West Coast Woes & Uh-Ohs

Heading into Saturday’s tilt with the undefeated Capitals, Vancouver finds itself in familiar, murky waters at the end of October.

The team has been losing (4-5-1), the offense has been sputtering (2.4 G/G with 3 shutouts), the defense has been notably absent (combined -21, disregarding Sami Salo’s +5 – he’s been a peach), and perennial pariah Roberto Luongo has posted just two wins in six games with a 3.45 GAA and .868 SV%.

I’ll pause here to let Canucks fans’ stomachs settle.

It’s been said that Luongo’s traditionally been a slow starter, and Alain Vigneault has gone on record to say that the superstar goaltender gets better with time and action, which was certainly true of last year’s campaign where he completed the season setting franchise records in GAA and SV% (2.11, .928). Contrary to the notion however, Luongo played his shortest season barring injury and faced his second lowest shots total since coming to Vancouver (60 GP, 3590 SA), suggesting that a paced (read: patient) schedule works best for one-half of the reigning Jennings trophy champions.

But with Montreal recently sacking assistant coach Perry Pearn after a 2-5-2 start and 2.3 G/G, the Vancouver rabble-rousers (a less riotous pet name) have also been calling for change (fig.3.5).

fig. 3.5

Cory Schneider’s campaign has picked up where it left off for the sophomore netminder, whose 1.97 GAA and .927 SV% statistics in only 54 less minutes played versus Luongo sparkle like a wishing star in the eyes of every ‘nuck fan. He’s looked focused and motivated in the young season, and has already made some spectacular efforts to keep his team in the game.

But is it already time to have Luongo take the backseat of the bus the media keeps throwing him under? Last season, Vancouver started just above .500 (4-3-2), potted some goals (3.0 G/G, 0 shutouts), sorta shut down attackers (combined +2, disregarding Aaron Rome’s -4 – he’d been a prune), and perennial pariah Roberto Luongo still posted just two wins in six games with a 2.86 GAA and .881 SV%.

So what’s different? Well, not much unless you’re as blind as Stephane Auger. Vancouver’s defense hasn’t been accountable at all in any zone thus far (apart from Salo, love that guy, also please don’t get hurt) and has been casting all the media spotlight on their goalies while evading criticism themselves. Vigneault and his staff have to get their guys on the same wavelength, primarily Kevin Bieksa, who is once again underperforming after a contract year.

That’ll solve the losing woes, don’t you worry Canucks faithful (borderline oxymoron). That said, I’ll ask the wagon driver to slow down to a trot to let some of you back on before continuing.

Speaking of horse races, the goaltending controversy continues to bubble in its cauldron (spooky topical metaphor). It’s a safe bet that general manager-come-saviour Mike Gillis won’t shake up his winning netminder tandem this year, but with Schneider pushing for icetime and winning it, it’ll be a tough decision come the offseason for Gillis whether or not to go against his statement and ask Luongo to waive his no trade clause.

If he did, however, here’s a couple wild midseason (and salary cap-friendly) guesses:

G Luongo to Winnipeg for D Bogosian, G Pavelec.

Winnipeg has been struggling in net and Luongo fills that void by allowing the forwards to concentrate on attacking rather than backchecking and instilling confidence in the young defense group.

Bogosian brings a highly-touted, potential top-pairing defensive prospect to Vancouver, one who fits a variety of criteria: high hockey IQ, smooth skating and breakout pass ability, a big body at 6’2, 200lbs. and a surprisingly important right-handed stick that Vancouver desperately needs on its back end. Pavelec backups for Schneider.

G Luongo, C Schroeder, D Yann Sauve, 1st rd. pick 2012 to Phoenix for C Turris, D Ekman-Larsson, 2nd rd. pick 2012

In a blockbuster, Phoenix picks up a goaltender who replaces… whoever plays in net for the ‘yotes and essentially exchanges skillsets between the disgruntled Kyle Turris and diminutive Jordan Schroeder, while gaining an extra, early pick in the most promising and deepest draft in years.

Luongo moves closer to his wife, to a preferred climate, and way, way out of the media spotlight. Vancouver picks up a local boy in Turris (who would presumably take a hometown discount off his bizarre $4 mil. contract proposal) and an all-but-guaranteed future number one defenseman.

The 2nd round pick offsets the loss of Yann Sauve, who has fallen down the depth chart behind emerging third-pairing lock Chris Tanev.

And finally, for anyone still reading:

G Luongo, C Malhotra, D Tanev to Ottawa for D Karlsson, C Konopka, 1st rd. pick 2012

Ottawa stops the bleeding and builds from the net outwards on a young defensive core in Rundblad, Cowen and the acquired Tanev. Malhotra boosts the Sens’ circle percentage and brings more playoff experience into a young, rebuilding team.

Konopka brings the demeanor and fists to protect the Sedins – something that was visibly lacking in last year’s postseason. Karlsson, as is the theme of all of these crazy proposals, comes into Vancouver as a young scoring defenseman with a great stride and playmaking ability, while Ottawa rounds out its defense and rids itself of an expiring, albeit RFA, contract. Also, he’s Swedish, so him and Edler can high five, or hög fem, or whatever it is they do.

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