Last week we covered the top stories of the 2014 Canucks season from ten to six. This week, we hit the top 5! Or the bottom five. Or the top of the bottom. Or.. you know what, this wasn’t a very good season.
Gather around children, I want to tell you all a story.
5. #TankNation is born
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there once lived a team that won Presidents’ trophies. Not only did they win one, but they won two, TWO Presidents’ trophies! They even went to the Stanley Cup Final against the team that shall not be named, and lost against the team that, well, will not be named (the name rhymes with “ruins”).
Yes, the Vancouver Canucks quick descent into an awful hockey club was so sudden, it left many people wondering what to do with themselves. Sure, there were signs the team wasn’t so great, what with all that first round losing, but damn it, you just wanted to believe a team with the Sedins, Kesler, and Luongo were a lock for the playoffs.
Alas, as we all saw, the team had different ideas this year, as they let everyone know in January that they planned on having a shortened season. For a fan base that was used to trying to decide who the best first round opponent to go up against was, or how many points away from locking up the Presidents’ trophy the team was, this was new, uncharted territory. Now the fans had to decide between hoping the Canucks could somehow scratch and claw their way into the playoffs, or tank gloriously and get a high draft pick.
This led to a divide amongst fans. On one side, you had the aforementioned #TankNation fans; fans who wanted the Canucks to avoid “pulling a Calgary” by just narrowly missing the playoffs, and thus ruining their draft position for no good reason. For a team whose third highest rated prospect is a second hand used Bauer stick, this seemed like as good as time as any to try and add some depth to the system.
This meant cheering on Canucks losses, instead of wins, but with the goal of improving the teams future in mind.
On the other hand, you had people legitimately insulted that you would ever suggest such a thing like cheering on Canucks Nation. On the more rational side of things you had some people who would rather watch a team win as much as possible to set a tone for next season, while the extreme end of things had people suggesting they would murder you in your sleep for ever cheering against “the boys”, and how dare you suggest you want them to lose, and you know what, WHY DON’T THEY JUST COME OVER TO YOUR HOUSE AND CUT OFF YOUR FACE AND EAT IT, YOU PIECE OF GARBAGE, HOW DARE YOU EVER SAY “THE BOYS” SHOULD LOSE, THEY NEED OUR SUPPORT, THEY NEED IT!!!!!1111
Suffice it to say, I was firmly behind #TankNation and didn’t quite understand the anger from the other side, but it was interesting to see the fan based divided over the last part of the season. I think the issue became clouded when people felt #TankNation was suggesting the team lose on purpose, versus what #TankNation was actually about — watching the Canucks organically lose (as is their way), and thus giving them a higher draft pick..
4. Torts summons his inner Braveheart
Ah, Torts. Torts has honestly been one of the most fascinating stories for me. When he was on East coast, having his daily battles with “Brooksie”, he was an amusing side-bar for me. I would turn on TSN and see a segment on Torts and it was basically a “Who did Torts yell at this week?” sort of deal. He seemed like a throwback to the Mike Keenan era, where the angry dad coach was there to let everyone know that no nonsense would be tolerated.
As we discussed last week in number seven, though, when he arrived in Vancouver he presented an image of having turned that all around. Instead of mean angry dad, he’s: caring, he wants to know how he could help you with your homework, but only if you want his help, dad.
Then came “The Backroom Brawl”.
Funny story about that Calgary game (the one where Torts went into the hallways and tried to hunt down, and presumably maim or murder, Bob Hartley): I chose to skip that game because, well, it was against Calgary, and I didn’t think anything of note would come from it. So instead, I headed to a local wrestling show (ECCW) that was hosting an event at the Commodore called, amusingly enough, Ballroom Brawl. Even more odd was the fact that there was more violence at the hockey game then the wrestling show that night.
My phone basically blew up with texts and tweets five minutes into the show. People talking about fights off the drop off the puck, coaches screaming, women fainting.. it had people talking. Then when the first period ended, Torts lost his freaking mind and charged down the hallways of Rogers Arena, only to be held back by the Flames, as he attempted to get at the Flames coach for putting his fourth line goons out to start the game. All of this was captured beautifully by CBC cameras, who gleefully showed the footage, then sat back and watched as PJ Stock basically orgasmed over his delight at the chance to get angry at Torts.
At the time, I honestly thought it was a good thing. Not the fact Torts charged the hallways like he was in his own version of Mad Max, but because at the very least it might be a rallying point for the team. Here was a coach, so incensed with the other team for trying to take liberties with his boys, that he was going to do something about it. Coming from a coach like Alain Vigneault, this was, if anything, a nice change of pace, a situation where the coach was going to stand up for his team, instead of giggling or sucking on some lozenges.
Was it ill advised? Sure. But again, at the very least his heart was in the right place, was the working theory.
Then as the season wore on, the stories began to leak. Now, it’s always hard to know how much stock to put in these sorts of things, but stories about how the players on the team were horrified that Torts had bulldozed down the hallways were appearing left and right. For a team that ended the season looking like it could care less what happened to them, suddenly you had to put some stock into the theory that maybe the players weren’t so excited about Torts defense of them after all. Maybe those kids that Alain Vigneault raised in his image were a lot more like their old coach dad then we thought. Maybe the players viewed Torts as some loud mouthed dinosaur instead of the new Torts they were sold on.
Suddenly Torts the Reformed ended the season looking more like Torts the Huckster, a man who sold himself to the owners and couldn’t deliver the goods.
3. Eddie Lack gets the Winter Classic
Ah, the rise of Eddie Lack. From a prospect one person told me the big club felt had no future with the team a couple of years back, to all of a sudden being the top goalie for the Vancouver Canucks. I, like many others, felt that Lack was going to be a back up this season, who might get the shot at the number one spot in a couple of years, if the Canucks ever managed to trade Roberto Luongo.
At the Winter Classic it became clear that the team had chosen Eddie to be their guy. Or at least Torts had chosen Eddie to be his guy.
Right from day one, Torts loved him some Eddie Lack (he often praised his efforts after games), but I assumed that was the coach just being nice to a young player to try and build up his confidence. Then when I saw Torts repeatedly call Kassian a project player, and David Booth a weird guy, I realized Torts probably just really liked Lack, as caring and nurturing a player to build them up was not really his MO.
Which brings us back to the Winter Classic. Luongo admittedly wanted to play the Winter Classic. As much as it’s an over-hyped game, it’s still a neat feather in the cap for players to partake in. It’s seen by a lot of people, and it’s a fun story to tell the grandkids. “I once played hockey outside! NHL hockey! Woo!” For Roberto Luongo, who had just suffered through a year of being told he was no longer the teams number one goalie, who had just sat through the Olympics where he was told he was not the number one goalie, it was the final straw to have a team that had told him his time in Vancouver was done, only to trade Schneider at the last minute and beg him to come back, to take away yet another thing from him.
Now I fully understand people who view this situation and don’t care at all about Luongo’s feelings. After all, they are highly paid athletes. If Aquilini walked in the room and told Luongo to eat three plates of spaghetti for his own personal amusement, some people would expect him to do so. Luongo certainly gets paid quite a bit of money, which should help ease the pain of any indignities he feels he suffered.
The problem is that it’s almost impossible to fully separate the human element from the NHL. I will always remember Kyle Turris playing his first game against Vancouver, back when he was with the Coyotes. It was his big homecoming and he was planning on buying tickets for his friends and family to come watch him play.. only to have Wayne Gretzky scratch him from the game. Wayne Gretzky 1, Kyle Turris 0.
So yes, while Turris is a professional athlete, and so is Luongo, I do understand that some situations are going to bother you no matter how much you’re paid. And certainly it bothered Roberto Luongo because he was granted his wish when he was traded just days later.
The situation became worse when the crowd turned on Eddie Lack during the Winter Classic itself. The crowd, who at this point had sympathized and sided with Roberto Luongo, were expecting to see the star goalie play in the big game. When he didn’t, and the Canucks started losing, the crowd began chanting for Luongo and booing Eddie Lack. Torts really put the goalies in a non-win situation here; there was nothing to gain by starting Lack over Luongo for this game, and everything to lose. Piss off your veteran goalie and put your rookie goalie in a hostile environment? The decision made on this day still boggles my mind.
The end result of the Winter Classic was that Luongo was traded, which led to the team riding Eddie Lack into the freaking ground. They rode him for 19 game straight, due to the fact they were scared to play Markstrom in any game that their playoff fate might rest on.
Eddie got so tired there were stories of him barely being able to get off of his couch on days between games. They rode him so hard that he had to pass on going to the Worlds due to injuries and wear and tear incurred during that 19 game stretch.
Will this effect Eddie Lack in the long run? Probably not. I don’t want to build this up as some sort of insane, long-term damaging story line. But it was certainly a surprising enough storyline that had a large effect on the Canucks 2014 season, which puts it firmly in spot three on the list.
2. Roberto Luongo Trade
Once thought to be an impossible task, Roberto Luongo was actually traded in 2014.
Roberto Luongo had enough songs and memoirs written about his time in Vancouver that we don’t need to go over the impact he had on this club, but his departure was certainly an agonizing story. Going from the storyline of drafting Schneider, building him up the right way, and finally giving him the keys to the kingdom, somehow turned into pulling the chair out from under Schneider, asking Luongo to give it the ol’ college try again in Vancouver, only to hastily give the key to the city to Eddie Lack, then punting Luongo to the curb.
In the end, Luongo got to play where he wanted to all along (Florida was his top choice), and Schneider got his wish of playing behind another big-name goalie (I lied, Schneider didn’t want that at all), but if you had told someone in 2011 that the Canucks would go from Schneider and Luongo in nets to Lack and Markstrom in a couple of years, they would have laughed at you.
It is an interesting story because we don’t know how it will end (Lack or Markstrom could end up being good goalies, Horvat might end up being some demi-god sent from space to help the Canucks win the Cup, or they could all end up being awful), but in the meantime, let’s just enjoy what a messed up situation this became.
Go ahead, take a moment.
One more moment.
This situation of course might have played a part in our number one story of 2014….
1. Return of the prodigal son
Trev, as he is called by every single person in BC (everyone feels they know Trevor Linden, it’s just some weird power he has. It’s also weird that if you tell any story about Linden and only refer to him as Trev, people know it’s him. “My friend was shot three times, but then Trev showed up and saved him.” “Ah, Linden is the best, he always saves my friends when they’re shot.”) was another odd story this year, in that it seemingly came out of nowhere.
As the season came to a close, people were debating if Torts would be fired, or Gillis would be fired. I thought Gillis would be fine, as he seemed to be close with the owners, but then rumors surfaced that Linden might be brought in as President. Then a day later, Gillis was fired, and Trevor was back. It all happened in the blink of an eye.
Of course, Gillis himself was once brought in out of nowhere like this, back when Dave Nonis was kicked to the curb, so it shouldn’t be a big shock that the owners might pull this move again. It was still just very weird to see Trevor Linden, a guy who had been out of hockey for many years and hadn’t shown any interest in the Canucks, suddenly brought back into the spotlight.
For PR reasons, it makes a lot of sense. At the end of the day, the Aquilini’s like their money, and the season ticket renewal business had taken a hit. Bringing in Trevor Linden would easily sell some tickets to the older ticket holders, who view Linden as the golden child of Vancouver.
Hockey wise, it might also work, due to the fact Trevor was always involved in leadership roles in hockey (captaincy, his work with the PA), the fact he has built himself several successful non hockey businesses, and the former player turned front office model has worked before with Yzerman and Sakic (and failed spectacularly with Brett Hull when he signed Sean Avery for Dallas).
It’s also the most interesting story line heading into next season, as well, because the fate of the new GM and the head coach all fall under Trevor Linden. Will Linden fill the club up with Pat Quinn guys? Will Linden clear out the scouting department? Will Linden signal a giant refresh on the club, or will he simply end up being a puppet of the owners? Owners who have been accused of being too meddlesome as it is? If Linden doesn’t fire Torts is it because the Aquilini’s really do want Torts as their guy and had a say in it? Will Linden sit back and let the GM run the team, or will he have a heavy role on the team? How much of it is actually PR and how much of it is Linden actually putting his fingerprints on the team? How much goodwill does the Trevor Linden name buy the team, before the fans turn on the golden child himself?
The questions are endless, and it certainly remains the biggest talking point of the season. Will Linden turn the team around and finally hoist the Stanley Cup in Vancouver (that’s a TV movie right there)? Or will he fall and burn like those before him? We shall have to wait to find out.