The Canucks fell 4-2 to the Dallas Stars last night. You knew that. And I’ll get to some of my thoughts on the game in a moment. But let’s start with some good news — something that has been in short supply of late. Jannik Hansen’s spinning backhand five and a half minutes into the third period tied the game 2-2 and looked like it might propel the Canucks to a comeback victory against the top team in the NHL. It wasn’t to be. But the goal was Hansen’s eighth of the season, but more significantly it was the 200th point of his NHL career (85+115=200). And while that may be a modest total in the grand scheme of things, it’s a remarkable number for Hansen.
As most are aware, the 29-year-old Dane was the 287th pick in the 2004 NHL draft. He was a late ninth rounder back in the day when the draft had nine rounds. Now there are only seven. And the year Hansen was selected, only four players were taken after he was and none of them has played a shift in the NHL. No matter how you look at it, Hansen was a long shot who has exceeded all expectations. And last night, Mr. 287 became just the 24th member of his draft class to reach the 200 point milestone. Let that sink in for a second. There were 291 chosen and the player who went fourth from the end is 22nd in scoring. Hansen now has more points than all but nine of the guys taken in the first round of his draft year — a list headlined by Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. Hansen was taken at the other end of the spectrum from those two, but has never let that low draft position stand in his way. And last night it was nice to see his strong play continue alongside Daniel and Henrik Sedin. It’s too bad the goal didn’t mean more to the Canucks. But it’s a terrific personal accomplishment for Hansen. Next stop 300 — and with lots of good years left — he should have no trouble reaching that and pushing beyond. And it’ll be interesting to see when all is said and done where Hansen ultimately tops out in terms of scoring by the 2004 draft class.
Alright, on to the pressing matters surrounding the hockey club. A frustrated Willie Desjardins pulled no punches in his post-game press briefing saying the Canucks aren’t getting enough from far too many players. The coach then went on to call Saturday’s game against Boston ‘a must’. He didn’t say must win, stopping short with just ‘must’ — but I think we all get the point and it’s a pretty strong one from a coach who doesn’t offer up a lot for public consumption in his post-game remarks. But Saturday is only December 5th and the game against the Bruins will be the Canucks 28th of the season — and Willie D was willing to go there and put the ‘must’ label on it. I don’t know what happens if the Canucks don’t win, but it’s clear that Desjardins senses his team is in trouble unless a few of the passengers become players again. And it has to start on Saturday.
Here’s what the coach is getting at and what he has to work with right now (WARNING: the following content may not be suitable for all Canucks fans. Reader discretion is advised):
–Radim Vrbata 0+1=1 in last 4 and just 3 goals in his last 15 games
–Bo Horvat 15 without a goal now and just 1 goal in his past 25. Still no 5-on-5 goals this season. He’s scored a PPG & 4-on-4 goal
–Alex Burrows 6 without a point…last point was an empty netter vs Chicago. Has 2+1=3 in his last 15 games
–Sven Baertschi 8 games without a point (last goal at OTT)
–Jared McCann…0+1=1 in his last 8 games (last goal at MTL)
–Derek Dorsett 8 w/out a point…0+2=2 in past 18
–Adam Cracknell 8 w/out a point…1+0=1 in past 14
–Brandon Prust 0+0=0 in 7 games back from injury
And although they are injured right now, Jake Virtanen and Chris Higgins are both struggling when healthy and in the line-up:
–Jake Virtanen 7 games w/out a point…0+1=1 in last 10 games
–Chris Higgins 10 games w/out a point…has 2+0=2 in 13 games
With struggles like those, it’s no wonder the Canucks have just three wins in 11 tries on home ice this season. And that’s a huge concern. But push a little further and look at the home record — and by extension what the home fans have been paying to watch — over the past few seasons. Since the start of the 2013-14 seasons (John Tortorella’s year behind the bench), the Canucks are 47-35-11 in their last 93 regular season games at Rogers Arena. That’s 47 wins and 46 losses. The fans have been sent home happy as often as they’ve left the rink frustrated. The paying customer wants value for their hard-earned dollar. They want to see wins and they want to be entertained. The home team won’t always come out on top, but fans should feel they’ve got their money’s worth and the 16 shots the Canucks generated against the Stars wasn’t anywhere close to good enough. The Canucks have been held to 16 shots in consecutive games and collectively have been outshot by the LA Kings and Dallas 74-32. The effort has to improve. As an organization, the Canucks remain in the midst of a process of trying to re-engage a fan base that is taking a wait-and-see approach to this group. Home games are one of the best tools they’ve got to engage hockey fans here and right now the club’s not doing much to win over those who are paying the freight.
And, finally, there are a number of theories on the decline of Dan Hamhuis — his age, his health, his contract status — and perhaps there is something to all three. And there may be more. Whatever the case, it’s getting tough to watch Hamhuis play these days. There was the dreadful give away to Corey Perry in Anaheim on Monday and a similar one to Tyler Toffoli on Hamhuis’ first shift 24 hours later in L-A. Last night, he was swatted aside by hulking Stars winger Valeri Nichushkin on the first Dallas goal and then just waved as Patrick Sharp danced by him on the game winner in the third. The Canucks get nothing offensively from Hamhuis (which begs the question why he’s on PP2). But at this stage of his career (he’ll be 33 at the end of next week), you can live with a lack of offense as long as he’s holding up his end of the bargain in other areas. But that’s just not the case these days. And it gets stranger still because the more Hamhuis struggles, the more he seems to be playing right now. His 24:21 in LA on Monday was a season high for ice time and the 22:28 he logged last night was his third highest total of the season. The coaches need to read the situation better and pull back on a guy who’s fighting it. I’d go so far as to suggest if his struggles continue perhaps it’ll reach the point where the Canucks sit Hamhuis down for a game or two. When the blueline is healthy, an argument can be made that the team has five guys (Tanev, Edler, Hutton, Sbisa and Bartkowski) who seem better suited to the speed at which the game is played right now. Making Hamhuis a healthy scratch may hurt his trade value if that’s a route the Canucks are planning to explore. But let’s be honest, his play of late has already done significant damage to his trade value and to his leverage heading into a contract summer.
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Remember Saturday is a must.