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April 28, 2012 | 9:52am ET


Beached Whales
  The Vancouver Canucks' master plan beached itself after only five playoff games.

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 Line.

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 British Columbia?

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 Angeles.

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 Chicago.

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 Roberto."

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 Jose.

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 was."

Dennis Bernstein is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.


 

 

Archives:
Apr. 20, 2012 Rocking out with Stellar Revival
Mar. 05, 2012 When Leadership Fails
Feb. 20, 2012 Moving Nash makes sense
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