Category archive: Vancouver Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks wouldn't say it beforehand, but I believe they would have been pleased with earning 14 out of 28 points from their epic 14-game road trip.

So to go 8-5-1 and collect 17 points on the NHL's longest-ever road trip? Gravy, baby.

Now, the Canucks have 10 of their last 15 games at home and return to beautiful Vancouver after the 42-day trek still sitting in first place in the Northwest Division. Nicely done.

"Before leaving on that trip, and obviously there was a lot of attention to it, but I kept telling everyone that we were a good road team," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault told ESPN.com on Friday. "I knew that we could play well on that trip."

Interestingly, the Canucks were actually more concerned about the post-Olympic part of the trip because they believed the first part of the trek was better spaced out with off days. But they went 4-4-0 in the eight-game stretch before the break, and 4-1-1 after the Olympics. Go figure.

"What was good about that trip was some of the games where maybe our goaltending wasn't as good as can be, our offense was there," said Vigneault, who yanked star goalie Roberto Luongo three times during the trip. "And the other games where our offense might have been a little bit off, our goaltending was there. We had different guys stepping up in every game, like Jannik Hansen scoring those two game-winning goals.

"It was challenging for sure, physically and mentally, that's a lot of games and a lot of traveling, and at the end of the day, I thought our guys handled it pretty well."

Now it's back to work at Canada Hockey Place, er, GM Place, with five games in eight nights, including back-to-back contests Saturday and Sunday versus Ottawa and Calgary, respectively. Every team always tries to guard against a letdown after a long road trip, with mixed results. Vigneault believes his team will be OK in that regard.

"I'm not overly concerned, and for a couple of reasons," said the Canucks coach. "We're fighting for the playoffs and for first place in our division. We've got some really tough opponents coming in. And I look at tomorrow night's game [the late game on "Hockey Night in Canada"] and for us to have been gone so long ... they're going to celebrate the Olympians on our team, the guys that won the medals, my feeling is that the place is going to go nuts a little bit.

"So I'm hoping that's going to kick start our team a little bit. The emotion in our building should get our focus to where it needs to be."

Then on Sunday, the Canucks face the rival Flames, so that should take care of itself in terms of his players' focus.

"We don't need to get up for those games," said Vigneault. "Those games are always tough and emotional and physical. It's not going to be an easy weekend, but I think we'll be in the right frame of mind."

The Canucks survived their biggest test of the season; now we'll see if they have a Cup run in them.

"I think our team is growing, our leadership is growing from Roberto to the [Sedin] twins ... these guys we've had for four years, they're getting better as hockey players and they're getting better as people," said Vigneault.

"I like the way we've responded to these challenges."

They packed everything from tuques to sunblock for a historic road trip that may define their season. But the Vancouver Canucks insist they're not sweating it.

The 14-game trek will set an NHL record for most consecutive road games by a team in one season. According to Elias Sports, the current mark is 11 games by the Calgary Flames in February 1988 (also because their home city was hosting the Olympics) and the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-06.

"It's hard for family reasons more than anything else," Canucks superstar goalie Roberto Luongo told ESPN.com. "But honestly, guys are excited to be on this road trip. We were home for a while and starting this trip in the East is fun. Then we're going down south for a bit and I know guys are looking forward to that, as well. We're up to the challenge. It's part of the NHL, these trips."

While it's officially a 14-gamer, for practical purposes, it's an eight-game trip before the Olympics and a six-gamer post-break. From that point of view alone, it's not as daunting.

The Canucks opened up with a 5-3 win at Toronto on Saturday, a 3-2 loss in Montreal Tuesday night and next play in Ottawa on Thursday. The Ontario/Quebec swing was a welcome start for many Canucks whose hometowns are in those areas.

They were quite chipper about it, but maybe that's because I caught them at the start of the trip. Still, I wonder how they'll feel come March 10, when the trip wraps up in Phoenix. The fact remains Vancouver's last home game was Jan. 27, and the Canucks' next game at GM Place will be March 13 against the Senators. That's a long time between home games.

A look at the trip:

Pre-Olympic swing
Jan. 30 at Toronto
Feb. 2 at Montreal
Feb. 4 at Ottawa
Feb. 6 at Boston
Feb. 9 at Tampa Bay
Feb. 11 at Florida
Feb. 12 at Columbus
Feb. 14 at Minnesota

Post-Olympic swing:
March 2 at Columbus
March 3 at Detroit
March 5 at Chicago
March 7 at Nashville
March 9 at Colorado
March 10 at Phoenix

The Canucks, led by out-of-the-box thinker GM Michael Gillis, already travel differently from most teams. They believe it helps with the grueling nature of the trip.

"We've changed our travel routine immensely from last year and this year," Gillis told ESPN.com. "We're going to stay over in cities for most games, travel the next day [most NHL teams leave cities the same night as the game]. Our coaches have designed specific days off, which they'll adhere to. We're having meals now prepared in the rink after some games. Stuff like that."

Gillis and the Canucks huddled with the NHL last season to talk about this trip and help dull the blow as much as possible since the team had to hand over GM Place to the Vancouver Olympic Committee for a month and a half. VANOC took over at midnight Jan. 27, a few hours after Vancouver's win over the Blues.

"This first part, pre-Olympic, is fine," Gillis said, stopping right there.

What he left unsaid was the concern the front office and coaching staff have with the second half of the trip. The post-Olympic trip sees the team play six games in nine days, but that's not the worst part. Upon returning home, the team hosts Ottawa on March 13 and Calgary on March 14. Combined with the post-Olympic road trip, the team will play three back-to-back sets from March 2 to 14 -- in all, eight games in 13 days.

If the Canucks collect 14 of a possible 28 points on this trip, I would consider that mission accomplished. That's because 10 of their final 15 regular-season games will be at home for the stretch run, and four of the five away games will be in the Pacific time zone. Not too bad at all, but that's a long way away right now.

We all knew Vancouver would generate headlines this season, with the Olympics being there and all. But this past week's entertainment was something else.

First, a fan uses a laser to try to blind Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff on Jan. 9 in Vancouver. Bizarre, to say the least. Then we've got the Stephane Auger/Alexandre Burrows brouhaha Monday night. And finally, Wednesday night's third-period fisticuffs in Minnesota, where Canucks tough guy Darcy Hordichuk reportedly told Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard that Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault told them to go out and fight. Later in the period, Vancouver's Alexandre Bolduc invited Minnesota goon John Scott to a fight that I thought would end the Canucks player's career it was so violently one-sided.

In any case, the allegation that the Canucks coach would have ordered some of his players to fight (denied by all involved in the following days) certainly touches a universal nerve given Vancouver's history with the Steve Moore incident less than six years ago.

A source told ESPN.com on Saturday that league disciplinarian Colin Campbell did phone Vigneault in the aftermath of those allegations. He got the obvious denial, and without any corroborating evidence, what else can the league do?

Meanwhile, on the Auger/Burrows front, Canucks fans won't see the veteran referee anytime soon. It just so happens the schedule didn't have Auger doing a Canucks game during the next two months (the schedule was already drawn up before the incident). But when the league draws up the schedule for the rest of the season, you can bet Auger won't be doing any Canucks games. It's called common sense.

And finally, NHL director of officiating Terry Gregson, who sends out a memo to his on-ice officials every Friday and Monday, had a timely message in Friday's e-mail. I'm told the theme was "communication," and essentially having a sense of the proper etiquette to deal with players and coaches, etc. You can read between the lines on that one.

Selling Souray
In the aftermath of Sheldon Souray's announcing that he would waive his no-trade clause if it helped the Edmonton Oilers and was a move that he could live with, the obvious question is, as one NHL GM told me this week, "But which team can afford him?"

The 33-year-old blueliner entered the weekend with 12 points (3-9) and a minus-14 rating in 30 games this season, not the kind of return you'd expect for a $5.4 million cap hit. On the other hand, he's surrounded by the 2009-10 Oilers, not the 1986-87 Oilers. A change of scenery could very well bring out the old Souray, not to mention the fact his actual salary goes down to $4.5 million for the last two years of his deal (starting next season).

One NHL team I believe has interest is the New York Rangers, a club that could certainly use his offensive touch from the back end. I also think Souray would welcome a move to New York. But to make it happen, the Rangers would need to create cap room by shedding the contracts of either Michal Rozsival ($5 million cap hit; will earn $4 million next season and $3 million in last year in 2011-12) or Wade Redden ($6.5 million cap hit; four more years left after this season at $6.5 million for 2010-11 and 2011-12 and $5 million per year in 2012-13 and 2013-14).

The only real option on Redden is to send him to the AHL and eat his contract. A buyout next summer doesn't solve anything because the Rangers would still carry a $2 million cap hit from him for the next eight years.

I guess if you're New York, there's also the hope that when the next collective-bargaining agreement is negotiated, whether that's after next season or the season after that (the NHL Players' Association has the option of extending it a seventh year), teams will once again get a one-time shot at buying out their worst contract without cap implications, which was the case in August 2005, when the last CBA started. That would be an opportune time for the Rangers to deal with Redden.

Pens update
Contract negotiations have recently resumed between the Pittsburgh Penguins and representatives for defensemen Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar.

The team isn't close to a deal on either front at this point, but that can change in a heartbeat. Letang will be a restricted free agent July 1, while Gonchar will be unrestricted.

"We met with Kris and his agent [Kent Hughes] recently," Penguins GM Ray Shero told ESPN.com on Friday. "They know where we stand. Kris is a guy obviously we want to re-sign, but we're not there right now."

Gonchar turns 36 in April, so no matter what contract he signs, the entirety of it will count against the salary cap even if he retires before the end of it (according to the 35-and-over rule in the CBA). This makes the term the most significant item on that docket. Shero met with Gonchar's agent, J.P. Barry, over the past week in Calgary.

"We'll just keep the dialogue going," said Shero. "We just need to find a way to get it done hopefully."

There's going to have to be some give from these two players for the Pens to be able to keep both. Interesting situation to say the least.

As for the March 3 trade deadline, the Penguins have their pro scouting meetings this upcoming week. That conversation, along with thoughts from the coaching staff, will help crystallize Shero's deadline game plan. The Pens don't have too much cap room, so Pittsburgh fans shouldn't expect a huge addition.

Preds goalies
So, you're the Nashville Predators and you're having a terrific season as young players step into the lineup again and produce (can this team draft or what?). But you've got a major issue: the two people who wear a goalie mask on your team.

Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis are both slated for unrestricted free agency.

"I'm going to talk to all our unrestricted guys during the Olympic break," Preds GM David Poile told ESPN.com on Friday. "Both are goaltenders who have been real good for us this year. We've been rotating them pretty much."

But in my mind, you won't see both back next season. The frugal Preds can only afford to keep one of them; and frankly, I don't think these two guys want to share the net again next season. They're both No. 1 material. The question is, will both still be with the team past the March 3 trade deadline? I think that's a question Poile himself hasn't answered yet in his own mind.

If he's able to re-sign one of the two goalies before March 3, then maybe he dangles the other in exchange for some offensive help. But if he's unable to get either one signed to an extension before then, he'd be wise to keep them both past March 3 and give himself time to talk contract with them right up to June 30 at midnight, when he still owns their rights.

Meanwhile, Poile confirmed what John Glennon first reported in The Tennessean on Friday: Coach Barry Trotz had his contract extended through next season.

Senators stuff
Somewhat under the radar is the fact that shutdown blueliner Anton Volchenkov is slated for unrestricted free agency. The Ottawa Senators can't afford to lose him, but contract talks haven't gone anywhere yet.

"I'm hoping this week to have some concrete discussions in that regard," Sens GM Bryan Murray told ESPN.com on Saturday.

Volchenkov, who is represented by Jay Grossman, is earning $3.2 million this season, but his cap number is $2.5 million. He's getting a raise, whether it's in Ottawa or elsewhere.

I've also noticed a few of my media colleagues suggested over the past few weeks that it might be time to look at moving Alexei Kovalev. But Murray told me that was a no-go.

"He's not going anywhere, Alex is a real good player for us," said Murray. "He's a talented player. That's why we signed him. He gives that dimension on the second line that we were looking for."

Kovalev has another year on his deal at $5 million for next season.

Stars goalies
Marty Turco will almost certainly be available come the trade deadline, as my colleague E.J. Hradek also speculated in his Friday blog. The veteran netminder is UFA July 1 and it's probable the Stars, as they continue to get younger, will go in a different direction in goal.

It'll be interesting to see what kind of traction the Stars get on Turco close to the deadline. His cap number is $5.7 million, which is a little rich even with that number being smaller come March 3, with just over a month left in the regular season. But on the flip side, this is a goalie who can bring it when he's dialed in, and he could be a great pickup in the right situation.

Meanwhile, who will play goal for Dallas next season? That will be GM Joe Nieuwendyk's top priority between now and July, to find his next goalie(s). I'm told the Stars did chat with Montreal earlier this season about Jaroslav Halak, but the price has gone up big time now with the Habs netminder putting together a great season. I'm not even sure why the Canadiens would want to move him anymore.

If I was the Stars GM, the goalie I'd look at is the oft-injured but talented Kari Lehtonen in Atlanta. He's a restricted free agent July 1 and he may have maximized the Thrashers' patience. He could be the ideal buy-low gamble for the Stars. Lehtonen (back) has been out pretty much all season, but he may return next weekend on a conditioning assignment with the AHL's Chicago Wolves.

Video review
In the wake of the Pittsburgh TV replay scandal, which cost Philadelphia a goal in a Jan. 7 game and resulted in the suspension of an FSN Pittsburgh producer, the NHL sent out this memo late in the week to all 30 markets:

    To All Rightsholders:

    The NHL's Video Review process was established to assist in determining the validity of all potential goals. In establishing this process, the Member Clubs have given their support and resources to the League's Hockey Operations Department to ensure that all goals are properly reviewed.

    One of the primary resources in the review process is the game telecast. In support of the mandate from the Clubs for video review, it is required that replays from all camera angles be shown in a timely sequence so as to provide the Hockey Operations Department with the best opportunity to review the situation and make a ruling.

    In the case of video review, producers and their crews have an obligation to the game, the teams and our fans to provide any and all replays of the play in question. Obviously, under no circumstances should a replay be withheld as to be selective with any sense of prejudice toward one outcome or another.

    As television rightsholders to the NHL and its Member Clubs, your understanding of this responsibility is imperative. We appreciate your continued partnership."