Week at a Glance
Bertuzzi's new deal settles things down in Vancouver
By Jon A. Dolezar, SI.com
A soap opera start to the Vancouver Canucks' season has seen more attention focused on the team's off-ice doings than what the Canucks have done on the frozen pond.
At 4-2-2, the Canucks lead the Northwest Division with 10 points and look like a good bet to approach, if not surpass, last season's franchise-best 104-point performance. But given the intense scrutiny that has surrounded every Vancouver practice and game recently, the team has been remarkably poised on the ice and its .625 winning percentage is nothing short of impressive.
Following Sunday's 3-3 tie with the Coyotes, the Canucks announced that they had signed Todd Bertuzzi to a new four-year contract worth $27.8 million. The Bertuzzi negotiations played out in a very public fashion over the past three weeks, after Bertuzzi and his agent, Pat Morris, said they wouldn't discuss an extension after the regular season began.
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound right winger had a career-high 46 goals and 97 points last season and has emerged into the game's most dominant power forward. Bertuzzi has 182 goals, 219 assists and 799 penalty minutes in 566 career NHL games, and his 182 points over the past two seasons are second in the NHL only to linemate Markus Naslund. Getting Bertuzzi re-signed was crucial for the Canucks to show their fans that the team is committed to winning, even though the labor talks over the next year could change the economics drastically for Canadian teams.
"I can come up here and say that it's been a tough time," Bertuzzi said Sunday night at the news conference announcing his new deal. "It's nice that it's gotten over. I've always wanted to stay here in Vancouver. I've never wanted to go anywhere else. This is my home. This is where my kids were born. This is where I became the player that I am right now. I'm really excited that it's done and that I can stay here for awhile."
Bertuzzi actually sat in on contract talks with Morris, general manager Brian Burke and senior vice president of hockey operations Dave Nonis on Tuesday. The two sides agreed to terms on Sunday morning, putting an end to the insatiable desire for updates on the situation in hockey-mad Vancouver, which had clearly been creating a distraction for the team.
"We are very excited to reach this long-term agreement with one of our team's cornerstone players," Burke said in a statement. "Todd has taken impressive steps both as a player and a leader with our hockey club. He has become one of the league's most exciting and dominant offensive players."
Burke needed only final approval from team owner John McCaw on the deal after the two sides agreed on the basic framework for what was initially thought to be a three-year, $23 million deal, but that final say was slow in coming. Add to the mix the persistent rumors that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich remains interested in buying the team from the Seattle-based McCaw, and it's a wonder Vancouver has been able to play so well with all the distractions.
The Canucks are thrilled with the commitment that McCaw showed to the team's future by signing off on this franchise-record pact. McCaw has also greenlighted new deals with Ed Jovanovski, Markus Naslund and Trevor Linden in the past few seasons, by as Nonis said, this deal "was a little more public."
"There was never an issue of convincing John McCaw," Nonis said at Sunday's news conference. "Every time we've come forward and asked Mr. McCaw to approve or authorize something that made sense for our team, he's done it. So the thinking that we had to convince him to do this is incorrect. We went through the same process we've gone through with
The Canucks attempted to avoid the subject of Bertuzzi's very public contract negotiations, even though they clearly realize what an important piece Bertuzzi is to accomplishing their goal of winning a Stanley Cup. Linden, the president of the NHL Players' Association, was placed in an especially awkward position, because he surely realized the importance of a new deal for Bertuzzi, both from a union point of view of pushing the slary market upward, as well as from the perspective of a small-market Canadian team that could be helped by a salary cap under the new collective bargaining agreement.
"I think everyone keeps to their own and worries about playing hockey," Linden said on Saturday. "I think our team has done a pretty good job of that."
Bertuzzi admits that the distraction of his contract negotiations took away from his play on the ice. With just one goal and three assists in eight games, Bertuzzi is well off last year's pace, though he is hoping having the deal behind him will allow him to focus more on the ice.
"I haven't been myself out there," Bertuzzi said. "I haven't been playing my game. Things happen, but good people get through tough situations. You got to keep climbing and keep building. The only thing you can really say is that we're winning. We got other guys doing the job while a couple of us are not on the top of our games. It's good to see because it shows how much depth we have on our team and how everyone is moving forward here."
While superstars Naslund and Bertuzzi struggle to fine-tune their scoring touch, Vancouver has relied on a complete team effort on offense, with all of its offensive lines chipping in. Daniel Sedin leads the Canucks in scoring with seven points, meaning a left wing from Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, is the team's offensive star -- it's just not the one they were counting on, as Naslund has just three goals and two assists. Henrik Sedin also has been a pleasant surprise with one goal and three assists, centering the Canucks' young but talented second line, which is rounded out by rookie Jason King on the right side. The fans have taken to calling this emerging unit "The Mattress Line" -- one King and two twins.
"Daniel and Henrik are playing extremely well," Linden said. "I think they are getting more opportunities in key situations of games, like the power play and that sort of thing, which is important. I just see more depth with our group up front. Magnus Arvedson has been a real good addition for our forward group as well, because he's a real complete player. And then our top guys are as good as any in the league, so we've got a pretty good mix right now."
Marc Crawford has Vancouver clicking with its up-tempo offense and team commitment to defense. In addition to the hot second unit, the Canucks' third line of Magnus Arvedson, Matt Cooke and Linden has been solid, while Artem Chubarov, Mike Keane, Brad May and Jarkko Ruutu have all contributed nicely to the fourth unit in a four-man rotation.
The Canucks are apparently interested in free-agent defenseman Bryan Berard, who would fit well in their scheme and would provide even more blueline depth beyond the already impressive corps of Bryan Allen, Ed Jovanovski, Marek Malik, Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo and Brent Sopel. Jovanovski, Ohlund and Sopel can all move the puck and launch it from the point on the power play, but Berard would give them another offensive weapon from their blueline.
Vancouver has received solid goaltending from Dan Cloutier, who has thus far held off the challenge from Johan Hedberg. Cloutier is 3-2-1 with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage. Hedberg has only appeared in two games, but his presence has pushed Cloutier to work harder in practice, knowing that a capable backup is there to take his job if he stumbles.
With the Bertuzzi deal now put to bed, Vancouver can get back to focusing on its play on the ice. The Canucks have a challenging week with three games in five nights, starting Tuesday against Columbus, and with road games at Los Angeles on Thursday and at Phoenix on Friday.
But at least the soap opera start to the season is behind them. After what they've been through in the first three weeks, it's all downhill from here for the Vancouver Canucks.
No. 33 to the Pepsi Center rafters
CuJo back in Hockeytown
Shutouts on parade
Those stickhandling Sens
Boston at Montreal -- 7 p.m. EST Tuesday
These two Original Six squads also will meet on Thursday in Beantown, so be ready for some doffing of hockey gear and flying fists between these two hated rivals by the time the week is out.
San Jose at Tampa Bay -- 7 p.m. EST Thursday
The league's last unbeaten team tries to run its record to 7-0 against a Sharks team that has been struggling at 1-4-3. San Jose center Patrick Marleau is off to a disappointing start with just two goals, one assist and a minus-6 rating, and Marleau's plus-minus could suffer at the hands of the Lightning's impressive even-strength offense.
Philadelphia at New Jersey -- 7 p.m. EST Thursday
Two of the best teams in the Atlantic face off in the Meadowlands, with each team struggling a bit offensively and looking up at the surprising Islanders atop the division. Eric Desjardins and rookie Joni Pitkanen are the only two Flyers on the plus side, with the team a collective minus-26, while the Devils have no players on the right end and are minus-25 as a whole.
Colorado at New Jersey -- 1 p.m. EST Saturday
The league's first afternoon games of the 2003-04 season feature a rematch of the 2001 Stanley Cup finals, as well as a battle on Long Island between the Mighty Ducks and Islanders, and a Bruins-Penguins showdown in the Steel City. The Avs-Devils game has lost some of its luster now that Roy is retired, but David Aebischer has been solid in nets. It's just that the Roy-Martin Brodeur storyline was so juicy, and Brodeur doesn't really have much of a history with Colorado's Swiss stopper.
Buffalo at Ottawa -- 7 p.m. EST Saturday
Last year this time, each of these franchises was white-knuckling it in bankruptcy. But now thanks to Eugene Melnyk and B. Thomas Golisano, a Sabres-Senators game is no longer the Bankruptcy Bowl. The Sabres' offense has 10 goals in the past two games, while five goals per game is pretty standard for the Sens.
Plus: Cory Stillman -- The Lightning's de facto replacement for Vaclav Prospal (two goals, two assists, minus-3 with Anaheim, by the way) has been better than advertised, with five goals and two assists in six games. None of Stillman's goals have come at even strength, with four of them coming on the power play and one shorthanded.
Minus: Tommy Salo -- It seems like Salo is always hanging on by a thread with the Edmonton faithful, but his play over the past week has been sketchy enough that the catcalls may begin to outnumber the polite but nervous applause. Salo is just 2-4 with a 2.55 goals-against average and a .856 save percentage for the season, but his 0-2 record with a 5.82 GAA and .787 save percentage over the past three games is downright disgraceful. Nothing will ever top (or in this case bottom) his header against Belarus in the 2002 Olympics, but Salo's propensity for allowing soft goals may give impressive rookie Ty Conklin more time in the Oilers' crease.
Plus: Martin Havlat -- Not that the Sens were struggling without him, but Havlat has been money since returning to the lineup after his contract holdout. The slick Slovakian has one goal and two assists in two games, with his gorgeous cross-crease pass to a wide-open Radek Bonk in Thursday's 5-1 win over Washington announcing his return in grand fashion.
Minus: Derek Morris -- It's hard to find too much fault with Colorado's impressive roster, but the 25-year-old blueliner isn't chipping in with much offense to help Rob Blake and Adam Foote. After finishing with 11 goals and 37 assists in his first year with the Avs, Morris was scoreless this season until getting two helpers in Saturday's 5-3 win at Nashville. Colorado needs Morris to pitch in more offensively to avoid the disappointing losses to inferior teams such as Boston and Edmonton that it suffered in the previous 10 days.
Plus: Taylor Pyatt -- The Sabres' offense has been on fire since Pyatt moved to the top line with Daniel Briere and Chris Drury after starting the season with Curtis Brown and Maxim Afinogenov. Pyatt had two consecutive two-goal games on Buffalo's swing through California and now has 11 goals in his last 18 regular-season games. The 22-year-old Pyatt had just 28 goals in 204 NHL games coming into this season, but with five already, it looks like Pyatt could best 28 this season alone.
Minus: Martin Brodeur -- The hallmark of Brodeur is consistency, so it's hard to criticize him for a 2-3-2 record with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .898 save percentage, because you just know it's going to get better and that he'll win 40 games again and have a GAA close to 2.00. But with a 1-3 record and a 2.77 GAA over the past four games, it's clear that Brodeur is still settling in this season.
Plus: Chris Pronger -- Pronger doesn't appear to be suffering any lingering effects from his wrist and knee injuries of a year ago. All the better for the 6-foot-6 blueliner to carry the injury-ravaged Blues on his shoulder, while fellow defensemen Al MacInnis and Barret Jackman are out with injuries. Pronger has one goal and five assists in seven games this season, but will have additional pressure to play well defensively over the course of the next month, until Jackman returns from his shoulder injury.
"We're on a roll here right now and we didn't want to end that. To come back from 2-0, it's huge. It's so much more confidence for the guys. We're happy and proud of ourselves." -- Lightning center Brad Richards on Saturday, after Tampa Bay battled back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Minnesota 3-2 and stay undefeated.
"We have to wake up here." -- Mighty Ducks left wing Petr Sykora on Friday, following Anaheim's 5-2 loss to Buffalo, which dropped the defending Western champs to 2-5-0-1.
"I'm fighting [the puck] so much, I don't even want it. Usually I want it, I want to carry it, I want to make the plays, but I'm trying to get rid of it. It's like I'm saying, 'I'm not going good so I don't want it.' That's not what will make me effective. I'm disappointed, frustrated, a lot of things. You can't sleep at night and think about what I'm doing. I know you have to let it go, but with my personality, it's hard for me to let it go." -- Flames center Craig Conroy during his six-game point drought to begin the season. Conroy scored his first goal of the season Saturday against Edmonton.
"I'm not saying this is a bad game, but the offsides are the highlight." -- Maple Leafs analyst Harry Neale, during Toronto's 3-1 win over Dallas on Wednesday, a game that featured just 40 shots on goal and plenty of sloppy play.
Canucks RW Jason King -- One of the Canucks' steadiest players has been King, a 22-year-old native of Newfoundland. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound winger had golden credentials coming out of juniors with 111 goals in his last 133 games with Halifax of the QJMHL, but King struggled to make the adjustment to the next level and had just 20 goals in 67 games with AHL Manitoba last year. After going scoreless in eight games of limited ice time in Vancouver last season, King has impressed so far this year with three goals in six games.
While he wasn't on many Calder Trophy watch lists to begin the season, the fact that he is playing on the second line of such an offensively talented team -- and getting significant power-play time, too -- bodes well for his candidacy.
"Things are clicking right now," King told The Canadian Press last week. "We're producing a lot off the cycle. They're great at that and I've got to get in there and help them out whenever I can and get into open areas for shots. I'm starting to read them pretty well now. They know where each other's at on the ice at all times and I think the three of us are getting a feel for it."
King's presence has allowed the Canucks to drop veteran Trevor Linden down to the third line, a move that gives the team more depth and that hasn't hurt the feelings of the consummate professional Linden.
"Jason King has no gimmicks in his game," Linden said. "He's a real heady player and he's a good thinker. Jason is a mature guy, and he thinks the game well. He's got very good talent, really good hands and a knack to score. I was joking that I don't get called into the power-play meeting anymore, which is a good thing. I'm not complaining, I'm happy about us having depth like that. That's a good thing."
King's willingness to go to the net has been a boon to the play of the Sedin twins, who like to play on the perimeter and prefer to stickhandle and pass rather than get dirty in the slot. The Canucks were always hopeful that King would turn out to be a gem, but now he is really looking like a steal, considering that he was selected with the 212th overall pick of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
4 -- Short-handed goals by the Red Wings, who have allowed just two power-play goals in 35 penalty-kill situations, meaning they are outscoring their opponents 4-2 when down a man.
6 -- League-leading power-play goals scored by Ilya Kovalchuk, more than the total of seven teams.
39 -- Penalty minutes for Buffalo's Andrew Peters, who is averaging just 3:30 of ice time per game -- or 1:22 fewer than the time per game he spends in the penalty box.
69 -- Years since the last time there were two scoreless ties on the same night, as the Thrashers-Rangers and Flyers-Sharks each played 0-0 ties on Oct. 16.
Our best guess at what the playoff seedings will look like.
This list will be updated throughout the regular season.
Each week during the season, this space will be devoted to your comments on a particular issue.
Last week's topic: Which team that's off to a hot start will end up missing the playoffs?
The Thrashers' defense and goalies are filled with holes, and they are just on an emotional ride. -- Andrew S., Denver
It won't be the Lightning! They get consistent scoring from almost every line. They have creative goal scoring from Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards, veteran leadership from the likes of Tim Taylor and Dave Andreychuk, a solid defense that contributes on both ends of the ice, and a great duo of goaltending in John Grahame and Nikolai Khabibulin. It's the playoffs and more for the Tampa Bay Bolts! -- Dave Maynard, Tampa
I hate to say it, but my new-breed, young Coyotes are going to have to learn a lot more discipline and have a few lucky breaks to stay in the top eight. -- Jenn, Mesa, Ariz.
I have to say the Thrashers. I think the weight of no Dany Heatley and sorrow will eventually cause this team to start losing mental focus. Having Bob Hartley there will help, but I think it's going to have to be next year for the Thrashers, assuming Heatley isn't emotionally wrecked for a long time. -- Greg, Atlanta
I think Atlanta might have a shot until the very end, but the loss of Heatley will really cost them. But next year they will definitely be in the playoffs. In the West, I certainly don't think Phoenix will hold up, since good goaltending doesn't last forever, especially for an aging veteran like Sean Burke with a weak team in front of him. -- Richard Kallberg, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Regardless of the start that the Atlanta Thrashers are off to and the motivation of playing for their absent teammates, I believe they are lacking enough overall talent to reach the playoffs this year. Although, I have to say it would definitely be one of the feel-good sports stories of the year if they were able to make it to the playoffs and be successful. -- Brad Viar, Springfield, Ill.
I feel the Montreal Canadiens will be the team with a hot start to miss the playoffs. They showed last weekend against Toronto that if they fall behind they do not have the players or the style to generate offense. -- Rob Fletcher, Pembroke, Ontario
Although the Atlanta Thrashers have a lot of good, young talent on their team, they are still a year or two off from making a serious run at the playoffs. Once Dany Heatley comes back and they upgrade their defensemen, the Thrashers should be a contender in the weak Southeast Division. -- Ben Cadesky, Toronto
Coyotes fans -- don't get too excited about that hot start. Sean Burke can't stand on his head all year and Shane Doan won't keep potting goals at a Marian Hossa-like pace. It's a good thing that Phoenix has great golf courses for the early springtime. -- Matt Grant, Ottawa
As much as I hate to say it, Atlanta has little to no chance to make the playoffs without Heatley. They are running on fumes right now from the tragedy, but eventually they will settle down and remember that they have no real scoring threats other than Ilya Kovalchuk, as well as mediocre defense at best. -- Shane Hockin, Tallahassee, Fla.
Too easy. Phoenix. First and foremost, they don't have the depth to play consistently at the level they're at until the end of the season. Second, Colorado will give an offer impossible to resist for Sean Burke or he will fall upon injuries, so they can't rely on him from start to finish. Third, Dallas and Anaheim aren't playing well now but will improve, making the Pacific a tough division (as always) for the Coyotes to survive in. -- Will, Helsinki, Finland
As much as I would like for it to not be true, the Thrashers will not make the playoffs. They are due for a big letdown emotionally and that will hurt them. Although I'm not a fan of the team, for their and Dany's sake, I do hope they make playoffs, just not at the expense of the Canadiens. -- Sandeep, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
This week's topic: Which touted rookie has failed to live up to the hype so far?
Send your opinion in the form at the right.
Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for SI.com. The Week at a Glance will appear each Sunday during the regular season.