Spitballin’ on Bieksa to Worlds, Dane Fox’s award, and John Tortorella’s systems

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.

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What was the Canucks’ lowest point of the season?

Way back at the end of November in this very space, I marvelled at the Canucks’ terrible six-game homestand, an unfortunate stretch in which they played host to the Sharks, Stars, Panthers, Blue Jackets, Blackhawks, and Kings, and came away with a 1-2-3 record, thanks largely to their inability to close out games.

I dubbed this “masterpiece of tragicomic theatre” their worst homestand ever, and elsewhere, I speculated that, at year’s end, we would look back on it as the low point of the Canucks’ season.

In the parlance of today’s youth: ROFLMAO. I am a buffoon. Five months later, I am confident that this homestand was far from the Challenger Deep of this terrible, god-forsaken year. Heck, it may not even be in the top five. Here are the other candidates, in chronological order:

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs. Colorado Avalanche, April 10, 2014

The last time we saw the Canucks, they were fighting for their playoff lives versus the Anaheim Ducks. (Not that they seemed to know it. It’s like they don’t even read the papers. Typical millennials.) It didn’t go well, and they were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, making Thursday’s tilt with the Avalanche their first truly meaningless game of the year.

At first, I thought it was going to be impossible to get up for this game, meaningless as it was. But then I remembered life is meaningless, and I find reasons to get up for that every day. By rewarding myself with a bagel, I watched this game.

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Hear James Duthie’s story of arrogant Gillis, Canucks during 2011 Final

There were many in the hockey media that didn’t care for Mike Gillis, so there was no shortage of childish grave-dancing when the Canucks GM and Team President was dismissed from both roles on Tuesday. “Mike Gillis, the smartest man in the room, is no longer in the room,” tweeted Steve Simmons (who’s on a pretty torrid losing streak these days, so you can understand why he might need to kick a man while he’s down).

But Simmons isn’t the only one suggesting Gillis was a pretty arrogant guy. Wednesday on TSN radio, James Duthie was asked, simply, “What do you think Gillis’s deal was?” In response, he shared a story of true Gillisian hubris from the 2011 Cup Final.

This is a story that’s been floating around ever since — full disclosure: I’d heard it before too, from someone else who was in the room — but this is the first time it’s been aired publicly, so it’s your chance to get a window into how truly over the Canucks thought the series was when they arrived in Boston. It’s pretty cringe-inducing.

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The Week Ahead: A Northwest Division farewell tour

Every Wednesday we take a look at The Week Ahead to see what storylines we’ll be following, because Wednesday is a day meant for looking ahead to the future. Around here we call Wednesday “Future Day” and we all wear silver jumpsuits and big bubble space helmets. Doesn’t everybody do that?

This week, it’s the end of the season and the Canucks face a trio of former Northwest Division opponents.

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Stick in Link: Hello Trevor Linden, farewell Mike Gillis, whither John Tortorella?

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 [...]

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Trevor Linden is the future of the Canucks; is John Tortorella still part of it?

Trevor Linden made a good impression in his first press conference as the Vancouver Canucks new President of Hockey Operations. He apologized for lying in his interview with Global TV, he was humble in discussing his lack of experience and need to surround himself with intelligent, experienced people, and he looked comfortable handling every single question that came his way.

The same can’t be said for Francesco Aquilini, who didn’t look at all comfortable in front of the cameras, awkwardly reading from a prepared statement before answering the media’s questions.

Apart from thanking Mike Gillis for “his years of service” three times — it was literally the exact same wording, like he had practiced saying it in front of the mirror the entire previous night — he also gave a particularly convoluted answer when asked about John Tortorella that seemed to imply that Tortorella wouldn’t be with the team next season.

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Canucks officially hire Trevor Linden, who is a big fat liar, as Team President

The Canucks officially announced Trevor Linden as the new President of Hockey Operations Wednesday morning, confirming rumours that were swirling since Mike Gillis’s dismissal from the position the day prior.

This means that Linden lied to our faces on Tuesday. In an interview with Global TV to promote his fitness clubs, he was asked point blank if he would be the next president of hockey operations for the Canucks. He denied the rumour.

The Canucks just hired a big, fat liar to be team president.

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Stick in Link: Mike Gillis got fired; who’s next?

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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Canucks respond to the cries of their angriest fans, fire Mike Gillis

Late in the third period of Monday night’s 3-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, with the Canucks just licking the metaphorical stamp on their mail-in of a game that would have kept their playoff hopes alive, the fans in Rogers Arena erupted in the loudest chant we’ve heard from them in years.

“Fire Gillis!” they shouted.

Less than 12 hours later, Canucks’ ownership has caved to their demands. Mike Gillis has been relieved as both President and GM of the Vancouver Canucks.

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Don’t hire Trevor Linden as Canucks team president; hire Mark Messier

There was a time that the people of Edmonton loved Kevin Lowe, and for good reason. Lowe’s first stint with the Oilers lasted 13 seasons, during which time he helped lead the team to five Stanley Cups. He was a member of the Oilers during their best times — the years the fan still look on with the most fondness.

Lowe was traded to the New York Rangers in 1992, but he returned to the Oilers in 1996, playing his final two years in front of the fans that loved him most, then retired in 1998 after being sidelined with an inner-ear issue that was affecting his balance.

It was hardly the end of Lowe’s time with in Edmonton. He retired straight into coaching, taking a job as an Oilers assistant coach the same year he retired. A year later, he was the head coach, and a year after that, he was promoted to General Manager. Eight years after that, with fans calling for his head after assembling a team capable of winning little else but the draft lottery, he was promoted instead to President of Hockey Operations.

In Edmonton, Kevin Lowe is now all but despised.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Anaheim Ducks, April 8th, 2014

As famed sportswriter Thomas Stearns Eliot wrote about this Canucks season, “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.” A little flowery for my tastes, but his words proved prophetic, as the Canucks looked lame against the Ducks, officially becoming a lame duck for the remainder of the season.

Facing a rookie goaltender in his first NHL game, the Canucks mustered just 18 shots on net. In the second period, they had just 3 shots. In their five power plays, they got the puck on net just 3 times. They were credited with 10 turnovers and it felt like more, giving up multiple breakaways, including the first shot of the game. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

Know who else whimpered? Me, when I watched this game.

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Big Numbers: Last chance to see Selanne; Kassian tallies assists, Hamhuis draws penalties

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 vs Los Angeles Kings, April 5, 2014

The last time the Canucks saw the Kings, they skated away with a moral two points, and an actual zero points, losing the game but punching a bunch of people — which, in the minds of many hockey fans, is the margarine to victory’s butter. This time around, however, no one had to settle for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Winning!, as the Canucks actually managed to score more goals than the Kings, which signifies the sort of triumph that actually affects the standings.

In so doing, the Canucks also staved off their inevitable mathematical elimination from the playoff race, so they also beat math. That’s hard to do. Many members of the Toronto hockey media have been trying to do that for years, with limited success. (Often, these individuals will ask: do you even watch the games? The answer, on this night, at least, is yes. I watched this game.)

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This guy or this other guy: John Tortorella or Mike Gillis?

Many saw Mike Gillis’s layered and intriguing comments during Thursday morning’s Team 1040 radio interview as an ultimatum of sorts, directed either at Francesco Aquilini — either my way, or John Tortorella’s way, some suggested he was implying — or at the coach himself (in which case, swap “Tortorella’s way” for “the highway”).

There’s definitely some merit to this reading. “When you have an entire team’s level of performance drop off there has to be reasons for it,” Gillis said, before pointing to reasons that seemed systematic. He talked about the team getting away from the way he wanted them to play — the way he built them to play. He referenced the change in Alain Vigneault’s coaching style when the new GM arrived on the scene six years ago, implying that a similar adjustment was necessary here.

Ray Ferraro felt Gillis was drawing a line in sand. Via the Vancouver Sun:

“That is as big a distancing from the coach as I’ve seen,” Ferraro said in an interview Thursday. “That’s pushing you to that side of the room and I’m on this side of the room and whoever is making the decision upstairs, you’ve got one or the other.

“I see it as totally unlikely that both are gone and totally unlikely that both are back.”

Thus, it’s one or the other. Gillis or Tortorella? That’s a tough call for Canucks’ ownership, and one that shouldn’t be made alone. So we’ve decided to pitch in and help, with another edition of This Guy or This Other Guy?

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Watch Bo Horvat, Dane Fox, Brendan Gaunce, and Cole Cassels tear up the OHL playoffs [VIDEO]

The Canucks playoff hopes are about as dim as Shane O’Brien caving in Torca del Cerro del Cuevon without a headlamp. The chances of the Canucks making the playoffs are lower than the chances of “fetch” happening. It’s as unlikely as Facebook ever adding a dislike button.

Some players in the Canucks system are seeing playoff success, however, specifically their forward prospects in the OHL. All four are in the top-ten in scoring in the OHL playoffs, with Dane Fox first and Brendan Gaunce third. Their respective teams also dominated the first round, all advancing in four or five games.

It’s tough to see these prospects in action, however, as OHL playoff games are sporadically televised at best. You can see Bo Horvat and the London Knights take on the Guelph Storm in game one of their second round series this Friday on Sportsnet ONE at 4:30, but if you want to see others, you’re basically out of luck.

You can, however, see some of their goals and assists from the first round in the following highlight video!

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Stick in Link: Mike Gillis wants uptempo hockey; ex-ref calls out Alex Burrows for ‘cowardice’

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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New Van Fan, Season 2: Canucks fan support group

With the Vancouver Canucks’ season wrapping up, so too is another season of New Van Fan, our favourite webseries about Canucks fans trying to maintain their sanity while cheering for this wonderful but infuriating hockey team.

That’s most certainly the theme of the finale, as Dan and Andreas form a support group to help them cope with the events of this season, and in so doing, realize that they’ve experienced all five stages of grief and death this season, from denial (the moral victory versus the Kings), to acceptance, which comes during the collapse to the Islanders.

“Seven goals in the third period,” says the third member of the support group. “Saw that one coming.”

Watch and laugh, and be sure to subscribe to an excellent and underappreciated show.

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Mike Gillis dodges question on retaining Tortorella: ‘I’m not sure if I’ll be back next season’

You knew the question was coming. When the Team 1040 announced that Mike Gillis would be joining Jake Edwards and Dave Pratt for a segment on the morning show, Canucks fans tuned in — given a rare reason to do so — to hear either Edwards or Pratt ask the big ask: Will John Tortorella be back next season?

It’s an almost impossible question to answer about a coach on the hot seat. Gillis isn’t going to say “absolutely not, I fired his ass, just now, he’s done, I’m watching him clean out his desk right now.” So he’s left with just two options. He could say “no comment”, a response listeners will only hear the first half of; or he could say “yes he will, I have the utmost faith in John’s ability to do the job,” or something to that effect. And, as longtime hockey fans will tell you, the vote of confidence is often the kiss of death.
But this isn’t Mike Gillis’s first rodeo. He’s always excelled at giving lawyerly answers to difficult questions (it’s probably that law background), and his response to this one was among his best.

“I’m not sure if I’ll be back next season.”

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Alex Burrows catches first break of the season, doesn’t get suspended for hit on Ryan McDonagh

Breaking news: hitting is still allowed in the NHL.

As expected, Alex Burrows will not receive a suspension for his hit on Ryan McDonagh late in the game against the New York Rangers, because the people employed by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety have eyes.

This, of course, means that the curse that has stricken Burrows all season has finally been broken. A cursed Burrows would have been flown to New York for an in-person hearing and suspended for 15 games. Now, the last remnants of his curse could only tag him with a 5-minute elbowing major and a game misconduct. His nightmare is over.

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Cody Hodgson update: he’s still bad at defending, so now he’s a winger

One of the main reasons that Cody Hodgson pushed for a move out of Vancouver was the Canucks’ depth chart. A natural centre on a team with Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler, Hodgson wasn’t pleased with the idea of playing second fiddle. Well, third fiddle. (He didn’t really fit there anyway, since that role is for more of a checking fiddler.)

And so, at the 2012 trade deadline, Hodgson got his wish, and was moved to the Buffalo Sabres, whose depth chart made a mockery of the term. At the time, they were using under-sized converted winger Tyler Ennis as their first line centre.

Surely, there would be no one impeding Hodgson’s ascension to the middle of Buffalo’s first line.

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The Week Ahead: Oh great, more games against California teams

Every Wednesday we take a look at The Week Ahead to see what storylines we’ll be following, because Wednesday is a day meant for looking ahead to the future. Around here we call Wednesday “Future Day” and we all wear silver jumpsuits and big bubble space helmets. Doesn’t everybody do that?

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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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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs New York Rangers, April 1, 2014

In honour of Alain Vigneault returning to Vancouver for the first time in the regular season since getting the boot last May, I will be using the word “real” throughout this intro, both correctly and incorrectly.

The Canucks were real good in this game, playing with a real intensity as they tried to keep their playoff hopes real alive. They got in on the forecheck real quick and created real scoring chances. They looked like a real hockey team with a real first line and for a real short time it was real exciting.

Unfortunately, it all came crashing down to earth in a real hurry. Even as they looked real good, they still couldn’t put pucks into the net, with the woeful power play giving the Canucks meagre playoff hopes one final kick in teeth, giving up a shorthanded goal to seal the loss. It may seem like this whole season has been a bad dream, but it’s real real. Also real real? The fact I watched this game.

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Under John Tortorella, the Canucks get plenty of shots but few scoring chances

There are many reasons why the Canucks are on the verge of being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but the biggest can be summed up in three words: they can’t score. The team is 28th in the league in goals-per-game, ahead of only the woeful Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres. Their leading goalscorer is Ryan Kesler, with 23, and they’re likely to finish without a single 30-goal scorer for the first time in a non-lockout year since the 2007-08 season.

That season, they at least had three players with 20+ goals. Chris Higgins needs three goals in the Canucks’ final six games to reach 20 or Kesler will be the only Canuck above that mark.

The one bright spot? They’re currently on pace for 193 goals, which would be one better than their franchise low 192 in 1998-99. They need 14 goals in the final six games to avoid a historic low.

Many suggest the issue is personnel, that the Canucks lack legitimate snipers to finish chances, but the scoring struggles of normally reliable forwards like Alex Burrows and Daniel Sedin make me question that assessment. The Canucks could certainly use more talented goalscorers, but that doesn’t explain the struggles of the scorers they do have. For the moment, let’s set that aside and look elsewhere.

With Alain Vigneault back in town, it makes sense to look at coaching. Has John Tortorella’s coaching style and the offensive system he has put in place hurt the Canucks’ ability to score goals?

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