Oh come all ye faithful. I know you aren't so joyful, and the team we all obsess about has been far from triumphant lately.
Its called parity folks. The NHL is a pretty good league, and there are great players on every team. Everyone that has been judging teams and segments of the season through a lens of things like last season suddenly finds themselves rethinking things. Why is my team not as good as I expected? How come those other guys are so damn good?
Did you really think the Hawks were going to be THAT good? Well, we all knew that they were good, but I think everyone is a little surprised by exactly how dominant that team has been. Good for them, and its obviously great for their fans. But while they are running things right now, we all know the playoffs are another game, and the one by which they, ( and all teams ) will be judged. The same with the Ducks. No one really expected them to be only a few points behind the Hawks at this stage. By that same measure, even teams like the Blue Jackets and the Islanders are not as bad as some have made them out to be.
But that is really the point. isn't it? Expectations, they are a bitch. We know all about expectations in this hockey mad city. That we do. Whether for good or for bad, expectations are just our desires turned outward.
Of course, that is not to say that I am sitting here telling you all that we should just be positive. That this is the best team over the last five seasons that we have ever had in this city. That there is no way that your expectations for the very best results each and every game are not valid. Of course they are. They are because you and I feel it deep in our bones with each goal that seemingly turns those expectations sour.
We sit here and plot the things that would be the magic bullet. If they would just trade for that impact centre...can you imagine when Ryan Kesler returns AND that mythical beast? Unstoppable! One of the most popular "magic bullets" in Canuck Nation is, of course, fire the coach. One of our "grumpy old men" here even called for that if they lost this game tonight ( or was it this one and tonight's match against St. Louis...I get confused ;-) I am not here to tell you whether that is a good or bad thing. I am a fan of Alain Vigneault myself, for what that is worth. Of course there are times that can be pointed to where a coaching change coincided with a team going all the way. There is probably just as many where a coaching change resulted in a team just...muddling on. Without looking them all up, I won't say that definitively, but suffice to say that it is a desperate move. But its one that is hardly going to go away. Such is life in a hockey mad city.
Thats the thing though folks. I honestly don't think this is quite the point of desperation yet. What it is, more precisely, is the pressure point. There are 20 games left for most the teams in the race, give or take. Your team is currently in 7th place, but only two points out of 3rd. Yes, currently, the goaltending has looked less than the stellar, shutout every night, "our secret weapon two #1's" that expectations told us all was pretty much a "fait accompli".
But do you really think that Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider are to blame? Of course not. Hockey is a team game, and while the goaltender is the last line of defense, he is only one aspect of that defense. But try telling that to expectations. The position of goaltending has been built up as the winner or loser of a game so much that it is one of the stats that is listed on a goaltenders stat page. Both of these men know that, and Vancouver is certainly not the only NHL city where the position is held to that high standard.
Ok, put that aside. The blue line then. Certainly, it must be their fault. Have you SEEN how many times the top minute man, Alexander Edler. gives away the puck? ( actually, according to the stats guy, its 19 giveaways in 28 games while averaging 24 minutes a game. He is a -2 though. Piker! ) Jason Garrison? The guy has actually started to show all the promise that was demanded of him the minute he started with a new team. Sure, its only 4 goals and 7 points, but he is a +7 on a team that is currently 10th in the NHL at +5. Bieksa was injured, Keith Ballard in and out, and the others have had varying degrees of success. Perhaps we can pin the goat tail on Dan Hamhuis? I mean, 2 goals and 14 points sure is higher than expectations, but I don't think anyone expected our "shutdown" defenseman to be a -3 at this point. That seems a little unfair to me however. ( FTR - he also has 19 giveaways over 28 games )
Well, sure, you might say, but those forwards. Certainly THAT is where we can place the blame, right? Does it matter that it is the forward lines where some pretty noticeable injuries have occurred, both from the start, when Ryan Kesler was not available, to when he got back in and went back out. I am not sure how exactly that jibes with the blame game when they were winning regularly without him and lost more of the few games he was back than they won, but I digress. David Booth, now Zack Kassian, both those guys were filling roles, or starting to, when they went down.
But injuries are always excuses, you might say. And you'd be right. But they also impact how the team works together, and who plays in what spot. If I had to come up with a reason for the struggles, that might be it. Players are not playing in their proper spots. Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins have been both great and not so much, but both have been put in places where they are not regularly used to playing. Personally, I like Hansen on the power play, and I think Higgins might be one of the best guys along the boards the team has. Mason Raymond is certainly a good player, and showing his "pre broken back" form more often than not. But perhaps this is where we can place some of the blame. Maybe the "couch coaches" have it right, or maybe its just that its tough having too many guys playing out of position to succeed. Anyone that plays, or has ever played the game knows that it is a hell of a lot easier to just play, without thinking about where your linemate is supposed to be. Or, even worse, where you are supposed to be.
Of course, its those Twins then. After all, they are everyone's favorite whipping boys. Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Or maybe Alexandre Burrows. Sure, sure, they have been one of the best lines in the NHL over the past three years, but all good things must pass, right? I keep hearing the "window" is closing on these guys. Time waits for no man, and all that. But then, you look at their numbers, and its tough not to smirk. All three are playing at the same career levels ( Daniel has 8 goals, 25 points in 28 games while a +10, slightly higher than his 742 points in 886 games. His brother has 8 goals and 27 points in 28 games, an even higher average than his 773 points in 916 games, and he is a +16 (!). Both are 32 years old, not 42 as some of these "window" slammers seem to think. Burrows is at 7 goals and 16 points, about where his career 286 points in 546 games puts him. He's 31 )...and while we always expect more from the top line, it can easily be argued that they are not the problem.
Look, I am not here to tell you all to just ignore your feelings. We all invest a lot emotionally in the team we all love and want them to do well. With that comes strong feelings of anger, frustration and angst when things are not going well. I certainly don't blame people when you have the TEAM broadcasters almost gleefully trolling the team, as it makes for great ratings when the team suffers. Don't kid yourself. Mr. TEAM loves it when the Canucks are struggling. It makes for great ratings! Its for those same reasons that you have the supposed sportswriter emeritus, Tony Gallagher, outright trolling the team, and telling his readers that its basically over as we wait for next year ( no, I won't link to the article. Find it yourself if you so desire. All I'll say is that I USED to be a big fan of one of the finest sportswriters of his generation, and its a shame that he has been reduced to trolling for his masters at the paper and the radio station ). So, no, its certainly not a surprise to hear these things.
Perhaps he'll come around as the team improves. Or be pointed at as a sage by his Twitter followers, who breathlessly parrot the negatives that seem to flow with ever increasingly bilious delivery. I know myself, I try to stay away from the Twitterati as much these days. You can only be told how dumb you are for disagreeing with the #FireAV folks for so long before it gets boring.
But the thing is, now is not the time for this shit. Pardon the coarseness, but seriously. Its 20 games left, and they are both 2 points out of first in their division, and about 6 points from the bottom of it. Whether this team seesaws around the 6-7-8 spot and makes it into the playoffs that way ( and then goes on a "run" ), or goes on even a modest spurt that they are definitely capable of doing and locks down the division that they have owned for the past ...what...five seasons (?)...it is certainly not a time for the fans of this city to run wild and rend their vestments while wailing at their Hockey Gods and wondering why the ghosts of the Patrick Brothers and Cyclone Taylor have forsaken them.
Sure, you can go the way that will be pointed for you. Heaven knows if the team loses to the Blues before hitting the road that the doom and gloom will grow ever louder. I am certainly not going to sit here and tell you that they WILL make the playoffs, or win the Northwest again.
What I will tell you is, as a lifelong fan of this team since they were born, when I was only seven, that this is the era of the best damn team we have ever had. That they have been vastly more than just "competitive", but have provided the hockey fans of this city with a team that could challenge for the very top for quite a while now. Surely it is not too pollyannish to think that they can do the same with the rest of this truncated season. Surely it is not silly to think positively about a team that is, yes, going through a tough patch, but has had the fans' backs for a good while now.
Oh, come all ye faithful. Now is the time to get behind them...with more than just the pitchforks and torches that some would have you carry.
What's the worst thing that can happen?