By Lyle Richardson
The past month was a rough one for the once-mighty Vancouver Canucks. They won only four of 15 games throughout January, leaving them barely clinging to a playoff berth in the Western Conference.
Head coach John Tortorella was suspended six games for an attempted first intermission confrontation with Calgary Flames bench boss Bob Hartley. Injuries hobbled Henrik Sedin and Kevin Bieksa. Daniel Sedin managed only five points in January. Centre Mike Santorelli underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. Forwards Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen and David Booth are struggling to score.
Vancouver pundits are calling upon general manager Mike Gillis to begin rebuilding his aging and battered roster, even at the cost of missing this season’s playoffs. Canucks fans fear their club will hang onto their veteran core for too long and slide into a prolonged decline.
Some suggest the Canucks need only a partial rebuild by moving a couple of their veteran assets for returns of promising young talent. That would allow them to remain competitive while rebuilding toward Stanley Cup contention.
The problem, however, is all the Canucks’ core players — goaltender Roberto Luongo, defencemen Bieksa, Alexander Edler, Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison, along with the Sedins, Burrows and Ryan Kesler — are on expensive long-term contracts with no-trade clauses. Following last year’s unsuccessful efforts to trade Luongo, Gillis knows only too well the difficulty of moving such players.
When Gillis took over as Canucks GM most of its core talent was already in place. His biggest challenge was keeping that core intact. Now he must to find a way to rebuild his club without sliding into mediocrity.
Habs also struggling
The Montreal Canadiens also struggled throughout January, winning only six of 13 games, including a four-game losing skid which sent them tumbling down the standings.
The ever-excitable Montreal hockey media quickly laid the blame upon head coach Michel Therrien and called for a coaching change. There were unsubstantiated rumours of half the players being unhappy with Therrien.
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin merely ignored the criticism. The players, meanwhile, rallied around Therrien and blamed themselves for their poor effort. They won their final two games in January but subsequently dropped their next two games.
Bergevin is taking the long view in his efforts to build the Canadiens into a Cup contender. He won’t make a panic move like firing the coach over a mid-season slump. Regardless of where the Habs finish in the standings this season, Bergevin intends to stick with Therrien.
Big year for Crosby
At the risk of jinxing Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby, it’s shaping up to be a big year for the Cole Harbour, N.S., native.
While the Penguins lead the NHL in man-games lost to injury this season (319 and counting since Jan. 30) Crosby remained healthy. As a result, he’s the main reason his injury-ravaged club is perched comfortably atop the Eastern Conference standings.
The 26-year-old superstar currently leads the league in assists and points and is on pace to win his second Art Ross trophy as the league’s leading scoring. His efforts in keeping his banged-up team among this season’s elite clubs could garner his second Hart trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player.
If the Penguins get healthier heading into this year’s playoffs they should be among the top contenders for the Stanley Cup. Given Crosby’s performance this season it would be foolish to bet against them.
Olympic hockey team
Crosby is also the captain of Team Canada at the upcoming Sochi Olympics.
Though remembered for scoring the gold medal-winning goal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Crosby was largely quiet throughout that tournament. Expect him to be a force in Sochi. Only a handful of players in hockey history won Olympic gold and the Stanley Cup in the same season. Crosby is aiming to join that elite group.
The Olympic roster freeze begins Friday at 4 pm AT. That could result in increased trade activity this week as some general managers could try to get the jump on their peers before the upcoming Olympic break.
Several players could be on the move by Friday, the most notable being New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan. The 28-year-old right winger is slated to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. He’s seeking a seven-year, $42-million contract while the Rangers countered with a five-year, $30-million deal.
The Rangers reportedly want Callahan re-signed by Friday or they’ll shop him to the highest bidder. If he doesn’t accept a reduced term, he could be on the move.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer with
The Hockey News and runs the website
Spector’s Hockey. His column will appear in
The Guardian throughout the NHL hockey season.