“The Great Santorelli”: Why His Recent Productivity is No Surprise to Me

van2Mike Santorelli has been the talk of the town over the last couple of weeks, as he has become a legitimate source of secondary scoring for the Canucks. Sports talk hosts wonder aloud how a guy who, during training camp, wasn’t even assured a roster spot with the Canucks  is managing to produce at a point-a-game rate. It seems no one saw this coming. . .

. . .no one, that is, except for me. I remember thinking, back when Gillis got Santorelli’s signature on a contract, that it was great for the Canucks to get a forward like him to help up front. How could I have had so much confidence in a player who is a virtual unknown? The answer is simple: “I’m a poolster.”

As a poolster, I am continually scanning the waiver wire for players who are starting to heat up, thus becoming candidates for being picked up to take advantage of a hot streak. And Mike Santorelli is a player who found his way onto my roster as a result of just such a streak back in 2010-2011. He had started his career quietly–putting up a mere 2 goals and 1 assist in 32 games over two partial seasons with Nashville–before moving to the Panthers for the 2010-2011 season. As a regular on the Panthers’ roster, he managed 14 points in the 33 games leading up to Christmas. But he came out of the Christmas break on fire, being kept off the score sheet in only one of the next 12 games.

The streak lasted until January 19, after which Santorelli only got 16 points in the remaining 37 games of the season. And he sunk into total obscurity during the next three seasons–15 points in 94 games. But his post-Christmas exploits of 2010-2011 have stuck in my mind through these intervening years, explaining why I was excited to hear Gillis had signed this guy who no one else had ever heard of. I knew he had the potential of supplying much needed secondary scoring for the Canucks. All it took to prove me right was Torts finally getting around to pairing him with a linemate the caliber of Ryan Kesler.

Why not this Simple Tweak to the NHL’s “Suspension” Rules?

The rash of suspensions handed down during the preseason and opening weeks of the season brought to mind an idea I’ve been pondering for refining the NHL’s suspension rules, specifically, tweaking the rules to give some consideration to the team incurring a loss due to the infraction underlying the suspension.

Suppose the Canucks are playing the Blues in the first round of the playoffs, and David Backes gives Ryan Kesler a head shot resulting in a mild concussion that keeps Kesler out of the lineup for a couple of games. Backes would probably get a two-game suspension, meaning the Canucks’ loss of Kesler is matched by Blues’ being without Backes’ service for the same length of time. In a case such as this, the aggrieved team gets some justice.

However, suppose the offending hit happens during the regular season. Now, the chances of there being an equitable outcome goes down considerably, as the Blues’ loss of Backes would be of no direct benefit to the Canucks. . .and, in fact, could actually end up hurting the Canucks even further. Consider the following (albeit, unlikely) scenario. The hit occurs right near the end of the regular season, with the Canucks battling Anaheim for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference. Further, the Blues’ final four games of the season are as follows:

Anaheim at St. Louis
St. Louis at Anaheim
St. Louis at Vancouver
Vancouver at St. Louis

With this scenario, Backes’ suspension takes him out of the Blues’ two games against Anaheim, giving the Ducks a better chance of winning these games. . .and thus, beating out Vancouver for eighth place in the West. And his return for the two games against the Canucks makes the Blues tougher to beat in Vancouver’s attempt to overtake the Ducks.

Given that the Canucks have lost Kesler, it is adding insult to injury to have their rivals for the last playoff berth benefit from the suspension to Backes; it would be much fairer if Backes played the two games against Anaheim, and was kept out of the two games against the Canucks. Of course, he current NHL rules do not allow for this kind of justice. . .but a simple tweak could open the door to justice being done.

The problem here stems from the fact that there is no flexibility in when a suspension begins; it is always “the game following the offending act.” Would it be so hard to change this to give the aggrieved team a say in when the suspension is to be served? So, in the scenario set out above, Vancouver could decide that Backes not start his suspension right away, but rather, sit out the last two games of the season–the games against the Canucks–thus compensating Vancouver’s loss of Kesler with the benefit of playing a weakened Blues team, and also, the benefit of having St. Louis at their best against Anaheim, as the Canucks battle the Ducks for that last playoff berth.

The NHL’s suspension system is currently a mess, and this proposal does not purport to solve all of its woes. However, I would suggest it constitutes a good first step in revamping a system  in dire need of change.

Hodgson-Kassian Trade Not as Lopsided as it May Seem

4483With last Thursday’s matchup between the Canucks and Sabres, hockey talk in Vancouver was predictably buzzing with prognostications on the Cody Hodgson-Zack Kassian trade. And basically all of it waxed eloquent on how well Hodgson has been producing with Buffalo and how Kassian has not been producing at all, with the verdict being a slam dunk for Buffalo. . .though allowing for the possibility that Kassian might make up some of the lost ground as he develops.

My read of the data, however, gives a considerably different picture. Yes, the Kassian side of the ledger is admittedly meagre, but the Hodgson side is nowhere near as glowing as it has been made out to be. His 34 points in 48 games last season is often referenced in comparison to Kassian’s 11 in 39, but those 34 points must been considered in their context. Hodgson had the luxury of not only playing first-line minutes, but also, playing those minutes with one of last year’s most dynamic players: Thomas Vanek. In an injury-hampered season, Vanek produced 1.08 pts/game, whereas Hodgson managed only 0.71 pts/game. (In Kassian’s short 8-game stint as a first-liner at the beginning of last year, he was at 0.75 pts/game.) Further, it is interesting to note that Hodgson was able to string together back-to-back games with points only 6 times. And he was blanked in well over half of his games: 27 of 48 games.

Bottom line is that Hodgson is not as far ahead of Kassian as is usually assumed. And if Zack can ever actually get his game together, he could find himself ahead of Cody. . .and pulling away.

Alfredsson Chooses Detroit as Best Route to Stanley Cup?. . .REALLY???

1339Daniel Alfredsson has had an illustrious seventeen-year career with the Ottawa Senators, but in an instant, all of that was in his rear-view mirror as he jumped ship. He headed off to the Detroit Red Wings in hopes of getting a Stanley Cup ring before he retires. And all I can say is, “What was he thinking?

Don’t get me wrong. I can understand his desperation to win the Cup, and I don’t begrudge him using his status as an unrestricted free agent to pursue that goal. But the Detroit Red Wings?…….Really??? Sure, they have a storied past, but what have they done lately? Since bowing out to Pittsburgh in game seven of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, they have not even been able to make it to the Conference Finals, winning just three first-round series in four years.

And this happens to coincide with Jimmy Howard’s reign as their starting goaltender. Howard’s playoff play has been mediocre at best. He posted goals-against averages of 2.75 in 2010, 2.49 in 2011, 2.64 in 2012, and a career best 2.44 this past spring. . .but let a 3-1 series lead against Chicago slip away, twice yielding four goals in the losses that sent the Red Wings packing. And Alfie thinks he has a better chance to win a Stanley Cup playing in front of this calibre of goaltending rather than that provided by Craig Anderson back in Ottawa. . .who could be the best goalie in the NHL right now?

Granted, stellar goaltending has not always been the determining factor in playoff success. What seems to be emerging as an even more crucial factor is the stud defenseman. Think of the Stanley Cup Finals this year, and how much impact Duncan Keith and Zdeno Chara had for their respective teams. And think back to last year and Drew Doughty. And the two years before that, it was Chara and Keith, respectively. In 2008, it was Niklas Lidstrom, and the 2007 Anaheim Ducks boasted both Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. And, of course, it was Pronger who was largely responsible for getting an eighth-place Edmonton Oilers team to a seventh game of the 2006 Cup Finals.

Unfortunately, the current Red Wings are lacking such a stud defenseman; there are only a handful to go around, and Detroit had their turn with Lidstrom for so many years. But Ottawa is one of the few teams who has one of them at the current time: Erik Karlsson, whose 78 points during the 2011-2012 season was 25 points more than any other d-man, and his 14 points in 17 games in his injury-shortened 2012-13 season put him among the league leaders in points-per-game for d-men.

So, a team with arguably the best goaltender and the best defenseman in the league, a hungry Jason Spezza back from his long stint on the injury-reserve list, a core of promising young players, and a Bobby Ryan added to the mix? Yet, Alfie chooses Detroit over all this? As I said at the beginning, “What was he thinking?

Could this homemade DVD be the “Key” to a Stanley Cup Win for the Canucks??

Canucks highlights 2013 - 3The year was 2005. We had just lost a whole season to labour insanity, but the Canucks were still reigning Northwest Division Champs, with consecutive 100+ point seasons in their back pocket. I was so psyched for the new season, thinking “This could very well be the year the Canucks finally bring the Cup to Vancouver!” I even set out to burn the highlights of every game onto DVDs so that if they did indeed win the Cup, I would have a whole-season chronicle of the journey.

As we all know, it wasn’t to be. They stumbled badly down the stretch and ended up missing the final playoff spot by 3 points. Sure, it was disappointing, but my optimism wasn’t crushed. During the preseason of the 2006-07 season, when hockey debates were dominated by the question of whether the Canucks would make the playoffs, I was thinking “People, give your heads a shake! Roberto Luongo is now in the fold, so making the playoffs is a foregone conclusion!” And I boldly predicted to anyone who would listen that the Canucks were going to win the Northwest Division. . .and would even be contenders for the Stanley Cup. So, I again set out to collect every game’s highlights on DVD, just in case that did actually happen.

Well, the Canucks did regain the Northwest Division title as predicted, and Luongo did provide them with at least a fighting chance in the playoffs, sporting an impressive .941 save percentage. But the season ended a couple of rounds earlier than I had hoped. . .with Luongo’s infamous gaffe in double-overtime of game 6 against the Ducks. So, another set of DVDs that didn’t conclude with a Stanley Cup.

Actually, even if the Canucks had won the Cup in either of those two years, I would not have had a complete chronicle of the magical season, for I had managed to miss a game or two of highlights in each season. And being the superstitious guy I am, I began to wonder, “If I could finally succeed in collecting a complete set of game highlights for an entire season, maybe then the Canucks would finally win the Cup.”

In the seasons that followed, I tried to put together that complete set, but I got thwarted year after year. Sometimes, it was simply due to my own lack of diligence–like, simply forgetting to program the PVR to pick up a highlight package, or remembering to program the PVR but entering the wrong start/stop times.

Even when I was totally diligent, things seemed to conspire against me–like the time I programmed the correct start/stop times, but the TV network made a last-minute change in their programming to insert something else into that time slot. One season, I even missed a highlight package as the result of a federal election, with the extended coverage running into the time slot I had programmed for the sports news! So, when the Canucks failed to win the Cup each of those years, I was disappointed. . .but not entirely surprised.

But this year is different. This season, for the first time, the Canucks enter the playoffs with my collection of highlights totally complete. The regular-season stage of chronicle is totally unblemished! And I am going to be especially diligent in my PVR programming of the highlight packages of each playoff game. I have two trips planned during the next month, and I plan to record the highlight package for each game while away in two (perhaps even three) different time slots, to guard against being thwarted by changes in programming. . .or even extended election coverage. And I am fully expecting that the last shot of the last disc of game highlights will feature Henrik hoisting the Stanley Cup!

Canucks haven’t had same lineup in consecutive games for SIX WEEKS. . .and it’s hurting them

imagesToday, I was astounded to discover that the Canucks have not managed to ice the same lineup in two straight games for OVER TWENTY GAMES! And a comparison of their performance when they have had a stable lineup vs. when they have not reveals some fascinating patterns. For the details, see my post over at Nucks Misconduct.

Ballard as “WINGER/DEFENSEMAN” hybrid: solution to persistent problem?

imagesThe Canucks often melt down defensively when they lose a d-man to injury or ejection; think of the 6-3 loss in game 2 of the 2009 second-round series vs. the Hawks when Sammi Salo injured himself taking a slap shot. . .or the 8-1 loss in game 3 of the 2011 Cup finals vs. Boston when Aaron Rome was ejected for his hit on Nathan Horton. The solution? Have a forward who can drop back to the blueline whenever a d-man is lost to injury or ejection. And Keith Ballard could be exactly that guy! For details, see my post over at ‘NUCKS MISCONDUCT.