With each team that is eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, No Pucks Given will write an obituary on them. Pretty simple concept. First off are the Vancouver Canucks, who despite winning another Northwest Division title see a familiar fate, losing in the first round of the playoffs to a Californian team.
It really, really sucks to be a Canucks fan sometimes.
This is coming from someone who will still admit in this blog that he is a Canucks fan, someone who had to endure being called a bandwagon jumper during the Canucks run to the Cup finals, a fan who has been through it all. The Dan Cloutier years, the Bertuzzi fiasco, the Game Seven loss, and now this.
Two straight Northwest Division titles, two straight extremely early playoff exits. Even the most delusional of Canucks fans could tell you that the writing is on the wall now just like with the Markus Naslund led teams that always seemed to find early exits out of the playoffs, the championship window is now looking a lot more narrow now than it was after last year’s five game exit to the Los Angeles Kings. Then we all could blame the goalie and assume that a change to Schneider would lead to greener pastures in 2013. This year, that is not the case as Schneider was hurt and not as sharp as we has in the regular season and lost both Games Three and Games Four while his teammates looked one step slower than the San Jose Sharks. They also did not help themselves out during the series, taking undisciplined penalties and shooting themselves in the foot allowing late game tying goals in Game Two and Game Four, the nails in the coffin of the Canucks season. One that will signal the end of an era in Vancouver.
So where are we at now? The 2013 Canucks will now be put under the microscope even more with no hockey to distract the Vancouver media, and the fans away from what is a situation that is filled with question marks. Where will Luongo go? Should Luongo go? Will Alain Vigneault be fired? Will Mike Gillis be fired? Can Ryan Kesler get healthy again? There a lot of questions that are up for debate should someone want to pick and grab them at their will, leaving a very confusing time ahead in Vancouver.
What went wrong? How did a team that won two Presidents Trophies in a row look so awful at long stretches of the playoffs and was inconsistent during the regular season compiling a decent, but not eye popping 26-15-7 record and scoring just six more goals than they allowed in doing so during the regular season.
Health was a key factor. Manny Malholtra’s career ending injury was both sad and a huge loss for the Canucks in the room and on the ice, as well as the absence of David Booth and Ryan Kesler for large chunks of the season compounded with Cory Schneider not being healthy enough to play the first two games of the series are all legitimate excuses for the Canucks early exit and should provide a brightside looking towards the return of a full 82 game schedule and a hopefully much healthier Canucks squad in 2013/14, but that does not mean that Vancouver is without their faults.
Those absences in their lineup and the lack of depth to replace those players account for the Canucks problems to match the Sharks energy and momentum. A team that never had the chance to gel with much of the key players of their Presidents Trophy run out of the lineup for long stretches in Booth and Kesler, even with Kesler back for the playoffs he was just getting back into form and his 2013 amounted to just 17 regular season and four playoff games.
Then as everyone knows there was the Roberto Luongo/Cory Schneider situation, what was blamed as the downfall of the 2011/12 season once again engulfed Alain Vigneualt and the Canucks as the decision to start two equally talented goalies turned into a constant sideshow for the entire season that involved Roberto Luongo making a mockery of his situation on a near daily basis to the media and on twitter. In the end the Canucks and Mike Gillis were stuck with Luongo as NHL GM’s continue to call the Canucks and GM Mike Gillis’ bluff on the price of an elite goaltender in Luongo which resulted in him not being able to be moved at the deadline and even more drama.
Should Mike Gillis be put to blame for not being able to move Roberto Luongo when the Canucks desperately needed to? Absolutely. A team that is sorely lacking in depth and youth had a tradeable asset in a goalie and couldn’t find a deal or make a deal happen while failing to realize the value was never going to go up. No team was going to come swooping in and give Mike Gillis a deal, and he couldn’t make one for himself. The Lightning traded Cory Conacher for Ben Bishop. Paul Holmgren decided he would rather stick with Ilya Bryzgalov and miss the playoffs and Toronto put their faith in James Reimer, leaving Gillis alone at the poker table with his only hand. Should he be fired for that? Absolutely.
Roberto Luongo played admirably for the Canucks this season, but he was a distraction and Gillis and the Canucks were further punished when he needed to start two playoff games at home for the Canucks and did better than Schneider did on the road in San Jose. In the end both goaltenders allowed late third period goals to send two games into overtime against San Jose, with the final goal being a soft one from Schneider, the coup de grace.
All of these problems need to be addressed in the offseason. A full 82 game schedule and the full return of Kesler/Booth will help, but the Canucks need to address their current roster and make some changes signalling what is going to be an end of an era for the Vancouver Canucks, the end of the Luongo era if you will.
Alain Vigneualt may also be gone as head coach, a causality of being saddled with a very competitive goalie dilemma and a team that was decimated with injuries, especially at the center position. He will be blamed for not getting more out of a team that won two Presidents Trophies, but the coach is the easiest position on a team to change. So he will most likely be gone, a new face to help lead a new era.
How far the Canucks will be able to go after next offseason is something that will be hard to predict before free agency and the draft looms in and we see the moves Vancouver makes, but assuming the Canucks do a quick patch job on missing pieces and make a firm decision on Cory Schneider/Roberto Luongo they should be in good shape playing in a Northwest Division where the Minnesota Wild remain their only stiff competition. Edmonton will be improved, but regardless this will be a Canucks team that you will see back in the hunt for a Northwest Division title and at the very least back in the postseason next year.
It is just that the Canucks are not a team to settle for early exits, their fanbase does not accept it and the low ticket sales going into Round One with the Sharks will more than likely inspire ownership to ensure that excitement is rejuvenated amongst the fan base next season, which means change will be a guarantee. It came when the early 00′s Canucks couldn’t get over the hump and it will come now. A franchise that is desperate for its first Stanley Cup doesn’t show much patience once they feel their squad is not enough to contend in the Western Conference. With two first round exits, something has to give.
In 2006 the Vancouver Canucks transitioned from the Naslund/Bertuzzi/Morrison era by acquiring Roberto Luongo from the Florida Panthers. Now after a Game Seven in the Stanley Cup Finals and two Presidents Trophies along the way the Canucks look to refresh and build again. Many of the key cast of characters in the good times now have their days numbered in Vancouver. With many questions looming and the direction they will take this offseason up for debate, but for now we know on Opening Night of the 2013/14 season we will be seeing a new look for a new era of Vancouver Canucks hockey.
[UPDATE] The Canucks announced they will have a press conference noon tomorrow, assuming there will be something major to announce at that time. Likely of the Gillis/AV persuasion.
#Canucks holding press conference tomorrow at noon.
— Matthew Sekeres (@mattsekeres) May 8, 2013