Shaken and Stirred

Rich Lam

Tough year. But also (as seemed to be the consensus here way back at the beginning of the season) a very interesting one.

Not many other ways to describe how the season has gone for the Canucks so far. There have been ups and downs, of course; but what has happened around those standard seasonal fluctuations is downright alarming. There's an obvious excuse right now - seven players we started the year with are absent - but that doesn't cover a January and early February that's had some of the worst games I've seen them play in years.

As others have noted, there has been a downward trend since the Finals, and it's settled into a more concrete form now: the players have had less 'snap' to their game. Less pride. Less drive. But there's more to it than that: there has been a lack of secondary scoring for the past couple of seasons that has been downright alarming.

I was wincing when I saw people describe the fight-filled 0-1 loss to LA as a 'good game' because Vancouver refused to be physically intimidated by a more aggressive club. Well, that's fine; but three years ago, it would have been a 'good game' because the Canucks scored three goals on the power play and walked away with the win. If the current power play were even middle-of-the-road, just 5% better, that would add ten goals. Put those pretty much anywhere you like, and that's another four wins: being in the low 70s at this point wouldn't have surprised (or dismayed) anyone.

Nearly everyone on the team this year has been producing less than hoped. There are a couple of exceptions, and that provides some hope of breaking out of this tailspin: Kesler looks like he's back in form, and Higgins is plugging away at a good clip; I didn't expect as much from Richardson as he's given, I'll admit.

I mentioned back in the pre-season that I would have liked to have seen a youth line start with the Canucks: Gaunce perhaps, or Jensen, Hovart, and/or Shinkaruk. We need to develop guys who are supposed to be scorers into scorers, and that includes not being afraid of the mistakes they will make for the first couple years in the league. (I think Cole Cassels might be a third round steal... in a couple years.)

That being said, I think we brought in the wrong man for the team. I wasn't a Tortorella fan before he was hired: I'm not big on 'fiery' coaches; nor on ones who play some players less than one minute some games, and others over twenty-six; and his record with the Rangers and Tampa Bay didn't (to me) justify some of the accolades he got. But that's who was hired for my favourite team, and he does have a Cup on his resume, so I would be happy to be proven wrong. So far, not so much.

Not all is lost, of course: there's still 20+ games to go, and Vancouver is still hanging around that last playoff spot in the West. The regular season will most likely end up... mediocre. In the playoffs (with whatever happens there) or out, changes are going to happen in the off season. Which brings up two questions:

1) Should changes happen sooner than the off-season? Ship out some vets (the few with NTCs, anyway) or roll the dice on a bit more forward depth and bank on a turnaround?

2) If waiting until the off-season, what kind of changes should be made? If you want to go with youth, is Tortorella the right guy for that? Vancouver's got almost $10 million in cap space next year, but frikkin' no trade clauses all over Hell's Half Acre, so it's not like much can get moved out!

I'm going to keep watching the season - hey, I'm a veteran fan of this team, it's not like barely making the playoffs didn't absolutely thrill me during the '80s! - and we'll see what happens. As I seem to recall, the consensus here before the season got underway was that it was going to be a fascinating season to watch, if only because the risk of collapse was so high.

And guess what? We were right!

Geeze, I don't half babble when I come back here, do I? That's more than enough talking from me!

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