Chris Higgins has secretly been a playmaker this season

One of the most popular posts I’ve written on Pass it to Bulis was the straight-forwardly titled “Chris Higgins scores goals, has abs.” I assume the abs are still there, but the goalscoring has all but disappeared.

Higgins has gone 15 games without a goal and has just one goal in his last 28 games. Since joining the Canucks, Higgins has regularly scored at or near a pro-rated 20 goals each season, though never quite hitting that mark due to missed games. This season, he has just 7 goals, on pace for a 9-goal season.

Unsurprisingly, this has led to a fair bit of criticism from Canucks fans, with many calling for him to be traded and questioning why he remains in the lineup when other players get scratched for lack of production.

Here’s the thing: despite the lack of goals, Higgins is still tied for fourth on the Canucks in points, behind only Radim Vrbata and the Sedins. While his goalscoring has dried up, Higgins dug a little deeper and found an untapped well of playmaking this season.

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The PITB Podcast, Episode 23: Trade Deadline Breakdown Extravaganza!

What just happened at the NHL trade deadline? What did the Canucks do? What’s a Baertschi? Who’s a Conacher?

We break down the Canucks moves at the trade deadline and what they mean for the Canucks this season (nothing at all) and in the future (potentially lots?), as well as touching on a few of the other trades around the league. We also discuss the ethics of tanking and the Canucks’ recent road trip and gonzo game against the St. Louis Blues.

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Recapping the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline

It’s the NHL trade deadline! This is essentially a national holiday here in Canada, though no one gets the day off and nothing ever actually happens.

This time, however, something might happen! But probably not. The Canucks are in an odd position where they are clearly building for the future, but are also in a fairly solid playoff position now and now is when fans spend money on playoff tickets.

On the other hand, teams are paying exorbitant prices for merely okay players, so it’s tempting to want the Canucks to trade away one of their multitude of middle-six forwards like Chris Higgins, Shawn Matthias, Brad Richardson, or Jannik Hansen to stock up on draft picks and roll the dice that losing one of them won’t cost the Canucks too dearly in the short term. The emergence of Ronalds Kenins and the presence of other solid youth down in Utica make it tempting, but the Canucks also don’t want to raid Utica’s roster too much with the Comets looking to make a push for the Calder Cup and give their prospects some valuable experience.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 6, Blues 5 (SO)

This weekend, when it came time to select one of this week’s three Canucks games as the Game of the Week, I eschewed this game against the St. Louis Blues in favour of Tuesday’s matchup against the San Jose Sharks. I reasoned that the combination of a tough Central Division opponent and the first home game after a road trip would lead to an ugly result for the Canucks, without much in the way of entertainment.

I was completely, totally wrong.

Here are the things that would have to happen in the Sharks game to make it more entertaining than this one:

* Left wing on the Sharks’ top line: Left Shark from Katy Perry’s Super Bowl half-time show.

* An all-out, no-holds-barred brawl between Jean-Claude Van Damme and Fin.

* Finally, a winner on Safeway’s Score-and-Win thanks to a five-goal night from Yannick Weber.

* Kanye West bursting on the ice just before the game-deciding shootout attempt, declaring, “Yo, Bonino, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Marek Malik had one of the best shootout goals of all time!”

None of those things happened, but all sorts of other entertaining things did, when I watched this game.

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Game of the Week: Canucks vs Sharks, March 3rd, 2015

The Canucks have two home games and an away game this week after their five-game eastern swing, beginning with a game on Sunday against the St. Louis Blues, one of the top teams in the terrifying Central Division, then facing their Pacific Division rivals, the San Jose Sharks, on Tuesday, then the hapless Arizona Coyotes on Thursday.

I don’t like the looks of either the game against the Blues or the game against the Coyotes. The Canucks can certainly compete with the Blues and won their first meeting of the season, but the first home game after a road trip has a tendency to lead to a letdown.

Meanwhile, the Canucks have been playing down to the level of some of their lesser opponents of late, losing to both the New Jersey Devils and the Buffalo Sabres on their road trip, so the game against the Coyotes makes me nervous as well.

That leaves just one game to pick as game of the week, so fortunately it ought to be a good one. The Sharks are in a tailspin, losing 7 of their last 9 games and falling out of playoff position, but they’re still the Sharks and games between them and the Canucks tend to be entertaining.

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Stick in Link: Sedins lead Canucks through injury troubles; trade deadline talk

It’s time for “Stick in Link”, the feature where we just plug in a bunch of stuff written by others! Featuring a smattering of links from around the Smylosphere and beyond every Tuesday and Thursday. Warning: our links are so hyper, they change colour when exposed to heat. (Have something for us to share in the next edition? E-mail us at passittobulis@gmail.com, tweet us @passittobulis, or just come over and write your link on a pad of paper, I guess.)

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Big Numbers: Shawn Matthias scores goals, Chris Higgins doesn’t

Every now and then we like to take a break from all the words and just post some numbers. And some words describing the numbers, as otherwise it would just be a whole bunch of numbers with no context, which would be really weird. Big Numbers is a weekly feature on Pass it to Bulis in which we identify the numbers and statistics that really matter or, frequently, the ones that don’t matter at all but are still pretty interesting.

Statistics are gathered from NHL.com, War-on-Ice.com, Puckalytics.com, HockeyAnalysis.com, BehindtheNet.ca, and elsewhere.

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The Prospector: Jake Virtanen will destroy you and everything you hold dear

The Prospector is a semi-regular feature on Pass it to Bulis where we pan the Canucks prospects pool in search of gold.

In this edition, Jake Virtanen is the destroyer, Jared McCann and Cole Cassels continue to dominate the OHL, Jordan Subban is a record-breaker, Patrick McNally suffers a season-ending injury, Mackenze Stewart scores a goal, and Dane Fox reminds us all that he exists. Whew!

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 2, Bruins 1

The Canucks had no business winning this game, so they’re extremely fortunate that the mullet is the official haircut of hockey — it’s not all business; there’s plenty of room for a party. And who on the Canucks do you think of when you hear the word “party”? That’s right: Dan Hamhuis.

Wait, that’s not right: it’s Zack Kassian. He’s clearly the partiest member of the Canucks and he continued his goalscoring streak with his 4th goal in 3 games and also his 4th different goal celebration. The goal stood up as the gamewinner thanks to an incredible performance by Eddie Lack. It’s always a party when the Canucks beat the Bruins.

I listened to Andrew W.K. when I watched this game.

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New Van Fan, Season 3 Episode 2: #changeiscoming

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from the New Van Fan folks and this episode makes it incredibly clear why, as we’re introduced to the newest Van Fan: Andreas’s tiny, adorable son.

Only, Dan doesn’t find him so adorable. In fact, he suggests that he resembles the absolutely worst possible person a Canucks’ fan could imagine. Is this the end of their friendship? Of New Van Fan?

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Stick in Link: Bonino expected to return, Canucks weathering injuries

It’s time for “Stick in Link”, the feature where we just plug in a bunch of stuff written by others! Featuring a smattering of links from around the Smylosphere and beyond every Tuesday and Thursday. Warning: our links are so hyper, they change colour when exposed to heat. (Have something for us to share in the next edition? E-mail us at passittobulis@gmail.com, tweet us @passittobulis, or just come over and write your link on a pad of paper, I guess.)

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Spitballin’ on Miller’s injury, Sestito’s departure, and Henrik’s 8-point week

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 quick topics.

In this edition, Ryan Miller is out long-term, meaning Eddie Lack needs to step up, Tom Sestito parts ways with the Canucks and Comets, and Henrik Sedin earns second star of the week honours from the NHL.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 4 – Islanders 0

It’s time for another goaltending controversy! No, we’re not going to argue about whether Ryan Miller or Eddie Lack should be the number one goaltender or discuss which goalie might get traded either at the deadline or the draft.

No, this isn’t about Miller versus Lack. This is about Miller or Lack versus Miller and Lack.

Miller was perfect to start the game, but left early in the second period after a collision with Jannik Hansen and Lack stepped in and continued the perfection. The duo combined for a shutout against one of the top-scoring teams in the NHL, so it’s clear what the Canucks need to do going forward: Lack is no longer the backup, he’s the bullpen.

With two goaltenders of seemingly equal ability, it seems like a waste to have one sitting on the bench for the entire game, so it’s definitely time for them to stop splitting starts and begin splitting games. If fatigue is an issue for Miller, have the veteran start the game to set the tone, then bring in Lack’s fresh legs halfway through the second period. It’s a brilliant idea with no possible downsides whatsoever!

One issue: it looks like Miller might be out for quite a while with a knee injury, so they’ll have to wait before putting this perfect plan into action. I watched this game.

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Canucks of the Week, in which Ryan Miller is refreshingly honest

Canucks of the Week, written by Kevin Vanstone, examines who and what is keeping hockey in Vancouver interesting these days. That’s right: who and what. It need not only be players. After all, we are all Canucks. All people, places, things, abstract concepts, ideas, emotions — if it’s a noun, proper or common, it’s a Canuck, and it’s eligible to be a Canuck of the week.

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The Paper Feature: A guide to rumours at the NHL trade deadline

The NHL trade deadline is just over a week away, which means it’s prime time for trade rumours. But how can you tell which rumours are reliable and who you should listen to? With so many rumours flying about from so many sources, it can be hard to keep track.

Don’t worry: Pass it to Bulis is here to help with our handy-dandy trade rumour guide.

Say you hear the following rumour: “I’m hearing the Vancouver Canucks and Tampa Bay Lightning are getting close on a deal that would send Zack Kassian, a prospect, and a first-round pick to the Lightning for Steven Stamkos.” How much credence should you give such a rumour? It would all depend on the source.

Here are 5 possible sources for trade rumours, along with how reliable each of them are.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 2, Devils 4

The saying is, “I hate to say I told you so” but let’s face facts: no one hates saying that. Getting a chance to legitimately say “I told you so” is a rare delight. The only reason people claim to hate saying it is to be humble and not rudely rub their rightness in anyone’s face.

But let’s face it: Canucks fans aren’t exactly known for their polite and reserved nature, so you will hear “I told you so” echoing throughout the province, all across sports talk radio, and cascading down the threads and comments sections of innumerable message boards and blogs.

For in this game, Willie Desjardins placed Zack Kassian on a line with the Sedins and he responded with 2 goals, a game-high 5 shots, and the second best corsi on the team behind Henrik Sedin. Kassian went from a prospective healthy scratch to the first line and, lo and behold, it worked. Tony Gallagher is going to be insufferable for weeks.

I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 5 – Rangers 4 (SO)

On February 14th, against the Arizona Coyotes of Phoenix in Glendale, Alain Vigneault won his 500th career game as an NHL head coach, becoming the 21st in league history to do so. He added one more win on the Rangers’ road trip, then came back to new York. This was his first home game since accomplishing the feat and the Rangers had a brief tribute to Vigneault during the first period.

It seemed only fitting that a convenient convergence of events brought the Vancouver Canucks, with whom Vigneault recorded 313 of those wins, to Madison Square Gardens to be a part of that moment. It was pretty neat.

It was also pretty neat that the Canucks prevented Vigneault from getting his 502nd career win when I watched this game.

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Stick in Link: Burrows calls Horvat a young Toews; Kenins’ journey to the NHL

It’s time for “Stick in Link”, the feature where we just plug in a bunch of stuff written by others! Featuring a smattering of links from around the Smylosphere and beyond every Tuesday and Thursday. Warning: our links are so hyper, they change colour when exposed to heat. (Have something for us to share in the next edition? E-mail us at passittobulis@gmail.com, tweet us @passittobulis, or just come over and write your link on a pad of paper, I guess.)

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Did the Canucks fail to follow concussion protocol with Chris Tanev?

With Alex Edler already out for who-knows-how-long, the last thing the Canucks need is the other half of their top pair to miss any significant time with an injury. Of course, since it’s the Canucks, the last thing they need is exactly what they got.

Chris Tanev has already missed one game and isn’t accompanying the Canucks on their current road trip, which suggests he’ll be out for at least five more games unless he joins them mid-trip.

This is both surprising and worrisome, as Tanev practiced with the team on Monday after his head crashed into the post on Saturday, and looked to be good to go against the Wild, but was a late scratch, forcing Alex Biega into the game. While that worked out all right for the Canucks, you have to wonder what changed for Tanev.

Jim Benning said in an interview during the game against the Wild that Tanev “didn’t feel good after” the morning skate, so here’s where the speculation begins. Concussion symptoms can take days to appear and it’s hard to avoid jumping to a concussion conclusion after seeing a player hit his head, appear fine, then suddenly miss a whole bunch of games because he doesn’t “feel good.”

That raises the question: why didn’t Chris Tanev go to the quiet room and undergo the NHL’s concussion protocol after hitting his head on Saturday?

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Bo Horvat lives in front of the net

Bo Horvat is on quite the run offensively in February. He’s currently on a 4-game point streak and has 4 goals and 8 points in his last 10 games. With his boost in production has come a boost in playing time, to the point that it’s safe to call him the third-line centre.

It helps Horvat’s case for more ice time that two centres ahead of him on the depth chart, Brad Richardson and Nick Bonino, are currently injured, but Horvat has earned it as well, with his underlying possession statistics also steadily improving over the last couple months. It wouldn’t even be surprising to see him retain the third-line role once Richardson and Bonino return, with Bonino slotting back in on the second line and Richardson moving to the fourth, allowing Linden Vey and Shawn Matthias to go back to the wings.

What is most encouraging is that most of Horvat’s goals have come from the kind of thankless hard work that you might not expect from a rookie. The majority of his goals have come from going hard to the net, staying there and accepting punishment, and depositing a rebound.

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The PITB Podcast, Episode 22: Alex Edler Injury and Hot Dog Sandwiches

The Canucks have weathered all sorts of injuries this season, largely because of the dependability of their top defence pairing of Alex Edler and Chris Tanev. Now Edler is injured and out for an undetermined length of time, leaving the defence in disarray and the Canucks’ season in jeopardy.

Daniel and Harrison discuss how Edler being out of the lineup will impact the Canucks, as well as the Canucks’ playoff hopes, where they make the startling discovery that the Canucks actually have a legitimate chance at finishing second in the Pacific Division.

They also talk about the recent uptick in scoring, particularly from the new look second line of Chris Higgins, Linden Vey, and Radim Vrbata, as well as Zack Kassian, Ronalds Kenins, and Bo Horvat. Then they get into the goaltending situation and wonder which of Ryan Miller, Eddie Lack, and Jacob Markstrom might get traded, whether at the trade deadline or later.

But before all that, they ponder the most important question in the history of mankind: is a hot dog a sandwich?

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Game of the Week: Canucks vs Wild, February 16th

Am I crazy? Of all the games this coming week — which include an important divisional game against the Calgary Flames and visits to Alain Vigneault’s New York Rangers and Cory Schneider’s New Jersey Devils — I picked the game against the Minnesota Wild as PITB’s game of the week. Who would voluntarily watch a game against the Wild?

Yes, games against the Wild have historically been painful to watch. Yes, the Canucks have lost twice to the Wild in the past two weeks. Yes, their most recent loss to the Wild was embarrassing, with the 5-3 score not accurately reflecting how soundly the Canucks lost. Yes, it’s annoying when Wild fans expect Canucks fans to treat the Wild like legitimate rivals when there wasn’t a real rivalry in the first place and, if there was, it’s been dead for a long time.

And yet, I’m strangely looking forward to their next meeting on Monday.

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Real Good Tweets, starring @wholegrainne’s Canucks Valentines

You folks made some good tweets last week. Some real good tweets.

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Big Numbers: Vrbata’s point streak, Daniel passes Linden

Every now and then we like to take a break from all the words and just post some numbers. And some words describing the numbers, as otherwise it would just be a whole bunch of numbers with no context, which would be really weird. Big Numbers is a weekly feature on Pass it to Bulis in which we identify the numbers and statistics that really matter or, frequently, the ones that don’t matter at all but are still pretty interesting.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 5, Blackhawks 4 (OT)

In a recent podcast, Harrison and I discussed whether hockey fans really like exciting hockey or if they just like to see winning hockey. This game came incredibly close to being a test case for that question.

This was an incredibly thrilling game, full of high-tempo, back-and-forth action, with the Canucks playing some of their best hockey of the season against the best team in the league through the first two periods. Then the Blackhawks showed why they’re the best team in the league, mounting a late comeback in the third period and pushing the game to a white-knuckling, edge-of-your-seat overtime.

If the Canucks had lost that game in overtime, I have a feeling that many fans would deride it as a terrible game, when, no matter the result, it really wasn’t. It was a fun, entertaining, exciting game that showed the Canucks can compete against any team in the NHL when they’re playing well.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to confront any tough questions about the entertainment value of a loss when I watched this game.

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