Canucks v Jets: The Real Storylines or the Evander Kane/Kassian Storylines?

by Kolby Solinsky

White Cover Magazine

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It’s funny when you go to a game, when you’re closer to the ice than everyone watching at home, how much your truly miss.

Like, last night, I thought I was watching a truly entertaining, wired game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Winnipeg Jets. We’ve only seen that sort of end-to-end, enjoyably erratic play in Vancouver a few times this year – the first game against Kesler and the Ducks, there was a win over Chicago a little while back – that I would have left happy, win or loss. Watching Winnipeg’s never-ending slab of forwards rush into the offensive zone with unstoppable speed – Wheeler was great last night, Scheifele difficult to contain, and both d-men Byfuglien and Trouba – was a treat; watching Vancouver match them punch-for-punch, even though they were rightfully outhit and outmuscled at first swing, was a bonus, too.

Chris Tanev and Alex Edler each had the kind of game you tape and then tattoo to your resume. It was like they never left the ice; even though they were always battling, Tanev getting thumped every five seconds, they were a force together on Vancouver’s back-end. And what can you say about Bo Horvat? He looks like he’s matured 10 years in the last two months, from a guy who’s head was ahead of his hands to a legit two-way centre who’s not only feeding off Derek Dorsett’s rat-in-a-cage style, but also mentoring Latvian rookie Ronalds Kenins… a guy who’s actually four years older than Horvat.

But then you leave the rink, you turn on the radio, maybe flick through your Twitter or read a column the next morning, and you realize it wasn’t about anything you saw at all.

Nobody’s enjoying how even and awesome the game was – they’re fretting over the playoff race and the three points that were divided up into Vancouver’s favour.

They’re not really talking about how good Kenins was, they’re talking about the guy he replaced – Zack Kassian, who sat out his second straight game and candidly threw gasoline on the fire on Monday.

(It should be noted, I checked Twitter and listened to the post-game show on my way home, and a lot of stuff was said about how, ‘If there was ever a game for Kassian, it was this Winnipeg game’ – because of the speed, the hitting, all that etcetera. But I never once thought that during the game, in Section 109. I didn’t hear anyone mention it, either.)

They’re talking about Evander Kane, the hometown kid who was healthily scratched by Jets coach Paul Maurice, a punishment reportedly delivered because Kane was late to the rink, or perhaps was on his own time the night before, or perhaps anything… does it matter? The Jets have rules – Kane was the only player who broke one of them, and his spot was filled mostly by the shape-shifting Byfuglien, who spent time up front and on the blue line last night.

“What do you think the chances of you getting more are? We work together,” Maurice told reporters last night, refusing to give the frothing microphones anything they could re-type in 140 characters or less.

Well, except for that quote, of course.

Gary Lawless gets it (via the Winnipeg Free Press):

“Kane broke a rule. Did something Maurice won’t abide and the veteran coach pulled the trigger. Healthy scratch. A discipline issue, but with a small d. And very likely, the story will end here. Kane will be back in the lineup either Friday or Sunday and the Jets will move on.”

But if you want a conclusion to draw from last night – something super-definitive, that will last about two days until Vancouver plays San Jose and we have to re-write the plot – then here are a few, from me…

1) Nobody should want to play Winnipeg in the playoffs, but I really hope they make the dance. Very truthfully here, I hope they make it over Vancouver. The Canucks could win a few games, maybe even a series, but the Jets will pound the pulp out of any club they face – Chicago or Anaheim be warned, because neither the Hawks or Ducks can keep up physically with Winnipeg’s size or the volume of their checking.

Every time the Jets hit somebody, they make sure he remembers it. It’s shocking nobody on the Canucks left last night’s game with an injury, when you consider how many times Chris Tanev was thumped along the end boards, or when you see the crosschecks to the back guys like Radim Vrbata and Dan Hamhuis received.

If the Jets get in, they’ll be a lower seed. If they face the St. Louis Blues, say, or if the L.A. Kings can get it together and can push for the bracket’s top half, hockey fans across the country will fall in love with Winnipeg – just about a hundred years after they fell in love with its bear.

2) One thing on Evander Kane, and then another on the Jets’ management…

I liked the comment and column from Greg Wyshynski at Yahoo’s Puck Daddy, which is linked to above. But I dug his final quote on whether Kane would be traded out of Winnipeg, which has been a rumour for quite some time, not just since last night:

“Oh, right, that would require Kevin Cheveldayoff to make a trade involving NHL players. Forget it…”

Ouch.

But, it’s true. As good a job as the Jets have done stockpiling young talent and as well as they’ve fared at the draft, they’ve been noticeably unnoticeable in the NHL’s trade market. They’ve plucked a good couple depth guys off the free agent wire – like current contributors Mathieu Perreault and Michael Frolik, and last year’s Finn du Jour, Olli Jokinen. But the Jets either haven’t been in position yet – in their fourth year, already – to make a midseason trade that splashes and ripples, or they just don’t know how to do it.

And Cheveldayoff does have the unfortunate task of trying to bring desired free agents to Winnipeg. Unfairly, the city has a bad rap for its cold weather and, well, its cold weather. Hard to imagine any of the league’s recent blockbuster bank-chasers – think Rick Nash, Brad Richards, even Thomas Vanek – choosing a rebuilding, winter-riddled team like the Jets over their countless other suitors.

3) If the Canucks played the inspired game they played last night, even if they went .500 over a whole season, I’d leave the year a fan. Their last two good seasons – the lockout-shortened 2012/13, even their Presidents’ Trophy-winning 2011/12 season – were both pockmarked by sleepy efforts. Even their wins were boring-as-hell.

Too often, they just seemed like they were aiming for enough. But you saw last night, when there’s some speed and OOMPH from the bottom three lines – which has to be facilitated by centres Nick Bonino, Linden Vey, and Bo Horvat, who were all at least feet-first last night – it makes the job so much easier for Daniel and Henrik to weave some magic.

The Twins didn’t score on Tuesday, but there were shifts you couldn’t take the puck off their stick, where it looked like we were watching them in 2010 or 2011 again.

It’s impossible to lean on two mid-30’s stars when they’re the only guys accountable. Last night, Vancouver’s improving depth was evident.

“We’ve never talked about last year or not being good enough,” Henrik Sedin told the Province‘s Ed Willes after the win.

“A lot of games we feel we’re right there with the best. But you know as well as I do when you start losing in this market, guys start gripping their sticks and it’s tough to get out of. It’s nice to get a comeback win.”