The Paper Feature: Is it time to panic yet?

The Paper Feature will run every Wednesday in the Vancouver Sun’s print edition, as well as online here at Pass it to Bulis. (It’s called the Paper Feature for what we hope are obvious reasons.) 

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Here’s a potentially-alarming fact: if the NHL playoffs were to commence tomorrow, the Canucks would miss the cut.

This next part is less alarming: the playoffs don’t start tomorrow. (That’s good, because I was starting to get worried that I had somehow missed a full 5 months of my life given all the consternation in Canuck nation, and I would cry if I missed Christmas. And my son’s birthday; that’s probably important too.)

Thanks to a hyper-competitive Western Conference, the Canucks’ 11-8-4 record has them in ninth place, just outside of the playoff picture. Fortunately, like Michelangelo’s Entombment, that picture is unfinished, which means that any panic at the moment is premature. I prefer, to paraphrase the great Eddie Izzard, mature panic or even post-mature. Wise, learned man panic.

After all, the Canucks have been playing pretty well, even during their recent 5-game losing streak. They out-shot the Dallas Stars, for instance, by a 43-to-23 margin and were unluckily (and unjustly) limited to just one goal. While the Canucks absolutely need to start converting more of their chances, particularly on the power play, the fact remains that continuing to out-shoot teams the way they are should lead to success in the future.

When it comes to predicting future success, the current go-to statistic for the advanced statistic community is Fenwick Close, which refers to unblocked shot attempt differential at even-strength in situations where the score is close. In 2012, for example, the Los Angeles Kings were one of the best teams in the NHL in this statistic, belying their 8th place finish, and they steamrolled through the playoffs en route to the Stanley Cup.

This year’s Canucks are currently 6th in the NHL by this measure, suggesting they’re a lot better than their record would indicate. Given enough time, the type of dominant puck possession the Canucks have had this season should lead to out-scoring their opponents more often than not. In most cases, out-scoring opponents leads to wins, and getting enough of those generally takes care of the whole “making the playoffs” thing.

Fenwick Close only covers even-strength, however, and one of the biggest concerns for the Canucks has been the powerplay, which is only converting at 11.3%, 28th in the NHL. Time to panic? Not really.

According to ExtraSkater.com, the Canucks have averaged 65.7 shots per 60 minutes of 5-on-4 time, which is second in the NHL behind only the San Jose Sharks. The problem is converting those shots into goals, as the Canucks have a shooting percentage of just 5.7% on the powerplay — last in the league. The upside is that shooting percentage is incredibly unlikely to continue being that bad.

Even the worst shooting percentage in the league at 5-on-4 last season, the Buffalo Sabres’ 9.5%, was significantly better than the Canucks’ shooting percentage this season. If the Canucks scored on even 9.5% of their shots while on the power play, given the number of shots they average, their power play percentage would be, by my rough calculations, around 21%, which would place them in the top ten in the league.

Much has been made of the New York Rangers’ struggles on the power play under John Tortorella, but last season their problem wasn’t converting on their shots — it was getting the shots in the first place. The Rangers were 26th in the league in shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-4. The Canucks’ power play is far superior to that of the Rangers last season. It’s just not getting the results, due to a mixture of bad luck, exceptional goaltending, and one bogus goaltender interference call.

Once the goals start coming, the Canucks should be in good shape: they have yet to lose in regulation this season when scoring more than one goal. That’s largely thanks to the work of Roberto Luongo and Eddie Lack.

The Canucks’ two goaltenders haven’t lit up the league statistically, but have been good enough to win when given goal support. Luongo has allowed more than two goals against just once in his last ten starts, while Eddie Lack only gave up more than two goals in his first ever NHL start.

Since this is the Canucks we’re talking about, if you can’t panic about the goaltending, then there really can’t be any good reason to panic.

Besides, it’s November, which means the only Vancouver teams that should be worrying about the playoffs are the Whitecaps and Lions, which means nobody in Vancouver should be worried about the playoffs, because those two teams aren’t in them.

So don’t panic just yet. Wait until at least December.

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Tweet Podium

This feature takes a moment to recognize the best tweets of the week, because we’re online-type writers and Twitter is an online-type thing. If you see a great Canucks-related tweet, send us a link. Or plagiarize it and bask in its glory.

 

BRONZE

Your sarcasm is not appreciated here. Yes it is. Bronze medal!

SILVER

Roberto Luongo makes the best Rob Ford joke of the day. No small accomplishment.

GOLD

Listen, Weise, Kassian’s got enough to learn without having to worry about the days of the week. Humour him.

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39 comments

  1. Matt
    November 20, 2013

    Perhaps part of the reason for the woeful shooting percentage is the fact that the majority of the shots come from places that you just don’t score goals from – unless you have a.) a wicked snapshot or b.) the goalie is napping as you take a clapper from the right wall.

    Dominant possession, yes. But I bet if there was a position tracker for the NHL, it would show the Canucks maintaining position to the outside. All the time. Players appear to be consistently trying for the EA Sports one-timer, sending a hard pass across to the opposite wing from the left or right wall as they advance on net. Problem being, there are usually 2 or 3 defenders in the way.

    And it is aggravating to see players constantly adjust to the outside, rather than try to shift into the slot, which is a far more superior scoring position. Florida maintained their box last night, clogging up the middle and left Tim Thomas with few tough saves to make.

    Look at the Canuck goals last night. Higgins in the slot off a scramble. Hansen in the slot off a turnover. This isn’t the 2010 Stanley Cup final, boys. Goals are not going to come from the half-wall or along the goal line.

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    • Amor de Cosmos
      November 20, 2013

      That’s my sense too. I’m concerned that Tortorella has no apparent offensive plan. Or, if he has, then he has the wrong group of players to implement it. Right now we’re playing like a team full of Mason Raymonds (nothing against MayRay, but you know what I mean.)

      For three years or so Vigneault was able to come up with a way of utilizing the Sedins immense, but highly specific skills, productively. Crawford couldn’t do it, and the signs are Tortorella can’t either. When he was successful in Tampa, he had sharpshooters like Lecavalier and St Louis, who would most likely have scored by the bucketload anywhere. We don’t have players like them. We have to create net space by moving opposition players out of the way. H&D’s passing ability did that, now other teams have them sussed, and we’ve got to try something else. I’m not confident Torts has the chops to figure out what that is.

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      • gretchen grouse
        November 20, 2013

        Rant

        Already down on David Booth
        But high upon The Missing Tooth
        Benching five on the power play
        I’m thinking Torts has had his day

        Methinks also Sedins are tired
        Much overworked since he was hired
        Kesler as well has lost his edge
        Too many minutes I must allege

        Now mired in ninth or even worse
        This coach’s comings been a curse
        One can’t say the future’s bright
        After this latest loss tonight

        Remember well you read it here
        It’s time for Torts to disappear

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  2. madwag
    November 20, 2013

    “to paraphrase the great Eddie Izzard, mature panic or even post-mature. wise, learned man panic.” is the problem mine because understand i do not.

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    • madwag
      November 20, 2013

      or mayhap i do. is it “learn-ed” , with shakespearean emphasis on the “ed”. even if so, i am still confused.

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      • madwag
        November 20, 2013

        so much so i forget to use interrogation marks!

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  3. mb13
    November 20, 2013

    Hate to get technical here guys…

    “Thanks to a hyper-competitive Western Conference, the Canucks’ 11-8-4 record has them in ninth place, just outside of the playoff picture.”

    uhhh… the Canucks current pace would see them with 93 points which would not be good enough to make the playoffs in any year since 2008-09. So let’s stop blaming the conference. Let’s stop blaming having more road games than home.

    Maybe… just maybe… the Canucks aren’t that good. They can’t score. They don’t have a stud defenseman and their goalie is average. That’s not a winning recipe.

    They are currently 4 points out of a playoff spot and each team they are chasing has games in hand (save Anaheim). They are PPG in 10th in the conference meaning they have to catch 2 teams to make the playoffs. And they have played 12 games against the east already – the most of any western team (save Anaheim). We are checking off a lot of boxes in the “this season isn’t going well” column.

    They better turn this ship around pretty quick.

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    • J21
      November 21, 2013

      I don’t think anyone is doubting that the Canucks do not appear to be a force to be reckoned with this year. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a lot harder for them to win games in a tougher conference. What is “good” is entirely relative in sports, so even if the Canucks were unchanged from last year they would still look worse than before because they’re directly up against a number of powerhouses.

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      • mb13
        November 21, 2013

        LOL – how dare the Canucks play in a conference that is too good for their level!!!!!

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  4. clutch fan
    November 20, 2013

    Losing in a poor effort against a Tim Thomas Florida team at home should be profoundly embarrassing, especially for the Canucks left over from the cup run (sans Luongo who played well). It may be time to start questioning the character and desire of these players, and ultimately, whether they would win at all even if they get into the playoffs.

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    • J21
      November 21, 2013

      Yes, I’m sure it is about their “desire” as opposed to their ability to score more goals than the other team. If only they “wanted” it more, no doubt there would be no earthly factors stopping them.

      Only one team wins the Stanley Cup. So it is an incredibly obvious proposition that they are not likely to win the Cup even if they make the playoffs, so it’s not clear what you would do with that knowledge.

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  5. Nearly Normal
    November 20, 2013

    Would like to see them trade Edler for someone who can score, a sniper. Then bring up Frankie. As is, they have no natural sniper in the lineup, and won’t until Shinkaruk is ready, hopefully next year. This team reminds me of the team Nonis kept together for one last kick at the can, post-lockout 2005. They missed the playoffs, and then some major changes were made. I’m actually okay with them missing this year if it means a decent draft pick, a couple of off season trades, one obvious buy out, and an infusion of younger talent next year. We just aren’t going to be perpetual contenders, no team can be, and we’ve had a good run. Time for a thoughtful rebuild.

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  6. jeremy
    November 20, 2013

    I love that this is a rational, multi-faceted reminder that there’s really no reason to panic… and yet the comments are full of people ignoring it and panicking anyway.

    we haven’t had a lot of luck lately, but we will. good thing – in my experience, anyway – the players on the team have demonstrated a lot more resilience than the fans of it.

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    • Amor de Cosmos
      November 20, 2013

      As Bertrand Russell said, there a few pure optimists (they’d be institutionalised), or pessimists (they’d have offed themselves long since.) Most of us are either optimistic pessimists, or pessimistic optimists. I tend to the latter because the thrill of unexpected victory tastes better than the bitter surprise of defeat.

      So, I expect this season to be disappointing, but hope I’ll be wrong.

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  7. BacktoBasics
    November 20, 2013

    How often do you see a Canuck player just skate by the net instead of stopping in front (where the puck ends up landing/deflecting/etc). If they do stop in front of the net it is right in front of the goalie and the rebounds bounce right past them. Oh ya, no one on this team can score top cheddar…that doesn’t help either.

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  8. Kenji
    November 20, 2013

    I am not panicking, I am thoughtful. If my wife had allowed me to continue with Movember, I would be stroking my beard at this point.

    It is an interesting situation. The team is currently in the worst of all positions: mediocre. It is not good enough to be a playoff threat, nor bad enough to pick up a superstar-in-the-making draft pick.

    A slow slide to the bottom would be the default if no trades are made, which makes me suspect that trades will be made, since the Sedins and of course Strombone are locked up for years, which would in theory keep the team from being so bad that they will be in running for the next Crosby or whatever.

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    • GarbageDelight
      November 21, 2013

      If you wife had allowed you to continue with Movember, you’d have to be stroking your moustache at this point… A beard would be cheating.

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  9. PD
    November 20, 2013

    While it’s perfectly logical to conclude that this shooting pace will evebtually result in more goals than it currently does, it’s pretty cold comfort: there are no grounds for assuming that it will begin to do so soon, rather than far too late. And too late will come soon in this division.

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    • Neil B
      November 20, 2013

      Luckily, the fastest way for the overall performance to go up is to improve the PP shooting percentages. Luckily, I say, because we have a right-shooting PP-specialist. The threat of Weber’s one-timer on the RH boards should open up the plays down low, allowing the Sedins to work more magic.

      All the ‘Nucks have to do is put Weber on the ice for, what, 2 1/2 minutes as a fourth-line winger, and then–sorry, they did what?

      And we kept Sestito?

      .

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      • PD
        November 21, 2013

        Sestito’s continued presence baffles me. How on earth is he the best option the organisation has for that roster spot?

        Honestly though I am not sure that the specific line combinations are the problem, it seems to me there is some kind of ‘intangible’ factor driving this. Something psychological perhaps, I don’t know what.

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      • Aaron
        November 21, 2013

        The only reason I see them hanging on to Sestito is to be a goon. Not a good enough reason in my mind. It is mind boggleing why they keep him. They should have kept Weber or for that matter Booth is a far better player even playing poorly. I just don’t get it!

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  10. Iain
    November 20, 2013

    glass half-empty: canucks are 5th is the Pac-waitforit-ificawesome Division, 5 pts behind the 4th place team. aughhhhh!!!! where’s the antifreeze??

    glass half-full: canucks are only 6 pts our of first in the division, with 59 games still to go. and their shooting percentage cannot get any worse. look out you fast-starting SoCal (and Phoenix) teams, they’re comin to getcha!!!

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  11. Iain
    November 20, 2013

    of course, if they play any more like they did against florida last night, a lottery pick seems more likely.

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  12. Iain
    November 20, 2013

    also, can we just all agree that strombone1 is THE greatest twitter account in the known universe?

    loved the one shown on SN last night, about his trip to Canadian Tire to get essential equipment for the game…with a photo of a bicycle pump.

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  13. steveB
    November 20, 2013

    Dominant possession is one thing.
    Putting the d@mn puck in the net is another thing entirely.
    You will seldom score by artfully passing the puck around the perimeter.
    You need to shoot at the sections of the net where the goaltender isn’t standing in the way.
    Corners, 5-hole, don’t aim for the logo.
    Provide a screen, be there for rebounds.

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  14. akidd
    November 20, 2013

    the florida game was an anomaly. otherwise recently they’ve looked dominant against some pretty good teams. it’s just the finish. is just bad luck? partly. and there’s that psychological factor, that’s so dangerous, where a team can get down if they don’t get the bounces. i think that’s definitely something we’ve seen from the canucks for a very long time. it’ll be interesting to see what tortorella does in reaction to the florida no-show. if he can put his foot down somehow on the ‘west coast moody’ everything has a pretty good chance of working out well. if not then it could easily tailspin, given the sensitivity and scrutiny of the market.

    bad luck, and all it’s by-product, aside there’s still the question of putting the biscuit in the basket. and sorry but ‘shots on net’ do not equal ‘goal’. ‘goals’ equal ‘goals’. scoring is a special gift. some guys bloom later but i think it’s unreasonable at this point to expect more than 20 goals out of anyone but daniel, kesler, and burrows. sure there are a couple of others who could, perhaps, but they haven’t yet and they’ve had enough time to score more but just haven’t.

    so maybe gillis needs to get a guy who can. or wait til next year.

    in the meantime, kesler back on the top line is the way to go for now, imo.

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    • Phileo99
      November 20, 2013

      I’d agree, Kess with the Sedins worked like magic for quite a few games before Burrows came back, so re-unite him with the Sedins again. I’d be interested in seeing Kassian with Burrows and Santorelli.
      Higgins Hansen and Richardson on the 3rd line.

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    • Aaron
      November 21, 2013

      Agreed. Kes back with the twins it opens up space, He goes to the net and is a threat on his own unlike so many of the twins line mates. Our second line was very competetive and seemed to have solid puck control. The third also looked decent and we have more options now for the 3rd/4th lines so I would also have Kes with the twins. And for the love of all things hocky please replace Sestito!!!!!

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  15. shoes
    November 20, 2013

    Of course none of the panickers mention the obvious……THE SKY IS FALLING!

    Seriously, everybody, the Canucks have looked good with the exception of the a couple games. People keep beaking off that they have been only playing the soft East. Never mind, that they have also played well against the top teams in the west.

    Once they get their finish they will put together a run and other teams fan based can run around in circles in the barnyard crying about the Sky coming down.

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    • Tom1040
      November 20, 2013

      Damn refs cost ‘us’ every loss this season. Bad, bad men these zebras.

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    • mb13
      November 20, 2013

      “Never mind, that they have also played well against the top teams in the west.”

      Vs. the teams that matter in the west (ie not Calgary and Edmonton) the Canucks are 2-5-2 this season.

      How is that playing well?

      I’m starting to think the NHL has something against the Canucks. They should start scoring the games by CORSI… the Canucks would win every time!

      Seriously though… talk about head in the sand. The Canucks have won 11 games this season with 7 against the east (who everybody beats, even teams in the east). As much as as they have got used to playing inferior opposition these past 5 years – they can’t play all their games vs. the east.

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  16. Tom1040
    November 21, 2013

    Pardon me, … Daniel, could you be so kind as to cut and paste my comment on the ‘Is it time to panic’ article from last year?

    I ask this because the same thing(s) can/could be said about the Canucks this year.

    Why panic? The window has already closed.

    Should have blown up the team after the 1st round exit to LA.

    The Gillis outside-the-box thinking BS experiment has failed, horribly.

    He didn’t guide the team to one game from the Cup; rather, he was along for the ride.

    In fact, he has squandered the gift that Burke/Nonis provided and has replaced a once solid foundation with a house of cards ready to collapse and is indeed in the process of collapsing.

    Yes, the sky is falling and has been for some time.

    Hope Aqualinguini will dump the fraud Gillis and bring in some real hockey people (not another used-car salesman).

    In my humble opinion.

    By the way, if I had a team to cheer for, it would be San Jose Sharks.

    If they don’t win the Cup, I am not going blame the refs, or cry, or jump out a window.

    It’s only hockey and we are only fans.

    For what that is worth.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      November 21, 2013

      Your continual characterization of Gillis as a “fraud” and not a “real” hockey person is ludicrous. The guy played professional hockey for six seasons including 246 NHL games and was dominant at the AHL level, recording 142 points in 102 games. He spent a year coaching college hockey prior to getting his law degree from the same university and was a player agent for about 18 years. It’s absurd to claim he’s not a “real” hockey person: he’s been involved in professional hockey for the better part of 3 decades.

      The idea that Burke and Nonis are more credible than Gillis is laughable. Burke played one year in the AHL before getting his law degree and becoming — lo and behold — a player agent. Heck, he only had 6 years of experience as a player agent before Pat Quinn brought him in as Director of Hockey Operations in Vancouver and became a GM in Hartford just 5 years later, having had less experience in professional hockey than Gillis.

      As for Nonis, he played one year of professional hockey in Denmark, then apprenticed under Burke in Vancouver for 6 years before taking over as GM. You probably like that Burke and Nonis both worked under another GM before becoming one themselves, but the fact remains that both had significantly less experience in hockey than Gillis when they took on their first GM jobs.

      Claiming that Gillis was “along for the ride” to the Cup ignores the many players he brought to the table that made a major impact on the success of the 2010-11 season and the subsequent run to the Cup finals: Hamhuis, Ehrhoff, Samuelsson, Lapierre, Malhotra, and even Torres. It also ignores that Gillis re-signed the foundation you talk about, including the Sedins, Kesler, Luongo, Edler, Burrows, Hansen, and Raymond all re-signed on Gillis’s watch.

      You can claim that Burke and Nonis built the 2010-11 Canucks all on their own, but it doesn’t make it true.

      The Canucks have had the most successful period in franchise history under Mike Gillis: two Presidents’ Trophies, the first major individual awards (aside from Bure’s Calder) in Canucks’ history, and one game away from the Stanley Cup. You’ll excuse me if I’m not falling all over myself to throw him under the bus just yet.

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      • Tom1040
        November 21, 2013

        Daniel, I will try to be brief.

        I can counter or quash each of your points, easily.

        First, who cares that the fraud Gillis played the NHL, AHL or KHL for that matter. It is an irrelevant point.

        Who cares if he was a player agent or a lawyer (well, lawyer does assist to some degree)?

        And, you made the point for me, Burke/Nonis worked for 6 years under another GM before they took jobs themselves.

        These are the ‘hockey people’ to which I refer. They have ‘paid their dues’ in terms of running a hockey club. They have learned the ‘ins and outs’.

        The fraud Gillis hasn’t.

        As to the most successful GM in Canuck history – so what? By circumstance and the work of others. I guess the fraud Gillis was responsible for the complete demise of Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado and, until recently, the Wild.

        If not for that, except for the Cup run year, big deal. Someone had to win the Pathetic North West Division.

        Out pretty early in the playoffs last couple of years…yeah…big success.

        Let’s review the so-named players who had a major impact:
        1. Hamhuis – everyone and his dog was calling to the signing of that hometown boy. Gillis the genius, right.
        2. Ehrhoff – a salary dump by SJ and Gillis was willing to eat the most salary (remember Lukowich at $1.8M) of any other contenders. I mean, he had $20M in cap space left to him by Nonis.
        3. Malhotra did nothing. In fact, what a bad signing! Wellwood was a much better signing (one of Gillis’ best) with 16 and 15 goals, respectively and a face-off %age near Malhotra’s and a 40% the cap hit. Too bad the lame coach was made to be on-board by the lame-duck GM.

        Torres – uhhhh…useful but that’s about all I can give him.

        As to Gillis signing the core…how does that make him a great GM when he couldn’t do any better than what he was gifted? What makes you think they signed because of Gillis?

        It is much more plausible that these guys signed because they had been together a long time and knew that they had a really good chance to win.

        And, to my original post, the window has closed because Gillis, the fraud, didn’t know his arse from a hole in the ground. Old core and no depth and no chance of winning a Cup.

        In fact, as I said last year… they won’t even make the playoffs this year in a big boy’s division.

        Sorry, I was brief as I could be.

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        • akidd
          November 21, 2013

          geez, tom, gillis hasn’t been perfect by any means but if you’re looking to this year’s team to support your fraud narrative it must be frustrating. the spare parts of santorelli, richardson and stanton have all worked out so far as has the hiring of the new coach–the most important decision a gm can make. and even the goaltending situation seems to be worked out.

          not perfect, sure, but this team is way more competitive than i(or you) thought they would be. a little slack needs to be cut, methinks.

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          • mb13
            November 21, 2013

            The spare parts of Santorelli, Richardson and Stanton have taken this team to a non-playoff team performance. You consider that “worked out so far”.

            I guess before any talk of Gillis continues, we have to all decide… can we finally agree that David Booth has been an absolute failure – full stop. No qualifications… No buts… No ifs.

            If you can’t say that about David Booth, then it’s pretty clear that the homer glasses are on a little too tight.

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            • akidd
              November 21, 2013

              booth a failure?!? come on! the guy scored 31 goals one year, pre-concussion in the limp southeast but still…. he plays a north/south game(can’t turn?) and once he losses the puck he gets off the ice so fast(not as fast as he used too:) his corsi doesn’t take a hit on the opponents subsequent rush up the ice.

              plus do you remember that empty-netter last year? once higgins passed him the puck and he was two feet in front of the net he shoveled it in like the deadly sniper he’s paid to be.

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  17. Toba
    November 21, 2013

    Wow Tom….just wow. Methinks you’re not really a fan of this team at all. Perhaps I’m wrong. Either way it seems your wardrobe consists of nothing other than ‘ Grumpy-pants’!

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  18. TimmyGee
    November 22, 2013

    tom1040 how can you say Malhotra did nothing? He was a front runner for Selke when he had his very unfortunate eye injury. He centred the shut down line leaving the Canucks two scoring lines. In my opinion the Canucks would have won the cup easily with a healthy Manny and Kesler playing.

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