Canucks and Beyond

Turning the Page in Vancouver

10/05/2011 at 7:23pm EDT

Most of the stories about the Vancouver Canucks this past summer had one theme: they lost. Kaboom. The Stanley Cup Finals was a great ride… until it wasn’t.

But with a new season finally upon us, the page seems to be turning as the analysis switches towards the new topic of “so now what?” With the puck drop countdown now in its final hours, perhaps it’s finally safe to to start being optimistic about a new season.


—Is the latest version of the NHL—Brendan Shanahan’s NHL, that is— built for the Canucks? You could make the argument that it is. In today’s Province, Ed Willes argues his thesis about the Red Wings Way:

In his three-and-a-half years as the Canucks’ GM, Mike Gillis has modelled his organization after the Detroit Red Wings and, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it’s clear how Gillis feels about the Wings.

The Canucks have drafted for speed and skill over brawn and the team has a decidedly European flavour. As a result, their game is built for the new NHL. They favour puck control. Their defencemen are mobile and can move the puck. They don’t employ a fighter but they try to play a physical game between the whistles. And, as an organization, they let their top prospects learn their trade in the minors instead of rushing them to the NHL.

The Wings have won two Stanley Cups over the last decade with that blueprint and, last season, the Canucks came within one game of winning the first Cup in franchise history. But the real test of the Red Wings’ way isn’t measured in championships. It’s measured in an unrelenting consistency, which has resulted in 11 straight seasons of 100 points or more. That means every one of those years — and a few more, come to think of it — the Wings have had legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations.

The Canucks, for their part, just recorded their third straight 100-point season. We’re about to find out how close they are to emulating the Red Wings.

Read Willes’ complete article here. It’s an interesting comparison—and an enviable one for the Canucks if they really do manage to emulate the Wings consistency—even without the Cups. (For now. :) )

—There were some noteworthy changes in the offseason, the exit of Christian Ehrhoff for example, but not a lot of tweaking otherwise. Perhaps this bodes well for the Canucks moving into a contender position again next spring. But while some seem inclined to put their money on Vancouver for a new year, anyone betting on them being a shoe-in would be foolish. Yes, it takes a lot of talent to make it to game 7 of the SCF… but it takes a lot of good fortune, too. So many things have to go right.

Meanwhile, unlike some, I’m a firm believer that the regular season does matter. There are never guarantees of post-season success, but putting in the hard work of an 82 game season while playing great hockey is a reward unto itself. The Stanley Cup still seems like the Holy Grail out here— maybe our favourite team will seize it one day and maybe they won’t. But meanwhile, I at least want to enjoy the journey.

—The Canucks have an exceptional goaltending duo in Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. Luongo’s detractors have frequently stated that he’s not a ‘big game goalie’ and that regular season performance doesn’t matter, but it’s an unfair generalization to make. His regular season set-up the Canucks for success in the post-season, and while his post-season featured some terrible games, it also featured some excellent ones. If you have to choose between a goalie that that went to game 7 of the SCF, versus nearly anyone else but the winner of that game (and full marks go to Tim Thomas, for sure), Luongo’s a solid bet.

Vancouver’s reputation as a goalie graveyard is well-deserved—given a spotty history in the net, the fanbase is deeply wary of goalie implosions around every bend—but Luongo is an excellent netminder with some impressive stats to back that up, and doesn’t deserve to be written off as so many seem inclined to do.

—While much of the post-season debate has been about the failures of June 15th and the riotous mess that followed it, the team also had to deal with far greater tragedies in the loss of Rick Rypien and Pavol Demitra. Both deaths (and others in the hockey family) have no doubt given the team greater perspective on what ‘loss’ truly is.

For the Canucks—and everyone else—it’s time to say “good riddance” to the summer of 2011 and move forward.

And for the fans, hopefully everyone’s completed their hockey version of the cycle through the 5 Stages of Grief? Time to return to that state of blind, hopeful optimism again…

As Canucks fans, god knows we’ve had a lot of practice.

Reading Material:

—Subtly skewering Marc Crawford for about a 1000 words, without even uttering his name? Well played, Vancouver Sun.

—How to keep Sami Salo healthy for the playoffs while not locking him in a small padded room for the entire season beforehand. The Province.

—You already knew Alex Edler was awesome. This season will his chance to make sure everyone, everywhere, learns exactly how awesome. Vancouver Sun.

—Hockey and the Canadian identity. Sometimes it’s all a bit nuts.

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