A salute to Vancouver's playmakers and powerhouses

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Never dull on the local sports scene, 2010 has so far presented no shortage of highs and lows. This week, we take a look at the best in Vancouver sports.

Best decision by the Vancouver Whitecaps
The Whitecaps appear to have made the right call by keeping head coach Teitur Thordarson as the franchise makes the leap to Major League Soccer next season. All Thordarson has done is win in three years at the helm of the soccer club. The guy has earned the right to take the next step with the organization. Expansion coaches are so often sacrificial lambs in professional sports, so Thordarson may not last as the ’Caps step up a weight class. But based on his track record, he certainly deserves the chance to prove he can coach at the next level.

Best news for local baseball fans
The recent player-development agreement between the Vancouver Canadians and the Toronto Blue Jays could mean the return of big-league baseball to this city. Sure, it would only be preseason action, but after a decade of nothing more than single-A ball here in town, major-league exhibition games would be a welcome change—as long as we’re not subjected to a steady diet of the sad-sack Seattle Mariners providing the opposition.

Best local team of the past decade
The past 10 years have seen unparalleled levels of sustained regular-season success from both the Vancouver Canucks and the B.C. Lions. But the city’s best team since 2000 has been the Vancouver Giants. Not only did the G Men win the Memorial Cup on home ice in 2007, they have been a perennial powerhouse in junior hockey, where—due to constant turnover of players—it’s difficult to stay on top. The Giants have groomed all kinds of National Hockey League talent (Milan Lucic, Evander Kane, Gilbert Brule, Mark Fistric, and Andrej Meszaros to name a few). The organization has played host to the World Junior Championship, the Canadian Hockey League top-prospects game, a Western Hockey League all-star game, and has provided an affordable hockey option to those unable to pay top dollar to get into Canucks games. The Giants have plenty to celebrate as the team begins its 10th season of existence.

Best thing about the B.C. Lions’ season
Despite the team’s 3-8 record and the fact that the Lions have looked out of sync and out of sorts almost all year, there is still enough individual talent—and four rookies, in particular—in the den to at least give football fans hope for the future. Linebacker Solomon Elimimian has been a beast; defensive back Stanley Franks leads the team in interceptions; running back Yonus Davis could be a star in the making; and receiver Steven Black has shown an ability to get open and find the end zone. Considering that with each passing week this appears to be a rebuilding year for the Lions, it looks like the team may have four pretty good players to build around.

Best local name to remember this hockey season
Burnaby’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels. The first pick in the 2008 Western Hockey League draft, the Burnaby Minor Hockey product is a consensus top-three pick in next year’s NHL draft. A playmaking centre who idolized another Burnaby guy—Joe Sakic—growing up, Nugent-Hopkins was WHL rookie of the year last season and looks to pick up where he left off as his second season of major junior hockey gets underway.

Best off-season acquisition by the Vancouver Canucks
New defencemen Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard got most of the attention this summer, but Manny Malhotra may have the biggest impact among the new faces brought in by general manager Mike Gillis. At $7.5 million over the next three years, the Canucks certainly overpaid to get the 30-year-old free agent, but Malhotra should make the Canucks’ third line better and more difficult to play against. But where he can really make an impact is in the face-off circle, particularly while short-handed. Malhotra had the best face-off percentage in the NHL last season. If he can win key draws, especially while the Canucks are killing penalties, he can make Roberto Luongo’s life easier and, in turn, make the whole team better.

Best night of the new hockey season
October 9, when long-time colleague Tom Larscheid returns to the radio booth for one final game in his remarkable broadcasting career. A true showman, Tommy understood that although his job was to analyze hockey games, ultimately he was in the entertainment business. And entertain he did. For more than three decades, he brought fun and his unique flair to the television and radio airwaves, even in those many years when the Canucks weren’t very good. It’s a shame he didn’t get to call a Canucks Stanley Cup victory, but it’s great to know that for at least one more game, Larscheid will be at the microphone.

Best choice for Canucks captain
Henrik Sedin. What more can the guy do to lead the hockey team than he did last season. Give him the C. What’s taking so long?

Jeff Paterson is a talk-show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio, Team 1040. Follow him on Twitter .

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