Ed note: For reference, I went down a similar "where the hell are we going" path back in 2010. Read it at your own peril.
As I write this Vancouver is playing Phoenix. I don't much care to watch. Vermette just scored as I wrote that. Seriously.
The last time I bothered to watch a Vancouver team that didn't have Roberto Luongo was back at the end of a very depressing 2005-06 season: with Mika Noronen (I'll pause until the laughter stops) in net the Canucks actually beat the playoff-bound Avalanche 4-3 thanks to goals from WCE stalwarts Todd Bertuzzi, Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison and the original third Sedin Anson Carter. That Canucks squad would miss the playoffs despite 42 wins and 92 points; this season's squad would need to go 12-5-2 to reach 92 points which would give them roughly a 50/50 chance of sliding into the 8 spot only to probably be swept out again by a California team.
That's a nice way to bookend Luongo's time in Vancouver: he arrived to much fanfare, immediately helped right the listing ship, broke every record in the franchise goaltending handbook and helped guide the team on several playoff runs. The conventional wisdom for goalies held true for Lui: when he stepped on the ice, he regularly gave the Canucks a chance to win. Of course others will remember some of those terrible games against Chicago, losing the captainship, that beautiful contract that even he grew to hate, the meltdown against Boston and then finally losing the starting gig...twice.
As long as I'm waxing nostalgic, it's almost as if Luongo's tenure up North mirrors his effort in his first playoff effort in 2007: some will remember his insane 76 shots against (a NHL record) in the quadruple OT win against Dallas and others will remember the bathroom break and momentary lapse of concentration that lead to this.
Even the most ardent Luongo supporters knew this trade had to happen. If Gills could spill his guts, chances are he'd admit he wanted Luongo moved last summer and not Ginger Bricks, but he certainly wasn't negotiating from a position of strength and shouldered a different cap reality to boot. He moved the better asset and got a blue chip prospect; today he moved a less desirable asset to probably the only place on the planet he could for yet another return that will be debated.
If you bothered to hit up Twitter today, you may have needed an immediate shower after a few scrolls in because the #FireGillis demands are going to give Ellen's Oscars selfie a run for its money. Forget that Jacob Markstrom was highly regarded as the Panthers future in net before he hit a bump in the road this season, forget that Shawn Matthias - who has struggled this year as well - was one of their better forwards last year, earned himself a new deal last July and should at least be a decent addition to a bottom six which has largely been a mixed rotation of projects and clown shoes the past few seasons. All that matters is that Gillis had the best goaltending tandem in the league last year and - less than a year later - they're all gone for unproven commodities.
That reaction is understandable. If this was a knee jerk reaction to the Heritage Classic debacle (I wonder if the NHL will grant Vancouver another one soon just for the drama?), it comes across as even worse. But let's pretend the trade has zero to do with Sunday's game and it's just management putting an end to an unusually ugly chapter with the former face of their franchise. If that's the case you can't help but feel the collective package for both former goalies is tough to swallow, to speak nothing of the possibility that Kesler or Edler will follow Schneider and Bobby Lou out the door. All in, there's simply no reason to believe any of this is some highly-researched master plan for success; the Canucks are weaker on paper, clearly weaker on ice and the future is, at best, murky.
It's not a death sentence. There's a way to wrap some talent around these new pieces, start a youth movement alongside the aging Sedins and Burrows and Bieksa's of the world and not force fans to stomach a few seasons of putrid, cellar-dwelling hockey. Whether that's enough to stay competitive with the rest of the Pacific Division, a group of teams that are all largely young, fast and - wait for it - comfortable in net, seems like an particularly daunting challenge.
For the longest time Gillis was saddled with the criticism that he inherited a team that Burke and Nonis created. That chapter has most certainly closed. For at least the last two seasons the whispers were Vigneault's message wasn't getting through. That chapter obviously closed. Last summer the cap was to blame for lack of quality additions. That's off the table too.
Fire Gillis? No. But he's certainly run out of places to hide.