It was the best and most entertaining and most memorable hockey season in the history of the Vancouver Canucks franchise, even if it ended in pain, as all Canucks seasons inevitably seasons do.
The Canucks were the NHL’s best team during the 2010-11 season, winning the Presidents’ Trophy, leading the league in goal differential by more than 20, and dominating all season long. Vancouver boasted the league’s best offense, the league’s best defense, the league’s best power play, and were an elite penalty killing outfit. They had no flaws.
Ultimately the dominant 2010-11 iteration of the club couldn’t bring home the first Stanley Cup in franchise history, and sadly the sight of Boston Bruins defender Zdeno Chara lifting the cup on Vancouver ice and the embarrassing riots that engulfed downtown Vancouver thereafter will be the enduring images of this season. It’s too bad because, as it was going on, it was great hockey and an exceptionally fun team to follow.
|Team Record||Points||Standings||Goal Differential||Sh%||sv%||PDO|
|54-19-9||117||1st in everything||77||9.80%||0.928||102.2|
The Canucks were a dominant team in 2010-11. They were one of the league’s best in all game states, and their tandem of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider was dominant through the campaign. The club shot an elevated percentage, and it probably had nothing to do with luck (had more to do with their insanely good, completely unguardable power play). Along the way the team won the first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history, eclipsed the 50 win barrier for the first time in franchise history, and were pretty clearly hockey’s best team from the beginning to the end of the season.
(Courtesy Hockey Reference)
The top end of Vancouver’s lineup was nails during the 2010-11 season, and the five players who were power-play regulars – particularly Alex Edler (then Mikael Samuelsson when Edler went down for surgery to repair a bulging disc), Christian Ehrhoff, Ryan Kesler and the Sedin twins – lit it up during the 2010-11 campaign. Mike Gillis and company brought in special teams coach Newell Brown prior to the season, and he loaded up his first unit with great success.
Though the top-end benefitted from Brown’s deployment schemes, secondary forwards like Samuelsson and Mason Raymond saw their production drop off a cliff. That’s what happens when your second unit power-play ice time is spent mostly with Manny Malhotra, rather than Kesler.
Meanwhile Vancouver’s tight checking third-line of Jannik Hansen, Malhotra and the always productive (when healthy) Raffi Torres was one of the best third lines in hockey. Also Jeff Tambellini played the depth scoring forward role and crushed it, flashing some decent chemistry with both Kesler and the Sedin twins.
Beyond that top-nine though, and Tambellini, things get pretty grim. Joel Perreault! Guillaume Desbiens! Jonas Andersson! Mario Bliznak! Viktor Oreskovich! Just five years later and none of those guys are even sniffing a regular shift in the AHL… When your teams best fourth-liner is Tanner Glass, you know you’re in trouble (and indeed Vancouver’s fourth-liners didn’t manufacture a single goal in the postseason).
Meanwhile in net the Canucks were impenetrable. Completely dominant. And then completely average in the playoffs…
(Courtesy Hockey Reference)
The Canucks were active in free agency during the summer of 2010, signing Dan Hamhuis and Manny Malhotra on July 1 and adding a solid tertiary veteran from the bargain bin in Raffi Torres later on in the summer. They were also active on the trade market, dealing for Keith Ballard on the draft floor and allowing oft-injured veteran Willie Mitchell to walk in free agency (a fateful mistake…).
Following training camp the Canucks shuffled deck chairs, trading the likes of Shane O’Brien, Darcy Hordichuk and Sean Zimmerman for Andrew Peters, Nathan Paetsch, the immortal Ryan Parent and Dan Gednur.
At the deadline the Canucks added Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre for very little, moves that would’ve given the club a legit fourth-line were it not for freak injuries to Manny Malhotra and Mikael Samuelsson. At the end of the deadline the club was less than $1000 below the daily salary cap limit, and had everyone been healthy entering the postseason, the club would’ve played in the postseason with a roster worth $67 million (in a league with a $59.4 million salary cap). Laurence Gilman and co. deserve a tonne of credit for their work maximizing the amount of talent this Canucks team squeezed under the salary cap’s upper limit…
(Courtesy NHL Trade Tracker)
The Canucks were booed lustily by Minnesota Wild fans at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, which was held on the floor of the Xcel Energy Centre. It was pretty cute that Wild fans thought of the Canucks as their rival! They’re so adorable.
In typical Canucks fashion the Canucks didn’t do very well at the draft, although in Frank Corrado, Nicklas Jensen, Joseph LaBate and Alexandre Grenier, it’s possible the club could still net a useful contributor or two from this class. I’d think it’s most likely that if the club found any career NHLers on the draft floor in 2011, they’ll be bottom of the roster type contributors…
The Canucks, as they always did under Alain Vigneault – although it might’ve been more of a Roberto Luongo thing, frankly – started the season slowly in 2010, jumping out to a 3-4-3 record in the month of October. November was a different story though as the Canucks reeled off winning streaks of six and four games. Around the New Year the Canucks got hot again, winning eight straight, to cement themselves as the team to beat in the NHL. They didn’t really fall from that perch until June 15, 2011.
Vancouver’s power play was astonishingly good during the 2010-11 campaign, and Daniel Sedin – benefitting from a massive spike in his 5-on-4 shooting percentage – led all NHL scorers in points scored. At some point in the season Lee Sweatt also scored one of the funniest game winning goals of all time. Lee Sweatt!
Meanwhile this was the first season in which Alain Vigneault’s odd deployment schemes became really evident. The Sedin twins were deployed almost exclusively in the offensive end of the rink, while Manny Malhotra became something of a trend setter playing an ‘enabler’ type role and starting three shifts in his own end of the rink to everyone shift he started in his opponent’s end. At the time we’d never seen anything like it. Now there’s four or five teams that deploy their forward lines in a similarly specialized fashion, including the New York Rangers, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Nashville Predators, and the Edmonton Oilers.
Also this is secretly one of the coolest moments in Canucks history but no one cares about it. This Christian Ehrhoff buzzer beater stood up as the game winner in a contest in which the Canucks secured the Presidents’ Trophy:
Obviously no one cares because the Presidents’ Trophy doesn’t matter, but in club football, this would be an iconic goal. It really should be too. It’s a pretty sweat tally!
I think we all remember the 2010-11 playoffs pretty clearly, but let’s review.
The Canucks took a 3-0 series lead on the Chicago Blackhawks, outplaying Chicago in two of three games (the third Luongo stole), and it seemed a foregone conclusion that they’d advance to the second round of the playoffs and be fresh against whichever unlucky team waltzed into their buzzsaw. Then Dave Bolland played through a head injury and Game 4 got away from the Canucks, and Luongo coughed it up in Game 5 before the contest even really got started.
And panic set in.
In Game 6 the Canucks opted to start Cory Schneider ahead of Luongo, and Schneider played poorly. The Canucks took the lead and Schneider gave it back with a puck handling error. The Canucks took another lead, and again, a Schendier puck-handling error evened the score. In the third period the Canucks, again, took a lead, before Schneider was beaten by Michael Frolik on a penalty shot goal and had to leave the game with “cramps” (he’s since admitted that it was really a panic attack).
Luongo came in and the Canucks ultimately lost the game in overtime when Ben Smith scored an overtime winner to setup an epic Game 7.
Before we proceed we should probably note that, though the Blackhawks struggled mightily that season, they were the second best team in the Western Conference by shot attempt differential. This wasn’t your standard eighth seed.
In Game 7 the Canucks received pretty close to a perfect game from Ryan Kesler, who set up the game opening goal and played some sick shutdown defense on Jonathan Toews throughout. The Blackhawks managed to get a late game-tying goal shorthanded from their captain though, in what most Canucks fans refer to as the darkest timeline.
Ultimately Ryan Johnson and Chris Campoli conspired to allow Alex Burrows to make a great play on the forecheck and beat Corey Crawford, slaying the dragon, and preventing (or at least delaying) catastrophe.
In the second round Vancouver faced Pekka Rinne’s glove and also a Nashville Predators team that was buoyed by solid play from Joel Ward and their ability to score on awkward bank shots that continually flummoxed Roberto Luongo in the postseason. Eventually Ryan Kesler went beast mode, undressed Shea Weber, and eliminated the Predators…
Through two rounds the Canucks were dominating opponents, but had actually been really unlucky by the bounces. In the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks, the dam burst. Everything the Canucks touched ended up behind Antti Niemi. At one point Henrik Sedin literally passed the puck right through the Sharks goaltender.
This was a series that probably should’ve been closer, but in a decisive fourth game the Sharks shot themselves in the foot – it’s what they do best – and took a parade of penalties that gave Vancouver what seemed like an endless 5-on-3 advantage. Sami Salo capitalized a couple of times, and the outcome was then a foregone conclusion.
Foregone conclusion or not, it was an interesting Game 5. Ryan Kesler pulled his groin early on, something that would prove fateful in the Stanley Cup Final, but ultimately returned to deflect home a Henrik Sedin shot with seconds remaining on the clock. Then in double overtime Kevin Bieksa scored the infamous stanchion goal to punch Vancouver’s ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Canucks, by the way, had to wait like 10 days to play the Stanley Cup Final. And then when it arrived, they jumped out of the gate with two victories over the Bruins. It looked like Boston was in trouble.
That was when the series shifted to Beantown and Aaron Rome concussed Nathan Horton dramatically and overwrought morality plays were passed off as sports coverage and Roberto Luongo got lit up (and left in the net too long) for eight in game 3 and five in game 4. Maxim Lapierre gave Canucks fans one final reason to smile with a flukey third period goal, but overall, Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron and Tim Thomas proved unscore-on-able and as injuries mounted for the Canucks it was apparent that they couldn’t hang.
Game 6 was only fleetingly competitive, and Game 7 never was. The Canucks fell a game short of the ultimate prize.
Rethinking the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks
In some ways the 2010-11 Canucks were one of the most innovative teams in hockey – from the drop pass, to the clever devices to circumvent the salary cap, and from their eschewal of thug hockey, to their specialized deployment patterns.
In other ways though the 2010-11 Canucks were a pretty old school hockey team, and it might have cost them. Grit, for example, was prized over skill in the composition of a fourth-line that was horribly ineffective – a complete liability – throughout the season and into the playoffs. Though the Canucks had some interesting pieces in the press box – namely Cody Hodgson and Sergei Shirokov – who may have been able to help the club score in that final series against the Boston Bruins, the likes of Alexandre Bolduc, Viktor Oreskovich and Tanner Glass.
Hodgson, Shirokov and Tambellini aren’t world beaters or anything, but they’re still professional hockey players. How – during a playoff run in which the Canucks couldn’t buy a goal until they bumped into Antti Niemi – does Oreskovich play in 19 playoff games, while those three combine for 18?
Whatever. Honestly the most important thing to rethink about the 2010-11 season is that it’s popularly regarded as ‘another failure’ in a long line of them for a franchise that’s never won hockey’s ultimate prize. The wound is too fresh perhaps and the team was popularly seen as an unlikable front runner, so maybe the loss to the Boston Bruins is yet to really get the nostalgic sheen that the franchise’s Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1994 enjoys.
The 2010-11 Canucks were a great team though, one of the best in the salary cap era. And their run to the Cup Final was absolutely the high water mark for the franchise. It was deliriously entertaining and fun and dramatic and the entire run should be regarded more fondly by Vancouver hockey fans.