The Hockey News has sparked a lot of talk in the hockey world lately by picking the Canucks to win the Western Conference last Wednesday. The Hockey News has also picked the boys from the West Coast to win the Stanley Cup this season. This is significant because to the best of my knowledge, no well respected publication has ever picked the Canucks to win the Stanley Cup at the beginning of a season. This, of course, terrifies me.
While I bleed Canucks blue and I think this could be their best chance to win it all, I also have a long memory. As any true Canucks fan, I hope for the best but assume the worst. Such is the reality of cheering for a team that has zero Stanley Cups and has only made it past the second round twice in 40 years. This is also a team that does well when nobody expects them to and poorly when expectations are high. Look no further then to 2005-06 when they were expected to be a contender but missed the playoffs or in 2006-07 when they were expected to miss the playoffs but won their division. I have seen analysts pick the Canucks for the cup in April before, ending of course in a first or second round loss.
So what should we make of this bold prediction? The Province is going so far as calling it a “defining moment” in the franchise’s history. I wouldn’t go that far (Trevor Linden embracing Kirk McLean after winning game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final is a defining moment), but it is certainly significant.
If we can all agree that this is a significant statement by the Hockey News, but is it merited? Looking through Canuck coloured glasses, it is often difficult to measure-up the team we see on a daily basis to other teams around the league. That’s why it was so interesting to see Ryan Lambert from Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog respond to the Hockey News prediction:
That got the Vancouver Province and Hockey News wondering: Are the Canucks now the best team in the West?
And honestly, I don’t even think you have to ask it as a question any more.
The Vancouver Canucks are simply the best team in the Western Conference, and maybe in the NHL. Go look at their roster and tell me who gets more points than that team. A wonderful combination of skill and toughness, plus two of the top three players at their position in the league. And a genuinely terrible Northwest Division sure isn’t going to hurt.
It’s one thing to hear those kinds of words from a member of the local media or even a Canadian publication such as The Hockey News or TSN. It’s quite another to hear it from an American blogger with no biases towards Vancouver. Lambert even went further, showing how Vancouver measures up:
Beyond that small handful of teams, everyone has flaws that will keep them well out of contention for the title of “Best in the West.”
And even more than that, it’s honestly rather difficult to come up with a team in the East that can stack up with Vancouver’s roster. Pittsburgh’s good down the middle and has an excellent D corps, but that wing depth (what wing depth?) and goaltending leave a lot to be desired. Washington has a very good forward group, obviously, but not so much on defense or in net. Boston’s looking for a bounceback year. New Jersey’s typically good-not-great these days. Philly has potential problems in net and to a lesser extent up front.
Not even most optimistic Canucks fans would dare say that the Canucks look better on paper than the Washington Capitals. But Puck Daddy does, why? Well perhaps we’re too hard on our guys. I’ll reserve judgement on my season predictions for the moment, but you can see the reasoning behind a Canucks Stanley Cup prediction when asking the question: what is the Canucks weakness? If it’s in goal, then having Roberto Luongo as your weakest link can’t be a bad thing can it? If it’s on defense, then having 6 blueliners making over $3 million as your weakest link can’t be a bad thing can it? Certainly their weakest link can’t be a top 6 forward group that includes a Selke trophy finalist and a Hart Trophy winner (nevermind his twin brother who is just as good but doesn’t get the pub). My point? Just about every team in the league has one glaring hole.
I’m not going to go out on a limb predicting a championship for our hometown team, well, simply because I’m too scared to do so.