It feels like a bad dream for Canucks fans today. A day after their beloved team was kicked to the curb in 5 short games by the 8th seeded LA Kings. There was so much hope and energy in the city before the playoffs began. It was going to be a story of redemption… of vindication. The Canucks were supposed to be hungrier than ever to get back to the finals and claim the cup they were 60 minutes away from hoisting last year. Bars and restaurants were stocking up their liquor supplies getting ready for a long playoff run. Well all those hopes and dreams were quickly dashed. The Kings deserved to win the series. They were the better team in all facets of the game. The series was really over after game 2 when the Canucks dropped the opening 2 games on home ice. Winning 4 out of the last 5 games was going to be a struggle for any team let alone a team that struggled to score.
The warning signs of possible future failure were all around in the last 20 or so games of the season. The signs were just masked by a 2nd straight President’s Trophy. I admit I overlooked the struggles down the stretch because the team was still winning games 1-0, 2-1, etc. The thought was, the offence will come around in the playoffs. Well it never came. Many of the secondary scorers on the team including the likes of Kesler, Booth, Higgins and Raymond all struggled to score down the stretch and this continued into the playoffs. The injury to Daniel Sedin hurt the team badly, but good…great teams can overcome big injuries and still succeed. The much talked about goalie hullaballoo was not a factor for the Canucks in this series. Luongo and Schneider both stood on their head.
Naturally the question is what next? 2 straight President Trophy winning teams has equaled no Stanley Cup. Obviously something isn’t working. The one thing we all know is one of Luongo or Schneider will be traded. Luongo is the leading candidate to be traded as it appears the team, coaches and fans are fully behind Schneider. The benching of Luongo in games 3, 4 and 5 all but seal the exodus of the franchise leader in almost every goalie category. It won’t be easy to trade Luongo, he holds all the power with his no trade clause. His contract is also difficult to move and other teams know this and will provide a much smaller return than what the all-star goalie is worth. Trading Schneider would net a much larger return, but I don’t see Luongo coming back after what he went through in the playoffs and what he went through from the fans and media this year. Another team is going to get a steal of a deal in acquiring Luongo and I expect to see him flourish wherever he goes. I’ve been a big Luongo supporter throughout his stay here and I appreciate all that he gave for this city. It’s not often you get a yearly Vezina calibre, gold medal winning, all-star goalie suiting up for your team night in and night out. The city was spoiled and instead of cheering for the guy they shat on his face.
How about the coaches? The radio waves were jammed today with callers demanding for the firing of the coaching staff. For me personally, I feel AV and his staff should be given another chance to get this team back into contention next year. All AV has done during his time here in Vancouver is win. However, I won’t argue with those who feel the opposite way because there are valid points on why the staff should be fired. If AV does get fired, can you imagine what the next coach would think…2 straight President’s Trophies, a Stanley Cup final appearance, countless division titles…damn I better be amazing. Whatever the choice is, it should be made and announced immediately. If there is to be a new coach, the new coach should be given as much time as possible to prepare for the upcoming season. There is a Mike Gillis press conference scheduled for 10 am tomorrow so I’m sure the answer will be known soon.
How about the back end? Alex Edler’s struggles were spotlighted nightly by broadcasters. Earlier in the season there was talk about him being in the Norris Trophy discussion, but down the stretch his game started to falter and he was not able to fully recover his game in the playoffs. I still feel he will be a solid defender, but he’s not ready to be the #1 guy yet. Other than Edler the only sure things are Bieksa and Hamhuis. The bottom 3 defenders may look a lot different next year. Sami Salo continued his solid play this season, but he has likely played his last game with the Canucks due to his age. That leaves the likes of Ballard, Tanev, Alberts, Rome and Gragnani…yeah…obviously some defensive help will be needed, especially a defender who can be the PP QB.
Up front I already mentioned the lack of secondary scoring. The Canucks went from a high octane offensive juggernaut into an offensively challenged team that lacked any scoring creativity. Ryan Kesler was the most disappointing of all the Canucks forwards. His magical season of a year ago was nowhere to be found this year. Granted he was coming off major surgery and the longer offseason can only help him get stronger and faster. However, expecting him to reach 41 goals again is a stretch. 25-30 goals is more realistic and in the current NHL 25-30 goals is still an upper echelon type season. Kesler needs some help on the 2nd line. Specifically someone who can pass the puck. He and David Booth are not passers, but rather guys who like to have the puck and drive to the net. The chemistry of putting the two Michigan boys together never materialized. The bottom 6 forwards has some nice parts in Hansen, Malholtra and Higgins. Zack Kassian will be given ample opportunity to solidify his spot on one of the checking lines. He’s still young at 21 years of age and it’s much too early to call him a flop. Max Lapierre played well for the Canucks this year, but the Canucks have enough yappers and not enough punchers…he may be the odd man out along with Sammy Pahlsson. As for young upcoming prospects, Jensen and Schroeder will likely push for roster spots next year and I feel of the two Jensen has the better shot.
In the end, I feel there will be a much different looking roster heading into next season. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a shocking deal involving some of the core a la what Philly did with the jettison of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. It all starts tomorrow with Mike Gillis’ press conference. This summer should be full of action not only for the Canucks, but for other veteran laden superpowers that were ousted early: Detroit, San Jose, Pittsburgh and Chicago. October 2012 can’t come soon enough.