For two years in a row, the Vancouver Canucks have been the best regular season team in the NHL. Also for two seasons in a row, the Vancouver Canucks have not been the best post-season team in the NHL.
Given the latter, does the former matter?
On one level, no it doesn’t. Kids don’t grow up dreaming of one day running over one of the league’s worst teams in the 82nd game of the season to clinch first overall in the regular season. Nobody gets their names memorialized for all eternity on hockey’s chalice by virtue of picking up a few more shootout rather than regulation losses than a team in another conference. People remember playoff champions, not regular season winners.
On the other hand, when it comes to building a professional hockey team, or assessing the wreckage of a first round exit, it’s important to have a balanced view. That balanced view requires balancing the successes of an 82-game season with the failings of a five-game playoff series.
The Canucks are not a perfect team. The NHL salary cap, as well as human nature, prohibit perfect teams. Even if they didn’t, the first round loss to Los Angeles would have made it painfully clear that there are weaknesses in Vancouver. The loss of Daniel Sedin early in the series was difficult to overcome, as the Kesler line went quiet and the depth wingers failed to rise to the challenge. Specific problems on the back end – including gaffes by cornerstone defensemen like Alex Edler and Dan Hamhuis – are worth discussing. The inability of Vancouver’s bottom two lines to make a positive impact on the series will surely be visited time and again in the off-season.
Along with the legitimate complaints will come less legitimate ones. Roberto Luongo has at least his share of detractors, and Cory Schneider had a better series. The criticism of the former started almost as soon as the series did. The familiar suggestion that the playoffs are no place for the Sedin twins will also undoubtedly show itself, despite the fact that Henrik was the team’s best skater and that Daniel came back from injury and found a way to make an instant impact.
But, once again, all that fallout needs to be considered in balance with the big picture. Those back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies make it clear that the Canucks are an excellent hockey club. While the tendency will be to focus on weakness, they can’t lose sight of their strengths either. They’ll almost certainly move a goaltender. Likely, they’ll also attempt to add a little more scoring depth – it was telling that in seven combined games the Sedin twins picked up seven points, while in 53 combined games the rest of the forwards picked up just nine.
There will be a shakeup. But in the end, the Canucks should enter next season with much the same core, the core that has made them the NHL’s best regular season team the last two years and the second-best playoff team just one year ago. The core of that team is still in the 26-to-31 age range. There’s still time and there’s a strong group to build from.
There’s no excuse for complacency, but there’s no excuse for overreaction either. A balanced approach to off-season changes is the order of the day, and the planning likely starts now for Mike Gillis.