Mike Gillis never sleeps, cause sleep is the cousin of death.
Well, another disappointing season has come and gone for the Canucks. Whether you want to bring out the microscope and analyze what went wrong or just forget that it all happened, at least you now have several weeks of stress-free playoff hockey watching ahead of you! So there’s that, but not much else.
Anyway, allow me to send you off into the sunset with the final installment of Canucks Quips for the 2013 season. Fair warning: it’s sort of an epic mishmash of emotions.
1. I’ll start with a story. It was Game 2 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, and my girlfriend and I had ventured over to Vancouver to take in the atmosphere. It took us hours to get into the viewing area outside of the CBC building, and once we actually did get in our view was horrible. We had to stand for the whole game, and Meg — not the biggest hockey fan in the world, but admirable in her tolerance and support of my obsession — was getting restless. The game was tied in the 3rd period. "Oh god, it’s going to go to overtime," she groaned. "Maybe they’ll score a quick one," I replied, actually convinced it would be a four overtime marathon. We know what happened next: Alex Burrows scored 11 seconds into overtime. The city exploded. The Canucks were up 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Finals. Meg and I found ourselves lost in the middle of a city pulsing with joy. But as the kid says in the clip from "Shogun Assassin" that opens GZA’s classic album Liquid Swords: "That was the night everything changed…"
2. In 14 playoff games since Game 2 of the finals, the Canucks are 2-12. Their offense abonded them after that fateful night, only showing up briefly against the Sharks on Tuesday when it was far too late. For all the criticism the Sedins have taken and will continue to take, they generated key goals in games 2, 3, and 4. It was the depth players that let the team down. Where were Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen, Mason Raymond, and Derek Roy on the scoresheet? San Jose’s depth took over the series while the Canucks wilted.
3. The Canucks forwards as a group lacked a clear identity this season. They weren’t overly physical. They weren’t hard on the forecheck. They weren’t creative offensively. They had no 3rd line centre. Their 4th line was in constant flux. On any given night a guy like Higgins didn’t know if he was going to be a defensive checker or a top six winger. On one hand it’s a benefit having players who can slide up and down the lineup, but I’d argue it ended up hindering the Canucks in that most players lacked clearly-defined roles when the playoffs started.
4. Some of the line combinations Alain Vigneault pulled out of his hat were truly bizarre, but at the end of the day he was just playing the cards he was given. Mike Gillis failed to put together the right group of players. Case in point: our biggest complaint was AV’s unwillingness to insert Jordan Schroeder into the lineup in the playoffs. When your best option for a 3rd line centre is an undersized rookie, the GM hasn’t done his job.
5. That isn’t to exonerate the coach in the slightest. AV was taken apart by Todd MacLellan, and some of his decisions — like the refusal to incorporate one of the league’s biggest shots into a power play featuring two of the league’s best playmakers — were indefensible. He rushed back Cory Schneider when Roberto Luongo had been their best player, and he didn’t truly shake up the look of his lines until the team was in a 0-3 hole. There is sufficient evidence to warrant bringing in a new coach at this point, and while I think AV was put in a difficult situation to succeed in one sense, I wouldn’t disagree with the move if it happened.
6. The players share Vigneault’s habit of waiting until it’s too late. There’s a complacency engrained in them that needs to be shaken free, and that probably has to come from a new coach. They played desperate hockey in the 3rd period of Game 2, and we didn’t see that again until the 3rd period of Game 4. In other words, only when they were in danger of falling into a hole or being eliminated altogether did we see their best hockey. You have to bring that sort of attitude from the opening puck drop in the playoffs.
7. As I feared after it ended, Game 2 was the best hockey this iteration of the Canucks was capable of playing, and it wasn’t enough. They crushed the Sharks in shot differential, as they did to most teams this season, but at the same time they lost the scoring chance battle, as they did to most teams this season. The Canucks were a very odd team this year in that regard: they threw a ton of shots towards the net, but they also gave their opponents way, way too many quality looks most nights.
8. Mike Gillis’ press conference yesterday was a bit of a mixed bag. He seems confident in the core, but says they need to get younger and bigger. I got the impression he was referring to the bottom six, which means Mason Raymond is a goner. It’s time, or past it even. In my mind, Raymond would excel on a team like the Coyotes or Predators, one that plays a controlled, defence-oriented system and capitlizes on turnovers with speed. I could also see him landing in Calgary, which would be weird.
9. Derek Roy can hit the bricks. He wasn’t even present for the year-end interviews yesterday, which is appropriate because he wasn’t really present in the playoffs either. The Roy trade will go down as a complete failure on Gillis’ resume, which is too bad because most of us considered it a great move when it was made (me included).
10. That’s becoming a common trend for ol’ Mikey G. It looked like the Canucks were getting a big 2nd line winger for peanuts when they acquired David Booth. Hasn’t worked out. It looked like they were getting a top-4 defenceman for a failed prospect when they traded for Keith Ballard. Hasn’t worked out. As Tyler Dellow of mc79hockey mentioned on the podcast with Drance yesterday, it makes more sense to judge a GM on his process around making trades than the actual result of the trade in a small window. In that sense I think Gillis has made sound moves, even though they sure don’t look good right now.
11. The size vs. skill debate is alive and well again. Some point to the Kings and Bruins’ success as indicators that the Canucks need to get "bigger", while others point to the Blackhawks, Pens, Canadiens and Islanders of this season as examples of how skill wins. Here’s the thing: yes the Kings and Bruins were big, but they were also extremely skilled. For every Dustin Penner and Milan Lucic, there was a David Krejci or an Anze Kopitar. I worry about the Canucks deviating too far from skill, because good puck possession teams will always be the real contenders.
12. Gillis and Laurence Gilman have a very challenging summer ahead of them. They have to clear some serious salary off the books (likely starting with Keith Ballard and Roberto Luongo) while filling some very signficant holes at forward at the same time. The club needs a skilled second line winger, a stalwart 3rd line centre (what Manny Malhotra was in 2010), and a reliable 4th line.
13. The two names that will be talked about at length as we attempt to keep our blogs populated with content through a long summer are David Clarkson and Nathan Horton. They both represent the ideal hybrid of size and skill that I talked about above. They remain long shots; as two of the more attractive names in a thin free agent pool they’ll be highly saught after, and as mentioned the Canucks have a lot of legwork to do before they can add signifcant contracts.
14. As I wind down here, if this is indeed the last we see of Alain Vigneault behind the Canucks bench, I have to give him his due. No matter what you think of the man, he coached the greatest Canucks team of all-time (2010-11), and brought the organization more success than any other coach in their history. Every core player flourished on his watch, arguably because of the situations he placed them in. Alex Burrows was a minor league plug when AV arrived, the Sedins were merely "good", and Kesler was as raw as they come. Props to you AV. It’s going to suck playing whatever team you’re coaching next year.
15. Finally, same goes for Roberto Luongo. It’s hard to say enough good things about how he handled himself this season. Having a once-franchise player with a massive contract sitting on the bench could have been an absolute catastrophe. Most players of that ilk would struggle to accept that role, but most players aren’t as humble, generous, and flat out hilarious as Roberto Luongo. He’s one of the greatest athletes the city of Vancouver has ever seen, and after his public display of humility this season, I’m finding it harder and harder to wrap my head around why we want to get rid of him at all. I’ll quietly cheer for whatever team he ends up on. "Looks like Lui’s starting tonight!"
Well, that’s it for me. It has been a weird, disappointing season, but I’ve enjoyed every chance I get to write here. as ever, you can find me on Twitter. Here’s hoping we have some renewed hope to start next season. If not, I have a backup plan:
Fire everyone. Trade everyone.
— Jordan Clarke (@yyjordan) May 6, 2013