The Go-To Guy: Analyzing J.T. Miller’s bounce-back season

The 2019 NHL Entry Draft was an eventful one for the Vancouver Canucks. On top of hosting the festivities, the Canucks went into this draft with a goal: Get faster, bigger, and more tenacious.

They exited the first round with Vasily Podkolzin (10th overall), who still hasn’t found his footing in the NHL; and I think time may be running out for the young Russian power forward to make a meaningful impact at the NHL level.

But the second round was where Vancouver really did themselves some good; not only drafting Nils Höglander with the 40th pick in the draft, but reports began to circulate about a potential trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning had just come off being swept by the eighth seed Columbus Blue Jackets, after having the greatest regular season in NHL history (prior to last season’s Boston Bruins). They were tight against the salary cap and needed to unload some assets.

One of those assets was left winger, J.T. Miller.

Miller, who was 26 at the time of the trade, had been a solid top six-caliber point producer with the Lightning, and was involved in the blockbuster deal that also involved Ryan McDonaugh heading to Tampa alongside him just one year prior.

So, the Canucks trade was as follows:

TBL gets: 2020 1st round pick, Marek Mazanec (G), 2019 3rd round pick.

VAN gets: J.T. Miller (LW/C). 

At face value, this seemed like a bit of an overpay when the announcement broke. Miller only had a career-high of 58 points prior to the trade, so trading a first rounder for a 2nd line scoring-rate forward wasn’t all that great from a value perspective, especially when you consider how there wasn’t even an attempt to squeeze out any sort of surplus value from Vancouver’s perspective. Tampa were hard-pressed against the cap, for crying out loud!

With all that said, this is what you typically see from Canucks fans nowadays:

Miller has become an absolute weapon for the Canucks. Heck, he’s ranked 10th in points league-wide since his arrival in Vancouver. This season has been his best to date, with 21 goals and 67 points through 49 games so far.

Even though he’s always been an efficient scorer in his time here, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the American-born forward. The 2022-23 season was a disaster for most parties involved in Vancouver, and Miller was typically in the spotlight for reasons that weren’t always entirely on him. Even with the scrutiny and occasional poor play, he still amassed 82 points in 81 games.

When he’s not playing well, he still produces.

That’s kind of become Miller’s mantra: He may not be a consistently dominant force every shift, or even every game, but he will find a way to rack up points regardless. Now that the Canucks are actually, you know, winning hockey games, Miller hasn’t been under the microscope. If he makes a mistake, who cares; he’ll probably make up for it later in the game.

J.T. Miller has always been a great hockey player, but he’s now a part of a winning formula, and there’s a few reasons as to why.

Playing winning hockey by fitting into a system

Canucks management clearly believes in Miller long-term, even if he’s set to turn 31 this year. How do I know that? Well, he was signed to a 7-year, $56-million contract ($8-million AAV) in the summer of 2022. It was a deal that I was skeptical of at the time; and while I still worry about the potential long-term ramifications, Miller has outperformed that $8-million price tag this season.

When Rick Tocchet was brought in as head coach, many in the industry said that this move was, in part, to help stabilize Miller’s game. Tocchet got everyone in that room to buy in to his system, and Miller is no different.

Miller would often be picked a part by the Vancouver market for his lack of effort away from the puck. He’d be caught cheating for offence, waiting for plays to come to him instead of forcing opponent’s to make mistakes; but not this year.

Tocchet’s system has proven to be near-unbreakable, as the Canucks are in the upper-upper-half of the league in terms of their defensive performance; a stark contrast from what we’re used to in this market. No one is cheating for chances, because why should they? If you play the right way, you’ll be rewarded.

Not only is Miller being rewarded, he’s fully deserving of his uptick in production.

Yes, he’s shooting 21% (12.7% at 5v5), but Miller has always been a percentage driver: It’s just part of his mantra, and only drives this point home even further. If the top guys buy in to playing the right way, they’ll still get rewarded, and Miller has done just that.

The smartest power play presence on the team

Dare I say it: J.T. Miller is the single-best power play driver this team has had since the Sedins.

I think there’s an argument to be made that he’s even better. I’m dead serious. When the Canucks get a power play opportunity, I’m not watching for Elias Pettersson or Quinn Hughes, I’m watching for Miller, dammit!

Miller has good hockey sense, that’s not up for debate, but he isn’t a particularly good 5v5 play-driver. He’s only generated 6.7 expected goals at 5v5 (per moneypuck.com), with only 29 of his 67 points coming at even-strength.

But this just continues what I’ve been saying about his mantra.

Percentage. Driver.

All of this is to point out just how effective Miller is on the power play, specifically when deployed on the left flank.

Typically, the best power play’s have guys flanking on their off-hand side as one-timer options; Tampa Bay being a great example:

Paul (net-front)
Stamkos (right-handed) – Point (bumper) – Kucherov (left-handed)
Hedman (point)

The Canucks opt to use both of their righties (Lindholm and Boeser) at the net-front and bumper positions, leaving the three main lefties manning the top of the zone:

Boeser (net-front)
Miller (left-handed) – Lindholm (bumper) – Pettersson (left-handed)
Hughes (point)

Vancouver’s first unit tends to rotate a lot when they have possession, but this is the alignment that many of us have become accustomed to this season. Pettersson is typically the main one-timer option, so what does Miller do on the left flank?

Miller uses a wind-up tactic that is so incredibly intelligent; occasionally leaving zone for a brief instance to build-up speed.

This goal vs the Edmonton Oilers is a perfect example of Miller’s dominance from the left flank:

He quickly turns from the blueline, Hughes finds him with time and space, and since he doubles as both a shooting threat and an elite passer, no one on the Oilers knows what he’s about to do. Miller shoots the puck as if it had been badmouthing his family just moments prior, labeling the top corner. We see this from him on a nightly basis, even if it doesn’t amount to a goal or assist (a rare sight).

Should there still be concern over the long-term deal? Sure, but one thing is for sure: J.T. Miller is a damn good hockey player for the Vancouver Canucks. He won’t be the guy driving the offence at 5v5, but his genius-level IQ on the power play can make up for his shortcomings.

A top 10 scorer, elite playmaker, and power play weapon, J.T. Miller has some great hockey left in him, and I hope it’s for a long time.

Comparing and contrasting the 2011 & 2024 Canucks

Did you know that the 2023-24 Vancouver Canucks are on pace to be the greatest team in franchise history?

No, you’re not living in a dream, this Canucks team is legit. The front office knows it, too. You don’t go out and get Elias Lindholm unless you’re ready to go for it.

It’s an exciting time to be a Vancouver hockey fan. There’s just a level of buzz that hasn’t been seen here since 2011…

Oh yeah. 2011. That was certainly a year that happened in history!

The Canucks were the best team in hockey throughout the 2010-11 season, and it’s not hard to see why if you look at their roster. High-end talent at forward, loads of quality defencemen, and one of the greatest goalies of all time in Roberto Luongo. 

I thought it would be a fun exercise to compare the 2011 roster to today’s iteration of the Canucks. If I ultimately decide that the current Canucks roster is better, they’re winning the Stanley Cup this year.

I don’t make the rules (I do).

I’ll be comparing what I think are the best possible lineups for each team, assuming both would be fully healthy.

Let’s get right into it, starting with…

Goaltending + Special Teams

I’m lumping these categories together.

Why?

Easy: The 2011 team wipes both.

Both teams feature world beater-caliber netminder’s as starters, but comparing Casey DeSmith to Cory Schneider seems unfair. DeSmith is a high-end backup, but Schneider was a high-end goalie who just-so-happened to be playing behind one of the ten greatest goalies the sport has ever seen.

Also, while incredible, Demko needs to put in a few more seasons like this one before we can even have that conversation. 

The Canucks’ current power play is an absolute weapon, especially after adding Elias Lindholm to that first unit. With that said, there are few players who dominated the power play like the Sedins did.

And the penalty kill that 2011 team had…

No notes.

An early 2-0 lead for 2011.

The Bottom 6 and Bottom Pair D

2011:
Torres-Malholtra-Hansen
Glass-Lapierre-Tambellini/Hodgson

Ballard-Salo

2024:

Joshua-Blueger-Garland
Höglander-Aman-Lafferty/Di Giuseppe
Soucy-Myers

Uh oh, I think there’s a hot take brewing in the distance.

The 2011 Canucks had depth in spades: The third line was especially a key part of their success in the regular season. While Manny Malholtra may have been injured for the majority of the playoffs (eventually returning in the Stanley Cup Finals), he was still a rock-solid, faceoff ace at 3C.

Jannik Hansen and Raffi Torres were lightning bolts for the bottom six, with Hansen in particular being a key penalty killer and defensive driver. It also helps that they each scored big goals during their playoff run that year.

Lappiere was a pure pest, but an effective player in his own right. I will say though, I’m not as high on Glass, Tambellini, or Cody Hodgson.

Defensively, Keith Ballard was a gaffe-prone, physical defenceman, and Sami Salo was a warrior with a cannon of a slap shot. Both were good enough to play bigger minutes (in a pinch) if injuries mounted.

Fast-forwarding to today: Joshua-Blueger-Garland is one of the best third line’s in the entire NHL by just about every metric, and the fourth line has two players with over 10 goals. On defence, while Tyler Myers can be prone to gaffe’s like Ballard, he’s calmed his game down a lot this season, and Carson Soucy has been a great value find for this front office.

I’m sorry, just can’t look past how good the current bottom six is.

Conor Garland can drive a third line with anyone, but both Teddy Blueger and Dakota Joshua have leveled-up offensively as well. If you told me before the season that Joshua and Blueger had finished the season with their current totals, I wouldn’t have batted an eye, yet we’re just 49 games into the season.

Keeping Nils Höglander a fourth-line role also earns this team some bonus points. Having a guy on pace for ~20 goals on your fourth line is crazy.

Yes, he’s on a shooting percentage heater right now, but I still think he’s a third-line player at minimum.

2-1 2011.

Top 4 Defencemen

2011:
Edler-Ehrhoff
Hamhuis-Bieksa

2024:
Hughes-Hronek
Cole-Zadorov

Let’s just get this out of the way: 2024’s team has a massive advantage solely because of Quinn Hughes.

Even still, man, that 2011 group is real good.

Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff were both capable offensive-minded defenders, whilst Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa were typically deployed as the shutdown pair with Ryan Kesler’s line.

I’d say this team was smart in separating their two best defenceman. Dan Hamhuis was a shutdown specialist, who was actually a decent-enough offensive driver; he just wasn’t a point producer. Christian Ehrhoff was a monster: A play-driver at both ends of the ice, with offensive production to boot.

Bieksa and Edler were no slouches, either. Both played in all situations and were fan-favourites for many years.

Ian Cole and Nikita Zadorov aren’t nearly as good as Bieksa or Edler, and they certainly aren’t a better second pair than Hamhuis-Bieksa…

Hughes-Hronek is the best top pair this team has ever seen.

I look at Filip Hronek similarly to Christian Ehrhoff: A great puck mover with a bomb of a shot. He profiles as a ‘meat and potatoes’ offensive defenceman: Not great at any-one thing, but good enough to produce at a high level.

Some analytics models don’t love Hronek. Some suggest that his his success is solely due to playing with Quinn Hughes; which I think is unfair, at least to a certain degree. Hughes was great before, but is a superstar now; and I think we have to give Hronek his fair shake in that regard.

I still have to give the edge to the 2011 group solely based on the amount of quality they add. If this year’s Canucks can add a player of Chris Tanev’s quality, they’ll surpass them.

3-1 2011.

The Top 6

2011:
D. Sedin-H. Sedin-Burrows
Higgins-Kesler-Raymond

2024:
Mikheyev-Pettersson-Lindholm
Suter-Miller-Boeser

The 2024 team is playing for pride at this point, but I think this one is still close.

The Sedins were two-of-a-kind: The best players this city has ever seen (so far). Alex Burrows, meanwhile, was one of the smartest complementary forwards I’ve ever seen. The speed, defensive ability, scoring touch, penalty killing; I can keep going.

Chris Higgins and Mason Raymond were fine players, Raymond in particular was an underrated play-driver, but Ryan Kesler was a capable 1C playing 2C minutes. The two-way force scored 41 goals AND took home the Selke Trophy in 2010-11

Today’s top six is also formidable. Ilya Mikheyev hasn’t been the speed demon, PK’ing force that was expected (an ACL injury will do that), but he’s still an effective two-way winger who has fit with Pettersson in the past.

Assuming he’s a career-Canuck, Elias Pettersson will be the best player in the team’s history, and giving him an off-puck attacker in Elias Lindholm should be a seamless fit; as Pettersson can control play with anyone.

Suter-Miller-Boeser is the real wild card. While Suter is an incredibly intelligent defensive forward, he’s typically played in a bottom six role. Miller and Boeser don’t typically control play all-that well at 5v5, but they still find ways to get on the scoresheet more times than not.

If we’re solely looking at it on paper, the current top six might actually look more appealing. I still have to give the 2011 squad the *slightest* edge, simply because there’s some uncertainty about the current group (Lindholm, Mikheyev, Suter).

4-1 win for 2011.

While it’s a three-point gap, I think these teams are closer than the score indicates. Maybe we’ll see this team do what the former couldn’t…

Bring the cup home!

The Go-To Guy: Chris Tanev would be an incredible get for the Canucks

Oh, you thought that I was gonna just give up on my trade target series just because the Canucks traded for Elias Lindholm?

Think again, fella.

The Canucks aren’t done. We know this. They are going to at least try to add even more to this roster. Patrik Allvin and Jim Rutherford have the rest of their chips on the table and are ready to push them in if the right piece becomes available.

The Canucks are going for it. Buckle up.

The Lindholm acquisition was so seismic that I initially struggled to imagine what else the team could add. Now that we’re hearing more rumours about Nikita Zadorov potentially being on the move to clear cap space, many are beginning to wonder about Chris Tanev. 

Tanev has been one of the league’s premier shutdown defenceman for a few years, really ever since he signed a four-year deal with the Calgary Flames in the 2020 off-season.

It’s a moment in Canucks history that continues to haunt me today,

With that said, the Canucks have the opportunity to re-write history. The players want Tanev; management wants Tanev; the fans want Tanev; the entire city of Vancouver needs a Chris Tanev reunion more than it needs oxygen.

But that’s it: Everyone wants Tanev. No, seriously, there are apparently over 10 teams that are calling about the Toronto, Ontario-born defenceman.

Can you blame them? Absolutely not. A player of Tanev’s quality is desirable, especially after considering his profile. Right-handed, defence-first defenceman with a track record of thriving against other teams’ top competition?

Go figure.

Chris Tanev would be a terrific add for any team, but he needs to be a Canuck; it just needs to happen. Nothing would be sweeter than to see a former fan-favourite win a cup with the team that signed him out of college.

Yeah, I said “win a cup”. The Canucks have a shot this year, and I think Tanev would be a worthwhile get.

Let’s get into why that is.

Trading Zadorov to get Tanev would be a big upgrade

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: No, I’m not an insider.

I seriously don’t think that the Zadorov rumours are just smoke and mirrors. While Jim Rutherford said they “are not shopping Zadorov”, it’s also been confirmed that the Canucks are trying to get Tanev.

Connect the dots. Zadorov would be the most-likely guy on the way out if they truly want Tanev.

But, again, I’m not an insider.

If these rumours hold any weight, I am of the opinion that essentially swapping Zadorov for Tanev (albeit in separate deals) would be a meaningful upgrade to the Canucks’ blueline. That’s not to discredit the 6’6″, all-situations freak that Zadorov is, rather it’s me highlighting how good Tanev is in comparison.

But these two aren’t comparable; they’re very different players.

The reason as to why I think this upgrade is worth it is simply because of Tanev’s tenure in Calgary. While a respected player in Vancouver, he never got much love from National media or the analytics community. Once he arrived in Calgary, Tanev slightly re-invented his game, relying more on being a disruptor rather than a shot-blocker (although he still eats pucks for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner), and the analytics have popped.

Nothing makes me happier to see a former fan-favourite getting the respect he deserves. It’s just a shame that it had to happen in Calgary.

Nikita Zadorov provides value with his physical presence, solid transitional play, and defensive reliability; but is prone to the occasional gaffe. Tanev isn’t prone to these “gaffe’s” I speak of. He’s one of the most reliable defenceman in the league; you almost never see this man make a mistake.

That in itself is worth trading for. It’s a rare, rare quality to be that dependable. He just doesn’t mess up.

I wouldn’t object if the Canucks just opted to keep Nikita Zadorov, but if they were to seek-out Tanev, I would be more than okay with trading him to get it done.

Tanev is a defensive driver

Chris Tanev is an analytical darling.

Just don’t expect him to generate any offence.

Moneypuck.com shows that Tanev has only generated a meek 0.82 xGF (expected goals for) at 5v5 this season. Luckily, you won’t be getting Chris Tanev to generate chances; you’re getting him because he’s great at preventing them.

That number isn’t good, yet Tanev’s xGF% is still 51.2%, meaning even though he isn’t generating anything, he still *slightly* controls play in his team’s favour more times than not.

That in itself is enough to show just how effective Tanev is defensively. If paired alongside of a decent-enough two-way defenceman (i.e. Carson Soucy), Tanev would thrive.

Come to think of it, having a top four of Quinn Hughes, Filip Hronek, Carson Soucy, and Chris Tanev would be; maybe the best top-four in Canucks history.

Maybe that’s a stretch, but it’d definitely be their best since 2011.

The players want him here

When your nickname is “Dad”, you’re probably a favourite in the locker room.

The 2019-20 season was the closest many of the current Canucks’ core has come to any type of playoff success, losing in the 2nd round fto the Vegas Golden Knights.

This is important because Hughes, Pettersson, Boeser, and Demko were all just starting their NHL career’s (Hughes and Demko were rookies), and Chris Tanev was a major influence on not just the core guys, but the rest of the team as well.

If you scroll back up to the JFreshHockey post, do you see how he mentions Quinn Hughes? I believe Rick Dhaliwal initially reported that Hughes has talked to Canucks management about Tanev, directly.

Look, I love to use data and analytics, but sometimes team chemistry can be a factor into who you trade for. Canucks management have signed and traded for players that they are familiar with: So why not get a guy who the most important players on your team called “Dad” in his tenure here?

Oh, he also just-so-happens to be a fantastic hockey player, too? Even better.

The love for Tanev in that locker room is something that has been broadcasted over the last week or so, and I honestly believe that adding him would make the rest of the team run through every wall in Vancouver.

A successful front office tries to balance data with intangibles. You can’t just get a player who’s selling point is something like leadership; or grit, and that’s why we’ve seen more and more old school-type GM’s not getting another crack. A good GM has to move with the times.

Jim Rutherford is still in the NHL at 74. He’s been able to stay open-minded and forward thinking in his approach, always moving with the times.

We are just over one year removed from everyone (including myself) questioning how he (and the rest of the front office) questioned how the Bruce Boudreau fiasco was handled, along with many other interior cracks.

Now we talk about this team as legitimate foes for the first time in at least over a decade, and how reuniting with Chris Tanev is in the realm of possibility.

Life doesn’t feel real anymore.

Tanev would be an unreal get; it’s one that I would struggle to disagree with. The Canucks shouldn’t trade for him if heaven and earth is the asking price…

But if the price is right, they should absolutely pull the trigger.

The Go-To Guy: Breaking down the Elias Lindholm acquisition and why it’s a great fit for the Canucks

Well, there goes my plans for the week.

I’m not complaining, though. I’m all for the chaos.

If you’re not in the know, the Vancouver Canucks acquired Elias Lindholm from the Calgary Flames, with the Flames receiving Andrei Kuzmenko, a 2024 1st round pick, Hunter Brzustewicz, Joni Jurmo, and a conditional 2024 4th round pick in return.

Many view this deal as a win/win for both parties, and I find it difficult to say otherwise. Calgary clearly went for the ‘quantity over quality’ approach, and that’s totally fine. Andrei Kuzmenko has the skill to be an impact player, Hunter Brzustewicz has produced at a high-level in the OHL, and a 1st round pick is never a bad get.

But you’re not reading this to know how Calgary did.

Let’s not waste any time and break down this trade from the Canucks’ perspective.

The player himself + his season so far

I mentioned in my article about Jake Guentzel that familiarity has consistently proven to be a factor whenever the front office has added to this Canucks roster. Look no further than Sam Lafferty, Ian Cole, and Teddy Blueger all being previously brought in by Jim Rutherford’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

Low and behold, they went out and got someone who was drafted by Jim Rutherford back in 2013.

Elias Lindholm is a great get for the Canucks. He’s a versatile top-six forward with a solid track record of top line-caliber production and decent defensive impact.

With all of that said, this season hasn’t been a good one for Lindholm. He’s seen his production drop off significantly and the underlying metrics haven’t loved his performance either.

This tweet from JFreshHockey is a good indicator as to why we’ve seen Lindholm struggle mightily so far this season. While he’s historically been a great player, Lindholm thrives when deployed with top-line talent, especially players that can get him the puck (hence why Gaudreau-Lindholm-Tkachuk was the best line in hockey in 2021-22).

Lindholm had been tasked to be Calgary’s number one forward, and that’s just not the role that’s best suited for him. He doesn’t have to be “the guy” in Vancouver. Lindholm could absolutely thrive if he rides shotgun with someone like Elias Pettersson driving his line. Pettersson hasn’t had quality linemates for the majority of the year, and getting a player with Lindholm’s defensive profile and scoring ability could be a seamless fit.

I fully understand the level of skepticism amongst a portion of the fanbase who may look at what the analytics are suggesting and think “why not a rental like Guentzel, instead?”: but with Lindholm’s scoring profile and defensive ability, this should work; and many of the smartest hockey people seem to agree.

Versatility (mock lineup season!)

Okay, let’s get into the fun stuff.

Elias Lindholm’s versatility was maybe the biggest draw for a Canucks front office that has already grabbed swaths of forwards who can play both in the middle and on the wing. Lindholm has won over 55% of his faceoffs, can play on the penalty kill, and has experience playing both center and right wing.

The Canucks have already mixed and matched their lineup quite a bit this season, and now they have another versatile forward who can play in all situations to further expand the lineup’s flexibility.

Here’s the thing: While many seem to agree that Pettersson would be the best fit to play with Lindholm, I’m not sure if they could go wrong with any line combo.

So… I’ve cooked up some potential lines combos.

Mock Line #1: Mikheyev-Pettersson-Lindholm

This is probably the best case scenario for both Lindholm and the team as a whole, at least on paper.

All three forward’s have a track record of solid defensive play, and Lindholm could finally be the trigger man that Pettersson has so desperately needed this season. Not only that, but Lindholm can lessen Pettersson’s workload in the defensive zone, as he won’t be fully responsible for cleaning up messes all by himself.

I’d expect this trio to be a formidable matchup line if given the opportunity.

Mock Line #2: Miller-Pettersson-Lindholm

Lotto Line adjacent.

I would much prefer option one, but if Tocchet opts to load-up the top line, I don’t see how this wouldn’t be a viable option. Miller has historically proven to be an uber-effective play-driver when deployed on the wing, especially with Elias Pettersson.

Adding another Elias to that duo would be unfair.

The problem? Brock Boeser plays his best when deployed with an elite passer, and he’s already such a good fit with Miller and Pettersson. Tasking him with driving the second line would minimize his value.

Mock Line #3: Joshua-Lindholm-Garland

Now THIS is where the lineup flexibility could really prove to be a boon.

If the coaching staff decides to spread the talent, Lindholm could be a great fit alongside Conor Garland, who is one of the better 5v5 play-driving forwards on the Canucks. This line would most-likely be deployed against lesser competition, and Lindholm still wouldn’t be tasked with driving the line since Garland thrives against other teams’ bottom lines.

The question this sparks is what would the rest of the lineup look like?

Teddy Blueger would be the obvious answer at 4C, but what about the top six? Suter-Miller-Boeser has worked in a small sample size, and I think that a player of Nils Höglander’s profile could be a fit with Pettersson and Mikheyev.

Regardless, this is all in good fun, but I think option one is the go-to combo. I just can’t look past the possibility of a Lindholm-Pettersson duo.

What the stats suggest + a revamped power play

Lindholm’s impact at 5v5 has dipped quite a bit this season.

Per moneypuck.com, his 5v5 xG total is a mere 7.5, which means he’s roughly on pace to beat his total of 12.2 last season. Even with these totals not jumping off the page, Lindholm still hasn’t scored at a rate that’s above expected: in fact, he’s been incredibly unlucky so far this season, scoring -3.4 goals above expected.

Add-on the fact that his 5v5 shooting percentage is just 4.8%, his impact may not move that much further up, nor down, but the bounces should be coming; especially if paired with an elite playmaker like Pettersson or Miller.

Lindholm has never been a great play-driver at 5v5. He attacks plays without the puck to get himself in prime scoring areas. That part of his game should be a great complement to the Canucks’ first power play unit.

What makes the Canucks power play so successful? Well, when they’re clicking, J.T. Miller and Quinn Hughes are basically a package-deal of quarterbacks. While Hughes mans the point, Miller’s IQ from the left flank is wildly impressive, and usually acts as a dual-threat (same as Hughes).

Elias Pettersson has one of the best shots in the entire NHL, that in itself is self-explanatory.

Then there’s Brock Boeser, who has made a living in both the bumper and net-front positions. I think that Boeser is best-suited to be the net-front guy, so bringing in one of the most effective bumper shooter’s in the entire league adds another element to the Canucks’ already lethal power play.

Both players can swap in and out of each position, meaning Lindholm also provides versatility in that regard, as well.

So yeah, I like the trade for Vancouver. I think Lindholm will fit like a glove in Vancouver’s system. It’s just a shame that we have to wait ’til Tuesday to see him make his Canucks debut.

For now, enjoy the NHL All-Star break!

The Go-To Guy: Why Jake Guentzel would be a great fit for the Canucks

The All-Star break has begun for most teams in the NHL, and one of those team’s just so happens to reside in the beautiful city of Vancouver.

Fresh off of a 5-4 comeback victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Canucks set their sights to Toronto where five players (Quinn Hughes, J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, Thatcher Demko, Brock Boeser) and head coach Rick Tocchet will all participate in the annual All-Star festivities.

While their vacations may be shortened, some Canucks brass have already begun their days off, including Nils Höglander, who has opted to go for a slightly more ‘out of the box’ vacation approach…

Sturgeon fishing.

You do you, king.

Despite it now being the All-Star break, don’t be surprised if General Manager Patrik Allvin starts working the phones. In fact, I’m writing this on January 30, which means it’s the one-year anniversary of the Bo Horvat trade.

The current regime has proven to be aggressive time and time again. Whether it be the aforementioned Horvat trade, flipping some of those assets for Filip Hronek, or splurging nearly ~$20 million to acquire Ilya Mikheyev in the regime’s inaugural free agency.

This lot is not afraid to make a move if they think it will make the team better, and that’s not a surprise considering the team’s President of Hockey Operations is Jim Rutherford. You don’t just get the nickname “Trader Jim” for nothing. He’s earned it.

A common theme with this front office is that most of the new personnel they’ve brought in have been linked with Allvin and Rutherford in the past, (i.e. Rick Tocchet, Sam Lafferty, and Teddy Blueger). Familiarity has proven to be a big factor when bringing in new faces, and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.

With the NHL Trade Deadline closing in, teams more-or-less know where they stand. I mean, the Canucks certainly do, they’re first place in the entire league and are dominating at a level the city hasn’t seen since 2011. They’re on pace to become the greatest team in franchise history.

And that’s why they need to go for it.

One player that has been repeatedly linked to the Canucks is Pittsburgh Penguins left winger, Jake Guentzel. The soon-to-be 30-year-old winger has put up a wildly impressive resume over his eight seasons in the NHL, winning a Stanley Cup in his rookie year, and reaching the 40-goal plateau twice.

While I’m not sure if acquiring a rental would be the smartest piece of business for the club, Guentzel is probably the best rental option on the market.

And, again, familiarity is key here, as Allvin played a big part in drafting Guentzel in 2012.

So, if there aren’t any long-term options available, why would Jake Guentzel be such a seamless fit?

A mix of goal-scoring and play-driving

Whether they opt for a rental or not, the Canucks need a top-six forward that can control play. Not only can Guentzel do just that, he does it at an extremely high level.

Guentzel has proven to be an elite chance creator for years, especially at 5v5.

That’s exactly what the doctor ordered for Vancouver. While they are shooting the absolute lights out of the league, there really isn’t anyone not named Elias Pettersson who can create a ton of chances at 5v5, at least in the top-six. The only other forward who profiles as such would be Conor Garland, but I don’t know how you could possibly split that third line up.

While JFreshHockey‘s model is bullish on his play-driving ability, it’s not the same when it comes to his finishing. While that may look surprising, it doesn’t actually shock me all that much.

Guentzel isn’t a one-shot weapon akin to a Brock Boeser or an Auston Matthews. The way he scores is by generating dangerous chances at a high volume, and he has a shot that’s good enough to score on a good chunk of them. The winger has already amassed 22 goals through 46 games this season, meaning he has a very good chance of reaching the 40-goal mark for the third time in his career.

Per Moneypuck, Guentzel has generated a whopping 13.63 xGF (expected goals-for) at 5v5 this season, leading the Penguins in that category. For reference, the Canucks leader in that category is Ilya Mikheyev with an xGF of 8.924.

If a player generates chances at the sheer volume that Guentzel does, he’s gonna score.

If the Canucks were to acquire the star-level winger, I don’t think there’s a wrong answer as to who to put him with. J.T. Miller has been a one-shot weapon throughout his time in Vancouver, and Elias Pettersson could absolutely thrive with another play-driver.

No matter who he’s put with, Guentzel would instantly become the Canucks’ best 5v5 play-driver, and wouldn’t have to ride a stupidly high shooting percentage to score at a high rate.

He’s a proven playoff warrior

“Veteran leadership”, “playoff experience”, and “cup-winning grit” are phrases that haunt Canucks fans due to the sins of Jim Benning, who’d overpay depth pieces for those intangible qualities, instead of paying up for the higher-end pieces with said intangibles.

If the Canucks want a guy with those qualities, Jake Guentzel would probably be the most desirable piece to acquire.

Look no further than his inaugural playoff appearance, which saw the then-23-year-old score 13 goals (11 at even-strength) and 21 points in 25 games, with 4 of those goals coming in the Stanley Cup Final vs the Nashville Predators.

Pekka Rinne may have been “too good right now”, but Guentzel found a way to torch the Finnish netminder, en route to a Stanley Cup.

The Penguins didn’t find that same success in the following year, but Guentzel sure did. With 21 points in just 12(!!!!!) games the following postseason, the Minnesota-born winger proved that the dominance he displayed the previous year wasn’t a fluke.

Guentzel’s playoff production skidded in the following years, but the Penguins weren’t the force that they were in years prior.

Then came the 2022 playoffs.

Guentzel was fresh off of his 2nd 40-goal campaign (with 84 points), and the Penguins had to face a red-hot New York Rangers squad in the first round. While they dropped a game seven heartbreaker in overtime, Guentzel was, again, an absolute monster, tallying 10 points in 7 games.

Oh yeah, 7 of those 10 points were goals.

Even though the Canucks have only made the playoffs once since the start of the Elias Pettersson era, that one run had the Canucks’ top guns performing at the apex of their abilities. Pettersson (7-11-18) and Miller (6-12-18) were over a point-per-game, with Quinn Hughes being one point shy of that mark (2-14-16). And, I mean, Thatcher Demko had one of the best three-game playoff stretches by any goalie in NHL history. I don’t have any doubt that he’ll be a monster when given the opportunity to play a full run.

While it was the weird 24-team year, those Canucks were four years younger than they are now. Pettersson and Hughes especially impressed at ages 21 and 20, and they’ve leveled-up significantly since then.

Adding a proven playoff monster to a team looking to break through would be a sharp, sharp bet. Guentzel comes up in big moments, something that this team has been lacking in their 54-year history (no, I’m not talking about Luongo).

While a longer term solution is preferred, Guentzel would still be an incredible fit for this Canucks team. An elite play-driver, goal-scorer, and proven playoff ace, Jake Guentzel would be a great get for any team; and an absolute no-brainer for a Canucks team ready to go all-in.

Bring me the Trade Deadline chaos. I’m all for it.

The Go-To Guy’s All-Star break player grades for the Vancouver Canucks

Hey! It’s the All-Star break and the Canucks are 1st place in the NHL.

Nothing makes sense anymore and we are all living a lie.

It may feel that way, at least; but it is reality. The Canucks are piling up the wins and putting together one of the best season’s the franchise has seen over its 54-year span.

There’s just a different energy in the city when the Canucks are doing well. I have had countless interactions with people saying how genuinely excited they are about the team, even if they weren’t previously a fan.

That’s what this is all about. Don’t try to gatekeep your fandom and push those “fair-weather fans” away, embrace them, let them be excited about the Canucks.

If you’re a new fan, I welcome you with open arms.

The Canucks have amassed a 33-11-5 record (71 points) over 49 games so far this season. They had 83 points all of last season. If you look up the saying “what a difference a year makes” you will find a photo of the 2023-24 Vancouver Canucks roster.

Oh yeah, the roster. There are a ton of new faces in this year’s iteration of the Canucks, and pretty much all of them have been great. Genuinely.

The old, the new, the really, really new, everyone is getting their midterm grades today. I’m going to rank each player into tiers going from “A+” to “F”.

So let’s start off with the worse of the regulars.

F Tier:

Nobody 

Bah god! That’s Mitski‘s music!

The Canucks are first place in the NHL. How could I possibly give anyone an ‘F’.

Next!

D Tier:

Andrei Kuzmenko

This genuinely hurts.

I remember saying prior to the season how I wouldn’t be too surprised if Kuzmenko leveled up into a 90+ point, superstar caliber winger; or regressed to a 50-60 point, second line winger.

What I didn’t expect was Kuzmenko regressing into a middle-six-type producer.

It’s been pretty rough sledding for the Russian winger this season. He’s been in Rick Tocchet’s doghouse at times, hasn’t produced even remotely close to the rate he was expected to, and looks completely lost at times. His confidence is clearly shot, and it’s unfortunate to see.

Not much else to say. It seems likely that he’ll moved out in relatively short order.

C Tier:

Phil Di Giuseppe, Ilya Mikheyev

Phil Di Giuseppe hasn’t been a consistent fixture in the lineup over the past month or so (mainly due to injuries), but his play was steadily declining long before his latest injury. His forechecking ability is his best asset… but that’s also his only asset. He hasn’t found a consistent spot in the lineup, but I think he’s still a useful player.

As for Mikheyev, his mark has been bumped down ’cause of a pretty forgettable month of January, with just 3 assists in 13 games. I was debating putting him in the D tier with Kuzmenko, but his defensive impact has remained a net-positive for the squad.

C+ Tier:

Nils Aman, Noah Juulsen, Tyler Myers, Nikita Zadorov

It’s genuinely remarkable how much Noah Juulsen has re-formed his season in rather short order. He was pretty much unusable whenever called upon, but is now one of the key cogs in the Canucks’ PK. That five-minute kill vs the Blue Jackets on Saturday night was a great example of that.

Pretty much the same goes for Nils Aman. He won’t provide any offence, but his defensive play and penalty killing have provided at least some value for this team.

Tyler Myers being this high makes me happy. Last season was a disaster and probably his worst as a Canuck. This year, Myers has been pretty steady in Rick Tocchet’s system, which is all I asked from him at the start of the season. He still takes *way* too many penalties, but that’s just never going to change.

Zadorov is just a better, more disciplined, and less productive version of Myers. He’s been pretty much as advertised since arriving in Vancouver.

B Tier:

Ian Cole, Sam Lafferty, Casey DeSmith

Ian Cole has provided a level of stability to the backend that this city hasn’t seen since Chris Tanev. The defensive metrics speak for themselves, and while he doesn’t provide much offence, he doesn’t need to. A defensive specialist and one of the best signings from last off-season.

Sam Lafferty has become the typical fan-favourite 4th line player that this city loves. The speed, physicality, and occasional offensive production has been great; and he’s a pretty fun player to watch when he’s clicking.

Casey DeSmith is the best backup goaltender the Canucks have had in a very, very long time. I just wish the coaching staff would utilize him more to manage Thatcher Demko’s workload. I have nothing outwardly bad to say about DeSmith’s performance thus far. He’s typically rock-solid whenever called upon.

B+ Tier:

Nils Höglander, Carson Soucy

One-half of The Höglem Globetrotterssons has given the Canucks’ bottom-six an extra gear. With 14 goals and 20 points (14-6-20) so far, Höglander’s trajectory is going up after a couple of down seasons, and I have no doubt that he’ll hit 20 goals by season’s end.

Not bad for a fourth liner.

I don’t think Carson Soucy has gotten enough love from the Vancouver market. While he’s been in and out of the lineup due to injuries, Soucy has been maybe this team’s best defender not named Quinn Hughes or Filip Hronek. What sets him apart from a guy like Ian Cole is that while he’s been steady, he’s also been able to produce at a solid rate to boot. Another great signing from Allvin and co.

A- Tier:

The third line, Pius Suter, Filip Hronek

When talking about the best 5v5 lines in the league, the Canucks’ third line of Dakota Joshua, Teddy Blueger, and Conor Garland are frequently brought up. They’ve been this team’s engine at 5v5, especially Garland. Blueger’s production has been a pleasant surprise, and Joshua has leveled-up from last season.

Pius Suter was, in my mind, the best off-season acquisition that the Canucks made. With a cap-hit of $1.6 Million, Suter has provided surplus value and then some. He’s the catalyst of the penalty kill, a solid 5v5 play-driver, and one of the smartest defensive forwards the team has had since the likes of Jannik Hansen and Manny Malholtra.

Oh, and he’s signed ’til the end of next season. Score.

I was skeptical of the Filip Hronek trade when it initially happened, but he’s proven to be an incredible sidekick for Quinn Hughes. His underlying numbers have been less than spectacular, but 36 points through 49 games is too good to overlook.

For an organization that hasn’t had a whole lot of high-end defenceman, having two top-pair caliber ones on the same team is pretty remarkable.

A Tier:

Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller, Thatcher Demko, Elias Pettersson

Brock Boeser a 30 goal-scorer for the first time in his NHL career and we’re only 49 games into the season. Enough said.

As for the other three All-Stars in the A tier, they’re all having the best season’s of their respective career’s. J.T. Miller is fourth in NHL scoring (21-46-67) at the time I’m writing this piece, Elias Pettersson scored 14 goals in the month of January (27-37-64 on the season), and Thatcher Demko has been a world beater between the pipes, manning a .920 save percentage and 5 shutouts through 35 games.

There’s just one player who has been, in my mind, the best player on the Canucks.

A+ Tier:

Quinn Hughes 

I mean, duh.

The frontrunner for the Norris Trophy has amassed 12 goals and 50 assists (12-50-62) in 49 games, averaging just over an assist-per-game rate so far this season.

Bonkers.

Hughes is set to destroy Canucks records that HE had set in years prior, chugging along at a 104 point pace. This is Bobby Orr-level stuff from Hughes this season, and it’s been incredible to watch.

Whether he’s breaking the opposition’s ankles or ripping shots bar-down, Quinn Hughes has been one of the league’s best players this season, and it’s difficult to process the sheer level of dominance that he’s showcased so far.

That’s how you lead.

The Go-To Guy: Brock Boeser is a 30 goal-scorer!

What the hell happened last night?

I was so prepared to write a rant-piece, yet I am about to gush about one of the zaniest hockey games I have ever seen, on the back of a three-goal comeback win from the Vancouver Canucks.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are one of the worst team’s in the Eastern Conference… again, while the Canucks have been one of the league’s top teams throughout the duration of this season. But it wasn’t long ago when the Canucks had a five-game winning streak snatched away from them by the hands of said manteau bleu’s. 

Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t some sort of “revenge game” from the Canucks’ perspective, but going in, many thought this was the perfect opportunity to go into the All-Star break on a high note.

It was far from perfect, but it sure was a high note!

This game had everything (as I say that in a Stefon voice), and you came to the right guy to break it down for you.

Buckle up, this is going to be a fun one.

1st Period: “Is this PDO regression?”

First of all, what’s PDO?

PDO is a metric that combines shooting percentage (SH%) and save percentage (SV%). Team’s with a PDO below 100 tend to be unlucky, whilst team’s with a PDO above 100 are usually touted as “lucky” and due for regression.

The Canucks fanbase has become familiar with the term due to different members of the analytics community constantly preaching about the regression the team was set to face.

As for the Canucks themselves? They’ve never heard of this “PDO” but they send their regards.

That first period felt like an omen. I was seriously considering the possibility that this game was the start of the regression during the first period. I mean, the Canucks couldn’t get a bounce no matter what they tried.

Who was I kidding? These are the Vancouver Canucks. “Regression” doesn’t apply to this bunch.

The Joshua-Blueger-Garland line were humming along as usual, and I really think that Rick Tocchet might have found something Suter-Miller-Boeser. Sure, they’ve only gotten reps together vs St. Louis & Columbus, but that unit was dominant again, tonight. Jackets’ goalie Elvis Merzlikins made some key saves, and both team’s left the first frame without a goal.

Ugh. Give me some fireworks, already.

2nd Period: Why is it ALWAYS the 2nd Period???

I DIDN’T MEAN IT! GO BACK! GO BACK!!!

The hockey gods figured “hey, the Canucks haven’t had enough misfortune tonight”, so then they proceeded to give the Blue Jackets four goals in the 2nd period.

Yuck. Blegh. Glarb.

Denis Voronkov high sticks Elias Pettersson, and instead of scoring on the power play, Pettersson decided to grab an assist!

It’s just too bad it happened to be for the opposition. Alexandre Texier takes advantage of the turnover and scores shorthanded. 1-0 CBJ.

Oh, cool, Sean Kuraly takes a shot that hits the stick of Teddy Blueger and finds its way into the net. 2-0 CBJ.

This is fun!

Having two goals against in rather short order is obviously not an ideal way to begin a period, but man the Canucks looked sloppy, especially their top guys. Pettersson, Hughes, and Miller all had notable turnovers in the second frame, but the latter decided, “what if I passed it to our leading goal-scorer instead?”

Brock Boeser finally breaks the six-game goalless drought to bring the game within one off of a sick, sick pass from J.T. Miller. 2-1 CBJ.

This is… slightly more fun!

And Miller wasn’t done there. For his second act, J.T. Miller is going to attempt a breakout pass directly up the middle of the ice-

Yeah I think you know how this ends.

Jake Bean cruises through the offensive zone and buries a wrist shot past Thatcher Demko. It’s now 3-1 CBJ.

What? You want to see more blatantly stupid decision making? How about a knee-on-knee hit by Nikita Zadorov to take Columbus to the power play? Does that sound better?

No, it doesn’t. 4-1 CBJ.

This was the first time all-season where I seriously debated turning the TV off mid-game, but I just couldn’t. This team is different, last night wasn’t the norm anymore. Something was brewing during the 2nd intermission. I could sense it.

3rd Period: …He did it

Vancouver started the 3rd period on the power play after a penalty taken in the winding moments of the 2nd. And with just 18 seconds remaining on the man advantage, Elias Pettersson had Elvis Merzlikins flopping around like prime Luis Suarez, and ripped it.

4-2 CBJ.

Denis Voronkov figured one penalty wasn’t enough, so he came out for an encore, hooking J.T. Miller.

Chance, after chance, after chance, but nothing to show for it. Then, Quinn Hughes does what he does best, destroying Sean Kuraly’s ankles while walking the blueline, ripping a wrist shot towards the goal, and both Pius Suter and Brock Boeser get their sticks on it. Boeser got the last touch, two on the night for him.

4-3 CBJ.

Boone Jenner then takes a penalty shortly thereafter and ohhhh baby, Canucks to the power play… again!

One thing to note about the prior goal was that it was Brock Boeser’s 29th of the season. It’s worth noting because, well, he’s one away from 30; but he’s also never reached that plateau in his career thus far.

I mean, who else was going to get the game-tying goal?

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

“The Flow”, “Brockstar”, whatever nickname you choose, it doesn’t matter. Finally, in his seventh season as a Canuck, Brock Boeser hit the 30 goal mark. It’s a day that all of Canucks Nation has been waiting for. No one is more deserving of the season they’re having than Brock Boeser.

4-4 tie.

With just over eight minutes to play, Ian Cole takes a penalty that is reviewed for a major. Tyler Myers actually elbows Sean Kuraly on that same sequence, and he ends up getting the major penalty…

Which technically isn’t allowed.

Breaking the rules to make the right call is the most NHL thing I’ve ever seen.

Hilarious.

The good news is that the Canucks killed off the entire major, and did so near-flawlessly. They might have actually generated more offence than the Jackets did, with Pettersson, Ilya Mikheyev, and Nils Aman all getting chances.

I also want to give a shoutout to Pius Suter, as I thought he was the catalyst of this PK. Unreal stuff from him.

The Garland line had some more chances near the end of 3rd, and that just about does it for regulation. Off to overtime, again.

Overtime: *insert really popular song by Smash Mouth*

There was never any doubt that Vancouver would take this, right? Columbus weren’t generating much of anything and the Canucks dominated puck possession in OT.

J.T. Miller had a great chance, cutting to the inside and firing a wrist shot that was gloved by Merzlikins.

While I was hoping for another four-goal-game from Boeser, I guess I’ll just have to live with him getting an assist on the winner, courtesy of Elias Pettersson.

Elias Pettersson ends January with his 14th goal and 21st point of the month (13 games). Boeser notched his fourth point of the night, with Pettersson, Hughes, and Miller all finishing with 3. The stars were noticeably off in the first two periods, yet they were the ones that would eventually be the difference.

The Canucks end an incredible January with a 10-1-2 record, and now lead the league in wins, points, and point-percentage.

These guys are a wagon. Full stop.

Will we see a trade during the break? Who knows. But what we do know is that with even more firepower, the Vancouver Canucks could increase their chances at winning the Stanley Cup.

It feels crazy that this is even being talked about, but it’s reality. Finally.

The Go-To Guy: The five best songs not released in 2023 that I discovered last year

One of the really cool things about music is just how accessible it is in the current day. Whether it’s artists of said current day; or artists that were from decade’s prior, any song and/or artist can be accessed at the click of a button.

It’s a whole other conversation when talking about the compensation these musicians are getting from certain music distribution platforms, but with music being so accessible, it’s easier for artists to get themselves out there.

For me, I try to support the artists I like through buying merchandise and seeing them live. It’s the least one could do, but if you can do it, you should.

I listened to a lot of music in 2023, old and new, and while many are still debating about if 2023 was actually a good year for new music, I can safely say that I found more music that spoke to me in 2023 than any other year in almost 21 years on this planet.

I already did a piece highlighting my favourite songs from 2023, but this one will be the best songs that I heard that weren’t from 2023. Karan Parmar (fellow writer on Evolution) has also done his own list, so I recommend you read that one, as well (just after you’re done reading this one).

If you’re looking for a totally objective, fact-based list, well, you’re not in the right place. However, I think these five songs would be worthy additions to any playlist you may be cooking up.

5. Arcarsenal – At the Drive-In (2000)

“BEWARE!!!!!” x15 billion.

At the Drive-In is a band that I’ve known about for a long time. They’re one that has consistently found critical acclaim for many years, especially their album Relationship of Command. 

I decided to give this album a spin at one point towards the end of summer. I already knew the most popular track, One Armed Scissor, so I wasn’t totally unfamiliar with the band’s sound. Add-on the fact that two of the group’s founding members were the same two that formed The Mars Volta, who just so happen to be one of my favourite band’s.

While the album has many highlights, Arcarsenal is such an incredible statement to start the record. The intensity is palpable throughout its nearly three-minute runtime. The raw, punchy production is a great complement for Cedric Bixler‘s shouty vocal delivery.

There isn’t the typical, traditional chorus, but the repeated refrain of “BEWARE!” sticks like Flex Tape, especially in the track’s winding moments.

The pure catharsis in which this track generates is insane, making for one of the most memorable music experiences I had in 2023.

4. Hysterical Us – Magdalena Bay (2021)

Shoutout to the homie Sophie for this one.

Hysterical Us is just so damn infectious; a serotonin boost from start to finish.

The song comes from the duo’s 2021 full-length record, Mercurial World, a synth-pop triumph and one of the better records released this decade so far.

The influences of bubblegum-pop and art-pop are present throughout the record, but Hysterical Us might be the album’s crowning achievement. It’s a song that seems to be about the confusing nature of loving another person and how fun it can be.

Like I said, it’s a serotonin boost. There aren’t many songs that can bring out such a visceral, genuine feeling of joy, but this one does it! Both the instrumentals and vocals invoke such positive energy, making for one of the most infectious songs I have ever heard.

Give this one a spin (along with the album itself) if you want a good-vibes banger, ’cause lord knows we need some more of those right now.

3. Never Fight A Man With A Perm – IDLES (2018)

“Brylcreem, creatine, and a bag of Charlie Sheen” has to be one of the funniest lyric’s ever written.

Quality lyricism seems to be the mantra for UK punk outfit, IDLES. The band has consistently been a force in the punk scene for many, many years with their politically charged, mostly positive take on punk/post-punk; yet I had previously never made the effort to check out their catalogue.

That all changed once my sister showed me Never Fight A Man With A Perm, the second track from their second full-length album, Joy.

I almost felt bad for myself. How could I possibly have missed out on something this good.

In peak IDLES fashion, the lyrical content is hilariously tongue and cheek, targeting the sigma male, incel gym bros that we have all come across at one point in our lives; and they do so in an incredibly effective way.

Punk riffage, hard-hitting drumming, explosive vocals from Joseph Talbot, you got yourself a winner here.

I also would like to point out that I will be seeing this song when they’re at the PNE Forum on May 3. The only reason I’m pointing this out is because it’ll be my first ever punk show, and, you know, this band has continuously ruled for years and you should totally see them if you have the chance.

Their new album is going to be so good, but it’ll be difficult for anything to top this one. Never Fight A Man With A Perm is one of the best punk songs ever.

Period.

2. Left of the Dial – The Replacements

Ah, the obligatory “Replacements pick.”

Okay, okay, I know that I went on a massive Replacements binge this past year, and they were already one of my favourite band’s ever, so there is some clear bias here, I have to admit.

I love Left of the Dial like how I love the Jeff Rosenstock track, 3 SUMMERS. I just can’t help but smile every time I hear the opening riff, knowing that the song I’m about to listen to is Left of the Dial.

It’s just the only way I could possibly describe it.

The track came off the band’s 1985 release, Tim, which, I don’t know if you’ve heard this album, but you should. Frontman Paul Westerberg has gone on to say that this song was a nod to the College radio stations that helped the band get to where they were, it was also revealed that, in part, the track was about the singer’s interest in Lynn Blakey (Let’s Active).

Not only is it my favourite song on the album (which I gave a 10/10 by the way), it’s potentially my favourite song in the entire ‘Mats catalogue.

It may not have the emotional stagnancy that tracks like Androgynous (Let It Be) or Bastards of Young (Tim) have, but I just can’t help it. The positive energy in which this song radiates is just so infectious.

It’s a fun, punky, power-pop masterpiece. Full stop. While not #1 on the list, I don’t want to sell it short; since the only song that beat it was one that made me cry upon first listen…

1. Stars (Live at Casino Montreux) – Nina Simone

Haha, yeah, this song makes me feel horrible in the best way possible.

I use the term “emotional powerhouse” when describing certain songs, and I think there’s no greater use of term than when it’s being applied to Stars. 

This song destroys me.

I first heard the track at the end of Bojack Horseman‘s season three finale, and while the scene itself was already incredibly powerful and emotional, the use of Stars in the episode’s winding moments was seismic. I mean, I had to ask my sister what the song was because it was that stunning. 

An uber-effective commentary about Hollywood, the common thirst for fame, and the pressures that come with stardom; as well as how quickly it can fade away. It’s also not hard to pick up on the singer’s commentary about how Hollywood has taken advantage of many, many people, which is still a relevant topic of discussion.

The gentle piano and near-spoken-word vocals carry the track for the majority of its runtime, but that buildup.

Oh my god, that buildup!

Simone‘s vocals crescendo along with the piano, and it features nods to the many others before her to sing this song before her. The final refrain of “we always have a story” never fails to give me chills.

Nina Simone was one of the most incredibly gifted singers the world has ever seen, and Stars deserves to be discussed as one of the greatest moments in music history, with this version being the peak of it’s many iterations.

The Go-To Guy: Suter’s hat-trick, chrome domes, and Pettersson’s struggles in Canucks’ OT loss vs St. Louis

Pius Suter scored a hat-trick and the Canucks STILL found a way to lose.

The Vancouver Canucks just lost to the St. Louis Blues, 4-3 in overtime. While the end result was not ideal, the Canucks still came out of this game as the sole leader in points and points percentage, thanks in large to Boston dropping their game vs Carolina in regulation.

69 points (nice) over a 48-game sample is so far above what was expected from this team and I can’t stress that enough. With that said, I would’ve liked a win over the most middling team in the NHL right now. The Blues had zero business winning that game, yet here we are talking about the Canucks coming out of the game with just one point.

There were multiple reasons as to why the Canucks dropped this one despite their efforts in the game’s final frame. Luckily for you, I am literally “The Go-To Guy”, so I’ll be able to help you determine what those factors are; but first…

A quick nod to the chrome buckets

On December 8, the Canucks official X (formerly known as ‘Twitter’) account dropped a teaser to something that would be released in the new year.

Some shrugged it off thinking it may be a new sponsorship for the helmets, but “NextGen” is still present on the animation and has been the Canucks’ helmet sponsor over the course of this season. So, naturally, fans began to speculate.

The speculation across the fanbase had many worried. Why? Well, if you watch the teaser video, the only thing of note is the shiny streak at the top of the helmet. Many connected the dots and concluded that the Canucks were going to add chrome blue helmet’s to their rotation.

I mean, it wasn’t very difficult to figure out, but Canucks Twitter ended up being proven right.

The chrome domes made their debut vs the Blues and I loved it. While I don’t love how it blends with the home jersey’s, the helmet itself looks gorgeous. Throwing those puppies on the white jersey’s would make for a banger combo.

Oh yeah, there was a game. Alright, let’s actually talk about the game.

2nd Period – Suter-Miller-Boeser and future-Canuck Pavel Buchnevich

The first ten (or so) minutes of the game had the Canucks putting the Blues on their heels time and time again. The Lotto Line were also split up for the first time since early January.

One of the new combo’s really worked. The other…

More on that later.

The new-look Suter-Miller-Boeser line looked dynamite all game. The Miller-Boeser duo has struggled in the past depending on who’s played on their wing. The Phil Di Giuseppe experiment only lasted a handful of months, and Nils Höglander got an even shorter leash in December.

I was of the impression that Ilya Mikheyev would be a good fit considering his speed and defensive profile, but Rick Tocchet opted to go full experimental mode on everyone.

Pius Suter has been a wicked find for Vancouver on a wildly valuable contract (2 years, $1.6M AAV). The production may not jump off the page, but if you watch him, you know how valuable he is. The high-end defensive results have been staggering and he’s been the glue of the Canucks’ penalty kill. He may not have the speed of an Ilya Mikheyev, but I think Tocchet has found something here.

It’s a shame their run of form in that first period didn’t end up meaning anything, as the Blues scored two goals in the final ten minutes of the frame. Robert Thomas made a great play to Jake Neighbours for the first tally, and it was Neighbours on playmaker duty on the second goal, with him taking advantage of a Nikita Zadorov miscue to get the puck to Pavel Buchnevich, who made no mistake.

Buchnevich hasn’t had his best season production-wise, but his play-driving results have been high-end for years. If the Blues are looking to sell, he would be my #1 target for the Canucks, especially if they’re looking for a fit with Elias Pettersson.

One thing to note at the end of the period was that Andrei Kuzmenko stayed on the Canucks bench long after his teammates had already left for the dressing room.

What a sight for sore eyes.

 

 

Kuzmenko showed glimpses of his talent in his previous two outings, but Wednesday night’s match vs St. Louis was more of what we’ve seen throughout the start of 2024.

It looks as if The Kuzmenkshow will be heading to another city in shirt order, and he knows it.

2nd Period – ‘UGH’

That 2nd period was awful.

Sure, the Canucks controlled the puck throughout the period’s duration, but… what did they do with it?

Besides a successful four-minute penalty kill and a goal by Brayden Schenn that was immediately waved-off, there was next to nothing of note from this period.

Blegh, blah, and everything in-between.

3rd Period – Pius, Pius, Pius

Before we get to the Pius Suter fireworks display, one thing to note is that Nikita Zadorov played just one shift in the third period and worked 1-on-1 with Rick Tocchet at practice on Thursday morning. His lone third period shift came on the Blues’ third goal where, again, he was late to cover his man in front of the net.

Yeah, I said “the Blues’ third goal”. Luckily, the Alexey Toropchenko tally only made the score 3-1; because Pius Suter scored at the start of the third period. The Miller line got back to work with some solid pressure in the very next shift with nothing to show; but Ilya Mikheyev drew a penalty and the power play didn’t disappoint.

With Andrei Kuzmenko’s ice-time dipping, Pius Suter has gotten repeated looks on PP1, and the Canucks have found some modest success with the new-look first unit. Suter scored again in the bumper spot, receiving a pass from Brock Boeser after the puck took a funny hop in the left corner.

Suter’s second of the night was the rally cry the team needed, as the Canucks really started to heat up. Quinn Hughes was dancing and spinning…until he got hit in the numbers.

Oskar Sundqvist cross checked Quinn Hughes into the boards, and the latter was struggling for the remainder of the third period. But what have we learned about Quinn Hughes this year? He’s a machine. Nothing is going to stop this guy from getting on the scoresheet.

In the final minute of play, with the Blues’ net empty, the Canucks found a way to tie the game.

Pius Suter recorded the hat-trick with Quinn Hughes and Filip Hronek picking up the assists. It’s official, Pius Suter is required to wear a chrome helmet in every game from this point on.

Overtime – GET UP!!!!!

Brayden Schenn would get retribution for his disallowed goal and won the game in overtime. He just had to blatantly cross check Elias Pettersson to do it.

Yes, Elias Pettersson was cross checked. Yes, it directly led to the game winning goal. Yes, NHL officiating is a joke and there’s a serious lack of accountability.

But man, Petey, GET UP.

That entire shift was nightmare fuel for Pettersson. Several turnovers, terrible defensive reads, and a lack of effort to get himself back in the play after being hauled down; but it wasn’t just overtime, he was off all night.

Should we be worried? Not at all. We are just a week away from the All-Star break, after all.

His performance just emphasizes even more how much the team needs another top six forward that can control play. You notice how most top players in the league have a play-driver along side them? Yeah, Pettersson hasn’t had that since J.T. Miller was a consistent fixture on his wing in 2020.

Kuzmenko and Mikheyev aren’t efficient enough at creating offence. Pettersson needs someone else to help get the most out of him. Whether it be a Pavel Buchnevich; or a Jake Guentzel; or even a Trevor Zegras, anyone!

The Canucks have one more game before the All-Star break vs the Columbus Blue Jackets. After that, I think it’s time for Patrik Allvin and co to start looking at ways to upgrading this team, and judging him and Rutherford’s track records, I’d expect at least something over the next few weeks.

The Go-To Guy: The Höglander hype isn’t just real, it’s justified

Have you heard the news? HögMania is taking over the city, and everyone is excited.

Nils Höglander has been one of my personal favourite players for a few years. His mix of tenacity, speed, and flash is a fascinating toolset, profiling unlike any other forward the Canucks have had in quite some time.

I really don’t know where Höglander’s trajectory will take him, he’s a total wild card. He could profile as a Jannik Hansen-type with more agility and flashy stickwork, or he could end up being a star-caliber forward due to the level of production he’s had in limited minutes throughout his NHL career.

I legitimately have no idea what to think of this player in the long term, but what I know now is that he is a wildly entertaining player, and one that I hope sticks around in Vancouver for years to come.

I believe in Nils Höglander, and why shouldn’t I? I know he is on an absolutely ridiculous shooting percentage heater at the moment, but I think there are avenues for this player to put up even better production over the coming years.

If you’re a Nils Höglander like me and want some in-depth analysis as to why I think the Canucks may have a seriously good player in their back pocket, you’re in the right place.

The uber-impressive rookie season

I don’t think it’s a particularly astute observation that Nils Höglander was rushed into the NHL, thanks in large-part to Jim Benning opting to not re-up many key players in the 2020 off-season; as well as not signing any top-six forwards… at all.

So, the then-20 year-old Höglander got the nod to start the 2021 season on the 2nd line with Tanner Pearson and Bo Horvat. While many were high on the Hög, it wasn’t a secret that he was being mismanaged by the team.

While the team didn’t have *any* success that season, Höglander did, scoring in his NHL debut vs the Edmonton Oilers.

Höglander made a name for himself by being a true competitor. While only standing at 5’9″, Höglander used his speed and agility to create offence and pick-pocket opposing players, whilst also boasting high-level stickhandling ability at such a young age.

That part of his game was well-documented during his time in Sweden, as well as the World Juniors. We haven’t seen the borderline excessive amount of Michigan goals and between-the-legs shots from Höglander in the NHL yet, but I feel like it’s only a matter of time.

The main issue with his rookie year was that his defensive game was still pretty raw. I mean, he was a 20 year-old playing in the National Hockey League, that’s to be expected.

Höglander finished the season with 14 goals and 27 points through 56 games, and instantly became a fan-favourite in Vancouver. Some thought that the Canucks had a potential star and I can totally see why. A near 0.5 point-per-game clip at age 20 is a rare stat-line, and players who produce at *that* clip at *that* age typically end up becoming high-end contributors.

It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s still possible that Höglander could be a consistent, top-six forward in the coming years.

His 5v5 scoring has always been there

Höglander has never been given substantial power play time, and that includes the second unit. Even when he would get the occasional looks on PP2 under Travis Green, Bruce Boudreau essentially put Höglander in the doghouse throughout his tenure as Canucks’ bench boss.

After a successful playoff run in Abbotsford which saw the young Swede amass six points through all-six playoff games, it was time for Höglander to make the jump to become an NHL regular in the 2023-24 season.

Not only has he become a fixture in the lineup, he leads the team in 5v5 goals (14).

Höglander has been on a heater which could only be compared to that of Pink Floyd in the 70s. No matter what he does, he can’t miss, shooting at a near 17% clip so far this season.

According to MoneyPuck, Höglander has generated 8.28 expected goals and 1.03 expected goals p/60 at 5v5, meaning he has scored roughly 6 goals above what has been expected. He’s generating a fair amount of offence, no doubt; but the counting stats are obviously a little bit inflated.

I mean, when you’re sniping the biscuit like this, none of those stats come as a surprise.

I wouldn’t worry about a vast level of regression once he plays higher in the lineup in the coming years, and I’m actually a firm believer that he could actually expand his totals with more opportunity.

Höglander has been a consistently admirable play-driver at 5v5 throughout his career, and has scored at an impressive clip in sheltered minutes.

I’m going to lean on MoneyPuck again, but just in case you’re not sure, points per/60 (points per 60 minutes) is a stat that typically is used for players in Höglander’s situation, where his counting stats don’t jump off the page because of limited minutes. Think of it as a points per game metric that’s adjusted for every 60 minutes an individual plays. Since Höglander typically averages roughly 10 minutes a night, he reaches the 60 minute mark every ~6 games.

For perspective, Höglander recorded just 9 points through 25 games, but his points per/60 was 1.79, meaning he was making the most of his very, very limited minutes. In his rookie year, he managed a 1.87 points per/60, which is wildly impressive, especially for a 20 year-old rookie playing primarily top-six minutes.

So, how is he doing this season?

Nils Höglander currently has a points per/60 of 2.41.

I get that he has found success in a limited role, and I actually think they should keep him there (for now), but this really jumps off the page. I don’t think this is just a player riding a random heater, I think that there’s a legitimate chance that this is a young player making the most of his opportunity.

I’m just happy for him, honestly. Höglander deserves a bigger role, but with how he’s fit on the fourth line, along with how the rest of the team has played as of late, it’s justifiable as to why he hasn’t been given more time to cook this year. Just give him some more time on PP2, for crying out loud.

Finding a mix of north/south and east/west

Höglander has adapted to Rick Tocchet’s north/south style of hockey, and it’s a style that suits his toolkit.

The unique thing about Höglander is how he combines north/south and east/west hockey. His relentless forechecking showcases his speed and stickwork, but he’s able to create space with the puck using his edges, and the same can be said for when he’s in the defensive zone; as he has improved tremendously at stripping the puck from opponents by using east/west skating ability.

These factors have driven his success this season, but there’s still one more avenue for him to level-up even more. I am confident in Höglander becoming a 40-50 point guy in a middle-six role, but we still haven’t seen the creativity and flashiness that he showed in Sweden.

It’s not hard to imagine what it could look like if Höglander is able to combine the flashier parts of his game with what we’ve seen this season, and I’m not just talking about the lacrosse goals. If he were put in a position where he was a complementary play-driver as opposed to being the main driver on a line, Höglander will have more space to create chances whilst also giving the puck to more skilled players.

It doesn’t have to be this season, but Nils Höglander deserves a long look in the Canucks’ top-six, and he’s proved it.