The Paper Feature: Canucks must hunt for October in the red

Expectations were low in Canuck-land heading into this season. With last year’s clustercuss of a season and all the off and on-ice upheaval in the summer, even suggesting that the Canucks might make the playoffs seemed crazily optimistic.

That seemed safest, really: the lower the expectations, the less likely you’ll be disappointed. That’s why I threw out all my sons’ “Future Rock Star” shirts and made them custom “Future Street Musician” onesies.

The Canucks, however, seem intent on raising expectations with their early performance. The Sedins look like their old selves, which is to say, they look like their young selves. The power play appears rejuvenated with the addition of Radim Vrbata and Linden Vey. Alex Burrows scored on his first shot this season instead of having his foot broken by the first shot he blocked. It’s hard not to be excited.

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The Paper Feature: Canucks First Round Playoff Preview (as written at the end of December)

Every once in a while I like to work ahead and give myself a buffer of writing for the future. I like to do this with topics that are, essentially, evergreen: topics that will never go out of date or lose their relevance. One of those topics, at least with a team like the Canucks, is the postseason preview.

I don’t want to be deceitful, however, so it’s only fair that I dutifully inform you that this playoff preview is being written at the end of December.

By the time this sees publication, the playoffs will be just two tantalizing weeks away and the anticipation will be building to a fever pitch in Vancouver. There’s no possible way that this season could be as disappointing as last year’s four-game sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks and fans are eager for a deeper postseason run.

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The Paper Feature: 10 other veteran players the Canucks should try to sign

Looking to boost their struggling offence and power play, the Canucks came close to signing veteran free agent Vinny Prospal last week. But at the last moment, it all fell through. In the space of 24 hours, the news that last season’s leading scorer in Columbus was a certainty to sign a professional tryout contract with the Utica Comets was replaced by news that the 38-year-old was officially retiring from hockey.

It took just one practice with the Comets for Prospal to decide to hang up his skates. Perhaps he balked at the amount of effort it would take to get back into game shape, or maybe he couldn’t keep pace with the Comets and, knowing that they are last in the AHL’s Western Conference, realized his career was done.

After Prospal made his announcement, it seemed like the Canucks realized that help was not on the way and kickstarted their offence themselves, potting five goals in their next game against the Phoenix Coyotes and, in their enthusiasm, scoring two into their own net as well. Perhaps this is what the Canucks really need: a constant reminder that there is no deus ex machina on the way to save the season.

With that in mind, here are 10 veteran players that the Canucks should come close to signing before not signing at the last moment, providing the team with the inspiration they need.

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The Paper Feature: Who’s to blame for Saturday’s line brawl? Roberto Luongo

The NHL was none too pleased with what transpired Saturday night when the Canucks played host to the Flames, and it’s difficult to blame them. On Hockey Night in Canada, on Hockey Day in Canada, Calgary vs. Vancouver looked more like Marvel vs. Street Fighter.

We’ll say the Canucks were Marvel, since they had the Iron Man. That would be Henrik Sedin, who was playing his 679th consecutive game. But by “playing”, I mean “attempting to drag his near-lifeless and wholly uncooperative body through”. Henrik was in the lineup despite what appeared to be full-body necrosis. Recognizing that his health bar was dangerously low, John Tortorella shut him down at the second intermission, and the Iron Man was no more.

And speaking of Tortorella, he was pretty clearly in superhero mode as well. After all, attempting to fight one’s way through a group of henchman to get at their boss is a very superhero thing to do.

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The Paper Feature: 14 ways for Alex Burrows to bump the slump once he returns

This article was originally written at the beginning of December and ended with the following convoluted way for Alex Burrows to bust out of the slump he was currently mired in: “Get a writer to pen an article about your scoring slump on Monday that is set to publish Wednesday when you have a game on Tuesday, thereby tempting fate and ensuring a goal on Tuesday.”

The article was written on December 2nd and was going to be published on December 4th. That last joke was just a way to hedge my bets in case I jinxed myself by writing an article about a scoring slump that could have ended before the article was published. Instead, I jinxed Alex Burrows, who had his jaw broken by an errant clearing attempt by Chris Tanev in the middle of the second period.

I thought there was no way for Burrows’ season to get any unluckier, considering he had taken 49 shots without scoring a single goal. He proved me wrong. Now we’re 47 games into the Canucks’ season and Alex Burrows has yet to score a single goal.

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The Paper Feature: Other winter sports for the Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks learned Tuesday that they would be sending a grand total of seven players to Sochi’s Olympic hockey tournament. As expected, Roberto Luongo will be tending the crease, much like he did for the 2010 club, and Dan Hamhuis manage to infiltrate the bubble on which he’d been situated since the summer, earning an invitation thanks to his strong play to end 2014 and his left-handedness.

Team Sweden selected Henrik and Daniel Sedin, the former of whom will be wearing an “A” for his country, perhaps in a bid to help their coach tell the two apart from the front, and Alex Edler. Last week, Ryan Kesler was invited to Team USA. And Yannick Weber has been invited to join the Swiss defence, which has as many holes as the nation’s cheese.

If you want to get technical, Canuck prospect Ronalds Kenins, who may or may not be two people, both of whom are named either Ronalds Kenin or Ronald Kenins, is also going to Sochi. He’ll be repping Team Latvia.

So we’ll say eight Canucks are on their way to Russia for the biggest international hockey tournament since the birth of Blue Ivy Carter. But enough about them. What are the rest of the Canucks supposed to do while they’re away?

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The Paper Feature: The five best, and five worst games of 2013

We’re nearing the end of 2013, which means it’s time to look back at the past year and judge it like a snooty celebrity fashion blogger. Personally, I’m disappointed that at no point did Snake Plissken make his way across Los Angeles Island to retrieve the Sword of Damocles, as I was promised would occur in 2013 in the movie Escape from L.A.

The Canucks didn’t play as many games in 2013 as fans might have hoped, particularly in May and June, but there were still some memorable games. Here are the 5 best and 5 worst Canucks games of the year.

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The Paper Feature: Winners and losers of Alex Burrows’ broken jaw

After his 49th shot on goal failed to get past a goaltender, you have to assume Alex Burrows headed back to the bench, thinking, “There’s absolutely no way that this can get any worse.”

And then Chris Tanev hit him in the side of the face with a puck.

Burrows left the game, blood pooling in his mouth, and got what he thought was a lucky break, with the doctor in Raleigh telling him that all he had done was bust up a couple of teeth. But on Monday night, a second opinion revealed that learned that he’d actually gotten an unlucky break. The puck had broken his jaw.

Suffice it to say, this is bad news for a number of reasons. But, as with all moments of misfortune, there are opportunities for a few folks to benefit. Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of the latest turn in Alex Burrows’ nightmare season.

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The Paper Feature: Is it time to panic yet?

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’ X-X-X 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.

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The Paper Feature: Dear Gary Bettman, the Pacific Division is too hard

Dear Gary Bettman, and to whomever else it may concerns, because it definitely concerns me,

The Pacific Division is too hard.

There. I said it. It’s just too hard. There are too many good teams in it. It’s too competitive. I don’t like it. I don’t think anyone else likes it. I think you should fix it.

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The Paper Feature: Roberto Luongo used to be Mr. October

October has been notoriously hard on Roberto Luongo, which may be why he seemed so inspired during Saturday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, his first game in November. The Leafs repeatedly tried to go five-hole on him; he stopped every attempt for his second shutout of the season.

This season’s slow start in October wasn’t all that bad. Luongo survived the cursed month with a 7-4-1 record — not too shabby, all things considering — but he still got a few bumps and bruises along the way. There were long shots that somehow snuck through that Luongo would surely want back, not to mention that embarrassing own goal against the Montreal Canadiens.

Luongo is well aware of his October reputation, poking fun at his own foibles on his Twitter account. He posted a picture of the disastrous own goal, saying, “October wasn’t so bad after all…” with his typical self-deprecating sense of humour. Still, his October wasn’t particularly good.

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The Paper Feature: Kesler to wing, and John Tortorella’s other bright ideas

“I just look at Kes like a winger,” John Tortorella said at the end the trip. This raised some eyebrows. Kesler is, after all, a pretty good centre, and taking him out of the centre depth chart leaves a massive, Kesler-shaped hole there, like when a cartoon character exits through a wall.

But here’s where it got absolutely crazy: Tortorella then proceeded to list off some of the other changes he plans to make, and if you thought that Kesler on the wing was a twist, the other innovations will blow your mind.

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The Paper Feature: Judging Mike Gillis’s new acquisitions 10 games in

A commonly heard refrain at the beginning of the NHL season is that you can’t pass judgement on a team or player until at least 10 games have past. Really, this is a purely arbitrary number that just sounds good because it matches the number of fingers on our hands. 10 games into the 2010-11 season, the St. Louis Blues were in first place in the league after getting off to a hot start. 72 games later, they missed the playoffs.

With that said, 10 games is still enough time to start to get a feel for a team or player’s tendencies and it’s all we have to go on for some of the newest Canucks on the roster. While Mike Gillis didn’t make sweeping changes to the roster, despite all the talk about a “reset” at the start of the off-season, there are still a lot of new faces who we can start to judge.

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The Paper Feature: Time to fire John Tortorella

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.) It doesn’t start up for a couple weeks, but due to a miscommunication, we were told it started this week. Rather than let this column go to waste, we decided to share it with you, our favourite reader.

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