The Vancouver Canucks' master plan beached itself after only five
LOS ANGELES -- The Canucks fooled us all. They had us believing a
return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals was in the offing.
After rallying in the regular season's final weeks to capture the
President's Trophy, their top seed would carry them through the
Western Conference to --hopefully-- exact revenge on their Game 7
slayer, the defending champion Boston Bruins.
While many fans fretted over the loss of Daniel Sedin, their 9-1 close
cheered the prospect that with better defense and goaltending, they
could hold the fort until the Swedish House Twins could be reunited to
work the magic for four rounds.
Instead of the Swedish House Mafia Twins, they got the Triple Clown
So where do we start on this post mortem? The highest point of the
organization, GM Mike Gillis, or the lowest, a backup goalie who had
never won a playoff game and was tasked with saving the season by a
coach who was outcoached every step of the way? How about in the
middle, or rather the soft underbelly of a team that was unable to
support the players who have been unfairly criticized in outside of
Ryan Kesler had hip surgery 10 months ago and although he was slow to
recover as the season opened, he appeared to be at full speed coming
into the post season. The gearing up to 100 percent didn't allow his
to replicate his sterling prior season, a career high 41 goals and the
Frank J. Selke Award for defensive wizardry that broke Pavel Datsyuk's
stranglehold on the post season silverware.
From the first shift of Game 1, it was clear that through either the
difficulty of a returning of an injury that impacts a hockey player
more than other athletes or the inability to summon the mental
strength to be in beast mode, the snarling stopper that chased the
Predators and Sharks out of the playoffs was nowhere to be found.
Only after the playoffs ended did word drift out about a Kesler
shoulder injury, hopefully the reason that his game evaporated and not
years of playing a power game taking its toll. Unthinkable only six
months ago, the whispers of a possible trade for a comparable second
line for Kesler have started around the 604.
David Booth, who had a quizzical meltdown on Twitter the day after
being eliminated to the Kings, is as culpable as his American
counterpart. Traded in-season for veterans Mikael Samuelsson and Marco
Sturm, the thought was that Booth would pair with the Sedins to form
an unstoppable combination given the speed at which all play the game.
He had never played a playoff game for his former team, the Florida
Panthers, and was the poster child for the failure over the past
decade in Broward County.
The Canucks gained some cap space and jettisoned two veterans for a
27-year-old forward inked to a multi-year deal. While the deal looked
solid on its face, when the other GM is Dale Tallon, the guy with a
superb eye for talent and who took on heavy deals like Brian Campbell
and Kris Versteeg, chooses to deal away a top six forward from a team
that would up tied for last in scoring in the Eastern Conference, it
spells 'huge red flag.'
On the day Tallon pulled the trigger, he bid Booth adieu by saying,
"We hope David can re-kindle his career."
On to Alexandre Burrows, one of those skilled chirpers, the guy you
love when he's on your side and despise when he speeds down the ice
and gets 28-35 goals over the past four seasons. A study in never
giving up on your dream, Burrows was an undrafted free agent who took
the circuitous route that started with three years hard labor in the
ECHL to a game winning goal in Game 7 of Round 1 of the 2011 Playoffs
that saved the Canucks from the infamy of being only the fourth team
in NHL playoff history to blow a 3-0 lead.
When the series' first goal hit the back of the net less than five
minutes and the owner was Burrows, the Vancouver faithful had visions
of another production, instigating long playoff run in their heads.
The Kings had other ideas as they rallied and overtook the Canucks in
the final stanza and as the first chapter of the story came to a
close, LA's Mike Richards made a play that encapsulated what was to
come for the Canucks over the next ten days.
Richards spied Burrows at Vancouver's blue line and crushed him into
oblivion for the balance of the series; he never recorded another
point and recorded only two shots in the final two games.
Burrows' saving grace is the cheap deal he sits on, one year remaining
on a four year deals that pays him an amazingly low $2 million per.
Grinders Christopher Higgins and Max Lapierre looked to give the third
and fourth lines some character, skill and the opportunity to pot a
goal, and disturb the opposition's top line. Hopes were higher for
Higgins coming off a revival regular season that recalled his
productive and dangerous days in Montreal. Lapierre is a sandpaper
player who kicked in nine goals as a bonus on top of his 244 hits
thrown that ranked him eleventh in the league.
But like their aforementioned teammates, this pair came up small when
it counted, Higgins failed to hit the score sheet while Max's most
noted achievement was that head coach Alain Vigneault took the
unprecedented step of telling a disturber to shut up and play.
The defense suffered as a unit without the talented Ehrhoff eating
23-25 minutes a night on the top pairing. Edler is as gifted as any on
the blueline but the Los Angeles series showed that he may be
ill-suited to be the lead dog on a championship squad. He's certainly
a keeper over the long term but the organizational claim that they
couldn't afford to keep Ehrhoff should be hurtful to fan base that's
sold out the building an amazing 406 consecutive times.
While Kevin Bieksa's best performance was fooling a confused radio
reporter into thinking he was Kesler and Dan Hamhuis goes into the
summer with an exclamation point of him lying prone on the ice as
Jarret Stoll speeding off to win the series, they are part of a core
unit that is gifted if lacking the physicality of a Nashville or Los
The general manager is clearly not pleased with the direction of what
it takes to win in the playoffs, "the retreat from what kind of play
we've created over last three years makes no sense to me," but may
have to surrender to the flavor of the month and provide more muscle
if favor of puck movement.
So while the debate starts on what to do with most of the chess pieces
on the board, it's already raging on what to do with the White King.
Though he led the team to 15 post season wins and within 60 poorly
played minutes in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, much of the blame
for the first round ouster is laid at the feet of Roberto Luongo.
Forget that his team was terrible on special teams and they were
missing their true MVP in Daniel Sedin, one of many panic moves was to
replace the goalie with 339 regular season and 32 regular season
triumphs for an unproven yet talented netminder with zero playoff
victories. Prior to manning the cage for Game 3 in Los Angeles, the
last playoff memory he had was being unable to continue due to
cramping in Game 6 of last season's first round matchup against
Schneider played well, but surrendered a big rebound on Dustin Brown's
game winning goal and put a win on the board in Game 4 only because
Vancouver's slumbering power play awakened with the reuniting of the
Sedins. Cory was staked to a lead in Game 5, but when he overplayed a
Drew Doughty rush, he was out of position of Brad Richardson tying
marker and early in overtime Stoll's short side wrist shot eluded him
on the short side.
While his save percentage was high, his winning percentage wasn't.
When Schneider couldn't rally the team to victory in Game 3, Vigneault
should have gone back to his proven netminder and admitted the spark
he was looking for came from a Swedish winger not who was between the
pipes. You can't end the series with the dude who took you four rounds
sitting on the bench.
As the dust settles, there's a loud and long din about Schneider
deservingly being promoted to the starter next year and shipping
Luongo to a destination with a Florida zip code. Roberto has a home in
South Florida, the Panthers' Scott Clemmensen is an unrestricted free
agent and Mathieu Garon is the lone goalie under contract in Tampa.
I'd be very careful to deal away Luongo as Schneider is the owner of
one of the best jobs in sports, the backup goaltender. Cory's backers
point to his sterling numbers; the high save percentage and low
goals-against-average as the burden of proof that he should be the
incumbent next season.
And that's why statistics are for losers.
Schneider finished with 21-10-1 record when you pair his regular
season and playoffs, but when you go behind the numbers, they're not
as strong as his supporters advocate.
As with most backup goalies, Schneider's caddy role is there to give
the big horse a breather and the same is true with the Canucks. Cory
was 14-5 against non-playoff teams and 7-5-1 versus the 16 teams that
qualified for the post season. He's never won a big game in the
regular season or playoffs, and two seasons of solid backup play with
a strong team playing in the weakest division in the NHL now qualifies
him to be the savior in British Columbia.
There's already talk of a Luongo for Ryan Malone deal to solve problem
in Tampa and Vancouver, but when Malone was rumored to be coming to
Los Angeles in a deal for another backup, Jonathan Bernier, the
convention was that the winger wasn't thrilled about playing on the
West Coast and would block a deal West.
At 26 years of age and still more AHL then NHL wins on his record, I
don't see the logic in anointing him as the Chosen One. At his season
ending presser, Gillis suggested he's perfectly fine with going back
to the well once more with the tandem, "if that's the worst case
scenario, that's not so bad. I have every bit of confidence in
Luongo played the good solider in the ashes of the lost season, saying
he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause if asked, but with a
very short list and a contract with a very long term, there's a long
road to travel before any deal is done.
Where Gillis missed the mark was not going all in on a deal for Rick
Nash at the deadline. He whiffed on not putting in a backup goalie,
wingers and defensemen who wound up being invisible in the playoffs
for a big time player who if paired with the Sedins probably gave you
more than David Booth.
Schneider, Cody Hodgson, Mason Raymond and Keith Ballard would have
been a package no team could match and now the assets either aren't
there or are seriously devalued.
Alternatively, there's chatter of trading Kesler for another center,
you know the second line center position Hodgson was destined to be
slotted for. But as the emotions increased in his press conference,
Gillis spilled what was going on behind the scenes.
"The amount of issues we had with Cody was more than all our other
players combined over the last three years," Gillis revealed. "We had
a list of six players we would have traded him for at the deadline and
when one became available, we made the trade. Clearly, Cody didn't
want to be here."
As for the destiny of Vigneault, both shelf life of any coach and
accountability for a first round dismissal likely does him in and he
packs his bags for a possible Montreal return.
The Canucks are far from a car crash, if you want a team speeding head
on for a full rebuild, please travel 800 miles down the coast to San
Vancouver will likely coast again to a Northwest Division title next
season, but given Gillis' final pointed remarks, they need to become
tougher as they've been exposed as paper tigers, or more
appropriately, beached whales.
"I think the team thought the first round would be easier than it