Smart moves highlight Canada Day for Canucks

By most accounts, Day 1 of the 2017 NHL Free Agency period was a success for the Vancouver Canucks and General Manager Jim Benning.

While adding five players – six if you include re-signing potential UFA Anton Rodin – who are all expected to be contributors at the NHL level might not seem like an appropriate tactic for a team on a so-called rebuild, I thought all their additions made on Saturday made good sense.

The signings of Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto give a team that finished with the second-fewest goal totals a year ago with an offensive boost both up front and on the back end, while Anders Nilsson fills the hole in net left by the departure of Ryan Miller while providing fans what they’ve been hoping to see now for a couple of seasons and that is a chance for Jacob Markstrom to run with the starting job.

Patrick Wiercioch is a solid, depth defenceman who comes with an inexpensive price tag and you can never have too many of those. Last season the Canucks used 10 different defenceman and the only one who appeared in all 82 games – Luca Sbisa – is now a Vegas Golden Knight.

Alexander Burmistrov’s prove-it contact might be the most intriguing and is certainly loaded with possibility. I think most teams that add a former first rounder to their roster all feel they can be the one to unleash the potential. Burmistrov has certainly not lived up to his draft hype from 2010 but it’s a low-risk, high-reward opportunity and it’s more depth at centre for the Canucks.

I thought, though, the best part of the day were the moves that weren’t made. In the days leading up to the opening of free agency the Canucks were linked to several impending UFAs or players on the trade block ranging from the head-scratchers (Karl Alzner) to the absurd (Joe Thornton).

I think, as a good general manager, you’re always out there kicking tires whether or not it actually fits into your original plan. If Joe Thornton wants to play in Vancouver and do so at significantly less than market value would you really say no?

The one move not made, but apparently the closest to coming to fruition, was the rumoured swap of defencemen between the Canucks and Panthers that would have sent Erik Gudbranson back to Florida in exchange for Jason Demers. It was a move vetoed by Demers.

This one I couldn’t understand at all if it was a straight-up one-for-one swap. Gudbranson certainly had a challenging first season in Vancouver hampered by injuries but it’s not as if he’s suddenly lost all the qualities that sold you on him a year ago when you dealt away one of your top prospects for him.

Gudbranson is four years younger than Jason Demers, and at least for the time being, is someone you have under cost control. One of the reasons the Panthers moved him a year ago was because they were afraid he’d command a huge salary increase this summer – something that obviously didn’t happen for a myriad of reasons.

At the same time, tying themselves to a defenceman who would have instantly become their second-highest paid blue-liner (behind Alex Edler) and one with a partial no-trade clause just seems counterintuitive.

Had it gone down it wouldn’t have wiped out what was otherwise a solid day for the Canucks, but it certainly would have dampened it.

I’ll count it as the first win of the 2017-18 season.

Photo credit: Sarah Connors

That time I hung out with Phil Kessel

Before my first introduction to working with the Canucks, I had the chance to be involved in another major NHL event in the annual NHL Draft.

The story coming out on Saturday from The Province’s Jeff Paterson on this event possibly returning to Vancouver as part of the Canucks’ 50th anniversary celebration had me taking a trip down memory lane back to 2006 when the event was here last.

That summer I submitted an application to volunteer for the event and was assigned to be one of the player guides/handlers that you might spot on the side of the screen if you’re watching the coverage on television.

As soon as a player gets drafted, he’s assigned a guide that helps him navigate through all his obligations once he’s finished the process of going up on stage, taken his picture, stopped for a quick interview with the host broadcaster, and met all the executives from the team that now owns his rights.

Those obligations include things like getting (multiple) photos taken, doing online chats with NHL.com, signing paraphernalia, and a whole host of other things that I can’t recall now.

Back in 2006, the NHL opted to do the Draft entirely in one day (usually it is spread out over two). I can’t say for certain whether that made a difference for the volunteers compared to their normal two-day event. For me it meant that, on that particular day, I had the chance to meet three NHL hopefuls.

The latter two individuals I met that day were Tomas Káňa, a second round selection of the St. Louis Blues, and John Armstrong, a third round selection of the Calgary Flames. Neither of them panned out in the NHL. They combined for just six career NHL games to date, all of them belonging to Káňa, but on that day both of them were VIPs.

The first one, as you’ve surmised by now from the title of his blog, is a guy that has carved out quite a nice career for himself in the NHL and has a chance to soon become a multi-time Stanley Cup champion.

I can recall many in our group of volunteers wanting to be picked to guide the Canucks’ draft pick – 14th overall that year, which turned out to be Michael Grabner (talk about the one that got away) – but I thought it was pretty cool I got tabbed for that fifth overall pick that ended up being Phil Kessel.

Kessel was highly hyped entering the Draft that year. He was the American that, as a 17-year-old, lit up the world junior tournament a year before he was Draft eligible and at one point was considered as a potential first overall pick. As I recall, his stock dipped ever so slightly in his Draft year and that’s why he fell to fifth.

The Bruins, though, were fortunate enough to nab a player who they felt could be the new face of their franchise and perhaps one of the early steals of the Draft.

Kessel was supposed to accompany me to the backstage area as soon as he had a quick introduction to the management seated at the Bruins’ table. But I found myself waiting and waiting before I finally was able to lead him to the backstage area because the Bruins’ PR person had him conducting interview after interview over the phone with, I suspect, the team’s local media back in Beantown.

As an aside, if you’ve ever wanted to see hockey PR people in action, volunteer at a Draft. They may be some of the busiest people you’ll meet.

Needless to say it took us quite a while before we finally headed backstage and, at that point, we were lumped in with the mid-round picks in the queue. The players drafted around Kessel – guys like Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, Derrick Brassard, and Kyle Okposo – were long gone.

It was interesting listening to some of the banter between the newly drafted players as they awaited their next photo shoot or media obligation. Some of those guys have played with, or against, each other and some of them may just meeting for the first time. But on that day, all of them were part of a something special.

I recall Boston’s PR person following Kessel and myself pretty much throughout the entire process which took nearly three hours. In fact, it was only when we were just walking on the concourse at General Motors Place (now Rogers Arena) over to the area where Kessel was to meet up with his family when she had to abruptly leave.
She had a pretty good reason though.

As we were walking, Gary Bettman’s unmistakable voice suddenly blasts over the PA system. I may be paraphrasing ever-so-slightly but it went something like…

“We have a trade to announce. The Toronto Maple Leafs trade Tuukka Rask to the Boston Bruins for Andrew Raycroft.”

With that she suddenly stopped and said, “I’ve got to go. We just made a big trade. You know where to take him, right?”

I guided Phil over to the area where he met his family, congratulated him again and wished him well.

I wish I had more mementos from that time. The entire volunteer group did take a picture up on the Draft stage at the end of the day but this being the pre-smartphone era (okay, before MY smartphone era), I never did see that picture.

I still have the polo shirt that was the uniform for the day though, in addition to this cool story to tell.

draftshirt

I’m sure Kessel will never forget the day he was drafted. I won’t either.

Cover photo: Flickr, John Biehler

Sens will win Game 7. Here’s why…

If you’re a Senators fan waking up on Thursday morning – the morning of Game 7 – you’re likely feeling a mix of excitement and dread.

Your team, to the surprise of many perhaps, survived to live another day by squeaking out a come-from-behind win in Game 6. Game 7s, as this article from The Score is kind enough to remind everyone, have not been kind to the Sens in their franchise history.

But here are three reasons why the Sens will punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

1. They’ve got nothing to lose

Few expected to the Sens to be in the Eastern Conference Final at the outset of the playoffs, and maybe even fewer expected them to be one win away from Stanley Cup Final. The Sens are playing with house money without a doubt but, as cliché as that sounds, it’s true. In the previous round, the Penguins fended off a Capitals’ team playing on home ice with all the pressure on them to win. They’ll be in that spot this time around.

2. They’ve got special teams confidence again

Bobby Ryan’s slump-busting power play goal in Game 6 was obviously huge in the moment but what was even more significant in the bigger picture was the Sens going 3-for-3 on the PK after going 1-for-5 over the previous two games. Special teams were fairly even over the first three games of the series where they Sens won two games (Ottawa went 0-for-7 on the power play but killed off 9-of-10 Pittsburgh power plays.

The Sens found a way to beat the Rangers in six games despite only going 1-for-17 on the man-advantage, but their penalty kill was a big part of that killing off 22-of-24 New York power plays. If their belief in, and their execution on, their penalty kill is back, it will go a long ways towards contributing to a series-clinching win.

3. Karlsson will deliver

The Sens have had many heroes so far on their improbably playoff run including the likes of Ryan, Stone, Turris, MacArthur, Brassard, Hoffman and Pageau. But the one guy that’s been key to their success, besides netminder Craig Anderson, has been stud defenceman Erik Karlsson.

Karlsson hasn’t quite had the iconic moments in this series as he did in the previous one against the Rangers, but with everything on the line, expect him to seize the spotlight and show why he is the best in the league at what he does.

Cover image: By C.P.Storm from near Ottawa, Canada (Rink of Fire) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Hockey Canada’s Top-5 since 2000

With Canada’s own Joe Sakic being inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2017 this past weekend, it cemented his legacy as one of the top players to ever compete for his country on the world stage.

Among players who have suited up for Canada since the turn of the century, he certainly remains among the cream of the crop even though it’s been nearly eight years now since Burnaby Joe hung up the skates.

There’s a lot of players that deserve to be on the list and way too many to list, but here’s my pick for the top five to suit up for Canada (in men’s seniors competitions) since 2000 – one of whom preceded Sakic into the Hall of Fame and three of whom are strong candidates to one day join him there.

5. Ryan Smyth

They don’t call him ‘Captain Canada’ for no reason. Smyth, the long-time Oilers star, was a mainstay on many of Team Canada’s World Championship rosters in the early part of the century – though he would have preferred have a little more success in the NHL post-season – and served as Canada’s captain on six occasions. Though he might not have put up dazzling numbers, success did find a way to follow Team Canada under Smyth’s leadership as he was a two-time gold medalist and a one-time silver medalist at World Championship events. Smyth also won gold with Canada at the 2002 Olympic Games, 2004 World Cup of Hockey, and 2012 Spengler Cup.

4. Joe Sakic

Sakic was on the back half of his career by the turn of the century but his spot on the list is thanks to his role in helping Canada record their biggest win on the international stage in a half-century at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Late City. Sakic’s international experience was largely limited in his career even before 2000 – winning too much at the NHL level has a way of doing that – with his biggest international accomplishment prior to 2002 being the gold medal he earned at the 1994 World Championship.

Four years after a disappointing, injury-plagued run at the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Sakic ensured Canada would have a much better fate in 2002 earning tournament MVP honours while helping Canada earn gold at the Olympic Games for the first time since 1952. His breakaway goal on Mike Richter to clinch the victory for Canada remains an iconic moment to this day. Sakic also earned gold for Canada at the 2004 World Cup.

3. Scott Niedermayer

Touted as one of the best defencemen to ever play the game, it took a little while before Niedermayer managed to enjoy the same success he did on the international level as he had playing in the NHL but once it started, success would keep finding Niedermayer time and time again up to the point he finally called it a career.

Niedermayer was already a two-time Stanley Cup champion at the time he was selected for the 2002 Olympic team earning his first-ever senior gold medal in senior international competition (he had won a gold medal at the 1991 world juniors, and was a part of Canada’s 1996 silver medal team at the World Cup of Hockey). After adding his third Stanley Cup ring in 2003, Niedermayer would win two more gold medals for Canada over the course of a few months in 2004 first joining the Triple Gold Club by capturing the gold at the World Championships followed before earning gold again at the World Cup of Hockey held that same year. Niedermayer, however, would save his best for last as he captained Team Canada’s 2010 Olympic squad in Vancouver leading his country to a gold medal on home ice before retiring several months later.
Niedermayer was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2015.

2. Jonathan Toews

The youngest player to ever join the Triple Gold Club, Toews arguably saved his toughest feat for last when he captained the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup in 2010 – their first of three to date under his leadership. Before that, he had already established quite a name for himself on the international scene. His heroics as a junior aside, Toews earned a world championship gold in 2007 (also earned a silver in 2008), and several months before winning the Stanley Cup was part of Canada’s Olympic gold medal winning team in 2010 in Vancouver. Since 2010, he’s added another Olympic gold medal and a World Cup of Hockey gold medal.

1. Sidney Crosby

Think Jonathan Toews, but with nearly twice the point totals in senior international competitions, the honour of being a multi-time captain, and a flare for the dramatic and you have Sidney Crosby’s work on the international stage for Canada. Gold medals just seem to find a way to follow Sid around. With the exception of his first trip to the World Championship in 2006 – Canada finished fourth that year despite the eight goals and 16 points Crosby put up in nine games as an 18-year-old – Crosby has walked away from every international competition with a gold medal around his neck and that includes the 2010 Olympic Games, the 2014 Olympic Games, the 2015 World Championship and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. He was the captain for Canada at the latter three competitions.

Crosby’s iconic ‘golden gold’ moment in 2010 where he led Canada to a gold medal on home soil is one that may never be topped, but sadly we may see far fewer iconic Crosby moments on the international stage given the NHL’s seeming unwillingness to take part in future Olympic Games.

Cover photo credit: s.yume [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

My friendly neighbourhood sports bar

Let me preface this first by saying I’m generally not a reviewer. That is to say you’re not likely to find me on Yelp or Google or something similar to that leaving a review for a business, positive or negative, unless it’s park of the normal convention for that particular platform. After an eBay or Amazon purchase, for example.

That being said, on occasion when I’m treated to what I feel is exceptional service, I make a point to share it usually on a social media platform be it Twitter or Facebook. One such occasion just occurred last night.

I had made plans earlier in the week to have dinner with a friend of mine who was in town from Japan although we didn’t have a set plan for where to go. Both of us had been watching Game 3 of the Ducks-Predators series but with Nashville trailing 2-0 and looking like they had nothing in the tank, he began to make his way out to where we would meet. Lo and behold, as it seems to be a common occurrence so far in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Preds battle back with two quick ones to send the game to overtime.

I had mentioned casually earlier in the week after seeing a Facebook ad for a buy-one-get-one-free offer at the sports bar just down the corner where I lived so it became a no-brainer at that point that Cravings Restaurant and Sports Bar would be the destination.

Cravings isn’t quite like the typical sports bar to me, at least not on the two occasions that I visited. They’re a family restaurant converted into a dining room side and a “sports bar” side featuring wall-to-wall televisions after being taken over by new ownership. The “sports bar” is a bit on the smaller side – they’ve got about four booths and four more tables in the middle – and there’s not really an actual bar component.

None of that mattered to me, though. I’ve never been big in the bar scene, and quite frankly I was looking just for a place to watch what was to be left of the game.

I had come across Cravings several months earlier looking for a spot to catch a Canucks game, and after first stopping at the bar next door only to find the poor staff couldn’t find turn on their big screen projector and that apparently their kitchen service was already closed but they could order in food from the White Spot conveniently located next door (this was 7 p.m. on a Saturday), I cut my losses and went next door to Cravings which Google had informed me was now a sports bar.

I knew I would get friendly and personable service from their owner, Lily, as that was what I had encountered on my first visit to the newly-renovated restaurant months earlier.

What really got to me was the follow-up on social media a day later though. My experience was positive enough (minus the fact the Preds couldn’t manage to complete the comeback) for me to decide to write a nice review on their Facebook page. The reply I got completely amazed me.

replyfromcravings

It wasn’t so much the offer of a free dessert – something that I later, in doing some research, noticed the restaurant kindly offered to many of their reviewers – but the fact the owner recalled what I had ordered the night before and recognized me based on my Facebook profile picture.

Perhaps I made an impression at the time, but then again for a restaurant that serves guests all day long, I’m still stunned that level of attention to detail was displayed.

If you’re an organization on social media, the ‘social’ part of it is critical. There’s not much use having an online presence, especially on social media, if you’re not being dynamic and interacting with those who interact with your page. You might as well not be on social media in that case.

I couldn’t find Cravings on Twitter, which is probably a good thing for the time being because I’m not sure being a small, family-run operation they’d have the resources to continually post updates while, at the same time, trying to run the restaurant. I was a little disappointed not to find them on Instagram, however. #FoodPorn is a thing, and I think they’ve definitely got a few menu items they can highlight in addition to promoting some of the special events they’ve got going on. (Word is you can catch all the big UFC fights here with no cover charge, although you won’t find me there because that’s just not my thing).

I’ll pass along one further piece of advice to them, and to really any organization out there, which is to claim your business on Google if you haven’t done so already. It lets you manage some of the information about your business that appears on Google’s page, including opening and closing hours, that many people take for gospel because Google said so. It takes less than five minutes, and could prove immensely beneficial down the road.

Kudos to you, Cravings. I’ll be back for that complimentary dessert and I’ll probably get those nachos that I probably would have ordered that night had the Ducks not scored so quickly into overtime.