that the Sedins were not going to be stopped. But let’s not dwell too much on the negative, for the moment. Instead, let’s focus on breaking down that incredible goal.

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New Van Fan, episode four: ‘The greatest’ (VIDEO)

New Van Fan is a web-series that follows the adventures of long-time Canucks fan Dan as he attempts to bring novice Canucks fan Andreas up to speed. The whole thing may or may not be an excuse to point out the inherent silliness of this fanbase — we’re not quite sure. Have an idea for an episode? Suggest it in the comments.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Detroit Red Wings, February 24, 2013

Perhaps you watched the last Vancouver Canucks game, a 1-0 victory over the Nashville Predators, and you said to yourself, “Well, they got the win, but goodness gracious, that was boring.” Perhaps you lamented a game where the Canucks kept their mistakes to a minimum, shelved the shenanigans, and nursed home a tidy little shutout victory for Roberto Luongo because it was bland.

If so, you are to blame for the karmic blowback that was this game. You wanted action? You got it. You wanted shenanigans? Have at you. You were saying something about the blandness of low-scoring games? This bad boy had 11 goals, and some of them were so, so stupid. The universe gave us this game for complaining about the last game. I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Nashville Predators, February 22, 2013

During the broadcast of this game, Dan Murphy pointed out that it’s been over a year since the Canucks last played the Predators, which is crazy. It had been 366 days since they last met, but there’s more alarming news. The Canucks haven’t beaten the Predators in regulation since 2011. That almost makes it seem like it’s been two years! We should definitely be concerned.

Fortunately, the Canucks finally broke the streak, by beating the Predators at their own game, namely hockey. Defensive and boring hockey, to be specific. I nearly fell asleep when I watched this game.

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Note to Antoine Roussel: don’t get Zack Kassian angry

Zack Kassian is a surprisingly soft-spoken guy off the ice. In an interview setting, he’s low-key and fairly reserved. He can be that way on the ice sometimes, which likely contributes to his streakiness. It’s likely that motivation rather than skill will be his major limitation early in his career and it will be Vigneault’s challenge to figure out what motivates him.

Different players require different types of motivation, something Vigneault has spoken about in the past. “I think part of coaching is getting the most you can out of the personnel,” he said in a Q and A with the Vancouver Board of Trade in early 2011, “and that’s getting to know your personnel both on and off the ice and how to handle individuals. You can’t treat everybody the same way but you can treat them fairly. Some guys need to be handled with a little bit of cuddling sometimes and some have to be harped on sometimes. That’s what they want.”

I have a suspicion that cuddling is not the best way to motivate Kassian. Instead, Kassian seems to need something to get him emotionally involved. On Thursday night, Antoine Roussel of the Dallas Stars figured out exactly what gets Kassian motivated: royally piss him off.

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Canucks play keepaway in Dallas; why Kesler prevents that from happening more often (VIDEO)

Henrik Sedin has two goals this season, and neither are a result of the Canucks’ Captain making the choice to shoot. In both instances, Alex Burrows has made the choice for him with late, unexpected return passes that leave Henrik with no room and no choice but to do anything other than put the puck towards the goal.

This is the rub when it comes to the Sedins, and Henrik especially: sometimes you have to force the issue. Henrik Sedin has led the NHL in assists for three years in a row. He’s a pure passer; passing is his jam. If he were on the Price is Right Showcase Showdown, he’d pass twice.

We saw yet another example of Henrik’s pass-first mentality Thursday night when he spearheaded a full, two-minute session of keepaway in Dallas. When the Stars went down a man one second before the two-minute mark, it became apparent to Henrik that, in order to nurse the Canucks’ one-goal lead home, all he and his teammates had to do was maintain possession for 120 seconds. No shooting. All passing. Here’s Henrik living the dream, as the Canucks’ powerplay trolls the Dallas Stars.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Dallas Stars, February 21, 2013

The last time the Canucks saw the Dallas Stars was seven days ago, on the night Henrik Sedin passed Markus Naslund to become the Canucks’ all-time leading scorer. The Stars ruined everything that night, however, storming back from down 3-1 to ensure that Henrik’s big moment came in a big, embarrassing loss.

Safe to say the Canucks didn’t forget. They had revenge on the mind, and they weren’t satisfied simply to stick Dallas with a loss. They were staging a full on do-over. Thus, they gave the Stars an early goal to ensure the victory would come from behind. Then, after they were safely in the lead, they gave Dallas a late one to ensure the game finished 4-3, just as last time (but this time around, in their favour). This game was an elaborate revenge plot. I watched this game.

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On Jason Garrison, AV’s dog mansion, and why the defence pairs saw the blender

When I asked how long the current Canucks’ defence pairings would last on Tuesday, I didn’t expect the answer to be “less than a day.” But I did suggest that at the first sign of trouble, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa would be immediately reunited, and Tuesday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks was trouble (with a capital T, which rhymes with D and that stands for Defence).

The sheer number of breakaways and odd-man rushes given up by the Canucks ensured that something would change on the backend and, sure enough, word came out of practice Wednesday morning that all three defence pairings had been switched up.

As expected, Hamhuis and Bieksa were reunited — tearfully, probably — but the Canucks didn’t just reset everything back to the way it was at the start of the season. Jason Garrison, the Canucks’ biggest free agent acquisition, was moved down to the third pairing with Keith Ballard, while Chris Tanev was promoted to the second pairing with Alex Edler.

Since Garrison is being paid a lot of money, seeing him on the third pairing is causing some consternation in Canucks nation. Has he joined Keith Ballard in a lavish, $8 million doghouse, a dog mansion, if you will? Not exactly. His demotion isn’t just about how he’s been playing, but how the entire defence corps has been playing.

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Watch ‘New Van Fan’ episodes two and three, featuring Keslurking and despair

Nine days ago, we introduced you to “New Van Fan”, a web series in which Canuck booster “Dan” attempted to teach his buddy “Andreas” the ins and outs of cheering for Vancouver’s local hockey team.

But secretly, this show isn’t just for the noob. The first episode featured valuable advice even for the long-time Canucks booster. “Don’t panic,” Dan told Andreas. “You’re going to want to panic. Don’t panic.” It’s true. Keeping an even keel is difficult for anybody rooting for the boys in blue and green. Canucks fandom throws keels askew. It’s an irregular keel you’re looking for, cheer for this team.

Anyway. Since then, we watched episode one, Dan and Andreas have already starred in episodes two and three. This show is being burned through like the last episodes of an NBC sitcom the network no longer likes. So let’s catch up.

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Jannik Hansen gets one-game ban, which isn’t nearly long enough according to Brendan Shanahan [VIDEO]

The reaction to Jannik Hansen’s hit on Marian Hossa was immediately polarized. Reactions ranged from outrage and demands for 8-15 game suspensions to incredulousness that a penalty was even called on the play. We fell somewhere in the middle: it looked unintentional, but was still careless and resulted in a hit to the head.

Harrison theorized that Hansen would get a one-game suspension due to the recklessness of Hansen’s action and Hossa’s injury history, even though it was essentially an accident.

Brendan Shanahan only half-agreed. Hansen did get suspended one-game, but in the video on the suspension, Shanahan appeared to think the hit was worth far more than that, making his decision completely baffling.

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Will Jannik Hansen be suspended for his hit on Blackhawks’ Marian Hossa?

Jannik Hansen has already avoided discipline on one hit from behind this season, when he cross-checked a referee off the opening draw in San Jose. “I don’t think I even realized what I had done or who I had done it to at the time,” Hansen said after the game. His eyes fixed on Ryane Clowe, Hansen shoved the first body in between him and his target. It was referee Dave Jackson.

But somehow, Hansen escaped that incident without so much as a talking-to from anyone on the on-ice crew.

Will he be second time lucky? That’s the question the hockey world is asking after Hansen perpetrated another hit from behind Tuesday night in Chicago, when he and Blackhawks’ star Marian Hossa came together at centre ice, the puck overhead like hockey mistletoe, only have to have their contact end not with a kiss, but with a nasty forearm shiver that forced Hossa from the game with a suspected concussion.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Chicago Blackhawks, February 19, 2013

The Canucks first meeting with the Blackhawks this season was a massive disappointment. It lacked the emotion, excitement, and intensity of a typical game between these two teams. There was no rancor on either side, making for a dull affair. When Roberto Luongo stopped Patrick Kane in the shootout, they smiled at each other and laughed, like it was a game of shinny. It was enough to make one wonder if the air had been completely let out of the rivalry.

Turned out they were just saving all their hate for their second matchup of the season. This game had all the best and worst elements of a fantastic playoff game: controversy, terrible reffing, emotion, back-and-forth scoring chances, and stupendous goaltending. It was a complete gong show. It was a hot mess. It was an incredibly stupid game. And it was entertaining beyond belief.

I enjoyed every minute that I watched this game.

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How long will the Canucks’ current defence pairings last?

Alain Vigneault has the tendency to shuffle his forward lines like a magician shuffles cards: most of it is sleight-of-hand and nothing really changes in the end. He and Rick Bowness have frequently done the same with defence pairings in the past over the last couple seasons, but certain pairings tended to stick together and avoid the juggling.

When Christian Ehrhoff was with the Canucks, he was all-but-inseparable from Alex Edler. At one point, Kevin Bieksa only hit the ice when Willie Mitchell was at his side. Over the last couple seasons, it’s been Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis who have been attached at the hip. Other pairings were malleable, but those pairings were, at the very least, semi-permanent.

Heading into this season, the pairing of Bieksa and Hamhuis, affectionately and disgustingly known as HamJuice, were a given. Keith Ballard and Chris Tanev, who performed well when paired together in the previous season, were assumed to be the bottom pairing. That left the newly-arrive Jason Garrison to play with Edler, something I had been anticipating ever since he signed with the Canucks.

It looked like the defence pairings were about as set in stone as they could possibly be. But it took just 5 games for those stones to be thrown to the ground and broken up like the Ten Commandments.

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Relive Henrik’s big moment from ice level; learn why you had to watch ads the first time (VIDEO)

Henrik Sedin became the Vancouver Canucks’ all-time leading point-getter Friday night, collecting his 757th career point when he threaded a filthy pass to Alex Burrows for a second period one-timer. It was an incredible moment, one marred only by two small hiccups: first, the Dallas Stars would storm back with three unanswered goals to ensure that the feat occurred in a loss. Second, the aftermath of the historic point saw no stoppage in play for a good three minutes. The fans responded with a standing ovation in the meantime, which was cool, but when that stoppage finally came, Sportsnet went to commercial, which was less so.

As a viewer at home, it was frustrating to have to leave the party.

But if you’re still ruing that moment, we’ve got two things to help you. The first is an incredible, uninterrupted video of the entire sequence following Henrik’s record-breaking point, filmed at nearly ice level. The second is an explanation of why you were watching ads while the Rogers Arena crowd was watching Trevor Linden and Markus Naslund salute the man that had bested them.

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Are the Canucks doing right by Manny Malhotra?

Nolan Baumgartner was preparing for his 17th season of professional hockey when the Canucks approached him with a better idea: retire, they said, and we’ll help you transition into coaching.

“I wasn’t gonna retire at all,” Baumgartner told us back in October. “I was gonna play a a few more years.”

Instead, Baumgartner seized the opportunity, which would allow him to get in his first reps as a coach in a great situation, as part of an organization he respected and under a coach he admired in Scott Arniel. Sure, he might have been able to play a little longer, but if coaching was in his future, this was a head start he couldn’t pass up. So Baumgartner retired, shifting from the Chicago Wolves’ blueline corps to their coaching corps.

I suspect the Vancouver Canucks are hoping the Manny Malhotra situation will have the same happy ending. Here’s a guy that has already shown the leadership, intelligence, and skill necessary to move behind the bench. He’s run drills for the team before. He’s mentored and instructed prospects on defensive positioning, posture and faceoffs. The organizations believes Malhotra’s got all the necessary tools to coach, and, since they also believe he no longer has the necessary tools to play the game safely, it would appear they believe now is the time to make that transition.

But Malhotra doesn’t appear to feel the same way.

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David Booth returns, Andrew Ebbett returns to the minors

The Canucks are going to be in a very strange and unfamiliar situation on Tuesday: everyone will be healthy. Or, at least, as healthy as they can possibly be this season, considering Manny Malhotra is evidently done. On Sunday night, Alain Vigneault made the announcement that David Booth was cleared to play and would be back in the lineup at some point during the Canucks’ upcoming four-game road trip.

Astonishingly, in the time it took Ryan Kesler and David Booth to return to game action, no one else on the roster suffered a new injury, meaning the Canucks needed to clear a roster spot to reincorporate the shoot-first winger. With Jordan Schroeder playing well, that left three options: Andrew Ebbett, Andrew Alberts, and Cam Barker.

Because the Canucks are committed to keeping both Alberts and Barker in the package, where they’ll be worth more someday, Ebbett was placed on waivers Monday. Like the rest of the Canucks, he’ll be heading to Chicago. Unlike the rest of the Canucks, he’ll be staying there, so long as he doesn’t get picked up by another team.

Let’s take a look at what Booth’s health means for the Canucks (beyond the fact that they’ll be able to play him now).

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Roberto Luongo gets schooled by T.J. Oshie, owns it with a callback (VIDEO)

Last last month, Alex Burrows wowed everyone with an audacious shootout move versus the LA Kings, attempting a forehand spin-o-rama on Jonathan Quick, followed by a couple of late jukes and a seeing-eye snapshot just inside the post. Of course, it wasn’t “Wow, that was nifty,” so much as “Wow, that was embarrassing.” The move failed completely when Quick refused to bite — ironically — and Burrows wound up looking pretty darn foolish.

It was an eminently mockable move, and the hockey world took full advantage. Even Roberto Luongo joined in on Twitter. On Sunday, however, it was Luongo’s turn to look foolish and get mocked.

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