Friday, April 04, 2008

Canucks meet their end

Just as the Vancouver Canucks were stepping onto the General Motors Place ice surface Thursday night, the Nashville Predators were celebrating a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues, a win that brought them within a whisker of the NHL's postseason.

And so, when the puck dropped, the situation for the Canucks was clear. No more varying scenarios and complicated mathematics. Just old fashioned Game 7 stakes: win and play on, or lose and go home. On home ice, against an opponent with nothing to gain, a playoff team might have responded to such circumstances.

But the Canucks are not a playoff team.
I've written sparingly about Vancouver this season, but I think my feelings have been made pretty clear in the past.

I don't like the way Dave Nonis has built the club, I didn't pick them to make the playoffs in October and I think last season represented the absolute peak potential of this group. They couldn't score last year — at home, on the road, during the season, in the playoffs, not in a box, not with a fox — and are on pace to somehow finish with even fewer goals this time around.

That's just too much pressure on Roberto Luongo, especially if injuries hit.

It's one thing to play defensive hockey and win, the way teams like New Jersey and Boston have this season, but to miss the postseason while also serving up tedious hockey for a rabid fan base?

That doesn't make a lot of sense.

To be fair, the Canucks' blue line was decimated this season by injury, with Mattias Ohlund missing 30 games, Sami Salo 20, Kevin Bieksa nearly 50 and Lukas Krajicek about half the season. Even still, they received a terrific, breakout performance from Alex Edler, and given his play when healthy, were probably better off without Bieksa, who finished with a blue-line worst minus-8 despite playing just 33 games.

In 2006-07, an awful lot went right in Canuckville, including the emergence of Bieksa as a horse, but that's not happening every season. And when your top point getter tops out at 15 goals, as Henrik Sedin has this season, that's not going to go very far.

The Canucks' top-end scoring after the Sedins is nonexistent, especially without Brendan Morrison, as the third- and fourth-highest scorers this season have just 37 points. The lowest-scoring teams in the league have managed better than that.

(One of the other major issues is that this organization, throughout its history, hasn't been able to draft worth beans. So, instead of having his youngsters play a major role, as is happening all over the league, coach Alain Vigneault is forced into shielding them from anything resembling top opposition and still having the Krajiceks of Canuckdom lit up like a Christmas tree.)

But I think, really, what it comes down to for Vancouver is a lack of leadership from a pretty vanilla group, and it's going to take a major overhaul to right that wrong. Hand the reins to the likes of Ryan Kesler and give ice time to players like Edler, deal some of that so-called defensive depth for someone who can play a first-line role on offence, and by all means either give Markus Naslund a salary befitting his role or part ways with him.

The window for success with Luongo in the fold is fleeting, and you get the sense that, at some point, he's going to want out.
"Emotionally, it has been a rough couple of weeks," he said. "Mentally, it was probably the hardest season I've played for many reasons, not just the ones you guys are thinking about. There was a lot of stuff going on this year."
How much better off is he in Vancouver than Florida?



At 9:17 a.m., April 04, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luongo for Toskale and Sundin? C'mon...make it happen. I know, I know, but a guy can dream.

At 9:17 a.m., April 04, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

obviously, I meant ToskalA.

At 9:55 a.m., April 04, 2008, Blogger Jeff J said...

"Mentally, it was probably the hardest season I've played for many reasons, not just the ones you guys are thinking about. There was a lot of stuff going on this year."

"Luongo's wife Gina gave birth to a girl Thursday afternoon in South Florida..."

Hardest season... Lot of stuff going on... wife stays in Florida... Is anyone else thinking Pronger Redux?

At 10:00 a.m., April 04, 2008, Blogger GCFB said...

Sabre fans would love Luongo. Miller, Afinogenov, Kotalik and 2 number 1's for Roberto.

Never going to happen, but why not put out crazy ideas.

At 10:09 a.m., April 04, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Stanley Cup Changes Nothing if your team doesn't make the playoffs - Luongo

At 10:24 a.m., April 04, 2008, Anonymous Kevin Forbes said...

It's just poor planning that for a bunch of years there, Vancouver was a team that "all they were missing was a goalie." Now they have a goalie and they just don't have a team.

The window of opportunity already closed on that Vancouver of the early 2000s, arguably before they even made that Luongo trade. So now the question is will they be able to turn things around while Luongo is there.

With Naslund, Morrison, Linden and Miller coming off the books, they will have some cap room to play with. But it's not good news for Canucks fans that this year's crop of free agents doesn't seem to have that many scoring forwards. Meanwhile they don't have many strong prospects coming down the tubes that can fill that roll. Ryan Shannon as a second-line centre is not a plan for success.

At 11:02 a.m., April 04, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jokinen for Luongo (E24).

At 11:10 a.m., April 04, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

James - Have you even watched the Devils this year? If so, how can you possibly lump them in with Boston as a "boring" team? They may not score much, but they play an aggresive, high-tempo game.

Last year's Devils were boring to watch, but this group certainly is not.

Boston on the other hand, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.


At 11:12 a.m., April 04, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Fair point Jim — Sutter's done a good job there.

I should have said "low scoring" because the Devils are certainly still that.

At 11:19 a.m., April 04, 2008, Blogger Dennis Prouse said...

If Luongo wants to know why Vancouver missed the playoffs, all he needs to do is look in the mirror. He simply did not have the same kind of season he had last year. He had his moments, sure, and it's not like his stats were horrible, but he is being paid like a top three NHL goalie. His stats say he was #12 or #13, depending on whether you want to look at average or save percentage. If he played like a $7 million a year goalie should down the stretch, instead of getting chased twice in crucial games and spending a lot of time flying back and forth to Florida, this team is probably still in the hunt. You hate to lay in all on one guy, but when you sign a $35 million contract that says you are "the guy", then you accept the pressure that goes along with it.

Now, I understand that his wife had a very difficult pregnancy, and understandably Luongo's mind was elsewhere for a lot of this season. Once he has had some time to reflect, though, I would expect that a proud guy and fierce competitor like this will saddle up, start planning his off-season conditioning program, and will be back in Vancouver's camp with something to prove in September.

BTW, if Luongo wants to wash the bad taste of this season from his mouth, and quiet any detractors, he can start by accepting an invitation to play at the Worlds for Canada.

At 11:36 a.m., April 04, 2008, Blogger Steve Patterson said...

you can absolutely not blame the season on luongo. the guy played his heart out. the canucks leading the division for the first half of the year was probably misleading because he stole so many games for the team in november. he looked tired at the end, probably as much due to the off-ice stuff as the amount of games he played, but anybody who blames him for the canucks missing the playoffs is blind to the team's real problems.

scoring is a big problem, yes, but the biggest problem i see is a lack of leadership. this team showed absolutely no desperation the past few weeks of the season. none. the sedins as first liners is an absolute failure...they rack up points against small teams but disappear in big games. naslund as a captain was a failure (has any captain in league history led so many playoff push chokes???). the team's second line is ryan shannon, matt pettinger, and brad isbister...i mean, come on. with top 6 forwards like that they are going nowhere.

until canucks management realizes that:
1) luongo is the franchise's best ever chance to win the stanley cup
2) the sedins as first liners will never win the stanley cup and therefore must be traded
3) naslund is a born loser and therefore must not be resigned
...this team is going nowhere.

At 12:21 p.m., April 04, 2008, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) Other than Canuck fans, few will be sad to see Vancouver and their boring style miss the playoffs.

At 12:23 p.m., April 04, 2008, Blogger Pinder said...

They could trade the entire team with the exception of Burrows and Luongo and I wouldn't blink. What good are the Sedins if they're only good for the first 70% of the season?

At one game I went to this year, I noticed that most people who were wearing the new jerseys had no name/number on the back. That's a sign of what your fans think of the leadership on this team. "Naslund, Morrison, Linden will be leaving. There's no point getting one of the Sedins since they're a unit. Kessler isn't good enough yet. I'll just leave it blank."

At 1:16 p.m., April 04, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you expect? Canucks wanted to get rid of Burkie and then they chose Nonis over Tambellini.

Leafs chose Fergie, Nucks chose Nonis. What's the difference.

At 1:18 p.m., April 04, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

God I hope that Dave Nonis can manage a miracle in this off-season by doing any or all of the following.

1) With a reasonably high draft pick, not go off the board and grab a kid no one has heard of and take the Best pick available with some offensive talent.

2) Make a move to bring back Morrison because the teams depth when he is in the lineup has always been better. As a 2nd line center he gets the job done as well as you can hope for.

3) Give the C to Kesler, the only forward on the team who consistently plays with his heart on his sleeve every night... well Burrows as well but you don't give the 'C' to a ball hockey star ;)

4) Move at least one of our 3.5 million dollar D-men with their bargain contracts out of town for someone with proven first line scoring experience.

5) A legit scoring threat who will stand in front of the net and let the Sedin twins bank pucks off of for 30 a year (see younger Anson Carter)

At 1:19 p.m., April 04, 2008, Anonymous Jeff said...

It's amazing that it took up until the last week of the regular season for sports writers and rabid Canucks fans to realize that this team just isn't very good.

Last season was a complete abberation where EVERY bounce went their way. They aren't any more or less talented this year and they played this year to the level of their ability.

Building the team around Luongo, as great a goalie as he is, has been a mistake. When your goalie is your best player it's basically boring hockey. Especially in Vancouvers case, when your forwards can't score and you are just hoping that Luongo can basically be perfect EVERY game.

Think of it this way Canucks fans, would you rather WATCH a Canucks team with Luongo? Or a Canucks team with Pavel Bure in his prime? I think most people would vote for Bure. In the end, Bure was fun to watch and exciting to cheer for, even if the rest of the team wasnt that good.

If Bure was on a breakaway and JUST misses, it still got everyone excited and out of their seats. If Luongo is facing a breakaway and JUST misses, it's still a goal.

At 2:10 p.m., April 04, 2008, Blogger Kel said...

Leafs chose Fergie, Nucks chose Nonis. What's the difference.

Not saying Nonis is great, but at least they won a round last year and no monstrous contracts with no-trade clauses.

the team's second line is ryan shannon, matt pettinger, and brad isbister...i mean, come on. with top 6 forwards like that they are going nowhere.

They were missing Morrison, Raymond and Pyatt, all of them you'd play on the 2nd line before those you mentioned.

When Mason Raymond went down, it was big trouble. Losing Morrison probably sealed it. Don't forget the blueline. Missing Ohlund, Miller, and Krajicek, Mitchell and Salo were the only regular NHL defencemen playing. Bieksa had one good season (more like two-thirds, because later last season he started to suck. I said that even when they were winning the division). Edler had half a good season and his performance followed the footpath of Bieksa. Bourdon played his worst game last night despite making some improvement mid-season. Weaver also was terrible last night. Yes, the team couldn't score a lot when healthy, but they probably would have won a few more games by playing better D and that's the difference this season.

I'd still see changes. The whole team is so slow and hapless against fast teams like the Oilers.

I'm not sure I'd want to see Nonis fired, but I wouldn't be unhappy if he is, as long as his replacement is Tambellini, not Ferguson.

At 8:15 p.m., April 04, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luongo is the man. Canucks need to think about scoring more than 1 goal sometimes....


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