April 17 2014 11:13AM
"If we dress up in camouflage, maybe nobody will be able to see what a garbage season we're having..."
When a season is going well, such asides as hiring sleep doctors, Kyle Wellwood being forced to diet, or Mats Sundin needing an oxygen tank five seconds into a shift, are seen as an amusing sidebar to an otherwise fun season.
When a season is going poorly, all of a sudden that story about how Kevin Bieksa forgot to recycle his beer cans becomes one of the leading theories as to why the season has fallen apart. "You can tell Kevin is unhappy. He's throwing away cans and hurting the environment, ergo, therefore, hence he hates the locker room environment as well. It's an extension of his mindset. I'm surprised you neanderthals missed it."
Despite how a season goes, however, we still owe it to google to pair it down and summarize how it went. You never know when someone might need to look up the 2014 season so they can try and compare it to a future Canucks season, to try and determine which one was worse.
So while it might seem weird to want to go over the top ten stories of a season gone horribly wrong, I will do my best to focus on the big stories, and less on the stories about how Daniel Sedin's dog walking style may have played a role in his diminished shooting percentage. Read past the jump to see the first half of the top ten stories of the Canucks 2014 season.
"The key to getting paid twice is to play so bad they pay you not to play hockey for them anymore. Yeah, I know, it makes no sense to me either, but that's how it works."
10. Who wants the last buyout?
With Keith Ballard being the inaugural member of the "Kiss My Buyout" club, it left only one more compliance buyout for the Canucks to use. Many people thought David Booth was going to be member number two. After all, the one time advanced stats darling had fallen on hard times, never having quite recovered from that knee injury delivered by then Avalanche player Kevin Porter (don't worry, karma got Porter back by making him end up on Buffalo. No, not the Sabres, the Sabres farm team. Yes, that's right, Porter wasn't good enough to make the Sabres roster.)
Since that time Booth has struggled to score, and has more importantly struggled with even more injuries, most notably the high ankle sprain that shredded his ankle into a pulpy mush and left him skating like Dana Murzyn.
Expectations for Booth had fallen so low that our very own Thomas Drance made a bet on twitter a year ago that Booth would score 10 goals this year (which as you'll remember, came down to the wire, as Drance lost by the hairs on Daniel Sedin's arm when Booth's 10th goal was later given to Daniel in the last game of the season).
Gone were the days of a player who....how did Thom describe him? A player with "a track record of dominating the puck and chipping in twenty-plus goals per season like clockwork (so long as he's healthy)." Luckily Thom saved himself with that caveat...
However, a funny thing happened with about a month left in the season. Around exactly one year after Booth destroyed his ankle, he started playing better. As Jason Botchford pointed out earlier this season, Booth was told it would probably take a year to fully recover from his ankle injury, and lo and behold, Booth started scoring and skating better just around that time.
Now, instead of Booth being a sure fire buyout, his play has people wondering if Booth might not be the guy to use the buyout on. The cap goes up next year. and if Booth can continue playing like he did in the last month of the season, maybe he survives being bought out. Booth will most likely never be a 4+ million dollar player again in his career, but there is only one year left on that contract.
Maybe the buyout turns its attention on Jason Garrison? As crazy as that sounds, if Garrison's groin (Garrison's Groin should be the name of a band) is something that will continue to make him play like he did this season (ie: burning trash), it might not be too far fetched to ponder getting rid of a contract that has four more years on it, versus the one year of David Booth.
The story continues so we shall have to wait it's resolution in the off-season.
"I know what you're thinking, and yes, my cape has a 'No Trade Clause' as well."
9. Jensen Train
A story near and dear to Canucks Army hearts, the Jensen Train (spoken using tongues firmly planted in cheek) had a memorable cameo this year, before drying up and being lost in the thunder of #TankNation (more on that later).
Nicklas Jensen, or JenJen as I call him, was the heir apparent to Michael Grabner. You know, the young fast enigma player that had the ability to score goals. This was a step up from the Patrick White type of player the Canucks previously enjoyed, which was the enigma player that had the ability to somehow be traded for a top four defenseman despite clearly being a bust (god bless you salary cap).
With not much in the way of forward depth in the organization, Jensen was one of the few players who looked like he had a chance to score some goals at the NHL level. Since being drafted by the Canucks, he has struggled with consistency, but like all good enigmas, he showed enough flashes of skill to have people curious to see what he could do at the NHL level.
So with a club starved for youth, Jensen was thrust straight into the spotlight.. when the season was basically already over. After waiting his turn, watching such NHL impact players like Darren Archibald, Benn Ferriero, and Pascal Pelletier take their turn with the team, all it took was a simple Zack Kassian suspension to finally give Jensen his turn with the big club. I don't even want to know how Sean Avery would describe that, but Jensen finally got his chance to shine with the Canucks, and shine he did.
Jensen arrived on a team stuck deep in the mires of tanking a season, and started scoring goals and helping the team win games. He actually scored on shots from the slot, something not seen in many moons around these parts. Things got so weird at one point that even the Sedins and Burrows started looking like actual top line NHL players again, as they feasted on the youthful exuberance Jensen was bringing to the team.
My theory? Jensen handed out that water from Space Jam to everyone, causing the team to play better for a short period of time. My second theory? When Jensen explained to the team that it was just normal water in those bottles, the team got super bummed and began playing poorly again.
The Jensen Train became derailed after a memorable ten game span (oddly enough it's derailment coincided with an injured Henrik Sedin), but his arrival on the team this year definitely warrants a spot on the top ten stories of the year.
"I'm not yelling, I'm just super excited to see you, GOD DAMN IT."
8. John Tortorella hired by the Canucks
Back when Alain Vigneault was on his way out, many people began pondering who the new coach for the Canucks might be. Would it be Dallas Eakins, the young hot shot coach (don't laugh) who looked ready to make the big step to the NHL? Or would the Canucks snag someone like John Stevens from LA, an assistant coach who had had success developing young defenseman, and might possibly be the key to unlocking the vast potential of Alex Edler (I said don't laugh)?
While pondering which coach might take over and step into the lozenge shadow of AV, one name seemingly came out of nowhere. John Tortorella. John? That guy who yells at Brooksie all the time? The hot headed coach who eats media members for breakfast? The guy who has a TSN top ten list dedicated to his infamous rants? That guy? Nah, that's crazy, why would the Canucks hire that -
Oh they hired him. Oh. Ok.
Yes, just like that, John Tortorella was hired. Meanwhile the Canucks, still riding the wave of being a hated team around the league, had fans wondering just how Torts would add to that reputation. After all, this is an organization that has a death grip on its PR team, making sure that if even a kernel of popcorn leaves the building, they know about it (they search me regularly). How would they handle Torts blowing up at the Vancouver media? Would Torts become a distraction to the team?
Well remember that Halloween episode of the Simpsons where Ned Flanders makes everyone go through Re-Neducation?
That's what I assume happened with John Tortorella. Torts introduced himself to the media on day one, and it was like a gentle grandpa, telling fun stories of days gone past. He talked about his love of dogs, taking time to get to know the roster, and his love of playing young players. He talked a great game, and somehow managed to stop a lot of people wondering if a recently fired coach that struggled to produce offense in New York, if a coach that ran into trouble with two star players in Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, if a coach that loved his entire team blocking shots, would fit in Vancouver.
Torts, if nothing else, showcased his ability to continue talking a great game during the course of the season. He made you believe he had the answers, even if that answer was sometimes running down a hallway in Braveheart-like fashion, ready to declare war (you bet there's more on that later).
It became a kind of game as the season wore on of "is this the day Torts snaps at the media." Despite crippling loss, after crippling loss, Torts always maintained his cool. People finally quit playing the Torts Eruption game after he was serene and calm after the team blew a three goal 3rd period lead to the Islanders late in the season. If he didn't blow up then, he was never going to lose it.
As of the publication of this article, Torts is still the coach of the team, but even that is in jeopardy now with Mr. Linden in charge. This just adds to the intrigue of the story, as Torts now faces the possibility of being a one and done coach with the Vancouver Canucks. How will it play out? We shall soon see..
"I can't wait to block that ball...."
7. Shot blocking! You get a blocked shot! You get a blocked shot! You all get blocked shots!
Aside from the huge fights I remember breaking out between Blake Price and some of the stats guys about blocking shots causing more injuries, one of the biggest things I'll remember about the 2014 season will be Torts making the team block shots.
Torts likes to "protect" his goalies by having the team collapse and attempt to block anything that even resembles a shot. If a player saw a black skate that could be mistaken for a puck, they would dive in front of it like it was a grenade and the only way to save his team was to take it in the face.
For some players, they excelled in this position (Chris Tanev became the golden child for Torts, as he summoned his inner Ryan Johnson and would break dance, throwing out limb after limb, to block shots, even if it meant being faked out by a shot and sliding himself dangerously out of position).
For other players, they did not excel in this position. In particular, the Sedins stood out to me as players who shouldn't block shots. Not because I don't think they're not manly enough to do it, no, mostly because they don't know how to do it properly. At one point in the season Daniel Sedin slid face first to block a shot. Call me crazy, but Daniel Sedin attempting to block a shot with his face seems like a less than ideal position.
Another added bonus of the new shot blocking system were the own goals that seemed to coincide with the team trying to block more shots. Ryan Stanton became particularly adept to deflecting the puck into his own net as he managed a hat trick of own goals against Eddie Lack this season. Edler, Garrison, and Bieksa all had their own own goals this season, but nobody was a natural at it quite like Stanton..
Want another bonus of the shot blocking system? When Torts "protected" his goalies by having the team collapse in an attempt to block every shot known to man, it left the point and the slot wildly open at times during this season. It also seemed to hamper the breakout because everyone was collapsed so low that they never really seemed to create many counter attacks.
Now, I probably come off as hating the new shot blocking regiment, and I am probably putting too much blame on it for causing troubles for the Canucks (injuries played the biggest role on the team this year if we're being fair). I still feel the focus on shot blocking caused the team to play a style of hockey they seem ill suited for. Torts claims the entire bench stands taller when they see a star player block a shot. I think the bench getting deflated over another goal from a guy wide open in the slot is worse, but to each their own.
For better or for worse, Torts did make shot blocking a characteristic of a team that was never really known for it. He took the team from 27th in the league in blocked shots in 2013 to 11th in 2014. If Torts manages to stick around, and the team doesn't have the injuries they had this year, maybe Torts can make me look like an absolute idiot for railing on his shot blocking ways. I look forward to the challenge.
6. Worst Season Ever.
One of the most notable aspects of the season was the fact that seemingly ever player on the Canucks had one of the worst seasons of their respective careers. Things were so bad that the leader in points this year was Henrik Sedin, with fifty points. He lead the team with FIFTY points. Paul Reinhart had more points with fifty seven back in '89 (though to be fair this is what a goalie looked like in '89)..
There is just so much room to shoot at, I have no idea how Gretzky didn't get a hundred goals in a season..
Still, do you know what the worst point total for the leading scorer of a Canucks team in a non-lockout shortened season is? FIFTY POINTS. Henrik Sedin. You would think one of those garbage teams during the expansion years of the Canucks would have had it worse, but nope, the '79 team was led by Ron Sedlbauer with fifty six freaking points. From a team that used to have Henrik leading the charge with a hundred plus points at the high point, or at the very least, a point per game clip of around seventy eight points, fifty points is quite the drop off.
Now again, different eras of hockey are hard to compare to each other (especially when one era had goalies wearing cereal boxes taped to their shins for pads), but the fact remains, no matter how you slice it, this was a terrible year for most Canuck players.
Whether is was bad luck in shooting percentage, injuries, or whatever, this season will go down as a train wreck, statistic wise. Alex Burrows and Daniel Sedin went on extended streaks of not scoring any goals. Burrows' streak was so bad that it took him until March 12th to get his first goal of the season. Daniel's season was so poor that it took him the last game of the season to record his first multi goal game of the season. As much maligned as Garrison was for the second half of the season, he somehow ended up fifth in team scoring. Mike Santorelli, remember him? The guy Martin "The Butcher of Eastwick" Hanzal carved up several months ago? He was seventh in team scoring despite only playing forty nine games.Yes, it truly was an ugly season.
The power play was also spectacular in its ability to not score this year. It was at the point where it became embarrassing when the Canucks PA guy would announce to the crowd the team was on a power play. Usually when you're about to do something really really awful you don't want someone announcing it, yet there we were, listening to John Ashbridge or Al Murdoch happily announce that the team was going to waste your time for two minutes. This was usually followed up quickly by DJ Dave playing the latest track from his Big Shiny Tunes CD, encouraging people to put their hands up in the air, during a 5-1 beating.
The hope is that this year was fuelled by bad luck, and that things will bounce back next year. It's hard to imagine things going much worse, so that theory probably holds true. In the meantime, we have an entire off-season to wonder how Dan Hamhuis only got 22 points despite being given what felt like three million minutes on the power play...
We'll be back with the Top 5 next week.