It’s been a full seven days since the Vancouver Canucks held their locker room clean out and media availability after the conclusion of a tumultuous 2013-14 regular season.
The dust hasn’t completely settled. There are still a number of pressing concerns, like the future of head coach John Tortorella and the search for a new general manager.
So here is the wrap-up edition of Canucks News and Notes for the season, plus an additional playoff tidbit with local flavour.
‘I FEEL I CAN BE A LOT BETTER,’ SAYS ZACK KASSIAN
The Zack Kassian Project took positive steps forward and a few back as the Canucks try to shape him into a power forward responsible in both ends of the rink.
The 23-year-old Kassian finished on a strong note, with 10 points, including four assists against the Buffalo Sabres, in his final 10 games. He’s slated to be a restricted free agent this summer, and is coming off his first full-time NHL season, which was also by far his most productive.
It was also marred by two suspensions — a ban of five regular season games in September for a high stick on Edmonton Oilers’ forward Sam Gagner and a three-game ban for a hit from behind on Dallas Stars defenceman Brenden Dillon.
There is still plenty of work left in Kassian’s development, which he and Tortorella acknowledged last week.
“I thought I really started to feel comfortable and make plays and be the player I want to be in this league. Obviously there’s still a lot to be done and I feel I can be a lot better,” said Kassian, who played arguably his best hockey as a Canuck on a line with centre Brad Richardson.
It was expected during the pre-season that Kassian would get a good look on the top line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, although that never really materialized for any prolonged amount of time.
“Everybody wanted him on the top line, give him this, give him that. Not going to happen, at least with this coach,” said Tortorella.
“He has learned. He’s much better away from the puck, especially the past few weeks. I think he’s taken a huge step. Not just because of the numbers but just the way he’s handled himself as we’ve gone through here.”
Kassian, who the Canucks acquired at the 2012 trade deadline for Cody Hodgson, described his relationship with Tortorella as “good” but “different.”
Kassian’s entry-level contract with a cap hit of $870,000 but an NHL salary this past season of $810,000 is set to expire.
He said following his exit interview with new president of hockey operations Trevor Linden that he would like to re-sign with the Canucks, but didn’t go much further with his comments.
“The management and Trevor have a lot of things on their plate right now,” he said.
“I feel as a player I can improve in many areas and be better than I was in the stretch, so saying that, short-term is obviously what I’m looking forward to because I think I can be a bigger player than I was this year.”
LACK REFLECTS ON FIRST NHL SEASON
Eddie Lack started training camp presumably in a battle with Joacim Eriksson for the back-up job behind Roberto Luongo. He finished the season as the starting goalie, getting the nod 19 consecutive times until the Canucks were officially eliminated from playoff contention.
“It’s been a great experience for me,” said the 26-year-old Lack last week.
And one nobody could possibly see coming.
That was until the events of March 4, when Luongo, the team’s star puck stopper, was traded to the Florida Panthers in a blockbuster two days after he was sat in favour of Lack at the Heritage Classic.
“I knew there was going to be drama. That Luongo was going to be traded – no,” said Lack, who finished with a 16-17-5 record, 2.41 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage and will now represent Sweden at the upcoming IIHF World Championships.
Lack maintained that he didn’t feel he was placed in an unfair situation when given the start at BC Place Stadium.
Fans got a brief look at Jacob Markstrom, brought to Vancouver in the Luongo deal, in the final three games. There has been the suggestion the Canucks should look at adding a more experienced starting goaltender this off-season.
“It’s up to Trevor and the new GM. Right now I’m just trying to focus on what I can do,” said Lack.
THE FUTURE OF TORTS
Speculation continues about the outlook of Tortorella, who oversaw this team’s worst regular season since 1998-99.
Will the fiery bench boss, one year down on a five-year contract, lose his job as early as this week, or will he somehow escape the noose for now and be able to start next season as Vancouver’s coach?
Tortorella met with Linden last week, reportedly twice.
As David Ebner of the Globe and Mail tweeted out on Saturday with this reporter sitting only a foot or two away, does Linden wait to hire a general manager and let the new guy – Jim Benning, based on reports, appears to be a frontrunner – make a decision on Tortorella?
That seems like the logical thing to do, although there wasn’t much logical about this past season for the Canucks.
BLACKHAWKS FACE CHALLENGE WITH SEABROOK OUT
The Chicago Blackhawks trail the St. Louis Blues 2-0 in that best-of-seven series, and the uphill climb for the defending champs got even steeper with the three-game suspension of defenceman and Tsawwassen’s own Brent Seabrook.
Seabrook was given a major penalty for charging after he caught Blues’ centre David Backes with an elbow to the head late in the third period of Game 2 on Saturday.
Another fellow Blackhawks’ blue liner and British Columbian, Duncan Keith of Penticton, is alleged to have made taunts to Backes, who was hurt on the play.
During a video clip of the incident on YouTube, the words “Wakey wakey, Backes,” are clearly audible. Keith is also in the vicinity of Backes during the melee that erupted after the hit.
Keith, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, said, “I don’t remember everything that gets said out there.”