What Happened? What Now?

Okay, put away the trade sticks and the "everyone SUCKS!" eyeglasses.  Chicago, a very good team that finished (just) ahead of Vancouver in the standings, beat the Canucks in six games.  Lots happened in these playoffs, and in games leading up to them, and that's all up for evaluation... Even if some folks have dug their foxholes already and have invested too much into their positions to change them.

What went wrong?  Simply put, the Canucks lost their shit.

I don't mean their luggage went astray; I mean they lost focus on the games and blew their collective tops.  Yes, just like last year.  Games three and four were decided by the pests - Chicago's went to work, and Vancouver decided to play along.  That was a stupid, stupid thing to do: seeing Daniel take swings at Bolland, or hearing O'Brien say they had to play "harder in front of Luongo" then promptly take penalty after penalty was infuriating.  Chicago got 15 power plays in games three and four.  Fifteen.  They kept their heads, Vancouver didn't.  Instead, they got into pissy little scrums after the whistle, which don't do a damn thing as far as "sending a message".  If you're going to "send a message", I refer you to Bobby Clarke and Ron Hextall: SEND A MESSAGE.  Otherwise, keep your cool and skate away.  Period.

On the other hand, hearing Henrik say that the team had to remember to have fun on the ice, loosen up, and play was music to my ears.  That he has taken a far greater role on the team is one of the real pleasant surprises from this season, and it's been wonderful to see.

Skill is going to be argued over as well, and that's fair enough.  We didn't have the players we thought we did (remember when we were taking bets on when the first of our surplus defencemen was going to be traded away?) but we've still got a damn fine team.  There are excellent reasons why the Canucks were considered a threat to win this year: not the favourite, but they hit a whole lot of top-five lists.

Speaking of defence, Mitchell won't be coming back, unfortunately; concussion symptoms that don't go away after months may not go away at all.  But outside that, our defence is still in good shape.  I've seen mutterings about trading away Edler, which is flat-out short sighted idiocy, and claims that Bieksa is the worst player in hockey.  Seriously, get a grip, people:  You'd rather Kim JohnssonJay BouwmeesterEd JovanovskiDion PhaneufWade Redden?   Because all of them make far more money than Bieksa and I wouldn't trade him for any of them straight up.

We're still recovering from the loss of Bourdon, as Ellington and Connauton should be in  the AHL next season rather than with the Canucks, but the players we have under contract for next year are good ones.  I was hoping Salo would have been traded away at the beginning of the year, but that's only because of his injury history: he's often Vancouver's best defenceman; Ehrhoff has been far and away better than expected; and Alberts... okay, so the top four are solid, but he had been showing improvement right up until the season ended.

There's a question of abandoning O'Brien or trying to keep him progressing, and frankly I'm okay with him sticking for another year: he's slowly easing the heavy hand on his Stupid Button.  He's and RFA, but it's not going to cost much to keep him - or we could trade his rights, I'd be fine with that, too.  We've got Baumgartner and Oberg under contract, and RFA Rome has proven reliable enough for 5-6 play, too.

The forwards have some questions to answer, but not many of them.  Mostly, it comes down to a question of style: what is our third line going to be?  What's our fourth line going to be?  Are we going to go for speed, scoring, hard forecheck/possession, intimidation, defencive acumen?  What?  Because I think it's safe to say we've got two solid lines of scoring and some kids that may or may not make hay in the NHL next season.  The question is, will we make room for them?  Until that's decided, it's useless to say who stays and who goes.

That being said, I'd like to see Johnson and Wellwood back.  That's right, I said Wellwood: he's been playing some really good hockey since the Olympic break, and I think that will carry over into next season now that he seems to have figured out a training regimen somewhere between "none" and "psychotic".  Raymond should get re-signed (for less than Healy's $3 million pipe dream - he's hit 25 goals ONCE, Glen!), and I've got a massive man-crush on Hansen, so I want to see his work ethic back.

Goaltending simply isn't a weakness.  Not even close.  Schneider is going to be backing up Luongo next year unless an unbelievable offer for him comes along, which means Luongo shouldn't pass the 65 game mark.

Which leaves us with about $5 million for about 4 players, either brought up or signed on.  That spells "kids" to me, but which ones?  Ready-to-go tough guys like Glass or Volpatti, or untested scoring threats like Schroeder and/or Hodgson?  Or take the hybrid approach with a couple speed/grinder/finisher lines?

We'll see who comes available in trades, but it seems to me those are hard for our GM to find, given his preference for free agents.  Given his track record (bonanza w/Ehrhoff and Raycroft or failure a la M. Schneider, Shirokov, and Alberts), I'm tempted to unplug his phone to all the free agents out there and just work with the call-ups.

As for what happens...  I'm waiting until the playoffs are over, first.

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