Well, we’ve all had a chance to take a deep breath, sit back and really think about the year that was for our beloved Vancouver Canucks. Gone is the emotion/heartbreak/disappointment/anger from their second straight second round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. What’s left is a better chance for impartial analysis as to what they did, what they have and what they should do.
Was it as Bad as we Thought?
It’s been over a month since the Canucks were ousted by the Blackhawks. At the time we knew the Blackhawks were good, but we also thought the Canucks could have and should have been better. Perhaps they should have, but consider this. The Canucks lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, which suggests they’re a pretty good team. The Blackhawks beat a hard working bunch with a strong defense (Nashville), a high scoring team (Vancouver), an all around talented team (San Jose) and a gritty team (Philadelphia). Basically, they beat different teams and it didn’t faze them one bit. The Canucks stretched the Hawks to 6 games, as far as any of their other three opponents.
I’m not arguing that the Canucks couldn’t have played better or that they don’t have problems they need to fix, but I’m starting to think that they weren’t as bad as we thought they were. We need to give the Blackhawks a bit of credit.
Your Best Players Need to be Your Best Players
So what just happened? Why did the Canucks look so terrible at times against the Blackhawks? For me, it starts with the old adage that your best players need to be your best players. I believe that Daniel and Henrik Sedin were good enough in the playoffs, each notching better than a point per game in the post season. It was the Canucks most important player, Roberto Luongo, who did not play up to par. True, the Chicago Blackhawks can make a lot of goalies look silly, but Luongo ended the playoffs with a save percentage below .900, not good enough for a goalie of his ability. Quite simply, the Canucks as they were constructed this year can’t and won’t win a Stanley Cup with average or below average goaltending.
But now, a little perspective. A lot of uneducated hockey fans are suggesting that the Canucks trade Luongo and “give Schneider a shot”. Lets not lose our minds here folks. Luongo may have had an off-season, but he can certain bounce back and giving the reigns to an unproven good AHL goalie is probably not a prudent move. For those of you in favour of letting Louie go, consider that his cap number will be going down next season, from $6.75 million to $5.33 million. That cap number puts him in 9th place among the other goalies in the league.
Who Would You Rather Have?
For those Luongo haters I also ask you this: how many goalies in this year’s playoffs would you want ahead of Luongo? Certainly not either of the Stanley Cup Final goaltenders. Would it be Evgeni Nabokov, he the man who plays behind all that talent in San Jose and year after year can’t get it done when it matters? How about Ilya Bryzgalov, who after a terrific regular season posted similar numbers to Luongo and lost in the first round. It’s getting harder and harder to make the case for Martin Brodeur now, with his best days behind him he looks like he’s beginning to lose a step and has had a few playoff flops in recent years. The Marc-Andre Fleury argument has always been “he’s got a Stanley Cup ring” but look at this year’s playoffs and I defy you to say that you’d be more comfortable with him in net. Steve Mason proved that having one amazing year doesn’t necessarily mean that it can be sustained, so lets forget about Tuukka Rask, Craig Anderson, Jimmy Howard, Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak. That leaves Ryan Miller, who was the best goalie in the league this year, and I would take him ahead of Luongo, but his teams (Team USA and Buffalo) didn’t do as well as Luongo’s this year.
The point? The best option for the Canucks remains to keep faith with Luongo and hope that he has a bounce-back season. Perhaps he needs to play less, and perhaps they’ve learned their lesson in that respect. Maybe he doesn’t need to play every game to be a great goalie, maybe he just needs to get used to resting more.
Where was the Grit?
Against the Chicago Blackhawks it seemed to be non-existent. While the Canucks defensemen were getting pounded, the Blackhawks defensemen cruised around with ease. A little more grit that can play in their top 9 or even in their top 6 should be a high priority for GM Mike Gillis, but once again, a little perspective is needed. Yesterday, Alex Burrows underwent shoulder surgery, while Ryan Kesler revealed he also played through a shoulder injury in the playoffs. It should come as no surprise that grit would be an issue when the two grittiest players in the Canucks top 6 forwards have shoulder injuries. So maybe it’s not quite as bad as we thought.
What was once the Canucks greatest strength not long ago is now their greatest need. Losing Willie Mitchell hurt greatly, and I contend that he is their most important defenseman. Christian Ehrhoff had a great season, but is not great defensively. Sami Salo actually stayed healthy for longer than anyone predicted, and had a solid season. Kevin Bieksa is now another year removed from his great breakout season, and I’m among those who think that he won’t regain the form that rewarded him with a big contract. Alex Edler stepped his game up more than anyone in the playoffs, which was a pleasant surprise. The Canucks D is missing a bit of nastiness though, something Kevin Bieksa is supposed to provide. It’s also missing a stud on the blueline that can eat up big minutes against the other team’s best players while contributing offensively.
The Canucks had a nice regular season, not a great one. They won their division, but finished fourth in points in the Western Conference. They were a clear notch below the Sharks and Blackhawks in the regular season and failed to make it past the second round. That is not the mark of an elite team ready to knock on the door. There were a lot of positive things that happened this year though (the emergence of the Sedins as elite players, Kesler and Burrows proving they can score consistently, Edler and Ehrhoff taking steps forward in their development). Mike Gillis has some things to tweak, no doubt. But how bad was it? It wasn’t so bad, and it can sure get a lot better.
Ten Days Away
The NHL entry draft is ten days away, which not only marks the day that teams pick future NHL stars, but also the start of the NHL trade frenzy! Speaking of frenzies, the free agency frenzy begins in just over two weeks.Check back before the draft and July 1st to get in-depth analysis of just what Mike Gillis’ options are.
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