Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Preseason Puck Drop

Training camp is over and some players have now been re-assigned; tonight, the Vancouver Canucks play their first preseason game. Or maybe we should call them the Vancouver Moose?
When the Canucks open their eight-game pre-season schedule tonight in Calgary, they will be dressing the bare minimum of NHL players.

The eight NHLers who will play tonight include Matt Cooke, Josh Green, Marc Chouinard, Kevin Bieksa, Yannick Tremblay, Rory Fitzpatrick, Lee Goren and Wade Flaherty. Two of those players -- Tremblay and Goren -- are longshots to be on the opening day roster.

The rest of the forwards who will play in Calgary include Tommi Santala, Jesse Schultz, Gordie Dwyer, Rick Rypien, Brandon Reid, Marc-Andre Bernier, Vladimir Kutny and Mike Brown. The defence is rounded out by Luc Bourdon, Nathan McIver and Joe Rullier. Drew MacIntyre and Flaherty will split the goaltending chores.
It looks like Matt Cooke will get some first-line playing time after all.

While the team and its new coaching staff are still trying to figure out who plays on what line - publicly anyway - Matt Cooke is trying to angle his way to the top line.
Matt Cooke is ready for his audition to begin.

During an eight-game preseason, Cooke is convinced you are about to see what he has quietly believed for two years, something that has slowly eaten away at him -- that he belongs playing on a line with Brendan Morrison and Markus Naslund.

"I'd love to have that opportunity to show what we can do," Cooke said.

"We have some chemistry from before when Todd [Bertuzzi] was suspended. When I get that chance again I'm going to work my hardest to never let it go."

Cooke won't get his first chance tonight because he is the only veteran among the three who'll be in Calgary. But he knows it's coming.

Cooke also knows that behind the scenes Morrison and Naslund are saying they'd like to make that line happen.

"The coach is going to make the decision in the end anyway, but it's nice to know that they feel I'm capable to play there," Cooke said.
I do too. I've seen him play well on that line enough times that I think he at least deserves a long look.

Another position up for grabs in the preseason is for the Roberto Luongo's back-up.

Grant Kerr (Globe and Mail) suggests it might be Wade Flaherty:
After four days of training camp at Vernon, B.C., it's probably safe to assume Wade Flaherty is second on the depth chart because he's playing in the team's first preseason game tonight in Calgary against the Flames.

Flaherty, 38, has 120 games of NHL experience with five teams, the last being the Nashville Predators during the 2002-03 season (one game). For the past two seasons, Flaherty has played for the Manitoba Moose, Vancouver's farm team in the American Hockey League.
But he also qualifies it after:
The Canucks may want to look elsewhere for a backup, though, as Flaherty's career NHL goals-against average is 3.51. He's compiled a 27-56-9 record with the San Jose Sharks, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida and Nashville.
Over the weekend, Jason Botchford (Vancouver Province) suggested the team may be going the waiver wire route to find their back-up:
The Canucks have practised a great deal of patience in waiting for just the right opportunity to nab the ideal backup.

They want a player who can give the organization more top-level depth. A player who can come in ready to start 15 to 20 games.

Vancouver is fairly certain a desirable candidate will become available on the waiver wire when other NHL teams start making cuts.

There are several candidates who have been on the Canucks radar.

"There should be some quality guys [on the waiver wire list], there really should be," GM Canucks Dave Nonis said. "But you never really know who's going to be available. There could be injuries. Some guys could play really well and play their way on teams.

"But overall, I think you'll see some interesting guys move on the waiver wire."

Nonis made it clear he is ready and willing to go with Flaherty if he can't find an improvement. But he has also made a short list of potential wire casualties.

A look around the NHL reveals situations where teams will have to expose intriguing goalies because they have three, or even four goalies in camp.

It's the same way the Canucks lost Brent Johnson, their third goalie, at the beginning of last season.The Phoenix Coyotes have veteran Curtis Joseph atop the team's depth chart, meaning Mike Morrison will be fighting for a backup spot with Phil Sauve and Nanaimo's David LeNeveu. The loser of the battle will certainly draw a look from the Canucks, especially if it's somehow the 23-year-old LeNeveu.

Florida goalie Craig Anderson knows the waiver wire better than most. He was claimed three times last year -- by Chicago, Boston and St. Louis. It could happen again as Florida already has Ed Belfour and Alex Auld on its roster.
Flaherty is well aware of this:
"There's no question, I can't get comfortable," Flaherty said at training camp, even after head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters Flaherty had a real shot at winning the No. 2 spot.

"They have options and I am sure they are going to look at those options.

"I can't say, 'Oh well, they don't have anyone else in so it's mine.' Not even with Alain saying that [Saturday]. That doesn't mean anything to me."
One guy who definitely won't be an option is prospect Julien Ellis, who apparently came to training camp in awful shape:
Alain Vigneault said last week goaltending prospect Julien Ellis, 20, had much to learn about becoming a pro. On Sunday, the Vancouver Canucks head coach drove home the point by keeping the keeper, once thought to be a Manitoba Moose option, out of the camp scrimmage.

"Julien's test results with off-ice conditioning were awful," Vigneault said of the club's sixth-round choice in the 2004 Entry Draft who suffered a bruised collarbone in the prospects camp. "You can't come to camp in bad shape.

"He's under contract and (goalie consultant) Ian Clark has been up and down his back the last two weeks. I told (Ellis) when he came in with those test results that he was going to main camp and was going to practise, but he wasn't going on with the big boys."
Tonight's game starts at 6 PM; pregame show starts at 4 PM. It will be the first Canucks broadcast for TEAM 1040.

Comments/Questions: Feel free to post in the comments section or email me at gocanucksgo10 (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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posted by J.J. Guerrero, 10:47 AM


At September 19, 2006 11:09 PM, Blogger Jeremy said...

Fantastic post -- it's great to have the links to articles tied together by the quotes and your comments...all around a theme. Very helpful.

At September 20, 2006 7:11 AM, Blogger hoopsjunky said...

Thanks Jeremy! :)


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