Rumours say the Vancouver Canucks have signed hired gun Brad Winchester – see what I did there? “Hired gun”? “Winchester”? Hey, I can’t let sports editors have all the lame headline pun fun… Let’s just assume it’s gospel, and get on with the analysis, shall we?
With Winchester, GM Mike Gillis adds something to the forward corps that the Canucks were sorely lacking last season: a knuckle-dragger with intimidating size. At 6’5”, Winchester is now the biggest man on the Canucks roster – blueliner Andrew Alberts and newly signed depth forward Byron Bitz are as tall, but nobody in the organization matches his 230 pounds. He’s got over 300 games of NHL experience since 2005, and has racked up 464 penalty minutes in that time – the Canucks are hoping the 30-year-old enforcer can chip in a few goals, but let’s face facts: Winchester is here to protect the stars.
Sure, Tanner Glass was willing to take on all comers. And before him, Rick Rypien never said no. But those guys gave up inches and pounds with the goons of the league, sometimes allowing blue collar teams like the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild to take physical advantage of the more talented Canucks. Through the season – and much of the playoffs – only Vancouver’s NHL-best power play kept teams honest.
Sadly for Vancouver fans, the Canucks had no answer when the power play dried up in the Stanley Cup final. It truly didn’t matter when the referees put away their whistles, because the PP that killed Nashville and San Jose had disappeared anyway. Boston Bruins rookie Brad Marchand had one hell of a playoff, but Vancouver fans will remember him most for wiping his hands as he skated by the Canucks bench during the final series – without any payback. With a bruiser like Winchester willing to step up for teammates, that likely won’t happen next season. If and when the power play dries up, as it did in the final, Alain Vigneault will be able to lock, load and launch the fists of Winchester.
The main question facing Canucks brass is how to maintain the defensive part of their game with a monster like Winchester in the bottom six. The man sports a career -39 ranking – including -18 last year alone in split duty between the St Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks. In Vancouver, however, Alain Vigneault will probably have a fourth line of Maxim Lapierre, Andrew Ebbett and Brad Winchester to toss over the boards; the speed and smarts of the first two will hopefully balance the lumbering police presence of the latter. The Canucks, of course, play a very different game from Winchester’s previous teams. Perhaps the north-south game will help Winchester increase his G and A stats, and reduce his PIM.
Note: Here’s hoping Brad Winchester can earn himself a nickname in Vancouver. The Winchester repeater rifle is colloquially known as “the Gun that Won the West”; that would be premature unless the Canucks make it back to the final in 2011-12. But it will only take one instance of him pummeling an opponent who took liberties with a Sedin… well, let me be the first to say it: “There’s a new sheriff in town.”* Either way, Brad Winchester is the perfect addition to Mike Gillis’s growing stable of character actors able to support his stars.
* And that, boys and girls, is how Jason Kurylo named Brad Winchester “The Sheriff”.
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