So another season is done without the Canucks winning the final game. I was pretty depressed last night, and didn't get to sleep until 2:30 am (and I don't even live in Vancouver).
So what happened?
The Bruins were a much better team than their record showed. The dirty little secret about hockey and sports in general is that it's really just a weighted random number generator, to which we make narratives. The media in general didn't seem to put a lot of respect into the Boston offense, mostly talking about how awful their powerplay had been in the playoffs. I think going into the final, it was running around 5%, but the Bruins' powerplay, while poor was about twice as good and was due to a reversion to the mean. I put a lot of credence into the idea that what really determines the good vs. bad teams is goal differential. It is after all, what determines who wins games. This year's Stanley Cup final actually pitted the top two teams against each other, as far as goal differential goes.
Injuries. I've developed a hypothesis in the last couple of years that the winner of the Stanley Cup is generally the team in the top 8 that is the healthiest by the time we get into the Finals. Although the Canuck players can be commended for not using injuries as an excuse for losing, the fact is that injuries to key players have a MASSIVE impact on the series. It seriously hurt the Sharks vs the Canucks and it seriously hurt the Canucks vs. the Bruins. By Game 7, the Canucks injuries included: Edler (2 broken fingers), Kesler (torn groin, torn hip labrum), Henrik (undisclosed), Higgins (foot), Mahotra (eye), Erhoff (shoulder), Rome (suspension), Hamhuis (torn groin), Alberts (undisclosed), Sammulson (hernia), Raymond (broken back). That's fully half the team, our top offensive defenceman, our top defensive defenceman, two thirds of the first powerplay unit, and at least half of the penalty kill units. Now, I don't know who on the Bruins was hurt other than Savard and Horton, but there was no indication of anyone really playing hurt during the series. This is a game of inches, and the fact is that when elite athletes are injuried, they're no longer elite. Kesler's game is largely based on his speed, but there is no way he's going to be fast with those injuries (see Marchand goal in game 3). I've made the comparision that the Canucks this year were a car on the verge of winning the Indy 500 but had the wheels fall off on the last lap, just to screetch to a halt 6 inches from the finish line.
Officiating. I don't like to blame officiating on a loss, and I'm not really going to blame certain decisions here (beyond complaining about the Boychuk hit and the lack of penalty - interference - or suspension, given the precedent set in the Rome suspension). However, I am going to complain about one thing. A penalty in the regular season should be called in the playoffs too. It was obvious that the refs were putting their whistles in their pockets near the end of the playoffs. I really don't understand the 'let them play' mentality. It's not playing, it's cheating. The Canucks haven't helped themselves by diving as much as they do, and I hope they finally stop it. However, the lack of powerplays definitely played into the Bruins' favor considering their poor powerplay (though not as bad as earlier in the playoffs). It's not that the Canucks would have scored a lot more goals given how Thomas was playing, but even in the San Jose series, Henrik scored most of his points on the PP. Also, the twins don't have to cycle nearly as much, which reduced the effect of Henrik's injury and also got them away from Chara. More importantly though, having more PPs would reduce the time on even strength that the Bruins thrived in.
Luongo. I'm not going to blame Luongo for this loss. He's going to get a lot of flack for this, and while some of it is deserved, most of it isn't. However, there are two aspects that seem apparent to me. First, Luongo is capable of lights out performances, but for some reason he also has a tendency to meltdown. I'm not sure what can be done about this. However, the fact is that except for Game 5, the bad games in this series were team losses. Plus, when you only score 8 goals in 7 games, I don't see what Luongo could have really done to win this series. If the Canucks had won, it would have been a steal. Second, and more concerning is that I believe that Luongo really is prone to fatigue by the end of the season. The graph shown in that link is pretty demonstrative, but I wonder how it would look if instead of months, the graph displayed his save percentage with respect to games played. While he did play fewer games this year by the end of the regular season, he had played into the 'April' range by the finaIs. I hate to say it, but I think with Luongo, you still have to give him a rest during the playoffs. With as good of a goaltender that Cory I think we can afford to let him play a gaIme or two in the early part of a series, if that could help Luongo stay fresh.
Sedins. I think we've seen enough now to realize that while the Sedins are capable playoff performers, they struggle badly against Norris trophy candidate defensemen. Unfortunately in this playoff they went against three teams with those type of players, and in all three series they struggled to get the cycle going. I'm not sure what can be done about that, beyond providing good depth scoring (which Kelser provided in the Nashville series). Unfortunately against the Bruins their secondary scoring dried up due to injury.
So what can be done next year? Ironically the best thing to do might be just to try to keep this team together, and hope for another shot. While last year, the Canucks collapsed after losing their top 2 defensemen which led Gillis to get more defensemen, they collapsed after losing (or effectively lost) four.
What do I think will happen?
- Ballard gets traded (heck, AV played injured players rather than play him).
- Bieksa gets resigned (I think he realizes how special this team is, and hopefully realizes how improtant Hammer was to his success).
- Salo stays, but only if he takes a discount (he obviously can still play, but just is too injury prone).
- Erhoff may go. (If the rumors about his salary demands are true, he might not stick around. He doesn't seem to be as much of a 'love this city' kinda guy like Bieksa comes across).
- Gillis at least tries to keep Torres and Higgins here. Glass, Tambo are gone.
- Cory Schenider stays, unless for a good package of scoring depth. However, the market for goalies just doesn't seem very good these days.
- Luongo _might_ get traded. It's completely up to Lu, but if he gets fed up with the pressure here, Gillis might try to trade him. But again, the goalie market isn't great. The only reason I can see this happening is if the Canucks feel that Schneider is as good as Louie is.
- Tanev and Cody both make the team next year, although I still don't know where Cody would play. He's not a 4th line center, and we're deep at that position.
The bottom line is though, that this team is perfectly capable of returning to the final next year, if the pieces can be kept in place, or replaced with similar players.