Obvious things first.
The Chicago Blackhawks head home with something familiar in sight. For the third time in six years, the Hawks can win the Cup – and again, for the third time, they could do it in Game 6. Their bob-and-weave playoff style is standard stuff now, as if Chicago falls behind just so they can drag behind the leader and leap-frog their opponent. Several times this postseason, the Hawks have been either outplayed by or trailing their foes like Nashville, Minnesota, Anaheim, and now Tampa. Not unlike 2013 either, when they bounced back in series against Detroit and Boston on their way to a Cup, or unlike 2010, when they did the same to Nashville, Vancouver, and at times even Philadelphia.
“We get into these later games where we have the chance to play these games that are more meaningful, I think that’s when we play our best,” says captain Jonathan Toews.
Read: ‘Blackhawks know how to close out Cup‘ by Stephen Whyno, via Surrey Leader (June 14, 2015)
So this is pretty typical.
Except there’s something new for 2015: the Hawks could win the Cup on home ice tonight, for the first time since 1938. And the Madhouse is pumped for the chance to scratch a 78-year itch.
They’re so bored with just winning in Illinois now, it’s almost like it doesn’t count if you don’t win it at home.
“Obviously there’s a lot of buzz, a lot of excitement, a lot of things going on around the entire event,” said Toews. “I think we’re just going to do our best as individuals to focus on our job as players and focus on the game and nothing more.”
Added Brad Richards, the Hawks’ free agent prize last summer who won a Cup in 2004 with Tampa: “I think the more you do it, the more you get addicted to it… You’re comfortable in those situations.”
Tampa’s success has been, not unlike Chicago’s, due to the club’s depth. Up front, on the backend, even in goal. But depth doesn’t matter tonight – because the Lightning don’t have the luxury of just winning four of seven or 16 in four rounds anymore. They just have to win one game.
So depth is only vital if every player the Lightning owe their success to is healthy and firing on all cylinders – and they’re not.
Read: ‘Nikita Kucherov questionable for Game 6‘ via NHL.com (June 14, 2015)
While Chicago has surged through its second season and stands somehow still healthy on the cusp of another Cup, the Lightning are limping. Ben Bishop has struggled just to get to his knees – even though he and Corey Crawford have both been spectacular, holding the series’ offensive stars at bay (Patrick Kane and Steven Stamkos still haven’t scored). And Nikita Kucherov’s injury probably means Jonathan Drouin takes his spot alongside Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, or coach Cooper tries to sub-in Stamkos and keep some charge coursing through his top line’s veins.
Drouin and Stamkos could both work some magic with the other two, but there couldn’t be a worse time to stutter what’s working for you all year. And if Cooper has to take Stamkos away from Filppula and Killorn, what happens there?
Does Rogers Arena Kinda Suck?
Let’s clarify: No NHL arena is really terrible. Well, probably not.
This is obvious when you consider the findings from Stadium Journey and their rating of all the league’s 30 home arenas, where the Vancouver Canucks’ home rink, Rogers Arena, was ranked 5th-worst – way down at No. 26, only better than Edmonton’s Rexall Arena, the Islanders’ crumbling Nassau Coliseum, Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre, and Anaheim’s Honda Centre.
“Rogers Arena is a fun place for all different types of fans to take in a Canucks game,” writes the website’s Josh Eastern, in his summary. “The Canucks have had some good teams in past years and this is a great place to watch a game of hockey. If you are willing to open up your wallet a bit, you will get a great game to go along with a fun atmosphere. The food is good, but it doesn’t come cheap.”
We all know Rogers Arena is a great building. Edible food, a lot of shiny bits, and an air of self-congratulation. And hey, sometimes the atmosphere even stops you from yawning.
Read: ‘2015 NHL Arena Experience Rankings‘ on StadiumJourney.com (May 18, 2015)
There are legitimate criticisms of the rink’s ‘corporate’ feel – the tickets for Canucks’ games have risen to such an outrageous average, it’s hard to imagine any hardcore hockey fans can afford to fill the lower level. (Although Rogers Arena did score well here, with 4/5 in both Fans and Atmosphere. That might say more about the NHL league-wide than it does about the Canucks’ crowd.)
It was the ‘Neighbourhood’ section that gave Vancouver a 3/5, along with Food and Beverage. While most American – even some Canadian, like Toronto – base their sporting venues around entertainment districts and game-night beer gardens or tailgates, the Canucks and their rink have been pushed to the limits of the city’s downtown, on the banks of False Creek.
“The area around the stadium isn’t the best,” writes Eastern. “It is kind of away from the main part of downtown, but there are some restaurants that have been put in to increase the appeal of the area (around BC Place)… The area around Rogers Arena could be a bit better and I’m surprised there aren’t more bars and restaurants around both of the stadiums.”
Luckily, it’s not a long walk to anywhere in downtown Vancouver, as Eastern notes. But unlike even Arizona, which ranks 5th on Stadium Journey’s big board, the Canucks’ home base doesn’t have any identity or draw above the skyscrapers around it.
It’s not a part of the fabric of Vancouver; it’s just inside it.
Who Will the Vancouver Canucks Draft?
The NHL Draft is something like two weeks away, and – barring a trade or some sort of jostling – the rumour winds circling the Canucks and their 23rd overall pick are calling for the team to take a defenceman.
GM Jim Benning is lucky to have inherited a deep – although maybe not intimidating or star-filled – forward prospect pool, and he did well to add Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann to the pieces Mike Gillis amassed, like Bo Horvat, Cole Cassels, Hunter Shinkaruk, Ronalds Kenins, and Brendan Gaunce. And of course, the Canucks still lead up-front with the Sedin twins and the rest we already know.
But on defence, that’s where Vancouver’s shallow. Longtime veterans Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis are on numbered days in Orca sweaters, and it’s anyone’s guess what happens with Alex Edler or Luca Sbisa. Yannick Weber was a needed surprise in 2015, but he’s not necessarily a piece to build the future around.
Only Chris Tanev is the can’t lose man on Vancouver’s back-end.
But at 23rd, there’s a good chance the Canucks can accelerate that impending black hole. They won’t have a chance at Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov, or Zach Werenski – they’ll all go in the Top 10. Past that though, it’s realistic any of the first round’s remaining defenders could fall into the 20s.
They’ve all been pegged for the second half of June 26’s opening round, all around where Vancouver (as planned) makes its first selection.
(Damien Cox has Vancouver drafting Zboril in his mock draft on Sportsnet; Bob McKenzie has Carlo and Kylington ranked on either side of Vancouver, with Swedish forward Joel Eriksson-Ek ranked 23rd, on TSN.)