I am just a fan. Its something I have been my whole life, and I probably just don't know better. Some get wired to hit each other in pads and matriculate a ball down the field. Others find the relative contemplation of hitting a ball with a bat of some sort is the thing. Still others find comfort in the fraternal nature of the sports attached to places of higher learning, for fun and profit.
Thats all well and good. I don't see another sport that has everything that hockey has, but maybe thats just because I don't know any better. I did try some other sports, honest. But its hockey for me.
I am sure that the intensity and passion of all the fans of all the sports is wonderful. That is not really the point I am making. The hockey fan is one that, once truly bitten by its intensity and desire, a fan is hooked, and badly. We spend time interpreting the higher math of our sport with the zeal of the fans of America's Game, and that is just one aspect. The collective angst extolled on the entirely arbitrary evaluations of such esoteric descriptors as "what a winner is", the definitions of a "smart player", and especially the "right way to win" is amazing.
We all do it. So, here's me doing it. Just one fan's idea of "The Canuck Way", as I see it.
One of my favorite things about being a Canuck fan is truly how passionately "right" both the lovers and haters of said team are. It may be nothing more than how folks back East look at one another. The rivalry of the Flyers and Rangers. to say nothing of the Isles thrown in their versus the Gothamites in their inter city rivalry, sure looks pretty intense. I know Leaf and Habs fans that tried to get married and had it "just not work out", and end in divorce. Its that real in Canada. We make no bones about it. This is our thing, in much the same way the English look at football, or Americans talking of their version of gridiron play, or their other summer pastime. They don't apologize for that and neither should we.
So, with that in mind, to say nothing of the past few years of watching our team compete at the highest level, its not crazy to think that maybe, fans and team alike. have learned something. I would like to think that Vancouver, with the multitude of blogs such as ours, the two in the daily paper feeds, the others big and small, is one of the most informed of the fanbases. Perhaps that is parochial view. The players themselves did vote that very thing last year in the CBC players Poll.
What I do know is, Mr. Aquilini forced all of us to face the very real possibility of our team, after forty years in the wilderness, of actually getting rid of the one thing that both is the source of such gleeful mockery of the fans and team, and the fountain of all the always cloudy sense of foreboding that seems to hang over, and colour our fandom.
"Just win the damn Cup already!" was what Big Frank heard, and he went out and hired the man that seems to be the one that has a plan to make it a reality. For all the perceived positive and negative moves the latest ( and possibly / probably greatest?) general manager has made, they all are tailored to having a team capable of competing for that same prize this year and the years to come. By implementing The Canuck Way.
Mike Gillis will tell everyone its just the Wings Way. He certainly is copying the positives of a burgeoning scouting staff and everything else that has made that team a consistent winner. But here is what he has added all his own ;
A willingness to be proactive and find new and innovative ways to give his players the utmost chance to succeed, from sleep studies to the now blase hyperbaric chamber. A "mind room", and the basics of nutrition and training methods.
A sometimes maligned coaching staff who, for whatever one may think, keeps on turning out career years out of both young and older players.
A simply positively egomaniacal belief in being right in the decisions he has made, coupled with an almost ruthless efficiency of correcting the ones that do not turn out as expected. All of that with the end product of winning in mind.
That is the environment to which Zack Kassian and Marc Andre Gragnani ( underrated as hell in all the noise, he had a goal and 6 assists in seven playoff games last year in the first round ) come into. Sure, it might be a change from Buffalo, or Columbus for Pahlsson for that matter. Its certainly a more rabid fanbase ( no offense Sabre fans ). An environment in which they will be given every chance to become the best that their talents can muster. A positive one that has had a positive influence on most every player currently on the team.
I get why folks are upset by the trade today of the 2008 1st round pick. Cody Hodgson will be a great player for the Buffalo Sabres. But just think on that a second. While we can debate the old news about the back injury and what the young man went through, there is no doubt that once he was healthy, Cody excelled in the team and system he was put in. Detractors will say that is more him than the team. So be it. I would point at almost every player still with the team, from long term success stories like Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler and others that have shown clear rises in play during the time of Mr. Gillis, with corresponding increases in productivity.
The farm team is continually, whether in Winterpeg or the Windy City, highly competitive at its level. Those that are upset at young Mr Hodgson leaving for another team, I would point you at the Wolves. Don't think that the mid season evaluations of the Wolves did not enter into this as well. He specifically mentioned Jordan Schroeder today in the chat with Don and B'Mac here.
So, its not something to be just viewed as "Oh No, we lost a young superstar like Cam Neely, its horrible, and I blame AV for everything cuz he hates Cody..." that was the very first call in my ear buds as I cycled around the seawall today in the sunshine ( one can only watch so many hours of deadline coverage, and after that crescendo of action that always occurs at the end...). Because when you look at it another way, it really was just another example of responding to the vagaries of the business proactively, and "selling high" as it were. It may be cold, but they took an asset and developed it and then filled another hole after careful consideration. He dealt from a position of strength. That is hardly an alarming way of doing business.
This is not really a treatise on the relative merits of Cody Hodgson and Alex Sulzer for Zack Kassian and Mark Andre Gragnani. Not even Sami Pahlsson for an old regime mistake in Taylor Ellington and a couple 4th round picks . I do like all the deals, but then I am a proponent of the "Mike Gillis Foot Fist Way". So, for me, i am going to be positive unless there is evidence to the contrary, and I just don't see that here.
We welcome the new guys and say goodbye to the old. That is just the way it is that we view these things. There will be the inevitable build up of one and the somewhat casual disparaging of the other that happens this time of year. I, for one, think the team just became tougher to play against and deeper, but I am willing to see the opinion of those who don't.
But when you look at guys like Jannik Hansen, who was the 287th pick in 2004, a round that does not even exist, and their improvement over their careers, or the well known story of one Alexandre Burrows, who played for the Columbia Inferno in that same year, it now has to be through the lens of the current administration. Kevin Bieksa was a 5th round pick 2001. Ryan Kesler was a 1st rounder in '03, and the Sedin Twins who were the signature picks of Brian Burke and his consigliere David Nonis, to say nothing of Alex Edler 91st overall the same year as Hansen, and Cory Schneider 26th overall that same year. They are an impressive list by those previous administrators, no matter their other prodigious misses, but on April 23rd, it will be four years that all these players have worked under the current boss. Kevin Bieksa, Ryan Kesler, and the Twins have all had their best years in that time. The same applies to the last big move of Mr Nonis, Roberto Luongo. As does one Sami Salo. We acknowledge the contributions of past GM's, but four years is enough that you just cannot discount the influence of the current regime.
The meat of the current roster is mostly Mr Gillis now. While the 2nd rounder in 2005, Mason Raymond, was not, and has been both up and down in his time, the man had a broken back last year, and is still one of the fastest and defensively responsible players on the team. David Booth. Chris Higgins, the new guy Zack Kassian ( did I say welcome?), Maxim Lapierre, Manny Malhotra, The Sedin's best friend Samuel Pahlsson. Dale Weise. Andre Alberts was an acquisition in '10. Keith Ballard, Marc Andre Gragnani (bonjour mon ami ) Dan Hamhuis and of course the man, the myth, the legend. Aaron Rome. All pieces of the "plan" for our sensei.
Just consider Canuck Nation, when you judge these men,other moves, and coaching styles good or bad. Its not so much whether we are right and wrong. That is a fool's gold anyhow. Its fun, and we all do it, but what matters is that the men entrusted by Big Frank Aquilini with this starcrossed community enterprise seem to be committed to winning the ultimate prize we all desire, and has a plan to get there.
Thats good enough for me. I leave you with this. Christopher Tanev was playing Rochester Institute of Technology in 2009-10. He had played with the Tier Two Markam Waxers the year before. By the next year he had split his season between Manitoba and Vancouver the following year, and ended up playing in the Stanley Cup Finals. That is of course a product of his talents, drive, and want to succeed. But you cannot really tell me that the system, the coaching, and all the various things that make up a winning organization did not play a part in that growth.
Yes, I get it "We" have not won anything. But its coming. Perhaps it does not happen this year, ( though the Canucks are a favorite again, and the Las Vegas pick, though that did not work out so well last year!), or the next. No one should doubt that the team is doing everything to win though, and that is good enough for this fan. I am happy that the team I like is doing everything it can to get to that final prize that is so desired by this city, province, and the growing Canuck Nation everywhere. I can live with that, though heaven nows it took some time to come to grips with last season's cruel ending.
So, thanks for your talents Cody Hodgson, we wish you all the best. From the sincere emotion in your voice and words when the TSN folks decided to call you directly less than five minutes after you found out too early ( I hear Mr Gillis apologized, its just a product of the no secrets age we live in, huh?), it does not sound like any of the "he asked to go anyhow" rationalizations had any merit. Rather it sounded like a person that was truly saddened by having to go to Buffalo and leave a place he was very happy at. I'll take it at that, no matter the summations of John Garrett with Don and Barry this afternoon. ( Cheech thinks Daddy Hodgson and the agent were involved to get Cody to a place where he could play more than a supporting role. He did make some good points...buuuuttt ;-)
Maybe you can spread the good word about The Canuck Way, regardless.