Many Canucks fans find themselves staring at a 1-4 series loss in round 1 of 2012 playoffs and asking themselves: What happened?
There will be no shortage of theories, and no doubt many of them will be based solely on emotion and resort to blame throwing. None of those will be helpful.
The Goalie Controversy
For months we've been hearing about the "goalie controversy". Starting with the perceived "meltdown" in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals (where Luongo registered two shut-outs and three victories for a team that scored eight goals in seven games) many fans started blaming Luo for every loss or bad goal. Schneider, playing a stellar game in more limited usage, became the gleaming city on the hill, the greener grass on the other side.
Finally, after two losses to start the playoffs in which Luongo played well but still let in too many goals, Schneider was handed three consecutive starting assignments to end the playoffs. The knee-jerk fan and media contingent rushed to discuss the "inevitable" trade of Luongo and the "annointing" of Schneider as the starter.
To be clear, Schneider is a great young goalie and played well in going 1-2 in this truncated playoff. Is he Vancouver's starting goalie now, carved in stone. Not yet.
Sure, the Canucks may trade Luongo this summer (and they may trade Schneider, instead). For that we'll have to wait and see. But it will be a decision based on many more factors than the play of the two goalies over the course of a brief playoff run. Besides the vagueries of the market for trades, the assets available from suitors for either goalie, there are contract and cap considerations and Luongo's no trade clause factors that will influence the possibilities.
Replacing Luongo after two straight losses was a smart move, not because he played poorly but because the coach had total confidence in both men and needed to spark the team. If Schneider had led the team to a Stanley Cup we would be looking at a very different scenario. But he didn't. If Schneider had been injured and Luongo thrust back into the net to lead a Stanley Cup victory, then another scenario all together would have emerged. We don't have such a clear cut situation for either goalie.
Has Coach Vigneault "lost the room"?
Alain Vigneault is likely the best, most successful coach in team history. He has accomplished more than any other bench boss in Canucks history, winning the President's Trophy twice and bringing the team within one game of the Cup.
Coach's have limited shelf life, to be sure. Vigneault may be let go or may choose to move on. But he is not the problem in Vancouver and there is no need to cut him. If the Canucks are about the make major changes that could result from moving a goalie and bringing in some new assets, and perhaps some more thorough re-tooling to go along with that, having a proven coach in place to help the veteran leadership of the team mold the new addition into a group that can "play the right way" might be even more important.
The trades that shaped the Stanley Cup playoffs
A couple of trades made last summer had a tremendous impact on the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, at least as they have unfolded thus far. They were not trades involving the Vancouver Canucks, though.
When the Philadelphia Flyers cleaned house last summer they sent Jeff Carter to Columbus and Mike Richards to Los Angeles. Carter's stint with Columbus did not pan out and he ended up being re-united with Richards on the Sunshine Coast.
The Flyers brought in a bunch of younger, cheaper players to replace Carter and Richards, and made room for the new contract of intended goaltending saviour Ilya Bryzgalov. While Bryzgalov has been an inconsistent performer in both the regular season and the playoffs, the Flyers have none the less eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. Meanwhile the Los Angeles Kings, despite an underwhelming showing by Carter, rode stellar goaltending and clutch performances from players like Richards to a five game victory over the Canucks. Both series saw the eventual winners going up 3-0 before things heated up. The L.A.-Vancouver contest boiled down to a goaltender's battle, while the battle of Pennsylvania set playoff scoring records.
In both cases the losers were favourite Cup contenders. TSN had predicted a Pittsburgh-Vancouver final.
So, what happened?
The Stanley Cup Playoffs happened. The most unpredictable, volatile sporting event where sixteen teams set out on a gruelling trek to the championship of the best hockey league in the world where parity has made the gap between winner and loser very small indeed.