As yet another season finishes far too soon for our beloved Canucks, management has started the retooling process, starting by jettisoning the most successful coach in Canucks history. Firing AV will not be enough to get back to the top, and with the current cast of players, winning the Cup seems highly unlikely. The Canucks have been to the finals three times, and the teams that made it there were remarkably similar. Upon examination of the last two teams we took to the finals, it is apparent that there are six elements necessary to making it to the top of the hockey world.
1. Goaltending: The '94 Canucks had Kirk McLean, who was at the time a stalwart goalie and a formidable presence in net. Immortalized by "The Save," Captain Kirk was tremendous against all four teams he played against in that postseason, and was a huge reason the Canucks made it so far. The '11 Canucks had Roberto Luongo, the all time leader in wins by a Canucks goalie. Although he was rough in some series (cough cough the finals cough cough), he was a Vezina finalist that year and was still strong as a netminder.
2. Top forward scoring; With the Pavel Bure combined with scorers like Trevor Linden, Cliff Ronning, and Geoff Courtnall, the '94 Canucks were able to put pucks in the net through their top guys. This was echoed by the '11 team that featured the Sedins, Mikael Samuelsson, Alex Burrows, and Ryan Kesler.
3. Defense : In most sports, there is a saying that defense wins championships. Both teams had versatile defensemen who could play both offense and defense. From Jeff Brown, Jiri Slegr and Jyrki Lumme, to Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler, and Kevin Bieksa, the Canucks two-way defenseman came up big in the playoffs in both '94 and '11
4. A Catalyst at Center: Trevor Linden and Ryan Kesler have been two of the most beloved players in Canucks history by their fans and teammates because of the way they shaped the game on the ice. Both were physical scorers who played a gritty game and came up big when the pressure is on. Their presence on the ice resulted in scoring chances and inspired play.
5. Depth Scoring: Both teams got scoring from their deeper players. The 1994 boys had Martin Gelinas, Nathan LaFayette, and Sergio Momesso chipping in on offense, while the 2011 squad featured an even better cast of Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen, Cody Hodgson, Raffi Torres, and Maxim Lapierre. These depth guys add more goals that lift the team up when the top scorers don't get the job done. Their two-way game prevents goals on one end and ensures them at the other.
6. Coaching: Fairly obviously, coaching wins championships. Pat Quinn and Alain Vigneault both won Jack Adams Trophies with the Canucks and led their teams to the cup finals due to strong leadership and skill behind the bench.
Obviously you know all of this history, and the requiem for a perfect team is fairly simple on paper. What's harder is implementing it in practice. As evidenced, the Canucks had a terrific team in 2011, only to see it disintegrate in the offseason due to poor management. Ehrhoff left, Torres was let go, and Samuelsson was sent to the Panthers for disappointing forward David Booth. Hodgson was then sent to the Sabres at the deadline for a player who has yet to materialize in Kassian. The Canucks imploded and were bounced in the first round. Twice. To bring all of their mojo back, the Canucks have to address each of the six issues.
1. Dump off Luongo: I know, everyone knows this will happen, but the Canucks have to do this immediately, preferably on draft day. Shipping him to either the Panthers or Devils would be the best bet, as the Canucks could get a high second round pick as well as a forward like David Clarkson or Shawn Matthias.
2. Sign Brad Richards and buy out Booth: Most likely the Rangers are fed up with him and will buy him out, which leaves him ripe for the picking. The Canucks need to snag him and sign him to a deal, since he will most likely only demand between $3-4 million, a manageable cap hit. Buying out Booth frees up a roster spot and $4.25 million in cap space, and gets rid of a player who sucks up ice time and can only score on empty nets.
3. Defense: The defense is very strong, and while the Canucks probably will not get a replacement for Ehrhoff, Edler has produced more and Frank Corrado is a rising two-way d-man. Buying out Keith Ballard to free up some space and maybe pursuing a decent defenceman like Ian White or Ryan Whitney would be a strong option to bulk up the blue line.
4. Kesler: Make sure Kesler plays center, and that's about it.
5. Bring in Clarkson/Matthias, call up Nicklas Jensen, Brendan Gaunce: Putting whichever forward the Canucks get for Luongo on the third or fourth line would greatly help the Canucks, and would give Jensen and Gaunce an opportunity to shine in a less demanding role. Bumping up Kassian to the second line would give him more of an opportunity to contribute and produce. Clarkson will be a UFA this off-season, and could be signed by the Canucks instead of getting him through trade. If so, they could get another depth forward like Andrei Loktionov or maybe another pick from the Devils for Lu. Signing a few depth scorers wouldn't hurt either, and would allow the Canucks to fully groom Gaunce in the minors before shoving him into the lineup.
6. Hire Dave Tippett: He's led a mediocre team in the Coyotes all the way to the western finals, and can surely lead a talented group to the Stanley Cup. He's coached Richards and has a solid style that emphasizes strong defense and goaltending coupled with gritty goals and a strong special teams. Oh yeah, and he's also won a Jack Adams.
In short, Mike Gillis needs to recover from his boneheaded trading of quality prospects (look no further than Hodgson or Michael Grabner) for useless players and make some serious changes this off season.
IN: Tippett, Richards, Clarkson/Matthias,White/Whitney?, Damien Brunner
The Canucks have to pull out of the funk and win the Cup soon. Let's face it. The window's closing. Time to get through it, and not have our fingers slammed under it.