Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports
The house lights dim and the spotlights swirl. As music blares and dry ice rises from the bench and tunnel, public address announcer Al Murdoch offers up his usual throaty pre-game player introduction:
‘LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: YOUR VANCOUVER CANUCKS’
It’s tough to imagine the atmosphere at Rogers Arena for a first round playoff game this spring should the Canucks somehow qualify. They’ve been in long-shot territory for a while, but after last night’s loss to the Leafs, the idea of playoff hockey here in two months time seems like a silly notion. Few fans likely still have hope and fewer perhaps truly have an appetite for it.
if #Canucks somehow managed to scrape into playoffs, I think they’d play to crowds of 12-14,000. Don’t think fans would buck up
— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) February 14, 2016
After a night to reconsider, I realize now that a crowd count of 12,000 is a little low. That’s not going to happen in a hockey market like this one. But a crowd of 14-15,000 certainly isn’t out of the question. The Canucks already play to large pockets of empty seats and we know the resale market has become softer than the team’s defense most nights.
Now consider the fact, that the Canucks would start the playoffs on the road this season – a wild card almost surely their only route to qualify. That would put them up against one of the division winners in the West and one of the top two seeds in the conference. And while it is true the Canucks have played better on the road than at home this season, it’s an undeniable truth that this team could very well come home in an 0-2 hole.
Isn’t that every marketing department’s dream? Imagine trying to drive ticket sales at that point. Now if the Canucks were facing Chicago or Dallas, certainly Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews or Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin would put some people in the seats and would likely be worth the price of admission. If the Canucks face the (gulp) L-A Kings, maybe Milan Lucic’s family boosts ticket sales here in town. But if the Canucks came home off the road with nothing to show for their efforts, it’s difficult to imagine fans getting off their wallets to pay playoff prices to jump on a playoff bandwagon with a few of its wheels already in the ditch.
— 604Vancity (@steveoxyz) February 14, 2016
@patersonjeff as a season ticket holder I can guarantee you I’m not buying playoff tix
— Tim Findlay (@timmyfin) February 14, 2016
@patersonjeff I’ve been selling my tickets for the last month and a half now. Not too interested in going these days.
— Derek Major (@derekmajor) February 14, 2016
@patersonjeff they’ll get more fans at the draft than home games
— cole (@colerutter) February 14, 2016
— shane johnson (@shaneshore85) February 14, 2016
@patersonjeff I’m spending more time at Whitecaps games
— Kristin Evans (@canucksgurl83) February 14, 2016
@patersonjeff if the tickets were free I’d have to debate making the trek downtown
— Thomas S. Douglas (@ThomasDouglas30) February 14, 2016
The in-game experience at Rogers Arena has long been knocked for having a corporate culture and lack of any true advantage for the home team. And this year’s it’s been difficult to watch the Canucks struggle to just nine wins at home. It’s a two-way street: players want fans to get behind them, but those same fans need something to cheer about. With 17 goals by the home team the last 10 times out, the Canucks and their crowd seem to be at a crossroads. And the very essence of sports – particularly at playoff time – is that fans want to believe their team has a chance to advance.
Rogers Arena can be a terrific venue in the post-season. With the place full and the towels waving, fans in this city have shown an ability to rock The Rog. But this season? That seems like a stretch. And as much as the organization has said it wants to make the playoffs, ownership must have a read on the market and know that its fan base is restless. Are two home playoff games – if that’s all it turns out to be – really that important to the Vancouver Canucks? Or is the longer-term play here to speed the rebuild and host two rounds of the playoffs a year or two down the line?
The counter-argument to all of this is that IF the Canucks make the playoffs, they will have somehow caught fire here over the final 27 games and would hit the post-season playing their best hockey of the season. And that’s certainly an accurate portrayal of how things have to play out for the Canucks to finish above the playoff bar. But even then, would anyone like this team and its chances against one of the league’s elite?
The Canucks couldn’t beat the Maple Leafs in two tries this season. Now you’re telling me they could put up a fight against a true Cup contender? Sorry, I’m simply not buying that.
And that’s a line likely to be heard often if and when playoff tickets go on sale.