Canucks Battle Against Dying Light
It’s been a little over five years since Vancouver lost the seventh game of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final to the Boston Bruins.
The Canucks line up now is almost entirely different. Few, if any, would say it is better though. The club’s window of opportunity looks to have well and truly closed.
What is concerning about this is that the organisation’s response to this seems vague, as if they are simply continuing along the same road until the Sedin twins retire. A problem for tomorrow. As long as the playoff money keeps rolling in then why worry.
That hardly seems like the most inspiring sales pitch.
There’s no questioning the Sedin’s quality. It could be argued they have been underrated for large parts of their career, leading the Canucks – both figuratively and, in Henrik’s case, literally – for the best part of a decade.
The Sedins have been good, very good, for a long time. That they still produce at the same high level at 35 as they did at 25 speaks volumes about both their ability and their durability.
Under contract until 2018, it seems likely the Sedins will finish their careers as Canucks. And until then, it doesn’t appear Vancouver will be changing tack.
The organisation continues to hitch the wagon to the Ornskoldsvik natives, a playoff berth again a possibility this year, thanks largely to the general ineptitude of the Pacific Division.
It’s hard to tell if this is really a good thing though.
Vancouver seems like a club in need of a proper rebuild, while it’s youngsters are still young enough for it to be worth something.
I caught up with Wyatt Arndt, who covers the Canucks for The Province and Vancity Buzz, and his first response when I asked him about the Canuck’s present and future was simply: “Ha, man, that’s a loaded question”.
It was an almost perfect summary of how many Canucks fans seem to feel right now…
“The gap between “smart savvy veterans” and “the next ones” is too large right now.” Arndt continued. “The Sedins carried this team in the first part of the season, and now blind luck and good goaltending continues to keep them afloat.”
You can’t watch this team in the last two weeks and think to yourself “Yup, this team is going to be dangerous in the playoffs.””
Of course, it’s not as simple as just trading away the Sedins and starting over. But then, it doesn’t have to be.
Many close to the club still revere the Sedins for their ability and work ethic – qualities General Manager Jim Benning will want to see passed on to youngsters like Bo Horvat and Jake Virtanen. The next generation of Canucks can undoubtedly benefit from their presence.
The clubs biggest problem is not that they are married to the Sedins for at least a couple more years, but that there appears to be no plan to make the most of those two years as part of a plan to make the club a serious contender again.
“The gap between the old core and the new core is hurting the team.” Arndt said. “There is no transition plan to becoming a playoff contender aside from “Hope our current prospects play above their head, and pray Benning’s scouting background pays off so he can make do with whatever draft position they find themselves in.”
Horvat, Virtanen, break out defencemen Ben Hutton and Jared McCann all look to have the qualities required to become good NHL players. But there are few real blue chip prospects. No one you truly feel can take on the mantle of leadership, the same mantle the Sedins took on from Marcus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi nearly ten years ago.
Worse still, there isn’t much more in the pipeline. Outside of Hunter Shinkaruk and Thatcher Demko, the Canucks best prospects are all already with the club.
From Cup contenders to mediocrity inside five years.
And since Divisional realignment took place, the situation seems to have worsened.
Vancouver has anchored itself as a mid level team. Never bad enough to land a top pick but never looking good enough to get beyond the first round of the playoffs.
And that doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon.
“From my view point, the team is heading into that dreaded 8th, 9th, 10th finish. Out of the range of the top draft picks, but doing nothing of value in the playoffs or run up to the playoffs” Arndt told me.
It’s not all doom and gloom, there are some brighter moments. Hutton’s emergence has proved a welcome surprise for a club that seemed increasingly threadbare defensively, but there are still a number of players that feel like short term ‘plug ins’ rather than long term members of the organisation.
“Canucks future on defense is shakiest part of the whole team.” Arndt says “Even if Horvat, Virtanen and McCann turn into legit top 6 players, the defensive future right now doesn’t have elite talent.”
“Hutton looks really promising, but Edler/Tanev are the only real good defenders on the team – shout out to Hamhuis, but he’s struggled last year and this – and they aren’t spring chickens anymore.”
Never the less, Jim Benning seems like he’d rather keep the team’s current veterans around, regardless of any decline we might have seen in their game.
Perhaps this is a symptom of ownerships interests being somewhat short term – playoff qualification is the name of the game. Taking a step back so as to take two forward in the future does not appear to be an option for this team.
“The cynical feeling around town is that owners want playoffs for that sweet revenue it generates.” Arndt admits. “And if you’re not cynical, then you have to assume the team feels once you make the playoffs “anything can happen”.”
Whilst there is something to be said for the idea that a hot streak from Ryan Miller or an unexpected spike in form might carry the Canucks on one last spring streak, if anything it will only worsen the blow when the Sedins retire – robbing the club of two genuinely elite talents without having any kind of replacement for fans to cheer for.
It is often said a team is selling hope, or it is selling a winner. Vancouver doesn’t feel like it is truly able to offer up either of these things in the short or long term.
So where is this team heading exactly?
Again, Horvat, Virtanen and co will almost certainly be good NHL players.
But a group comprised almost entirely of players you could only describe as ‘good’ don’t win championships and it’s not the most inspiring thought for fans that in three years time the Canucks will have some ‘good’ forwards, a couple of ‘good’ defencemen and maybe a ‘good’ goalie.
They want a winner.
Problem is, Vancouver is currently making no progress towards being one.