The bitter morning after

For the second time in the last three seasons, the Vancouver Canucks have failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This time, opportunity was there for the taking. The Minnesota Wild did their part, defeating Calgary; all Vancouver had to do is beat Edmonton, setting up a game Saturday night between the Canucks and Flames where the Canucks could make the playoffs by beating Calgary in regulation.

What do the Canucks do with these fortuitous circumstances? Piss them away. This is, of course, the modus operandi for this season. Leads? Piss them away. Opportunities to win games? Piss them away. Opportunities to make your team better? Piss them away.

To some extent, then, it would be disingenuous of me to declare shock or surprise at this outcome. In fact, as much as I would like to have been proved wrong, I had a prescient thought about this very possibility back in early March. I called the game on March 4 against Colorado a ‘statement game’ and, unfortunately, the Canucks’ pathetic effort that night was a harbinger of things to come over the course of the last month of the season (capped off with the Canucks losing six of their last seven games, all against Northwest division rivals).

In the immediate aftermath of the Canucks’ exit, it is difficult to apportion blame for this disaster with any precision. The problems begin at the top and filter all the way down to ice-level.

  • Dave Nonis refused to acknowledge this team’s offensive shortcomings in the off-season or at any point during the season. He stocked this team with players like Mike Weaver, Byron Ritchie, Brad Isbister, et al instead.
  • Alain Vigneault lost the room early in the season. When you have a team that plays a system that succeeds only when each and every player buys in enthusiastically, this is a recipe for a disaster. Calling out a veteran leader like Willie Mitchell, who is loved by his teammates and who’s heart is beyond reproach, early in the season was not only puzzling, it was inexcusable. Vigneault was also vividly exposed for his lack of imagination behind the bench this season. This team simply didn’t look capable of getting in games on far too many nights and that is ultimately down to the coach, in my view.
  • Markus Naslund played better than he did last season but he was exposed for his paucity of leadership. A team needs to rely on their captain, to look up to their captain for inspiration (whether it be words or deeds) in order to be successful. Naslund didn’t and doesn’t provide it.
  • The Sedins were exposed for the limited offensive players they are. Stop the cycle, you stop them. It’s just that simple.
  • The much vaunted Canucks defence corps was nowhere near as good as I, nor most pundits, expected them to be. Salo was once again injured and recovering from injury for most of the season; Ohlund showed glimpses of his quality but he is no longer the player he once was; Bieksa was shockingly awful when he did play and missed most of the season anyway due to injury; Krajicek took a huge step backwards this season and was also injured for a long time as well; and Edler, despite a lot of deserved praise in the first half of the season, was poor to average on most nights during the second half.

Make no mistake these are only the main problems. But problems abound when it comes to this team and it is hard to find anyone on the team who can escape accountability for the Canucks’ poor season. (Even Roberto Luongo, outstanding as he was on many nights, was not at his best in many games where the Canucks needed him to be.)

The question confronting the Canucks this off-season: What needs to be done to address its myriad problems?

My suggestions (feel free to add yours in the comments):

  • Fire Alain Vigneault. Quite simply, this team will not get better with him behind the bench. It is striking how similar his two seasons in Vancouver have been to his time in Montreal.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, re-sign Markus Naslund, even at a ‘home town’ discount, for his sake and ours. To be sure, he can still contribute offensively and score goals. But he simply can’t provide what is expected of him here and that shadow will not be removed as long as he plays in this city. He represents a period of elevated promise and sub-standard results for this team. Time to turn the page.
  • Explore the possibility of dealing the Sedins. Listen, I have defended the Sedins as much if not more than most, right up until the end of this season. But it is now time to confront some hard truth–namely, that these guys are tremendously one-dimensional hockey players. Moreover, their astonishing inability to break open a game when the Canucks need it most is more proof than anyone should ever need that these two are not frontline offensive players in this league.
  • Failing a deal involving the Sedins, they must be relegated to second line status. As per my comments above, they are not first line players, at least not on a team with aspirations to make it far in (let alone in to) the playoffs. In either scenario, the Canucks need to establish a potent first line threat. Due to the paucity of UFAs who fit this description (excepting Marian Hossa), it seems as though a trade is the most appropriate means of addressing this issue.
  • Stop over-valuing our prospects. The Canucks need to be more prepared to face up to the limitations of players being brought through the system and, accordingly, prepared to deal propsects when the opportunity arises to acquire players who address glaring team needs. If you need to give up an Edler, Bourdon, Schneider, etc. to acquire a first line offensive talent that you think will be an integral part of this team for years to come, then you do it.

Let’s hear what the rest of you think.


7 Responses to “The bitter morning after”

  1. 1 Bob Loblaw April 4, 2008 at 10:12 am

    I blame those terrible new jerseys. They clearly cursed the team from the get-go.

  2. 2 Simon Kiss April 4, 2008 at 11:04 am

    Stop sucking, that’s pretty much my tip.

  3. 3 RJ April 4, 2008 at 11:25 am

    Thanks for the entirely useless comments, gents.

  4. 4 H April 4, 2008 at 11:38 am

    RJ- I like the strike when the iron is hot mentality here.

    My post on the season will be after period of mourning.

  5. 5 Bob Loblaw April 4, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    By “useless”, do you really mean “insightful”?

  6. 7 Emmett April 4, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Don’t just fire A.V. – fire Nonis too. Hasn’t he been there since ’04? Well, four years is plenty and he’s done NOTHING save for dumping Bertuzzi and getting Luongo.

    Now, I know some might say getting Luongo in there earns Nonis like 10 years of free reign, but let’s be honest – he sat with his thumbs up his ass for the past two years when the problems this team faced were glaringly obvious. Doing nothing by this year’s trade deadline was inexusable.

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