The madness begins tomorrow.
“Madness?” You say.
The Canucks tweeted out their in-practice line combinations on Thursday, two days before the season had even started, and Twitter went nuts.
So yes, the start of the hockey season brings madness.
You can expect to see a lot more of that as the 2016-2017 season rolls on. Here’s some of what’s to come.
This one is obvious, so let’s get it out of the way.
When Jim Benning went out of his way to call Ryan Miller his “starting goalie” as training camp began, a few of us predicted an impending goalie controversy.
It was too predictable: if Markstrom outplays Miller at any point this season, fans will be yelling for more Marky and less Miller.
Just a few days later, Benning backed off, saying their play will dictate how many games they play. Crisis averted.
At this point, we don’t know what the argument on goalies will be. All we know is there will be one.
If Markstrom plays good/great this season – expect to hear “trade Miller” as the deadline comes. On that, you’ll most likely hear Benning say Miller provides a calming presence for the team, or the team needs him to mentor Markstrom.
One Canucks fan who will never stop believing is DJ Heer on Twitter.
This is the type of tweet we see from him often, no matter how bad things look for the Canucks:
VANCOUVER CANUCKS FOR STANLEY CUP 2017!!!
— DJ HEER (@DJHeerMusic) October 13, 2016
He loves him some Ryan Miller too, so every time his goalie starts:
ITS MILLER TIME!!! #Canucks
— DJ HEER (@DJHeerMusic) October 7, 2016
Sure, sometimes his optimism or his push for Miller to start games is a bit much, but you have to love his consistency.
DJ Heer is a positive, optimistic Canucks fan, and with some outlets projecting ~65 points this season, they sure could use some more like him right now.
“OMG. Why is Jack Skille playing instead of Jake Virtanen?”
“Brandon Sutter should not be on the power play. Are you kidding me?!?!”
“Henrik Sedin needs to set up one foot away from the boards and face 20 degrees to the right! WHAT IS WILLIE EVEN THINKING?”
Canucks fans know their hockey and they can be picky.
You might think I’m exaggerating, but just look at how fans reacted to the Canucks tweeting practice lines three days before the first game:
@Canucks Fire WD
— Joel (@joelylun) October 13, 2016
@Canucks how is Horvat on the 4th line?
— Østyn Farmer (@OstynCade) October 13, 2016
@Canucks horvat kinda getting shafted here
— shareef sadain (@shareef_sadain) October 13, 2016
@Canucks Unbelievable! If that’s the best combinations should be able to save on printing playoff tickets. 53 2nd or 3rd on anyother team.
— Bob Hamilton (@hammy921) October 13, 2016
@Canucks Willie D: “I wonder what will happen if I shackle a couple cinder blocks to Bo’s legs and give him only 10 minutes”
— JawKnee (@JonnyKantor) October 13, 2016
This is only the beginning, people.
Consider this scenario: Vancouver wins Saturday’s game against Calgary… do you really think they’ll change the lines for Sunday’s game against Carolina?
Then if they win on Sunday – and they should – they go into next week’s games even more set on Horvat between Dorsett and Burrows, because it’s brought them wins so far.
All of a sudden Horvat’s entrenched in a defensive role, just as he was to start last season. Many fans won’t be happy.
Point is Willie’s on a short leash right now – if not from the team, from fans. They’ve been questioning his decisions since the first round playoff loss to the Flames two seasons ago, and for many, he’s lost their trust.
Starting the season with his second best scoring threat on the fourth line isn’t helping things.
On Wednesday, the NHL’s opening night, Auston Matthews scored four goals and Jesse Puljujarvi scored once.
The what ifs started dropping, and I have to admit, I was part of the mob.
— Omar A (@omarcanuck) October 12, 2016
Here’s the thing: the Canucks were so, so close to having one of Matthews, Laine, or Puljujarvi every game for the upcoming future. Had they finished in 30th, they’d have been guaranteed one of the top four spots in the draft (Matthews, Laine, Pierre Luc-Dubois, and Puljujarvi were the first four picks).
Instead, they won three costly games in California near the end of the season and lost that position.
If you’re wondering how they could’ve changed that outcome – you don’t tell players to lose games, after all – it was more about the team’s direction coming out of the trade deadline.
Instead of trading any or all of Dan Hamhuis, Radim Vrbata, Jannik Hansen and Ryan Miller, they kept them because of the importance of a “winning culture”.
In the end, they won those games… and lost out on some very gifted players who would’ve helped the winning culture in the long run.
Vancouver started last season with Edler-Tanev as their first pairing and Hamhuis-Hutton as their second. That gave them three proven defencemen in their top-four. After that it was Luca Sbisa, Matt Bartkowski, Alex Biega…
Anyone who’s followed the team for any length of time knew defensive injuries were coming – they always do.
Sbisa and Bartkowski playing top-four minutes… it wasn’t pretty.
This season, they have Erik Gudbranson on the second pairing and Nikita Tryamkin, Alex Biega, and Troy Stecher waiting in the wings if the starting six falters.
It’s a much better situation, and it’ll make all the difference.
To many, Sven Baertschi didn’t look great through the first few months of last season. He looked undersized, didn’t win many puck battles, and wasn’t playing with much confidence.
Yet the team kept giving him chances. He played on the second line, he played on the power play – for months there wasn’t much production, and then all of a sudden there was.
Granlund starting this season on the second line, Larsen being gifted that power play spot – these situations are similar to Baertschi’s last season.
Considering that it worked for Baertschi, and that we’re learning how the current regime gives their prospects the best chance to succeed – get ready to be patient with Granlund and Larsen.
No matter what happens, expect a “We knew this was coming” from the Canucks.
Canucks win two playoff rounds? “We knew this was coming.”
The team finishes with 63 points? “We knew this was coming.”
Donald Trump becomes president? “We knew this was coming.”
On Thursday, Trevor Linden told the Vancouver Sun, “The challenge I have is there was this notion that this would be flipped around quickly.”
Luckily Hillary Clinton’s fact checking team was on the case, and they found this article from NBC Pro Hockey Talk written shortly after Benning was hired.
In it, Benning said: “I like the team, I like the core players … The Sedins are excellent people and great players, so I think this is a team we can turn around in a hurry.”
It’s not the first time management has contracted themselves. Last season, the team actively tried to offload Dan Hamhuis at the trade deadline, going as far as asking him to waive his no trade clause. After they weren’t able to make a trade, they talked about how Hamhuis would help the culture of the team, and help develop younger players.
A couple months later, they let him go to another team as a free agent.
So whatever happens, just know they saw it coming.