Scott Rintoul: Winter Wonderland
With 2009 barely in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look ahead to the exciting hockey just around the corner in 2010.
The NHL has just dropped the puck on the second half of the season, the Olympics are just a few weeks away and the stretch drive for the playoffs beckons as soon as the Winter Games conclude. With that all in mind, here are a few “things that make me go hmmmmm” as we get set for an outstanding few months of ice, ice, baby. (I get bonus points from Canucks.com for bad references to 80’s and 90’s lyrics)
How many pro athletes take a pay cut when they get promoted?
Other than a few obvious jokes about college football and basketball players south of the border, it’s pretty tough to find another athlete to compare Brad Lukowich’s situation to.
The veteran blue liner wasn’t paying any state tax in Texas (one of seven states without a state tax), nor did he have to forfeit 20% of his one-way contract to escrow as per the NHL collective bargaining agreement.
BC will get a decent chunk of change as the result of Lukowich’s call up, but with over $10 million in career earnings, the Cranbrook native is more concerned with playing at the game’s top level than the tax man.
It made for a bit of levity earlier this week when Lukowich cleared waivers, but perhaps Roberto Luongo will foot the bill on a couple of dinners if Lukowich is able to prevent a few chances in front of the Canucks’ captain.
How will Ryan Kesler be received at GM Place on February 21st?
A fan favourite at the Garage, Kesler is an American who will be lacing ‘em up for Team USA at the 2010 Games. Canada’s final round robin game of the tourney is against Kesler’s crew meaning he could be public enemy number one given the agitating, two-way style he employs.
An example of how the crowd could turn was provided two weeks ago when Kesler fought Nashville defenseman Shea Weber. Since the bout took place in Vancity, the masses verbally backed the Canucks’ feisty forward. However, if that same tilt takes place on February 21st, I’m thinkin’ the crowd will perform a collective 180° with Weber dressed in Canadian colours.
So far, Kesler is the only Canuck in the Canadian crosshairs, but that’s sure to change if our home and native land squares off with Sweden (Sedins), Finland (Salo), Slovakia (Demitra) or Germany (Ehrhoff) in the playoff round.
The Canucks’ keeper started seven games in the first half of the schedule, which is close to the amount he was expected to get prior to the season. Most of those, however, came during Luongo’s injury, which makes predicting future starts all the more difficult.
Vancouver plays only two back-to-back games between now and the Olympics, which means Luongo potentially has adequate rest for the bulk of the next six weeks. With the Canucks currently jockeying for position in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, the ultra-competitive captain will most likely want to be between the pipes almost every night.
That said, the plan was to scale back Luongo’s workload this season, and the Canucks need to keep him fresh for the stretch drive and postseason. Though Raycroft has lost his past two starts, he has proven very capable of backstopping his club to victory on more occasions than not this season.
The most obvious chance to get Luongo a decent rest comes later this month in Edmonton. Vancouver hosts Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on January 16th and then has three days off before flying to Alberta to play the Oilers. Giving Luongo that game off would give him a four-day break with the Stars providing the opposition at GM Place the following night.
Much was expected from the quirky centre in his sophomore campaign with the Canucks, but Wellwood has struggled offensively to say the least. After surprising fans with 18 goals last season, Wellwood tallied just four times through Vancouver’s first 42 games despite working himself into the best shape of his career during the offseason.
Upon further inspection, turning the page on 2009 might be a good thing for #42. In the final few months of 2008, Wellwood registered 13 goals and 5 assists in 33 regular season games. Unfortunately, ’09 wasn’t near as prosperous; Wellwood scored just 9 times and added helpers on just 11 occasions in the 74 games he played over the calendar year.
Perhaps the difference was expectation – not much was expected of Wellwood when he first joined the Canucks and he produced while the opposite was true was expectations rose.
Combine that theory with a recent trend that’s seen Wellwood pick up 10 points in his past 17 games, and he could be poised for a much better 2010.