As I sit in the comfort of my own living room, watching drunken hooligans ransack downtown stores, I was finally able to relax myself enough to type this up. I, like most of you, truly believed this was THE year. A President’s Trophy, a Clarence Campbell Bowl, a franchise record for points in a season, a William M. Jennings Trophy, an Art Ross Trophy, and Hart, Selke, Vezina, and Adams Trophy nominations. The highest scoring team in the regular season. The highest scoring defensive corps in the regular season. Let’s not forget that home teams in Game 7s of the finals were 12-3, and the whole trend of Stanley Cup wins after hosting Olympics in Canada. But quite simply put, it was not meant to be. Boston was the better team this series, and as painful as it was to watch them lift Lord Stanley’s Cup in OUR home arena, they deserved it. Here are my reasons why things turned out the way they did.
1. Boston was able to bend the rules enough to gain an advantage.
As much as fans in Vancouver love blaming the officiating and bellyaching about how there is a “conspiracy” against the Canucks, I believe that these are just excuses. No matter what is thrown at you, champions find a way to win. I hate using bad officiating as an excuse, so I won’t, as frustrating as it can be (Game 6, 1st period, Chara beats the crap out of Henrik, yet BOTH are given penalties?!?!) Officiating aside, Boston was able to get away with so much behind the scenes: slashes to the hands and legs, high crosschecks that don’t look that brutal because their hands were placed close enough together to make it look like a push, etc). What made it worse was the embellishing the Canucks did. They already have a reputation of embellishing, so officials are already cognizant that some Canucks will try to sell calls, so when they cry wolf too often, even if it inflicts real pain, nothing will be called. The Canucks could have easily been chippier at the end of Games 3, 4, and especially 6, with the score being out of reach. Mark Messier broke Cliff Ronning’s hand with less than a minute remaining in Game 6 of the 1994 final, and crosschecked Trevor Linden in the face. The game was already out of reach for the Rangers, so why not try to weaken the opponent for the game that really matters, Game 7? Brad Marchand knew exactly what he was doing when he punched Daniel in the face FOUR times in the waning moments of Game 6. I was pleading with the Canucks to resort to some dirty stuff, but alas, nothing.
2. Boston has the better depth upfront.
The Bruins are a large, physical team, especially on the backend, with a good mix of size, skill, speed, scoring touch, defense, toughness, trash talkers, muckers, aggressiveness, and most importantly, the will to fight through any obstacle to win, upfront. Going into the Finals, I knew that Boston’s top 12 forwards were stronger on paper, and after watching 7 games, they definitely proved it. To have a guy like Nathan Horton getting knocked out in Game 3, and being able to go 4-1 the rest of the way proves it. They had Rich Peverley on their FOURTH line. This guy had 22 goals and 55 points for Atlanta last year! His transition to the top line was seamless. Imagine the Canucks losing Alex Burrows, and having to move a 4th line player to the top line. Who would you pick? Oreskovich? Glass? Bolduc? Hodgson?
No Hamhuis. No Raymond. No Samuelsson. And only fractions of the true players Kesler (groin/hip), Edler (back/2 broken fingers), Ehrhoff (shoulder), Higgins (foot) were (and I’m sure there are more that we don’t know about yet). It’s true that you can’t use injuries as an excuse, as Ryan Kesler bravely said in his post-game interviews, but let’s be realistic here: that is SEVEN Canucks out or playing through substantial injuries. Add to this the Rome suspension and that makes it EIGHT players. That’s ONE player short of HALF the TEAM (forwards + defense)! It’s true that the Canucks have great depth, especially on the backend, but when guys like Ballard, Tanev, Alberts, Tambellini, and a not 100% healthy Malhotra get called to action in the STANLEY CUP FINAL, it’s tough…and the Canucks could not recover from all those injuries. Aside from Horton, did it seem like any Bruins were in the same physical shape as the Canucks listed above?
What the Canucks need next year to make another run:
For a team to make it this far into the playoffs, stars really do need to align. For the Canucks this year, it was a combination of many things: San Jose’s injuries. The stanchion in Game 5 of the Conference Final. The rolling puck on Burrows’ Game 7 OT winner against Chicago. The round 2 Nashville matchup (Kesler was able to bring his game to new heights, mostly due to the fact that Nashville’s 2nd D pairing, which Kesler got to play against a lot, drop off substantially from the Weber/Suter pair, who played against the Sedins). And while the bounces that were there in the first 3 rounds didn’t help the Canucks in Game 7, it did get them 25 games into the playoffs, a Canucks record.
The Canucks were bullied by the Bruins. We need more assholes on this team (excuse my language). But seriously, we need assholes who are respected in the NHL…or at least more respected than the “assholes” that are on the team now (Burrows, Kesler, Lapierre). Even Kevin Bieksa gets no respect. I look at a guy like Shawn Thornton who changed the series in Game 3 with his insertion into the lineup. I look at a guy like Dave Bolland, who changed the Vancouver/Chicago series when he returned in Game 4. These 2 are bonafide shit disturbers who for some reason, are respected for their play by fans, media, other players, and referees. The Canucks don’t have anybody like that (Rick Rypien would have fit the role well). And why is it that Vancouver pests in recent memory are all hated around the league? Names that come to mind: Matt Cooke and Jarkko Ruutu.
Humbleness from Roberto Luongo.
I have defended Luongo from many “fans” who are keen on criticizing him about everything he does. I own 2 Luongo jerseys, 1 autographed, and I am truly a big fan. You can’t blame him for the Game 7 loss if the team can’t put a single puck behind Thomas, but man, Roberto needs to be less cocky, less about him, and phrase things in interviews so that others can’t use it against him. I’m finding it harder and harder to defend him, and I hate to say it, but if the fans and media in Vancouver are going to be all over him all the time, I don’t know how much longer this relationship can last (not long enough until his NTC expires). I’m not sure I even want to type out the following, but after listening more and more to his interviews and pressers, reading his quotes, and whatnot, it might just be easier for him (and us) to play somewhere else.
A top 6 forward who can play with Ryan Kesler
List of potential UFAs who could fit this role and within a reasonable salary: Jussi Jokinen. Justin Williams. Tomas Fleischmann. Tomas Kopecky. Eric Cole. And after their performances in the playoffs this year: Sean Bergenheim/Joel Ward. As you can see, the list ain’t great. This year’s UFA forwards aren’t particularly a strong group, so it’ll definitely be slim pickings if the Canucks want to improve their top 6.
Try to re-sign as many of the UFA defensemen as possible.
With the imminent retirement of Sami Salo, and Christian Ehrhoff and Kevin Bieksa heading to unrestricted free agency, this leaves the Canucks D looking like this as of June 15: Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler, Keith Ballard, Chris Tanev, Aaron Rome. I wouldn’t bet on both Ehrhoff and Bieksa coming back (although I’d love for them both to return), so getting at least one of them is the priority, and I’m leaning towards Bieksa (right hand shot, grit, shutdown abilities, offensive skill, and mobility). There is some high-end defensemen available, but they’re going to be quite pricey. Maybe somebody like Ian White or Anton Babchuk would fit the Canucks mold of being mobile, having a good first pass, and responsible defensively. Plus, if the past few seasons have shown anything, you can’t have enough defensemen on hand.
Health (see above).
All things aside, and all frustration cleared, the Canucks had an unbelievable year, and were one win from winning the Stanley Cup. All recent Stanley Cup champions have endured late round heartache before being able to win the big prize (Pitt losing to Detroit before winning it all, Chicago losing to Detroit in the Conference Final the year before winning it all, Boston losing all those series in Game 7s before winning 3 Game 7s this year to win it all). I’m still very confident that next year will be another great year for this team. Until September, Go Canucks Go!