Jeff Paterson: The battle within
The fight for position and playoff spots is intense and apparent but so is the battle within the Canucks lineup.
Mason Raymond was in the spotlight because he was the odd man out on Monday night in Minnesota, but the decision to make the speedy forward a healthy scratch wasn’t simply about one player’s performance.
The move to sit a veteran and a regular down should resonate from top to bottom right through the Vancouver Canucks line-up.
It had better. And it needs to happen sooner than later.
With 10 games to go in the regular season and a lack of any apparent urgency in their game of late, the Canucks need to find some focus. The recent homestand didn’t offer up much in the way of playoff intensity and Monday’s game in Minnesota wasn’t any better.
With the post-season now on the horizon, Alain Vigneault is in a position of having to determine the line-up that gives him the best possible to chance to win hockey games. And that means making tough decisions as a head coach.
One thing, Vigneault has working in his favour these days is the fact he has an abundance of healthy bodies on the roster right now. And with the luxury of healthy players at this time of year comes options for the head coach. The available bodies should also create internal competition for spots in the line-up on the opening night of the post-season.
In theory, that should force players to raise their effort levels knowing that if they don’t perform to the best of their abilities, they may not get the chance to perform at all. That was supposed to be the theory on Monday night against the Wild, but it didn’t really play out that way.
The theory doesn’t just apply to game situations, but practices too. With three weeks left before the post-season starts, players need to take a look around and realize that there is an excess of players on the current roster – and the possibility exists still of adding options from the Chicago Wolves.
While the Canucks as a group may not have as much to play for as those teams hovering around the playoff bar, it’s getting to that point where every individual should want to stamp his spot in the playoff line-up. It’s time to figure out who wants to make a difference on this hockey club.
The Canucks still have questions about which 12 forwards will suit up for the playoff opener – and in which formation. There is no question there is a healthy competition underway on defense especially for spots in the third pairing and on the power play units.
And internal competition has to factor into the goaltending decisions as well. Cory Schneider should want to keep playing as well as possible to let the coaching staff how much he wants to play in the playoffs. And that in turn should bring out the best in Roberto Luongo.
Anyone watching the Canucks of late has seen the team that appears to be pacing itself for the real fun and the steep challenge that still lies ahead. Having scaled the mountain last spring but unable to plant that Canucks flag at the summit, the team certainly has a better understanding of what will be required this year once the playoffs begin.
There is no doubt about the top six forwards who will start the playoffs, but the search is on for the bottom six that give the Canucks the right mix of hustle, muscle, grit, and determination along with specialty skills like face-offs and penalty killing.
Mason Raymond is among those who need to show the coaching staff what he’s going to bring on a nightly basis moving forward. Raymond can’t prove his worth to the hockey club by sitting in the press box, so the measure of the move to scratch him won’t be judged until he returns to the line-up. But the hope has to be that the message was delivered to be more than he had been in recent weeks and to find the spot on the roster that allows him to make the most-effective contribution possible.
But if Alain Vigneault is willing to scratch Raymond from the line-up, other veterans like Manny Malhotra and Jannik Hansen have to realize it can happen to them, too. And rookies Dale Weise and Zack Kassian can’t be taking their spots for granted and need to do more with whatever opportunities they’re given and play the roles expected of them if they want to the chance for a playoff payoff.
As a team, the Canucks seem to be lacking the passion and emotion they’ll soon require. But that shouldn’t be the case for many of the players on the roster. With 10 games – and a handful of practices - remaining before the post-season commences, the playoffs to be part of the playoffs are underway.
And internal competition and the fear of watching the most meaningful games of all from the press box might just be the best way to light a fire under some players to help them heat up for the weeks ahead.