Now What ?

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It's been a weird season for Canuck fans. We are usually cheering a team comfortably in the playoffs by now. But this season has been different. Let's take a look at what is ahead, and see if we can read the tea leaves.

The most common narrative you will hear about your favorite Vancouver hockey team is the one about how the Canucks are just experiencing the "comeuppance" that our "arrogant" fans deserve, now that the Canucks are not in the division that they used to be, with the Northwest division "patsies".

I'm here to tell you that is, while something with a bit of merit, mainly bullspittle.  Look, there is no doubt that the team is not at it's usual heights from recent years past.  But even this year, with all the injuries, and the supposedly tougher schedule, they are 15-15-5 versus the West, and the Pacific and Central are both reflective of that .500 play, with a 9-9-4 record against the "best division in the NHL", and a 6-6-1 record against the Central.Honestly, it is not being able to destroy the East ( 12-9-4 ) to the extent that the Ducks ( 17-6-3 ), Sharks ( 13-5-2 ), and Kings have ( 14-7-3 ) have.

The rest is the fact that they have given up a few more points in games late within the division and conference, losing a few games they should have won.  That is about it. I can think of a game versus the Kings, and one versus the Sharks, to say nothing of that ridiculous last second goal versus the Ducks, and another game versus them that they should have won.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda, right?  Of course.  My point is just that we are talking about narratives, and how the team is viewed.  Remember, this is a team that won back to back President's Trophies just a couple of years ago.  Those are often forgotten, or diminished, because the Canucks lost two series in a row to two teams who they are now in the same division with.  Those teams, to say nothing of the league leading Ducks, and the hard working Coyotes, definitely make the Pacific a tougher division than the Northwest used to be.

But I just want to remind everyone, that in the last year ( truncated 48 game season ), with much the same team, it was the Central ( which featured the Cup champs, the Blues, the Wings, Nashville and Columbus then ) that the Canucks were best against, at 9-2-4.  The 11-6-1 record the Canucks had versus the Northwest last year was not even the best in the division, as the Wild had a 12-5-1, and it was still in the same ballpark as the other top teams against the Northwest ( look here for the records ).

So, was the 6-7-2 versus the Pacific a harbinger of doom, or what?  Well, click that link. Only the Central teams ( ALL 5 ! ) had dominant winning records against the Pacific last year, not the Pacific ( within its own division, the best records were actually the Stars at 10-6-2, with the next three at 9-7-2, and the Ducks 8-7-3. ) and the Northwest.  The Canucks basically replaced the Stars, and brought along the Flames and Oilers as the "soft touches".  So, again, we are talking about a few games here, not some huge "sea change"  all of the sudden.

I bring this all up to just point out that old saw about the "fine line between winning and losing" is an old saw for a reason.  Because it is true.  Your Canucks have played hard most of the time, and have had less depth to deal with the injuries than they did in those back to back President's Trophy years.  The Canucks had injuries then, too. They had losing streaks. But, contrary to what TEAM callers and "experts" might tell you, it is not some huge abyss that the team has fallen into. It is hardship, after years of dominance that are making folks, as is our wont in Vancouver, overreact.

Look back through that link, going back to the '11 and '12 seasons.  You'll find the Canucks were dominant against all divisions ( around 11-12 4-5-6 and 1-2-3 against the other divisions and the East ), and just a little better against the Oilers, Wild, Flames, and especially the Avs.  Those teams ( maybe 1 game a year better, maybe two games a year versus the Avs ( remember that ridiculous record they have against that team over the last 20 + games? ) pushed that interdivisional record up to the 18-5-1 area.  Now, that is 7 games a year. 14 points. That would put them up there at the top again.  But that was in years past, and the teams that they were beating up have gotten better too ( the Avs especially ).

So, the Northwest thing has a bit of merit, but the Canucks were good against everyone the past three years.  I would posit that is an indicator of a pretty good team.  Which your team is folks.  It is a shame that they might only have the next three games to prove it.

Well, maybe. The owners and GM have not shown a proclivity for listening to the cadre of self appointed "experts" in this hockey mad city.  But do we really believe that there is going to be a "fire sale"?  That Kesler and / or Edler is as good as gone ?  Long time readers know my feelings on this. I think that it is Edler, if anyone, that will fall into the "good as gone" category if the team goes big on a deal at the deadline.

I also put a bit more credence in what the man at the till actually says than some. Certainly more than Bob MacKenzie !  Far be it from me that you hear that just because Bobby repeats something he heard from one of his fellow "pundits" at the biggest time of the year for his network ( rumours equal ratings at this time of this year, and I totally discount this "anyone but the Sedins" line he has been pimping ).  So, even if it is Bobby or Dreger folks, take it with a grain of salt.  remember, they are repeating these little desk hits where they do the rumour roundup about six times a day.  They have to talk about something, and ratings come from the hockey mad markets in huge numbers when you mention their teams.

Certainly, all of this stuff has a little credence. While some might give those two named above the title expert, I do now, however.  They are definitely more plugged in than, say, Eklund, and his record of being right that hovers around the same as flipping a coin.  But folks always forget the things that were wrong ( and there is a lot, from them, and the Sportsnet bunch as well ) from these guys, and just remember and repeat the things that turned out.  What happens more often is, someone in each city parrots these things under the heading of "rumours persist", or "reports have said".  Just remember how often those things have turned out to be right in Vancouver with GMMG.  Most of the trades that have been made here, under the current regime, have been more like "didn't see that one coming", or " that isn't the guy the rumours said". So, grain of salt.

The truth is, after a long period of excellence, the Canucks have come back to Earth a bit. There are several reasons for that. Injuries happen to everyone, but I do not remember a team that has had a continual revolving door like the Canucks have had this year.  This guy goes down, and then that guy, and then another. To quote "Footsteps Falco" from the eminently forgettable move The Replacements..."You're playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can't move... you can't breathe... because you're in over your head. Like quicksand." Now, I am certainly not saying that is the only thing. The Canucks have lost more games in the third period this year than they usually have in the past. Some of that was luck, bad or good for the other team. Some of that a lack of depth to cover those injuries, and some of that is the slightly better division they moved into being overachievers so far.

Sure, your team needs a player, maybe two. But there are young guys coming that don't suck.  There are guys getting healthier, and a complete line up getting closer to the ice for the first time in months.

The problem is, with this market applying the pressure ( because we are Vancouver, and our expectation of excellence is sky high all the time, seemingly ), there is only the next three games before the deadline to make people feel a bit better.  The Blues, the Wild, and the Heritage Classic ( and wasn't that cool how the '94 team went to Robson and gave away tickets yesterday ? ) against the Senators.  After the seven game losing streak burned through all the slack the Canucks had in their playoff placing, they desperately need the points.  But let us remember, they are only 1 point out of the playoffs at this date.  The Stars are right there, and the Kings are only 4 points above them.  The guys that do the math are telling us that it takes 95 points to make the dance, and that the team will need to go 14-4-4, or something like that.

So be it.  I think it will be more a race where the teams all have to "keep pace".  It might take 95 points. It also might just take one more than the team above you.  But that all starts tomorrow.  if they lose more than one of the next three games, and if any one of the next three is lost in a blowout, I don't know what will happen by the deadline.

But let me finish with this.  Mike Gillis tries to be, as much as the constraints of the job make it, pretty straightforward with this fanbase.  He knows that we are smart about the game. ( Most of us anyway ! )  When he is talking about "finding another player to play with Kes'", I do think that is what he means.  It is a results oriented business, and he knows as well as anyone that the Big Boss does not take no playoff revenue well.  Jobs are always on the line.  But, for now at least, this writer will take him at his word.

Mainly because I agree. I still like this team when it is fully healthy. I still believe in the team, even Edler !  Honestly, I think he is the one that might get the call to the office to ask if "you want to start over somewhere else ".  Like every one of the stars, he has a no trade, so it is his decision.  But, even though some Hockeyy Insiderr, an Eklund, or even a Bobby Mac or Dregs mentions Ryan Kesler around this time of year ( when everyone is mentioned...remember the ratings and hits on the internet that accompany this cottage industry in this hockey made nation ), does not mean he is out the door.

Often it means nothing.

Let us just get to watch a win tomorrow, and go from there...

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