Trying To Understand The Current State Of This Canucks Team

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Spor

The Canucks are 4-8-2 in the month of January after accomplishing a 10-1-2 record in December. Why the Jeckyll and Hyde act? Fans want to know why oh why this team is struggling lately and the frustration is at an all-time high. Fingers of blame are pointed in so many directions in times like these, depending on the people's perception. Here are some of them.

WE NEED JOHN TORTORELLA BACK!

Since Torts was suspended by the NHL for trying to get at Bob Hartley in the Flames' dressing room, the Canucks are 2-3-0. So we need Torts back to put his foot in the Canucks' butts to turn their fate around right? Well, the Canucks were 1-5-2 in the 8 games leading up to that suspension. So let's put that concept to bed shall we?

#BlameTanev

This was posted a lot on Twitter during the Canucks' game against the Blackhawks. It is so short-sighted. Like we lost to the Blackhawks because we lost Chris Tanev to injury. Lame. Yeah, I was on Twitter last night. What a mistake that was.

FATIGUE

This is a tough one. Tortorella demands a hard-working style of play. But this team has sleep doctors and other assessing doctors that would be able to see fatigue if it was happening. I'm not buying the fatigue excuse fully. These guys are finely-tuned athletes.

BLAME MIKE GILLIS

I find that this is another lazy blame game from certain fans...to a point. There was a time earlier in the season where everyone was praising the holy name of Gillis for signing guys like Mike Santorelli and Brad Richardson because those two players performed marvelously at the beginning of the season and were signed at such a low cost due to the salary cap dropping. Gillis had no cap space to play with, and had to bargain hunt. Now in bad times so many fingers get pointed at him for not surrounding the core players of the team with better talent. I find that silly. Gillis deserves praise for signing those 2 guys at bargain prices, as they have been stellar for this team.

Now, signing core players like the Sedins, Kesler, Burrows, Higgins, Edler, Bieksa, Garrison, Hamhuis and Luongo to deals that include no trade clauses (in various forms) is pissing off a lot of fans. Why? Because in times of struggling, these players are hard to move before the trade deadline for immediate help by knee-jerkers (like me, sometimes).

Gillis was asked about no trade clauses back in 2009.

Q. You’ve seen how other GMs have dealt with players with no-trade clauses. How have you and how might you do things differently in discussions with those players at this time of the season?

MIKE GILLIS: Well, you know, having been on the player’s side for a number of years, I know that there is a quid pro quo that goes along with no-trade or no-movement clauses. The players are making a commitment to that city and team for a variety of reasons. There’s a price to be paid for that commitment and the security of not moving.

My philosophy has always been not to waive a no-trade clause. If a player comes to us and is dissatisfied or feels they might have a better opportunity elsewhere, obviously we would listen and try to accommodate those wishes.

But I am not going to ask a player to waive a no-trade. If we felt that there was dissatisfaction on the player’s part, we would perhaps discuss what his wishes would be. But that would be the extent of it.

Source: Canucks And Beyond.

Primarily, that shows what he thinks of asking players to waive their NTC's. I think it's pretty clear that the Canucks need help up front. I think they should have spent less on their D to make cap space for that need. Unfortunately, the top 4 D mentioned above are locked in. How much is offering these players no trade clauses just him being a nice guy because he used to be a former agent and how much is used for leverage to get the players here (or to stay here) during contract negotiations? I just don't know. At least the cap goes up next season.

WE NEED HENRIK SEDIN AND MIKE SANTORELLI BACK!

The injury excuse. It holds some merit. You want your team playing with a full deck, but you also want them to perform during times of adversity. For the record, Hank had 1 assist in his last 6 games when the rib injury happened. The Canucks were 2-3-1 in those games. Santorelli had 2 goals and no assists in 12 games prior to going down to a shoulder injury. The Canucks were 4-5-3 in those games. What I'm saying is the sucktitude was already happening before these 2 centers went down to injury. A lot of what carried the Canucks in their Deccember to remember was their awesome secondary punch of Santorelli-Kesler-Higgins.

The bottom line? There are ups and downs to an NHL season and those 2 guys needed to snap out of their funks when they come back in order for the Canucks to maintain any sense of success. Which leads me to my next point:

YOUR TOP PLAYERS NEED TO BE YOUR TOP PLAYERS

I have mentioned the struggles of Hank and Santa before their respective injuries. Now how about guys like Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler? Daniel has no goals and 5 assists in his last 14 games. Burrows...I can't even talk about it. Kesler has 1 goal and 4 assists in his last 11 games.

In mass contradiction, Chris Higgins has 3 goals and 6 points in his last 6 games. He is the top Canucks forward lately, but it is common knowledge that Higgins is not only a streaky scorer, but also a roaming forward in the top 6 / bottom 6 role. I tip my hat to his game and contributions, make no mistake. But you cannot rely on him to carry the load consistently.

The Canucks' defence is another supposed avenue for offensive output. Let's see where the top D are at in this regard.

Alex Edler: no goals and 3 assists in his last 15 games.

Jason Garrison: no goals and 2 assists in his last 10 games.

Dan Hamhuis: no goals and 2 assists in his last 14 games.

Kevin Bieksa: 2 goals and 3 points in his last 3 games. But 3 goals and 2 assists in his last 17 games.

Those are the top 4. They are the guys locked in to no trade clauses. They also need to snap out of their slumps. All of them! So what's the hold-up? Well, it's easy to bark at those guys to "snap out of it", but it's far more complicated than that.

TEAM CHEMISTRY

This is such a fragile and complex thing. Not only do players need to believe in themselves to perform to their utmost abilities, they also need to believe in each other to get the job done. They need to trust each other out there. If one of those two are lacking the team will not succeed. One thing that needs to be kept in mind is that these guys are human. They are prone to make mistakes and fail just like you and I can in our jobs. We can chuck in "luck" for a team's fortunes but that only goes so far. No team that fails to make the playoffs can blame bad luck. I had to do some research on team chemistry and here is what I found:

From Scott Williams at www.wright.edu:

-Team chemistry is one of the most complicated keys to the success of organizations.  Effective teams are more than just a collection of talented members.  To be effective, a team has to be able to combine the efforts and abilities of members in the right way.  Just as no two people are identical, no two teams are identical.  Consequently, what works well for one team may not work well for others.

- Team chemistry is the composition of a team and the relationships among team members.  Good team chemistry helps a team achieve its goals, and it results when (a) a team has members who possess the right competencies and (b) they work effectively together to achieve synergies.  We most often notice that a team has poor chemistry when the members are talented but fail to work well together to make the most of their abilities.  For instance, team members failing to play roles that their teams need someone to play or engaging in unproductive conflict are examples of problems with team chemistry.
At the risk of taking the "chemistry" metaphor too far, we can think of teams as having the following properties: elements (members), interactions (roles and norms), catalysts (leaders), energy (motivation), attraction (cohesiveness), and mass (size).  By examining these properties, we can identify a number of keys to good team chemistry.

- In terms of the chemistry metaphor, leaders are catalysts because they promote interaction among the elements.  Leaders provide direction, structure activities, share information, encourage participation, promote positive relationships, and support and encourage members.

-Human motivation is the energy in teams.

-When team members appreciate being a member of the team and feel an attraction to it, they're committed to working toward the team's goal.  This cohesiveness facilitates collaboration, spontaneity and mutual support, and it reduces counterproductive conflict.  Effective teams tend to be cohesive.

-Cohesiveness also tends to develop as team members spend more and more time together.

-Success also engenders cohesiveness.  It's difficult to feel excited about being a member of a team that loses, and much easier to feel an affinity for a team that succeeds.  Ironically, while cohesiveness increases the likelihood of a team being successful, success also tends to increase cohesiveness.  The cause-and-effect relationship between cohesiveness and success is reciprocal. Finally, having a common opponent can bring team members together.  The realization that working together and supporting each other is the best way to defeat an opponent tends to promote a team's cohesiveness.

-The kind of vision that energizes a team is a vivid picture of the future that's ambitious and exciting.  To motivate a team to its highest level of performance, there must be passion.  Perhaps the best metaphor here is falling in love.  When we fall in love, a lot of our attention is directed toward the object of our affection, and our passion moves us to be creative and heroic.  A leader's vision can produce similar passion, but the vision has to be connected to the values and priorities of the team members.  When you articulate a vision for a team that you lead, make sure that you clearly make that connection.  If your vision inspires passion, you can expect a high level of motivation and impressive performance.  Thus, your vision should be ambitious.  The vision should also be creative and original so that it's perceived as really interesting.  Finally, as you describe your vision, use colorful, emotional, and metaphorical language to trigger the passion.

Those are the main points that I personally saw in that article, but there is much more there.

The issue of team chemistry is so complex.

Here are more concepts from an interview at the Harvard Gazette:

Ultimately, it’s up to team members themselves to create chemistry. It usually includes a sense of cohesiveness, shared identity, trust and respect, efficacy — do they have a shared belief in their ability to succeed? Team chemistry is probably a combination of these things, but pinning it down exactly is elusive.

-It’s hard to maintain chemistry during extended stretches of poor performance, especially if team members start to blame each other. Trust and respect can take a long time to build and a short time to destroy. If one or two players start to act selfishly by doing things that are good for their individual stats or careers but bad for the team, it can become contagious as teammates lose respect for one another. Teams can unravel quickly when a few players put their own interests ahead of the team. It’s easy to have good chemistry when you’re performing well. The test is whether a team can maintain those dynamics when they hit a rough stretch. Those who do become more resilient as a result. Having strong leadership from within the team helps a lot, especially when high-profile players set a good example.

I think that after reading all of THAT you can kind of see what is going on with the Canucks team, but it is complicated as hell.

One thing that stands out dramatically to me is the role of a team's leadership. Mike Gillis has been known to sign players that are leaders and display excellent commitment to being involved in the charities of the community. That's not a bad thing at all. But many times I wonder if he goes overboard on that philosophy, as teams need a balance of leadership and role players. Do the Canucks have too many leaders? I mean, having too many leaders can become contradictory at some point. I think you can look to any Stanley Cup winners to prove that point.

I think that a fair question with the Canucks is: is the leadership good enough? The coaches have always praised the Sedins and Kesler, yet recently John Tortorella used the word "fragile" to describe his team. And we see that on the ice. These guys get rattled when facing adversity. It makes Torts call time outs to calm the boys down and re-iterate the plan to succeed. But that's Torts doing that. What player does that in the dressing room? Who is the big leader there? And do all of the players look up to this leader?

The Canucks' current problems stem from the management staff, the coaching staff down to the players.

-Are the Canucks on paper better than an 8th place team? No. But , it's up to the coaching staff to get every player to achieve greater performance individually in roles given and as a team. They need to draw up plans and systems that will make this team successful.  It's up to the leaders of the team to draw from past experiences to lead. It's up to the role players to play their roles. Only then can they achieve greater than 8th place and make a playoff run. It's up to management to assess the state and balance of the team and make the moves accordingly. Sometimes the best move is no moves at all. Let the guys work it out as a team. This Canucks team may be in that state, even though we know that is not completely management's mindset after the Vinnie Prospal ordeal. They are looking to add. Sometimes adding an impact player can give the team as a whole confidence, especially if their minds are sowing seeds of doubt about the current squad's abilities (again, the trust issue).

Hey, I'm just trying to paint a broader picture here. When I read about people pointing fingers at what is wrong with this team I take it with a grain of salt, because, it's usually more complicated than my understanding of things.

Over the next several games we shall see if there is chemistry. We shall see if there is a desire through hard work and resiliency to start winning games more consistently.

Mike Gillis preached "reset" last summer and hired a new coach. Torts has fire, but he also teaches players as a whole and individually more than Alain Vigneault did. That looked to be working, slowly but surely leading up to December, and then December was the hard work paying off.

What I really dislike after reading the chemistry articles is the situation with David Booth. Here is a guy that is paid top dollar but is clearly in the doghouse, struggling. Is Booth a team guy in these circumstances or a distraction to the greater cause?  If the Sedins, Burrows and Kesler under-perform, then why don't they suffer the same fate as Booth? Where is the fairness there? If you really want to send a message as a coach, you gotta sit a top player who is not performing. You cannot have a 2-tier policy there.

It's complicated. Just don't go pointing your finger at one thing. There are a lot of things going on here.

I suggest a team-building day trip. They did it up in Haida Gwaii pre-season and I think they should do it again. That's just one idea. I believe these guys will work their way through the adversity. They have done it before.

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