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Woe (sports edition)

Well, my friends (all two or three of you out there who care), that's it. With a loss last night to the San Jose Sharks, the Canucks officially fell out of playoff contention. Yes, for the first time in (I believe) 5 seasons, the Canucks did not make it into the playoffs.

Not being a native Vancouverite and only having been a fan for a few years now, I'm more saddened by this than angry. Or maybe it's because I'm a sentimental sports-fan, and a somewhat forgiving chick. I *feel badly* for them. I'm disappointed in them, and I don't think this came out of nowhere, either. But I can be even-handed enough to look at the big picture, rather than blame it on easy targets (I know *exactly* what's being said all over the Van media right now, and on the messageboards I usually frequent).

This was a team that was, in fact, expected to contend for the Cup this year, not just get in the playoffs. Of course that has been said of them for the past several years. But this year it was The New NHL. The new GM worked hard to keep the team's core together, even though he had to renegotiate contracts under the new salary cap system. He basically said at the start of the season: I'm keeping the core together for one more shot at the Cup. Implicit in that, of course, is: fail, and I am going to retool this team like crazy.

If you listen to fans in Vancouver, this is what you'll hear: the team lacked work-ethic. The big line *sucked*. The coach has lost the team, they're tuning him out. Aaaugh.

Here's what I saw (and I don't really mean these as excuses, I just mean them as possible factors): after a strong start, less than a quarter of the way into the season, the team lost its #1 goalie to a knee injury; he'd never come back. (He had surgery, and might have been back for the playoffs, but...) The team proceeded to ride its #2 goalie, a rookie. He never really had adequate back-up. He performed far, far better than anyone expected -- in 3/4ers of a season he still racked up over 30 wins, but it wasn't *enough*. I would contend that while he was very good, we'll just never know how having to depend on a rookie affected the psychology of the team in front of him.

The team went into the season having lost their 4 and 5 d-men due to cap issues. They muddled through under the cap with AHL call-ups. Then they lost their #1 dman to injury (sports-hernia; he was out for months, just came back 2 games ago, but far too late). Then at the Olympics, they lost their #2 and #3 dmen to injury as well. (One returned earlier than he probably should have, from broken ribs; the other never made it back into the line-up.)

The first line, the former "big line", the West Coast Express... never clicked. Yeah, they sucked. Nobody's really sure why. The team's captain and usual #1 scorer played for 8-12 weeks with a strained groin; thank goodness for the Olympic break that let him heal up. The second line... that's who I really feel for, because the Sedin twins and Anson Carter had a career year this year. The Sedins finally broke out, and Carter, who last season had bounced between injury and 3 different teams, and put up only 11 goals, this year scored over 30. They were Vancouver's top line. It wasn't enough, not with a lack of production either from the first line or from the D or really from the bottom two lines, either.

So, I feel that when you look back at this season -- yeah, you see a top line that didn't do what everyone knew they were capable of doing. You see some questionable coaching choices (playing the goalie into the ground because you don't have confidence in the back-ups, for example). But seriously, when you look at it -- what you see is a team that honestly had a year of grueling injuries chipping away at their defense, their goal production, and it wouldn't surprise me, at their morale. Nobody rewards you if you fail to perform miracles, basically. But in truth, it's probably amazing that the Canucks stayed in contention right up until their second-to-last game.

A word, too, about the Northwest division. One of the effects of The New NHL (tm) was a major change in schedule. It used to be that a team would play 6 times against its divisional opponents; now it's 8 times. The Northwest is a tough division. I would have more respect for Detroit, for example, if I wasn't suspicious that their first-in-the-NHL record wasn't due in part to their having 3 of the *worst* teams in the entire NHL in their division. Yeah, yeah, you look *real* tough, beating up on the Blackhawks and the Blue Jackets and the Blues all the time. The Northwest, meanwhile, stayed remarkably even for most of the year. The Canucks weren't quite .500 against divisional opponents, and that cost them, obviously -- but as I wrote here just a couple of weeks ago, there was a point, with about 10 games to go in the season, where it was *possible* for 4 of the 5 teams in the Northwest to wind up in a 4-way tie for first place in the division. (It didn't actually happen.) That's the kind of division it was.

So, a moment of silence for the 2005-06 Canucks. The expectation everywhere is that the team is going to get blown up during the summer. Some big names are very, very likely to be traded. There are some valuable UFAs to be signed, they might not even be able to retain *those*, some others might retire, and basically, the old core had its chance, now it's time to retool.

I'm a sentimental sports-fan, as I said. I'm pretty bummed at the idea that *these guys*, who are "my guys" because they were The Guys when I got into the team, won't get a shot at the Cup. Even if next year's Canucks are much, much better (and even if they retain some of my favorite players, which in the case of Ohlund at least looks like a guarantee), and even if they contend for and god forbid *win* the Cup next year, I'll still feel a little sad that *this* group of guys couldn't do it together. Ah well.



( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 14th, 2006 07:58 am (UTC)

Is angry.

But he's been a fan twenty years, so...


Apr. 14th, 2006 08:15 am (UTC)
*nods* I totally understand the anger position. It's really difficult not to question the work-ethic. They often looked flat. What the hell was *that*? I don't know anyone who didn't say that they wouldn't care so much if they lost, so long as it looked like they were giving it their all for every shift. It's difficult not to look at Bertuzzi and say, "... the fuck?" I personally don't even know what theory I subscribe to, with regard to him. I just don't know.

But Bertuzzi's a headcase anyway, I mean it's not like we didn't know that. Morrison's year-long slump is harder to explain unless you just chalk it up to the implosion of the "big line" as a whole. Do I have questions about Crawford? You bet I do. I don't want to say that face-offs killed the Canucks, a *lot* of things killed them, but... I vividly remember one game (even if I can't remember exactly who the opponent was) against a team that was *very* good on face-offs, and they showed a little footage of a face-off drill their coach made them go through, and I looked at that, and was thinking, jesus, Crow, why aren't you making the Canucks do that until they drop?

But there's a lot of unknowables in sports, and I think there were a bunch of unknowables about the team this year. They were pretty well set-up to start out. And they started pretty well. But after that, honestly, the position they were in, the only role they had left open to them was "Cinderella story". And while everyone really loves those "triumphing through adversity" tales, they are valued because of their rarity.

I should have added that in some ways, I won't mind seeing the team retooled. I'd prefer *this* team with spark and work-ethic back, but... I'm not sure I believe they can *get* it back as the line-up stands right now.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 14th, 2006 08:52 am (UTC)
Sadly, we'll never know, now. ;-) (Had the Canucks managed to eke into the playoffs, it's clear they would have been playing the Red Wings in the first round.) I just want to point out that the last time those two teams met in the playoffs (the Canucks with substantially the same line-up as they have now), it was the Canucks who won in an upset.

I have little doubt that the Wings will beat the Oilers, though. I'm not so sure they're going to get out of the West, though.

I'm not really sure *who* I'll be pulling for now. From the West, probably the Sharks (partly because of Thornton; man, Boston has a *bad* habit of giving up clutch guys to Western teams... last time they did that, it was Borque, and the Avs won the Cup). From the East... er... Ottawa. If the Canucks can't be the team to bring the Cup home to Canada, I wouldn't mind if it was Ottawa.
Apr. 14th, 2006 08:59 am (UTC)
Full disclosure: the Canucks met the Blues 4 times this year. They lost every time. It's not like they should not HANG THEIR HEADS IN SHAME over that, alone. Yeah, those 8 points are lookin' pretty damned IMPORTANT now, aren't they? *shakes head* There are many ways in which the Canucks deserve chastisment this year. Still. You ride your rookie #2 goalie for 75% of the season, and let's see how you do.

(Also, hey, they split the season series with the Wings.)
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 14th, 2006 09:32 am (UTC)
You're right. I totally wouldn't mind seeing the Wings win it all for StevieY's sake. He's such a class act.
Apr. 14th, 2006 11:02 am (UTC)
Now that the boys are out of contention, I'd like to see the Redwings go all the way for Yzerman - mind, hasn't he been retiring for the last five or ten years? ;o)

I'd feel the same way about the Canucks if I'd seen some games (which I haven't at all this year :( ), even though I'll actually be in Van for the playoffs. The goalie situation has been rocky for years. Cloutier is getting to the end of his career and is prone to injury, as marvellous as he is on a good night. Auld has always had a confidence problem, possibly because no-one has ever bothered to think of him as a #1 choice and has been in Clouts shadow since he came up to the Show. Not to mention going up and down from the Canucks to the Moose and back like a yoyo. That lack of confidence makes him a shaky goalie and not someone the D could easily put their trust in IMO. That's not to say he can't stand on his head *sometimes* but consistency is a problem. Add to that being relied upon to start for the whole season after Clouts bowed out... it doesn't paint a pretty picture.

Bert is bound to be a different player on account of what happened a couple of years ago, and given the year out and all these variables, it's bound to be difficult to find the team dynamic they've had in previous seasons. It's frustrating, because 'on any given night' when the Canucks are working and it's all clicking into place, they could beat any team, anywhere.

Yeah, I'm a sentimental sports fan too. Maybe because I've known so many hockey players in my time (not the big leagues, but the ethic is the same) and I can't bring myself to be too critical (they're always their own worst critics) or be a fairweather fan. I've been with the Canucks since I was 13 and I can't let them down now just because they've had a rough run.
Apr. 14th, 2006 02:10 pm (UTC)

That's my biggest gripe with Cloutier, of course -- I'm sorry, I *know* that he and Brodeur are the only two goalies recently to put together 3 30+ win seasons in a row, but... at this point you really have to call him "injury prone". And that's the nice way to dodge the "collapses in the playoffs" charge. (Last year, he got injured, instead of merely blowing it.)

Auld... I feel looked better, more confident, this year than he did when he had to take over the playoffs from Cloutier last year. He tends to look pretty calm out there. I like the kid. But I said it when he took over -- I am not slamming him at *all*, I'm just... not sure that they can ride him as the #1 into the playoffs. Oh, look -- sadly, I'm right. I think he's really quite good. But he's still very young and unformed. He went above and beyond the call. But in the final analysis, he isn't yet a stud #1 goalie. (Though, ironically, with this season behind him, he could be next year.) I mean, GEEZ, they rode him into the *ground*. I don't have the stats on-hand, but they really seemed to play him for a ridiculous number of games in a row. I can only think of three or four games in the past few MONTHS that had either of the back-ups as starters.

I think you're onto something, in regard the D and even the others on the team not feeling that confident in him. A lot of folks in Van criticized both the forwards and the D for not playing more defensively in front of Auld... on the other hand, you can point out that his +30 wins may have had a *lot* to do with the team in front of him and not just with his own above-the-call performance. We'll just never know how much of an unseen toll in morale it took on the team.

Bert... I tend to be less hard on him than others are. But I do kind of wonder if some people are correct, when they comment that Van (for all its support of him through a very rough time) is too much of a pressure-cooker for the guy. Whether the truth really is that a change of scenery and a hockey town like Florida, where he can go out to dinner without a hundred spotlights on his every move... whether that might not help him. He really did have flashes of brilliance, of the old Bert. But it was clearly wanting too much, to expect him to get over everything and be The Old Bert this year. And I'm afraid that that was all he was going to be given, by Van. They (the town, the fans, maybe the team itself) aren't going to give him another year.

I don't want to let them down now, either. I feel for them; man, I just want to give them all big hugs! Because you're right, I do believe deep down that they are as tough on themselves as anyone. I'll follow the team, whatever shape the team is in from here on out. The guys who leave, and it's inevitable that some will, I'll miss. I think they'll come out of this, hopefully retooled into something a little stronger, a little fresher. But hey, that's following a team, for you.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )