The Vancouver Canucks were one win away from a Stanley Cup two years ago. But since the Boston Bruins edged the best-of-seven series and turned some Canucks fans into vandalizing banshees, the Canucks’ window of opportunity to taste glory has slowly been closing on them.
In 2011-12, Vancouver hardly put up a fight against the Los Angeles Kings, who went on to win the Stanley Cup, in the first round of playoff action. The Kings knocked them out of the second season in just five games.
It isn’t that rare to see a team that fell in the Stanley Cup final the year before face plant the very next season, though. Just this past year, the New Jersey Devils missed the playoffs after making it to the final the year prior. In 2012, the Bruins went out in the first round at the hands of the Washington Capitals after winning the Cup the year before.
So based on the precedents, I’ll give the Canucks some slack for their 2011-12 debacle. The following year, however, was the same old can-not-cut-it story. Vancouver couldn’t even muster a single win against the San Jose Sharks in the first round. If the Chicago Blackhawks, who went on to win the Cup, would have swept the Canucks, it may have been a bit of a different story. But they lost to the Sharks, the same old Sharks who have consistently choked in the playoffs during the Joe Thornton era. If this isn’t a sign that the Canucks are no longer a contender, I’m not sure what it will take to open up the eyes of the Vancouver faithful.
General manager Mike Gillis quickly made changes to turn his club back into the right direction in the offseason. His first big move was firing Alain Vigneault and hiring John Tortorella to replace him behind the bench. This was obviously a controversial move. Torts has made a reputation for himself as not exactly media friendly and that he demands a lot out of his players. That, however, might be exactly what Vancouver needs in terms of demanding strong efforts out of their players. They, after all, have failed to show determination and heart in the second season.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin are the focal points for coming up short in the playoffs. When asked at his introductory press conference, Torts said the Sedin twins will be blocking shots under his reign, no different than any other player on his roster.
“Yes, yes, yes,” he said on the Sedin twins blocking shots. “I got a chance to meet them at the all-star game and in this process I’ve got to watch quite a bit of tape. I’m really looking forward to working with them… I’ll tell you right now, they are going to kill penalties. They’re going to block shots.”
Gillis’ second major move, meanwhile, raised eyebrows for good reason. After Canucks fans threw Roberto Luongo under the bus and Gillis made it clear his plan was to trade the veteran goaltender, the Canucks GM traded Cory Schneider, Vancouver’s expected No. 1 goaltender in 2013-14, to the New Jersey Devils for the ninth pick in the 2013 draft, which the Canucks used on London Knights centre Bo Horvat. This move didn’t happen because Gillis had a change in heart and felt Luongo is a better puck stopper than Schneider. It happened because Gillis’ asking price for Luongo was extremely high last summer, and he decided to hold on to him because he was oblivious to the market of an aging goaltender under contract until he’s 38 years old. Instead of the few team’s interested in Luongo upping their offers, they backed right out of the “sweepstakes.” So there sat Gillis with egg on his face. He was left with the options of buying out Luongo, if the Canucks’ owners let him that is, or trading Schneider. He chose the latter.
Luongo is by no means not a No. 1 goalie; nonetheless, after failing to capture a playoff win in the last two years, he isn’t an all-star either. Whether he can regain his all-star form will depend on his future performances in the playoffs. But does Luongo have the “right” players in front of him to help him win that precious Stanley Cup? I firmly believe he does not.
The Sedins twins are regarded as players who fail to come up big in the playoffs. That, however, isn’t really the case. They combine for 55 points in their last 63 post-season games over the last three years. It is a drop in performance from their regular-season play, but their numbers are still very respectable for first-line players.
The true problem up front for Vancouver is their lack of depth. Past the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, David Booth, and Chris Higgins make up their top six. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that isn’t a top six of a contender unless a 25-year-old Bobby Orr and 30-year-old Scott Stevens are on their back end. Beyond their top six, it just gets worse. Their third line is made up of Zack Kassian, Brad Richardson, and Jannik Hansen. The Canucks desperately needed to add a pair of impact players such as Nathan Horton and David Bolland to have the makings of a contending offense. With them currently only having roughly $5 million in cap space, adding two players of that calibre is obviously hard to do. But if Gillis bought out Booth’s $4.25 cap hit, it would have been possible.
On the blue line, the Canucks don’t have a true No. 1 defenceman. They have a handful of top-3 defenders: Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison. There isn’t clear-cut evidence you need a true No. 1 defenceman to win a Stanley Cup, but the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara proved it’s a lot easier if you do have a player who can log 30 minutes a night.
All that being said, how can you call the Canucks a contender without a superstar on the back end, depth up front, and question marks with Luongo in net? Unless Gillis pulls a couple aces out of his sleeve and fixes these holes in his roster, it seems Vancouver is one of many playoff teams. The Stanley Cup is simply a pipe dream for Canucks fans.
The next move for the Canucks should be rebuild mode, which should start with finding a new GM. They should trade the Sedins at the trade deadline, if anyone has cap space, or at least trade their rights at the draft once they’ve yet again come up short in the playoffs. From there, build around Horvat and their other high-end prospects such as 2012 first-rounder Brendan Gaunce and Hunter Shinkaruk. It will be a slow process, but with smart free agent signings and deals, they could take a real run at the cup in three-five years.