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Ask It To Bulis: Redeeming Messier, trading Ekman-Larsson, and why is it called a crease?

Also, what's missing from the Canucks' defence, balancing long-term vision with making ownership happy, and a couple of Canucks as Pokémon.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson-nearnet
Does it make sense for the Vancouver Canucks to trade Oliver Ekman-Larsson?

It’s time again for Ask It To Bulis, wherein an incredibly smart, witty, and handsome sportswriter answers your burning questions about the Vancouver Canucks.

Unfortunately, said sportswriter was yet again not available, so I answered them instead.

Why is it called a ‘crease’?

- @PuckedInTheHead

Every hockey fan knows what the crease is — the blue painted area in front of the net. But why is it called a crease?

It’s a really good question and not one to which there is an obvious answer. Some searching didn’t reveal a definitive answer but, as near as I can tell, here’s how the crease in hockey came by its name. This isn’t a scholarly historical study, by any means, so don’t quote it in any university papers.

Originally, a crease was a line created by folding paper or fabric and it still carries this definition. When cricket needed a name for the lines they scratched or cut into their playing field, they called them creases, perhaps thinking of the creased lines in their clothes. 

That was the first use of “crease” in sports. The next was lacrosse, where a line was scratched in a circle around the goale, with specific rules surrounding who could do what inside that circle. That line was called a “crease” as well, likely because of cricket.

William George Beers, the Canadian dentist who formalized the rules of lacrosse in the 19th century and helped popularize the sport in England, specifically compared lacrosse to cricket in his 1869 book, “Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada.”  

“As a game, I rank lacrosse far above cricket or golf,” said Beers early in the book and made many more comparisons between the two sports throughout, even talking about how a “cricket ball is always delivered within the bowling-crease” in a discussion of goalkeeping. It seems clear that cricket was in mind when it came to naming the “crease” in lacrosse.

So, when hockey introduced a similar line in front of the net in 1934, it was also called a “crease,” likely because of lacrosse. 

The “crease” initially referred to just the lines, but the phrase “within the crease” was used so often that the “crease” began to refer to the area within the lines as well. You never think of a hockey player “crossing the crease” when they go over the line — instead, they “enter the crease.”

Thus, the goalie crease got its name because cricketers called the lines they carved into the ground “creases.” Early cricketers could have called their lines something else. The word “groove” was around at the time in the sense of cutting a channel in the ground, so they could have called them grooves and today we’d be talking about the goalie groove in hockey instead.

Missed opportunity, if you ask me.

Who do you envision as linemates for Nils Åman (presumably with Abby)? What do you anticipate his role to be?

- @BeantownCanuck

Honestly, I don’t expect him to be in Abbotsford at all. Given some of his comments in Sweden and Jim Rutherford’s previous statement about promising European free agents a spot on the NHL roster as part of their sales pitch, I expect Åman to start the season with the Canucks in the NHL, though it will be up to him whether he stays in the NHL.

As for a role or linemates, I’m guessing he’ll start on the fourth line alongside Juho Lammikko and either Matthew Highmore or Will Lockwood. But things can change a lot during the summer and we’ll see how things shake out at training camp.

Pick one: overpaid long-term deal for Boeser or 5-year market value for Miller?

- @always90four

Now that’s a tough question. It probably depends on what is considered overpaid for Brock Boeser and market value for J.T. Miller. If market value for Miller on a five-year deal is $10.12 million — that’s the contract projection from Evolving Hockey — then I run for the hills. Honestly, I would take a 7 or 8-year deal for Boeser at $7.5 to $8 million over a $10 million Miller. I honestly think Boeser can live up to that contract over the long term even if it would be considered an overpayment now.

So, I guess that’s my answer. It might change if “market value” for Miller is more like $7 million because a five-year contract length negates some of the risk involved in a player entering his thirties. But I don’t think that’s the market value for Miller.  

What would Mark Messier need to do to redeem himself as a human being in the eyes of Canucks fans?

- @SKrajerjack 

The easiest answer to this is “nothing.” At this point, the distaste for Mark Messier in Vancouver is profound and goes far beyond anything approaching rationality.

Not that Canucks fans don’t have good, rational reasons for disliking Messier. They do. But, for most Canucks fans, that hatred has gone beyond those reasons to something else entirely. It’s memetic at this point and an easy signal to other Canucks fans that you are part of the in-group. If you want universal assent to something from Canucks fans, just say, “F*** Messier,” and you’re good.

What could Messier do to fix this? Anything?

He could start with an apology. For everything. Sorry for taking Wayne Maki’s unofficially retired number 11, sorry for lazily drifting through so many shifts on the ice, sorry for making so many excuses and not owning up to his poor play, sorry for causing a schism in the locker room, sorry for siding with Mike Keenan against Trevor Linden, and sorry for taking the captaincy from Linden in the first place.

He almost did the latter, saying in a Reddit AMA, “If I changed one thing i (sic) would have not accepted the captaincy from Trevor.” That’s not quite an apology but it’s close.

Would all of those apologies be enough for Canucks fans? Maybe some of them, but not all of them. Maybe if he then admitted to some sneaky, behind-the-scenes skulduggery from the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs, revealing that the league conspired to bring a Cup to New York, and advocating that the Canucks be retroactively named the winners of the 1994 Stanley Cup, then he might be redeemed in the eyes of Canucks fans. 

I’m not saying such a conspiracy existed but it’s the only scenario I can think of that would get Canucks fans on board with liking Messier.

If the Canucks players were Pokémon, who would they be?

- @CalButtercluck

That’s a big question that is probably an article of its own. I can tell you for a fact that Brock Boeser is an Alolan Dugtrio and Tyler Myers is an Alolan Exeggutor, for what should be obvious reasons. 

What value would Mikey DiPietro have on the trade market if the Canucks wanted to add or upgrade a pick?

- @HockeyRush1

The truth is, goaltenders rarely have as much value on the trade market as people expect. Even proven starters regularly get moved for 3rd-round picks.

What would the market be for DiPietro, coming off a .901 save percentage in the AHL this past season? Bad. Really bad. DiPietro could still develop into an NHL goaltender — I’m not saying he doesn’t have that potential — but what team that hasn't already invested in him with a draft pick and coaching is going to wait for that development?

Even if a team decided DiPietro was worth gambling on, why would they spend assets to acquire him when they could likely sign an equivalent goaltending prospect out of Europe without spending any assets at all? The Canucks might be able to get, at best, a 7th-round pick.Maybe if DiPietro was one of the best goaltenders in the AHL and was knocking on the door to break into the NHL, there would be a trade market for him, but that just isn’t the case.

What kind of value does the last year of Ferland's contract have as a trade chip?

- @Dan_J_Maher

Negative value. 

The primary benefit for a team like the Arizona Coyotes to acquire the contract of a player that is essentially retired is using the cap hit to reach the salary cap floor while not having to actually pay that player any money because they are on long-term injured reserve and their contract is insured against injury.

It is widely understood that Micheal Ferland’s contract with the Canucks is not insured.

In other words, whoever holds Ferland’s contract has to pay for it. Thus, there is zero benefit for any team to acquire Ferland. Even if there was, teams generally trade assets with those "retired" contracts just so they can dump the salary. They don't get assets back.

As to why the Canucks signed Ferland, a player with a significant concussion history, to a four-year, uninsured contract, you’ll have to ask Jim Benning.

How does management go about developing a long-term vision while balancing the wants/needs of ownership to make money by 'being competitive' now?

- @tcrawls

This is a key element of what is called “managing up” — effectively communicating with the person above you in the hierarchy and both working with and adjusting their wants, needs, and expectations.

“I’m going to say what GMs are always afraid to say,” said Rutherford when he was hired. “The most important part of being a GM is managing up.”

That he said this while sitting right beside Francesco Aquilini speaks to Rutherford’s comfort level, borne of decades in hockey. He has the age and experience to speak authoritatively to ownership about what is best for the Canucks on the hockey side of things.

It also speaks to the importance of Rutherford’s president of hockey operations role, where he can deal directly with ownership while leaving Patrik Allvin free to simply be the general manager.

As to balancing the desire of ownership to win now, I like to think of it as a slightly more advanced version of the marshmallow experiment — can a child go 15 minutes without eating the marshmallow in front of them with the promise of a second marshmallow if they can wait? 

Can Aquilini go a couple of seasons without making the playoffs with the promise of years of Stanley Cup contention if he waits? In other words, do you want a little bit of money from selling a couple of playoff home games now or years of playoff money in the future?

What we’ve seen from the past eight years is that trying to “win now” without a proper long-term plan can lead to missing the playoffs anyways — you don’t even get to eat the one marshmallow. Hopefully, that experience will help Aquilini be more patient with Rutherford and Allvin. 

How much of an asset would you attach to OEL to trade that contract?

- @narkusmaslund

The phrasing is key here: how much of an asset would I attach? None at all. The Canucks need to do whatever it takes to stop bleeding assets. Instead, I would be looking to move Oliver Ekman-Larsson while taking a shorter-term bad contract back the other way, the same thing the Arizona Coyotes did when they traded Ekman-Larsson to the Canucks in the first place.

While Ekman-Larsson was pretty good in a tough role with the Canucks last season, you expect more than “pretty good” from a player with a $7.26 million cap hit. More importantly, he has that cap hit through 2027 and is likely to decline long before that, hurting the Canucks’ ability to build a Stanley Cup contender around their young core over the next few seasons.

Can Ekman-Larsson be moved? The Coyotes managed it but, unfortunately for the Canucks, Jim Benning isn’t the general manager of another NHL team right now. If Patrik Allvin could package up Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland and bring back a first-round pick in the upcoming draft, Canucks fans would build a statue for him.

There are so many things that make a trade unlikely. It’s not just that expensive, long-term contract, but that Ekman-Larsson still has a no-move clause that would allow him to veto any potential trade if he doesn’t like the destination. That gives the Canucks no leverage at all. 

At this point, the best the Canucks might be able to do is wring as much good hockey out of Ekman-Larsson as they can over the next few seasons, then buy him out. 

Hughes, OEL, Rathbone, Myers, Schenn, Dermott — what’s missing because it should be enough?

- @Miirhen  

Right after a question about adding assets to trade OEL, we have a question about why this defence corps isn’t good enough already.

Quinn Hughes is amazing and a clear number one defenceman, particularly since he added penalty killing to his portfolio this past season. But after Hughes, the Canucks’ quality on defence drops off a cliff.

The Canucks don’t have a right-side defenceman to play with Hughes, as much as Canucks fans might love Luke Schenn. 

Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers are miscast as a shutdown pairing and neither are particularly good on the penalty kill. In the coming seasons, they’re likely to get worse, giving the Canucks a well-below average second pairing.

I like Travis Dermott a lot but I’m not sure he’s anything more than a third-pairing guy. Maybe he can handle a larger role; maybe not. And, as much as I believe in him, Jack Rathbone has yet to prove he can stick in the NHL and, even if he does, he’s stuck behind Hughes and Ekman-Larsson for ice time and power play opportunities.

So, what’s missing? A top-pairing right-side defenceman, a shutdown second pairing, and quality penalty killers. That’s…that’s a lot.

Why are teams willing to have forwards play the off-wing, yet so much more reluctant to have defencemen make the same transition?

- @Butlrr

The simple answer is that it’s a lot harder for a defenceman to play on their off-side than you might expect. 

Let’s look at a couple of scenarios.

First, defending a rush. A defenceman on his strong side, defending with one hand on his stick to maximize his reach, is naturally taking away the middle of the ice, as the one hand on his stick is towards the middle. That’s the primary goal when defending one-on-one — to force the forward to the outside.

A defenceman on his off side has the one hand on his stick nearest the boards. It’s tougher to defend the middle of the ice in that scenario. 

Then there’s transitioning the puck up ice. A defenceman on his strong side would have the puck on his forehand nearest the boards, which is the safer option — they can use their body to protect the puck and move the puck up the boards on the forehand.

A defenceman on his off side would have his forehand towards the middle of the ice, a riskier option. If they want to protect the puck and move it up the boards, they would need to do so on their backhand.

Finally, consider holding the blue line in the offensive zone. If the defending team moves the puck up the boards, a defenceman on his strong side can pick up the puck off the boards on his forehand, while a defenceman on his off side would have to do so on the backhand, which is a lot more difficult to do cleanly.

Also, consider a defenceman on his off side in the offensive zone. He’ll be shooting from his forehand with his stick directed towards the middle of the ice: if that shot is blocked, he’s an extra stride or two from the middle of the ice to defend a counter-attack and, in the NHL, a stride or two can make all the difference.

There are absolutely defencemen who can effectively play on their off side but there’s a reason why coaches prefer balanced pairings. It’s backed up by the analytics as well, which show that pairings with one defenceman on their off-side perform significantly worse.  

A lot of the issues that affect a defenceman on their off side are a lot less of an issue for a winger and they gain one significant advantage — easier one-timers and shooting angles. That significant offensive benefit combined with lower defensive responsibility makes it a lot easier for wingers to switch sides.

What is your favourite fruit?

- @gripitandrippit

I'm partial to raspberries picked fresh from the garden.