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.I've written sparingly about Vancouver this season, but I think my feelings have been made pretty clear in the past.
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 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?