Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Will The Canucks Ever Live Up To The Hype?

There is currently one team without a win the the NHL playoffs.  No, it isn't the eighth seeded Islanders taking on the might Sidney Crosby's, err Penguins.  It isn't the Minnesota Wild who are the eight seed in the Western Conference and taking on the President's Trophy winners.  It isn't the Maple Leafs who haven't sniffed the postseason in almost a decade.  It's the perennial Stanley Cup contenders,Canucks.
the Vancouver

Vancouver has had its share of playoff disappointments over the past few years.  We all remember what happened last year.  The shuffling of goalies gave the eighth seeded Los Angeles Kings a chance to pounce on the lack of chemistry this team had.  Not only was the number one seed upset, but it happened in an embarrassing five games.  When you have the best record in the league you know that it isn't going to bode well when you can't make it out of the first round.  The worst part is that they were the defending Western Conference champions. 

The year prior when they made the Stanley Cup it seemed as if they could not be stopped.  Roberto Luongo looked like the best goalie in the league at home, but like Swiss cheese away getting replaced twice.  This series started making the Luongo can't carry this team chatter louder than ever.  Vancouver knows what it is to have high expectations that aren't being lived up to.  For five seasons in a row the Canucks have won the Northwest Division, and barring a miracle by this team its going to be four out of five years that they couldn't get out of the second round.  With back to back first round exits as the higher seed there is no doubt that there will be an overhaul in Vancouver. 

It is quite ironic that the team they are down to in the series is the San Jose Sharks.  The Sharks were reigning regular season stars and post season chumps.  They repeatedly went into the playoffs as a high seed, sometimes even number one or two, and would be knocked out early.  Now San Jose is the team who are delivering the upsets, and to the team who has taken their place as the cautionary tale.  I am sure that nobody on the Sharks feel bad for the other team, but they sure know the feeling that they are going through, and they sure are happy to feel the other side of the coin.

Tonight in theory has to be the last game Roberto Luongo has with a Canucks uniform.  He has been going through the roller coaster all season of being the backup, then the starter, the backup, then starter and hearing his name in trade rumors all season long only to see the deadline come and go with him staying on the same team the whole time.  He has gone through the whole process with class with no incident of losing his cool (which is a testament to the patience of the guy seeing that it seemed like he was being asked the same questions on a daily basis).  There was rumors that he had a chance to go to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the day of the deadline, but the trigger was never pulled by either side.  The Canucks hand is going to be forced during the offseason of testing the market and getting what they can for the twelve year veteran.  He would be easily traded if it wasn't for two things.  1. the new collective bargaining agreement will still give contract penalties to players who retire while their contract is still ongoing (Luongo's current contract has him going until he is 43-years-old, which is very unlikely to play out that long) and 2. there are so many directions that teams can go with goalie needs this offseason.  There are big name free agents (Evgeni Nabakov, Mike Smith or Nicklas Backstrom), low priced chances that may have high upside (Al Montoya, Ray Emery or Yann Danis) , a possible trade with other teams (Ryan Miller and possibly Jaroslav Halak if Elliot can perform in the playoffs), and the obvious rumor that will be beaten into the ground (Tim Thomas, anyone?).  So at the end Vancouver may kick itself for how it ended up dealing with the Luongo situation, because they may end up with a lot less than they anticipated.

Their big offseason splash came in the form of defenseman Jason Garrison.  They signed him away from the Panthers for six years and 27.6 million dollars.  While he hasn't necessarily had a bad season, his impact to this team hasn't been what they were expecting.  He was supposed to bring a scoring threat to this defense that it seems to have missed.  Also his rocket on the power play was supposed to push this team over the hump.  He ended up with six power play points all season (3G, 3A) and he just did not make much of a difference than the much cheaper players that were out there this summer.  Although it seems that Garrison may be turning it around lately, the entire body of work is not what you were expecting when you signed the guy.  Hopefully he is a product of a lockout shortened season and not just a guy who overachieved in a contract year.  He has made zero impact on this Kings series even though he already has fifteen shots.  In fact, their defense as a whole has been abysmal this series.  They've allowed 28, 38 and 33 shots in their three games against the Sharks.  That's almost one hundred shots allowed in three games.  That won't cut it in this league.

The problem all season was anything but their top line offense.  You had the Sedin brothers causing their usual havoc as the top line.  They both lead the Canucks in points (Henrik with 45 and Daniel with 40).  Ryan Kesler was also a great commodity when he returned from injury with thirteen points in seventeen games.  Unfortunately, it seems that is where the offense ends.  They brought in Derek Roy from Dallas, but he only offered an average of half a point per game.  The Sedins and Kesler are the only three players with multiple points on the team.  In fact, only four other players have any points at all.  The depth of this offense is alarming and is going to be something that needs to be addressed ASAP.  Depth is how the Kings and Devils made the Cup last season.  It will be the most likely reason the same thing happens this year.  It is a fact you cannot win the Cup with only one line providing all the offense for you.
Is it a weird season because of the lockout?  Of course it is.  Is that going to be the excuses for most of these teams?  Probably.  There was talk about all coaches keeping their jobs because of that said excuse.  Head coach Alain Vigneault may be running out of excuses.  He has been the best regular season coach since he took over the Canucks back in 2007, but the post season has been his demise.  He has juggled goalies, been up and down on lines/players and seems to have the wrong game plan every time the puck drops.  I will admit, he is one of the better coaches in the NHL, but a defensive minded coach cannot see what is going on with his team this series and not get sick to his stomach.  Vigneault is coming into the last year of his contract and both sides may agree it would be better to just skip the media circus it would involve and start fresh in different places.  Vancouver wants so bad to be the first Canadien team in two decades to win a Stanley Cup, but since they made it to game 7 of the championship they have gone backwards every year.  It may be time to hear a new voice in the locker room.

The Canucks need to make history just to come back in this series.  They are down three games to none and have not shown the kind of resolve you need to make a comeback.  They got completely whooped on, losing to San Jose 5-2 in Game 3.  If they want to change how people think of their entire legacy of the past half decade then they need to make some kind of run right here.  If they don't then you may not recognize this team next season.  Time will tell if that will be for the better or not.

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