2012: A Vancouver Canucks Year in Review

Even with a second straight Presidents’ Trophy, 2012 was largely a year of disappointment for the Vancouver Canucks. The team lost in convincing fashion to the surging Los Angeles Kings in Round 1 of the playoffs, and the intensity and effort that carried Vancouver to the 2011 Cup Final was largely nonexistent in 2011-12.

There were some impressive individual performances this past season, though, and GM Mike Gillis was very busy with regards to player transactions. In addition to that, the biggest news of the year in the hockey world has, of course, been the most incomprehensible work stoppage in the history of professional sports. Let’s get to the most interesting and/or newsworthy stories relating to the Canucks in 2011-12.

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Cory Schneider’s arrival

Schneider was sensational in 2011-12 for the Canucks, and it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that the team was so comfortable turning to him in the playoffs after dropping the first two games against the Kings. Schneider wasn’t able to steal the series back for Vancouver, but he firmly cemented himself as the goaltender of the future – and present – with the Canucks. The first sign of Schneider’s takeover came in 2011 in Round 1 against Chicago, when Schneider earned the surprise start for Game 6.

Schneider’s sample size as an NHL starting goaltender is small, but he has impressed with his play for more than a few years now. He has developed about as well as the Canucks could have ever imagined when they used their 1st round pick on him almost nine years ago. (Time sure does fly, doesn’t it?)

Signing Jason Garrison

Signing Garrison was a major coup for Mike Gillis this summer. The rock-solid two-way defenseman was arguably the best on the market after Ryan Suter, but he chose to take less money and sign with his hometown Canucks. Garrison made waves around the league last season with his 16 goals, but it was his incredibly consistent defensive play that earned him the big bucks. Vancouver hopes that he will be able to establish some chemistry with Alex Edler on the second defensive pairing.

While the experts focused on his scoring and possible decline in scoring without Campbell, it was frustrating for to see how little his defensive game was covered during free agency. Garrison is as stable as defensemen come and eats big minutes on the penalty kill; he’s not a one trick pony with a big shot. Garrison was given big money because of his offense, but he got into the league because of his defensive play.

Farewell Sami Salo

Sami Salo received a lucrative two-year contract offer from the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the dollar amount was simply too high to ignore. The Canucks had reportedly offered Salo a one-year deal at $2 million to return, and the Lightning came calling with a two-year, $7.5 million contract.

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Sami will go down as one of the best defensemen in club history. His injury history is well-documented, but for so long he has been the most consistent defenseman on the club. His quiet leadership and timely goal-scoring will be missed. And he has his name all over the Vancouver’s record books among defensemen, as well.

  • 5th in points with 236
  • 3rd in goals with 74
  • 1st in game-winning goals with 20
  • 3rd in shots on goal with 1078 (I’d wager 1070 of them of the slap shot variety)
  • 1st in power play goals with 48
  • 1st in postseason games played with 74
  • 1st (tied) in postseason goals with 9
  • 1st in awkward goal celebrations

Stopping the Detroit winning streak

There weren’t many memorable games for Vancouver in 2012 (or many games in general, for that matter), but one unforgettable contest came in Detroit in February. The Canucks were the best road team in the NHL at the time, and they came into Detroit to face a Red Wings squad that had won a record 23 straight games on home ice. The Canucks came back to tie the game thanks to a late third period goal from Daniel Sedin, setting the table for yet another clutch Alex Burrows finisher.

The typically even-keeled Henrik Sedin had a blast playing that night in Detroit:

“It was awesome. That team over there, they really invite you to play good hockey. There’s no cheap shots, nothing like that. You play good hockey, go up and down the ice, there’s scoring chances, hits – everything I think you want in hockey. And the atmosphere tonight, with everything that was on the line, it was fun.”

Pavel Bure’s Hall of Fame induction

The top 10 moments of Pavel Bure’s career highlight why he was so revered by Canucks fans, even after demanding a trade out of town. Bure’s speed, flair, and power transcended the sport. He captivated the city of Vancouver for a few years, and he is inarguably one of the most prolific goal scorers in the history of the NHL.

Bure was both enigmatic and electrifying, and it was great to see him once again after he has removed himself from the public eye in his post-hockey playing career. I thought the Canucks did a great job covering the Bure ceremony, and it sounds as if the club is getting ready to retire Pavel’s jersey number (10, not 96) as well.

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He didn’t shine for as long as we all would have hoped, but when he did, it was magnificent.

The Hodgson-Kassian trade

The trade of Cody Hodgson shocked Canucks fans for many reasons. One, it was very rare to see a contending team traded its top prospect midseason. Two, it was even rarer for said contending team to move its top prospect for another prospect and not an established veteran. Three, the Canucks had worked so hard with Cody to get his career back on track after a serious back injury. And fourthly, it seemed out of character for Mike Gillis to move Hodgson, a player he lauded for possessing immense leadership and character qualities. The stories came out after the trade that Hodgson  and his meddlesome agent were distractions behind the scenes, but that didn’t ease the sting of the trade for many fans.

Kassian was largely an unknown to Canucks fans, but not to the Canucks, who scouted him extensively back in 2009. For a 6-3, 230 pound forward (now down to a svelte 215 pounds thanks to a summer spent dedicated to fitness and training), Kassian is a terrific playmaker. For more on Kassian’s unique career path, I’d recommend this read (shameless self plug, I know): Zack Kassian and Overcoming Adversity.

Zack Kassian could be described as one of many things, depending on who you ask. Intimidating. A blue chip prospect. A head hunter. The next Milan Lucic. Polarizing. Overrated. To the Canucks he’s a talented young hockey player finding his way. Maybe he doesn’t become the next Lucic. Not many players are able to balance physical play with offense. Bertuzzi was only able to do it for a few seasons. Whatever you think of Kassian, there is no arguing that overcoming adversity at such a young age has given him the perspective and maturity necessary to thrive as a Vancouver Canuck.

The Boston game

To me, the Hodgson trade stung the most because Cody had started to make a habit of scoring timely goals in big games. None were more timely or bigger than the rocket he launched over the shoulder of Tim Thomas in early January. The Canucks and Bruins both struggled for the remainder of the 2012 regular season after this game, as the two teams were able to match the emotion and intensity they showed in this contest.

It had all of the marks of a classic regular season game – great goals, great goaltending, and physical play. And it had all the marks of a classic Bruins game, too – Tim Thomas complaining, Brad Marchand low-bridging someone, and Shawn Thornton challenging people below his weight class.

It was impossible not to jump off the couch with excitement after hearing the ‘ping’ before Hodgson’s goal.

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The lockout

The lockout has killed any positive momentum generated by the NHL over the past seven years. The league has alienated the casual fans, and it has angered the devoted ones. That anger has turned into apathy, and the league has to be very worried about how it will be received once the lockout eventually ends.

Regarding the Canucks, the lockout could be viewed as a positive or a negative, depending on your perspective. It has given Ryan Kesler the proper time to recover from multiple offseason surgeries. It has given the club more time to plan for a potential Roberto Luongo trade, but it may also have robbed the team of another potential shot at the Cup (Vancouver’s core isn’t getting any younger).

The Luongo issue is an important one though, and for different reasons than it was back in August. A condensed 48 game schedule (the rumoured length of a 2012-13 season) would place a lot of stress on a starting goaltender, and it may entice the Canucks to keep Luongo around for at least one more season. Not only that, but the NHL appears to be serious about punitively punishing clubs that “circumvented” the salary cap with long term, front loaded contracts under the old CBA (like Luongo).

Cap circumvention or not, it seems awfully petty (and pretty unfair) to punish teams for something that wasn’t technically illegal. Perhaps the NHL and its owners should have done a better job negotiating last time around, or they wouldn’t be working so hard to get the players to fix their own mistakes. If the Canucks are stuck with Luongo’s cap hit after he retires whether or not they trade him, that changes how they approach a potential trade significantly.

The previous lockout helped many of the Canucks, but that is because they were young, developing players back in 2004-05.

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What were your favourite moments of 2012?

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