Monday, February 26, 2007

Smoke and Sopes

Another centerman? Check.

Another defenseman? Check.

Playoff experience? Check again.

Some veteran help? Check too.

With a couple of shrewd moves today, Dave Nonis added some good depth to a (hopefully) playoff-bound Vancouver Canucks.

Bryan Smolinski not only gives the Canucks depth at center, he also brings them some playoff experience. "Smoke" has appeared in 99 playoff games, a total exceeded only by Trevor Linden's 112 postseason appearances. He has 45 points (20G-25A) in those games.

The Canucks now have Henrik Sedin, Brendan Morrison and Smoke down the middle. When he comes back from hip surgery, you can add Ryan Kesler to that list. That's about as deep and versatile a group as you'll see from any of the playoff-bound teams. With all due respect to Brad Moran, how happy will Nazzy be to finally play with a proven playmaking center? With the Blackhawks, Smolinski did a fine job centering Marty Havlat at certain points this season.

When evaluating Brent Sopel's return to Vancouver, we have to remember a couple of things.

During Sopel's first go-around with the Canucks, he was paired with Mattias Ohlund as a 1A/1B kind of defensive pairing. Most nights, Marc Crawford matched Ohlund and Sopel against opposing teams' top lines. While Ohlund performed admirably against the likes of Jarome Iginla and Joe Sakic, Sopel sometimes seemed overmatched. Sopel won't be playing in this role this time around.

Most likely, Sopel will be slotted in at the bottom-half of the defense corps and will take one of Krajicek's or Fitzpatrick's spots in the team's third pairing. More importantly, he is capable of playing 20+ minutes per game, something that Krajicek and Fitzpatrick weren't capable of doing on a regular basis, and can take over some of Kevin Bieksa's minutes if he needs to. With the Kings, he was averaging 21:06 minutes of ice-time per game.

What will be interesting is to see how Sopel adapts to Alain Vigneault's system, and I've got a feeling he will adapt well. Under Crawford's run-and-gun system, Sopel was, of course, susceptible to the occassional bonehead blunder. Under AV's system, the players breakout closer together, but also, the forwards are expected to backcheck - both of these should help Sopes.

Dave Nonis is certainly proving his worth as GM. The only roster casualty to acquire Sopel and Smolinski was Marc Chouinard, who was placed on waivers to clear some cap room. He made his team deeper and better and didn't have to give up his first-round draft pick or the Grabners, Bourdons and Schneiders.

Not a bad day's work.

[update: 02/27/07, 5:28 AM]

Some reaction on the trades from the local press.

First, Ben Kuzma (Vancouver Province):

The Vancouver Canucks addressed two pressing needs Monday by acquiring centre Bryan Smolinski from the Chicago Blackhawks and defenceman Brent Sopel from the Los Angeles Kings.

Smolinski, 35, was acquired for a 2007 second-round pick while the Canucks surrendered a second-round pick in 2007 or 2008 and a fourth-round pick in 2008 for Sopel, 30. They'll be in the lineup tonight in St. Louis, where the Canucks face the Blues.

Considering the reasonable prices before today's noon (PST) trade deadline -- and heightened hype over Stanley Cup potential -- general manager Dave Nonis remains cautious.
Ed Willes (Vancouver Province) is certainly cautious:

Before the all-members meeting of the Stanley Cup parade committee, Vancouver chapter, is convened, a word of caution.

After watching 20 trade deadlines come and go, the only thing we know for certain about deadline deals is we don't know anything for certain about deadline deals.

Moves that appear to be brilliantly conceived -- Theo Fleury for Robyn Regehr and other stuff at the 1999 deadline -- blow up in a team's face. Moves that are scarcely worth an inch of six-point type -- Calgary acquired Ville Nieminen and Marcus Nilson at the '04 deadline -- help spark a deep playoff run.

So to paraphrase the immortal Joaquin Andujar, you can sum up deadline trades with three words: You never know.
So is Iain MacIntyre (Vancouver Sun):

Luongo and coach Alain Vigneault have raised expectations, but not enough to rationally explain the disparity between projections made for this team in September and February.

The reality is the Canucks are an average team with exceptional goaltending and excellent special teams. In regulation time, they are 23-21-18. They are difficult to play against and were going to make the playoffs before Monday's trades, and their post-season success, as with the regular season, was going to be determined largely by Luongo and special teams.

Smolinski and Sopel might help, but the Canucks still will win or lose on Luongo, the power play and penalty killing. What Nonis has done is increase Vancouver's margin for error, but only fractionally.
As expected, the players are excited (Jason Botchford, Vancouver Province):

"We got Sopes? No way, that's great," defenceman Kevin Bieksa said after Sami Salo read out the deals to a group of curious players.

The news came as a relief to a group who, despite public proclamations to the contrary, knew they needed depth both up front and on the back end to have a legitimate shot at making a long playoff run this year.

"I think these are two pretty good moves," centre Brendan Morrison said. "It's confidence from management that this group has the potential to do something this year and that's how we feel in the room."
Well, almost everyone is excited (Brad Ziemer, Vancouver Sun):

Marc Chouinard said he was surprised and disappointed to learn Monday he had been put on waivers by the Vancouver Canucks.

Those same words could also describe Canuck management's reaction to his play this season.
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, 9:56 PM


At February 26, 2007 11:49 PM, Anonymous GZ Expat said...

JJ...well put. Although, the times Sopel coughed up the puck in his own end really sticks in my mind of his play. I sincerely hope that his growth, maturity and position on the team will indeed help alleviate that nervousness.

At February 27, 2007 5:36 AM, Blogger hoopsjunky said...

I hope so too, GZ.

I can't imagine going to a game and having to raz Bulis AND Sopel. :P


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