During the Pavel Bure jersey retirement on Saturday, a smattering of boos was reserved for Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis (most had the good sense not to boo, but it was noticeable). Booing the most successful General Manager in Canucks history (while giving a standing ovation to a much less successful former General Manager, Pat Quinn) was puzzling to me. Sure, Mike Gillis has had a bad couple of years recently, but he was the toast of the town not long ago. Furthermore, booing Mike Gillis ignores reality.
Have you been paying attention, Canucks fans? Gillis just signed Daniel and Henrik Sedin to bargain contracts yet again, keeping them at less than market value. He has also done a remarkable job at restocking the team’s depth this year with unheralded players that are performing much better than their contracts.
It has been a pretty nice start to the season for Vancouver. This team isn’t a Presidents’ Trophy team anymore and they aren’t expected to win a Stanley Cup this year, so the bar we measure them has lowered. Nevertheless, some acquisitions made by GM Mike Gillis are giving me hope that the team could contend for the Stanley Cup a little sooner than I expected.
In all likelihood, the Canucks’ hope for becoming a Stanley Cup favourite once again hinges on some of their young players like Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk developing into impact players while the Sedins and Roberto Luongo are still stars. But the work that Mike Gillis has done recently just might speed up that process.
The Canucks’ star players have jived with new head coach John Tortorella better than anyone could have expected. His transition to Vancouver has been a lot smoother than Alain Vigneault’s in New York, and nobody is pining for Dallas Eakins like they were back in June. Henrik and Daniel Sedin look born again, filling the net like they did in 2011 again while playing over 22 minutes per game. Torts has the team playing aggressive and is reshaping the team’s identity.
Here are the ice time leaders among Canucks forwards: Ryan Kesler, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Mike Santorelli. I don’t think anyone who saw that coming. Santorelli’s strong play has vaulted him to play on the team’s second line and vaulted Ryan Kesler to a line with the Sedins. Santorelli plays on the power play, penalty kill and is their go-to shootout performer. He’s fourth in team scoring, including two overtime goals! As if that wasn’t enough, Santorelli has Manny Malhotra-esq in the faceoff circle, winning 61% of his faceoffs (third best in the NHL).
The guy who was expected to replace Andrew Ebbett as the team’s 13th forward is now Mr. Everything. Can 27-year-old one-time 20 goal scorer continue this production? It would seem unlikely, but if he is even 80 per cent of the player we see right now, he will be a nice addition as the team’s third line centre.
The man expected to fill the void as fourth line centre has quietly put together a very nice season. Richardson has provided the speed and grit that was expected, but he has filled the net too. Richardson is sixth in scoring, tied with Chris Higgins, and has two shorthanded goals. He’s one of John Tortorella’s most reliable penalty killers on the third best penalty killing team in the league.
I have joked on Twitter that I am the president of the Ryan Stanton fan club, so you know how I feel about him. What a find Stanton has turned out to be. He has stepped in and been the perfect #6 defenceman for the Canucks. Not bad for a player with only one career NHL game under his belt when they claimed him off waivers from the Blackhawks before this season. It makes you wonder what teams like the Edmonton Oilers were thinking, given they are in desperate need of a defenceman. The news keeps getting better as Stanton is under contract this year and next for only $550,000, and is only 24 years old.
If the new guys can continue to be difference makers, it changes everything for the Canucks. But are these new guys for real? We’re about to find out.
Image: Mark Van Manen