by Tyler Rowe
I was over at Nucks Misconduct a few minutes ago, where I found a poll exploring which first round opponent The Misconductors would prefer for the Vancouver Canucks. Next stop was the HF Boards’ Canucks page where the same question was posed. And Google tells me that no fewer than three other orca-centric hockey blogs have postulated similarly. Never one to miss out on a bandwagon, like Pappy O’Daniels on the Soggy Bottom Boys, I figured a look at this question was something Smug Nation should not miss. Fortunately, we have something the others don’t: the super not-gimmicky, Choo-Choo-Choose-O-Meter!
The CCCOM has five notches based on how worried I’ll be if the Canucks face a given team:
1 – A welcome sight, like whichever hot girls get the Lennox Pub seats behind the bench.
2 – Really nothing to worry about, like turbulence on a long flight. Unless the pilot, flight attendants, and maintenance staff celebrate before the flight and try to do the run hammered-ass wasted. Flawless Analogy.
3 – A moderate challenge that should be overcome 70 per cent of the time, like my approximate finishing-something-I-started academic record.
4 – A stiff challenge that can be overcome but can also reasonably be failed, like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.
5 – A worrisome task with which one should expect to have some or great difficulty accomplishing, like spearing the white whale or getting consistent refereeing in today’s NHL.
As detailed in Monday’s post, it would be muddle-headed to think the Canucks will slip below the #2 seed. Even if the uninspired play continues, the Canucks hold a nine point advantage over the Pacific division-leading Dallas Stars with a game in hand and only 13 games remaining. It would take a real bed-wetting by Hollywood North to fall to the #3 seed at this point.
With the stage set, let’s break down the most likely match-ups for the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
CCCOM Rating: 1
As a hockey fan, you have to like what the Avs are putting together right now. They’re the youngest team in the league with an average age of 25.7, and they’re full of likable young talent with guys like Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, Peter Mueller, and the revived Erik Johnson. The club is stacked with yeomen like Jamie McGinn, T.J. Galiardi, and Victoria boy Ryan O’Byrne as well. They’re getting decent goaltending out of the Giguere/Varlamov tandem and the future is bright. But the future is not now. Despite some good play of late, these kids do not have what it takes to bring down the (currently sleeping) Canucks, so I’m approximately as worried about the Colorado Kids Club as I am about season two of Game of Thrones: seeing either in April would/will be totally cool.
CCCOM Rating: 1.5
The Flames are not what you would call a powerhouse franchise. Other than Portland Winterhawks stand-out Sven Baertschi, the cupboard is pretty bare in the minors, and the pro team isn’t exactly made up of world-beaters either. After Captain Iginla (for whom we should all be thankful, by the way — he’s been the best kind of foe for a very long time) and the resurgent Olli Jokinen, there’s a pretty steep offensive productivity drop-off. While the team defense has been pretty good (13th in goals against) and the special teams have been surprisingly capable (13th PP, 12th PK), Calgary’s inability to put the puck in the net in general makes them the kind of team I’d love to see in the first round. Kipper might steal a few and push the series to six, but all in all Calgary would be a welcome sight. The only reason they get the 0.5 bump is because of how much they hate the Canucks, and how that hatred could lead to reckless play and possible injuries to the Vancouver side.
CCCOM Rating: 2
Why do the Dallas Stars get a two on the CCCOM? Because they keep beating us for some strange reason. Actually it’s not that strange — in the last two games against the Stars, the Canucks have looked pretty blasé, which was an effort problem rather than a talent problem. As detailed in my article about the Number Sixteen, the Canucks have shown that they mean to play hard when the games are “big,” and I have no doubt that a team who looks like they care about nothing other than the playoffs will consider playoff games “big” games. But there is some reasonable talent on that Dallas side, and I think they deserve a bump up to a two on the CCCOM for the simple fact that they feel like they can beat Vancouver on any given night, something you probably can’t say about the Avs or Flames who have been throttled by the Canucks for years. To be fair, the Canucks absolutely dismantled the Stars last season, outscoring them 20-5 in four wins, so we’ll drop Dallas down to a one if the Canucks look good in their final two games versus Dallas down the stretch.
Los Angeles Kings
CCCOM Rating: 3
The underdog factor looms large with the Los Angeles Kings, who are talented enough to be a contender, but keep losing games. Before this season, I had picked the Kings to win the Pacific and finish as the #3 seed in the West going into the playoffs, and to be honest I don’t know what they’re doing wrong in LA. On paper, they’re pretty stacked. Maybe Richards and Carter are back to the same old tricks that got them unceremoniously shipped out of Philadelphia, but the problems existed long before Jeff and Mike were reunited (two players who were moved because they partied too much together in Philly are now expected to be model citizens when they’re together in LA? Uh-oh).
Ironically, even though Drew Doughty has done nothing to justify his huge paycheck, the team defense has been very good, to the tune of 2nd-best goals against in the league. Johnathan Quick is making a solid case for Vezina, and you would have to think that if their scorers woke up, the Kings of Los Angeles would make a very tough first round out. Of course they’re in 11th right now, so chances are we won’t find out until next year what this group is really made of.
CCCOM Rating: 3
The Phoenix Coyotes are in one of the crappiest situations in professional sport. They have very few actual fans, they can’t spend to the cap due to ownership issues, and they live in what could be, 25-30 years from now, the first Ghost-Metropolis in human history. And yet, due to the fantastic system-coaching of Dave Tippett (who should win the Jack Adams every year for making lemonade out of lemon-flavoured doo-doo), they are once again in the hunt due to Tippett’s team defense, some underrated two-way stars like Whitney, Doan, Yandle and Vrbata, and some good young talent in Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mikael Boedker. Oh, and in case you were wondering why Mike Smith has gone from zero to hero, it’s the same reason why Ilya Bryzgalov got rich — Sean Burke is the best goalie coach in the NHL.
Vancouver is 2-1-1 against the Coyotes this season, but the 1-1 part came in the two most recent games, and when playing with a lead, the ‘Yotes are very difficult to penetrate. This is the part where I don’t make a penetration joke. They’re a solid three on the CCCOM.
San Jose Sharks
CCCOM Rating: 3
And you thought it was weird in Los Angeles. Actually now that I think of it, it’s weird for all three California teams — the Ducks should be better too. But right now we’re talking about the Sharks; the perennial-playoff-letdown Sharks we’re familiar with. But the miss/barely-make-the-playoffs Sharks? Maybe the Heatley for Havlat trade was a mistake, but I thought for sure that adding Brent Burns would make them a much more rounded squad. No such luck for the only team to win the Pacific division since spring 2007 when the Destiny Ducks steamrolled their way to the Cup (with the best roster in a decade). Wait, sorry, we’re talking about the Sharks. When you get past Heatley and Burns, this is pretty much the same team as last year. So why the suckage? Maybe the futility of effort has finally sunk in with the San Jose core. Numbers aside, no one word sums up the 2012 San Jose Sharks better than “inconsistency,” and on a team that loaded with high-end talent at every part of the age spectrum from Couture to Pavelski to Marleau to Boyle, I can only chalk their 34-25-10 record up to erosion of the collective San Jose spirit. I almost feel bad for them.
CCCOM Rating: 3.5
Much has been made in the media of Chicago’s demise since their 2010 cup win. They lost a lot of quality guys to free agency, including Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, and more recently/mercifully, Brian Campbell. What hasn’t been looked at as sufficiently (to my mind) is what they’ve done with the money they’ve had since then. At this season’s trade deadline, when they desperately needed a #2C and an impact defenseman to play alongside Nick Hjarlmarsson, what did Stan Bowman do? He picked up Johnny Oduya. Can you hear the crickets? They’re rustling out there somewhere amid the almost four million dollars Bowman could have spent on improving a team that envies no one when it comes to elite talent. With the possible exception of what Pittsburgh has, the Chicago fivesome of Toews, Kane, Hossa, Seabrook, and Keith is the best core in the league. It’s a shame that Bowman is content with one cup when he has the horses to compete every year if he’d only give them the chance. With this Blackhawks roster, the Canucks should be safe to tie up the playoff rivalry at twos, but considering all the emotion that comes along with a Canucks/Blackhawks playoff series and Roberto Luongo’s tendency towards playing poorly in Chicago, there’s no way I’m not at least a little worried about that prospective match-up.
So there you have it: six possible first round opponents, and of the lot of them not a single one could crack a four on the Choo-Choo-Choose-O-Meter. Of course, these projections are all based on the notion that the Canucks will play to their ability when the playoffs arrive. If they don’t, then you can jack those CCCOM ratings way, way up.