Do you touch the trophy, or not?
Photo credit globaltv.com
Now that the dust has begun to settle on this year’s Stanley Cup, let’s compare the last two Canuck squads who earned trips to the Finals.
Perhaps it’s too early do so because personally, I have yet to get over the sting of our Game 7 home ice loss back on June 15th, but I’m gonna give it a try anyways.
Let’s begin our analysis from the top:
GMs: Quinn vs. Gillis
During their respective runs to the Stanley Cup Finals, the GM’s of each team took 2 very different approaches in prepping for the playoffs. The 1994 edition of the Vancouver Canucks (dressed in their freakin’ awesome bad ass Black and Orange jerseys) had a handful of deals completed from the season’s opening until the trade deadline. Key players who were added to the team included Martin Gelinas, Jeff Brown, Nathan LaFayette and Bret Hedican. We also shipped out Jimmy Carson, Dixon Ward and Robert Dirk. Obviously the deals strengthened the defense corps as well as added some hard nosed forwards who capably filled out the bottom 2 lines. Pat Quinn did a stellar job in assembling a team loaded with character and grit who came together for an improbable playoff run, after underachieving during the regular season. They finished 7th in the West that year.
Now take a look at this year’s team. Mike Gillis carefully dissected his teams which lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in both the 2009 and 2010 Conference Semi Finals, aka the Second Round. He decided the defense lacked mobility and also a bit of creativity. His answer was the addition of Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard who took over from Willie Mitchell and Shane O’Brien. Both additions included players who could skate, but lacked the size of the players who departed. However, the biggest difference between Quinn and Gillis were the in-season moves. Gillis’ team was atop the NHL standing when the trade deadline arrived and he chose not to mess with the chemistry of a well oiled machine. He didn’t trade for more scoring, which many people had hoped for, but he did add some depth at the forward position by acquiring Chris Higgins and Max Lapierre. These deals did prove to aid some big holes, especially when Higgins took a second line spot for Samuelsson and Lapierre amiably replaced Manny Malhotra’s 3rd line centre position.
In my estimation Pat Quinn’s additions were more effective in making the whole team better, while Gillis’ moves merely added reasonably capable bodies to the line up without really improving the team to the degree Quinn did. Having said that, you can’t dock points from Gillis because he didn’t make in-season moves because he had assembled a President’s trophy winner beginning in the off-season.
Now the Coaches:
Quinn vs. Vigneault
Pat Quinn was the picture of a General going into battle in my estimation. He always seemed to carry himself with the swagger of a leader. His style was big, classic and from the old school. He showed more emotion than many, but boy did he have that ‘94 team on the same page when it counted most.
Alain Vigneault on the other hand is almost always relaxed, confident and stoic. He doesn’t get too loud and he’s very diplomatic in his post game pressers, even when controversy is the main entree on the menu. And he looooves throat lozenges.
In terms of in-game moves and decisions, each coach had their moments of brilliance and non-resonance. It really is true that the team takes on the demeanor of it’s coach, especially in these two cases.
Even though Vigneault had led this group to a level of consistency that was unmatched by Quinn, I still feel like Quinn’s emotion and connection to his players was more evident in aiding their push to the limit in 1994, especially as the underdog team.
And now the Forwards:
1994 vs 2011
1994: This team was led by the greatest leader in Canucks history in Trevor Linden. Add to that the best goal scorer in team history (by a country mile) in Pavel Bure. Round out the top 6 with Geoff Courtnall, Cliff Ronning, Murray Craven and Greg Adams and you have a solid and consistently productive top 6. The bottom six was littered with size and grit with guys like Sergio Momesso, John McIntyre, Tim Hunter and Martin Gelinas. Shawn Antoski represented the muscle (when #10 wasn’t throwing flying elbows) and LaFayette was youngster who fit right into the mix.
2011: This team was all about the Twins and Kesler with some Alex Burrows sprinkled in. Danny and Hank led the top line along with Alex Burrows and they had many moments of brilliance. There were also, however, lengthy scoring droughts from both of the previous 2 Art Ross Trophy winners during the run. The second line was Kesler, who had 19 points in 25 games. He did have linesmates, but when you match their playoff point totals, you wonder how the other 2nd liners could amass so little with such a productive centreman. Samuelsson didn’t truly get going as he was injured for much of the season, but 3 points in 11 games with the top 6 simply isn’t enough. Neither were the combined 16 points in 49 games for 2nd liners Chris Higgins and Mason Raymond. The 3rd line was the most consistent line of the playoffs game in and game out, but they too had an oddity when you look at their stats. The trio of Jannik Hansen, Max Lapierre and Raffi Torres were superb in virtually each Vancouver home game. However, there was a stark contrast to their play on the road. The fourth line had a musical chairs element to it, but it was mostly comprised of Hodgson, Oreskovich, and Tanner Glass.
When it’s all said and done, both teams lost in Game 7 of the Finals. But the fact that the 2011 team never had both top lines firing at the same time during almost every game and every series makes me like the 1994 group better. Also, the ’94 team began each series on the road and still fared as well as this 2011 group, with less offensive lulls.
1994 vs 2011
1994: The group playing defense in ‘94 had one main parallel with this latest 2011 team. Neither team had a bonafide #1 guy on the point. However, this mix of D-men had a little bit of everything. Led offensively by Jeff Brown and Jyrki Lumme, this group also had some real sandpaper from the likes of Gerald Diduck and Big #44 Dave Babych. Rounding out the top 6 were smooth skating Bret Hedican and seldom used Dana Murzyn.
2011: Mr. Gillis really put a stamp on this team when he assembled a strong cast of defensemen, 5 of which would be locks to be top 3 on most other teams. Those players include Ehrhoff, Edler, Salo, Bieksa, and Dan Hamhuis. We all know about the Ballard debacle, but he did valiantly fill in many times throughout the regular season when injuries ravaged the D corps. The group shapes out with the likes of Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome. But the surprise from the back end came from Chris Tanev. The guy never looks panicked whether it be regular season or playoffs and he filled in with superb performances, especially when age and experience are considered. Anything you could ask for form this group was there, save for that big #1.
This one is simple in my mind, Gillis found a way to assemble and keep those 9 guys under the cap all year long.
Finally, let’s compare Captain Kirk and former Captain Roberto Luongo in the nets.
Kirk McLean: Well he did make the greatest save in Canucks playoff history in just the first round, but his work was faaaaar from done. McLean was ridiculous at times. For a smallish (compared to today’s goalies), thin, stand up goalie, he did just about everything single thing he could do to stop pucks over two months. The run he had was borderline magical, coming near Giguere in ’03, Belfour in ’99 and Hasek as a Sabre in terms of “Are you kidding me-ness”. He has shutout streaks and 50 save performances. There is no doubt Captain Kirk gave every once of his being to win that elusive Cup.
Bobby Lou: You love him, you hate him, and you loove to hate him at times. Comparing him to Kirk, they both had swagger but Luongo almost carries a sense of entitlement along with him, which you never felt from Kirk. There were games and moments where Bobby looked unbeatable, but there were also many games where the dam not only fell on him, but it crumbled and killed all the cute little beavers along with it.
The bottom line for me is, who would I choose if it all started today? It’s tough to compare because of equipment advancement and general ballooning of the gear, but my heart still belongs to McLean. He was the surf board we rode on to the Almost Promised Land and unless Luongo wins or loses with that same pure desire, I’m takin’ McLean everytime. Youtube McLean 52 saves and you’ll see what I mean.
Edge: Captain Kirk
So how does this all stack up? 3 wins for the 1994 team, 1 for 2011, and 1 draw. As mentioned before, I feel like the emotional attachment that fans (who were around) had to the ’94 team was greater. They just had more character and desire, or at least it seemed that way. The 2011 version was a bit more businesslike which, I believe, brought them just a bit less closer to the fans’ hearts. The team lacked the Jam you need to win. Kesler has it but it you could barely find it anywhere else on the 2011 roster. It’s the Jam that Babych, Linden, Adams, Ronning, Momesso, Diduck and Kirk all had. The Jam that the Pacific Coliseum had, and dare I say, the same Jam that the Boston Bruins had.
But you wanna know the best thing about 2011 vs 1994? I believe the 2011 team will have another shot at it, and hopefully they bring that Jam with them next time.