After going 1-1-1 in the American portion of their longest trip of the year, the Canucks move on to face the Ontario twosome, the Quebec darlings, and the team that will, ( I guarantee next Wednesday, without even a hint of complaining about it ) be the hockey media's pick as "Canada's Team" when doing the pregame for the last game on this early season odyssey.
Again, without a hint of whine about that. Seriously. As a Canuck fan and Vancouverite, we are fairly familiar with feeling a bit put upon, so that feeling has to be qualified. Most of that is regional biases, and is really not that different as the West Coast / East Coast thing that New York and Los Angeles have going on. But not all of it. Sports tends to accentuate these things as well.
Plus, here in Vancouver, we are so used to everyone telling us how great our city is ( they're right, mostly ), and even react with a little haughty disdain when cities like Calgary manage to snag a fifth or sixth on those "Best Cities To Live In" lists and studies, or smirk when Toronto gets into the Top 10 for a change. Though, look at the Economist list here. Toronto is number four on their list ! I guess the Economist really didn't like Rob Ford, eh T.O ? Get rid of him and you rocket up the list! ( get better though Rob...even your haters wish you well there ) When it is between you and ( in various orders, the top four are... ) Melbourne, Geneva, Vienna and Vancouver, with our little jewel by the sea locked in the #3 spot, you get used to that kind of praise. And I am sure that engenders a bit of regional jealousy as well.
The point is, the Canucks were, at one time, the team that the other teams in Canada loved to hate. Hell, some of them never stopped after the back to back President's Trophies that were the zenith of the previous incarnation of the Canucks. There were all manner of negative narratives about how they won, the arrogance displayed, etc, etc, etc. That avalanche of negativity that rolled through the team ( and fans ) psyche with the wrong ending in 2011 culminated with the hockey media reveling in "I tolda so, I ####ing tolda so" articles.
Whether it still permeates their coverage is another thing. We Canuck fans have a well tuned radar for sleights real and imagined, and sometimes the calibrations are off, and it seems that everything is "something" to someone. But that radar is there for good reason, rest of Canada. Some out here are still even a bit bitter at the fact that you turned your backs on us and cheered for the Bruins in that Final. Others think ( still ) that it is almost your duty to cheer for the last Canadian team to have the chance to bring the damn Cup back home. It hurt them that you would cheer for a team with a pinhead like Brad Marchand, and a #teaparty maniac like Thomas. Even with Alexandre Burrows reaction to a glove in his mouth. Even with all the combustible elements that occurred throughout that epic seven games. It shouldn't have mattered.
But that was then. This is now, and the Canucks are not the same team. The team that reached the Finals went out in the first round three of the four years since, and had the epic Tire Fire Year that was John Tortorella's illustrious reign over the bench at Rogers Arena. The first two years ended up costing Alain Vigneault his job, and Mike Gillis paid the price for Tort's failures.
That brought in a new team at the top, and the Canucks would hope a new point of view of their team. Suddenly, there is a coach that seems to be all about the team on the ice and not themselves, and a GM that is all about finding more young players to go with the ( so far so good JB ! ) debutantes that have so far done so well, and who does not care about drama. Those young guys bring with them a new ethos, as they carve out their own identities.
That will not happen overnight. This is still the team of the Sedins ( designated, and well deserved "nice guys" ) and Alexandre Burrows ( designated villain, and really only loved here, and even here there are folks that hate him ), and if the little "tete-e-tete" with Jordin Tootoo showed us anything, it is that old narratives die hard, and that folks are going to believe the worst about #14 if given a chance.
But overall, this is a team that the rest of Canada should love. They work hard, and play the game the right way. While I would put the team in the Top 3 of the Canadian NHL teams, I get why the experts and bobbleheads alike picked the current occupiers of top spot in the Pacific as the bottom feeders of the West. It is a pretty tough conference. The Oilers got a generational talent, surely he would make the difference and push the team full of #1 picks ( can you imagine if they had drafted #SuperTyler instead of #OftBrokenTaylor ? ) over the top. The team that I was picking as the winners of the "team regression" designation this year, the Flames, they HAD to be better than the team they beat in the playoffs, right ? And they got Dougie Hamilton as well !
This season is full of surprises, and while the Ducks sucked early on, they will not always. While the Canucks have done pretty well, considering the levels predicted for them, shit will surely happen. It usually does over 82 games. No one is predicting anything here, even as we approach the quarter pole of the 2015-16 season. As the team continues to play it's game, however, it should get more and more fans in Canada. Most the experts and whatnot are locked into their picks, I am sure, but we may get a few stories about "the team that were maybe underestimated" ( again ) as they travel through the nation's capital, then Toronto, Montreal, and Winnipeg. One would hope anyhow, here's why ;
"This aint your affliction wearing bro's Canucks".
Don't get me wrong. I loved Bieksa's time here. And Ryan Kesler's style was certainly effective, if not ultimately grating. But when you add those two and Burr', then throw in some Lapierre AND Torres, it is going to give off a certain "vibe", if you will. And Aaron Rome is obviously the worst guy ever. He almost killed that man!" There was only so much "great guys" like the Wonder Twins, Dan "Community Man" Hamhuis, and Money Malhotra could do.
"Who are the kids, and where the hell did they come from"?
Does Ben Hutton ever not smile ? Jared McCann may have some of that "playing pissed off" thing fueling him, but he sure seems a lot less "attitude-y" in front of the cameras. Jake Virtanen is called "Big Country" by some on the team, and he really does give off that "just a nice farm boy from Abbotsford" feel about him. Even while he is leading the team in hits and finishing every big hit he can, it seems to be with a smile.
"What, you don't hate the media?"
I get while Mike Gillis got weary with the media and such, when it came to his team. He assembled the deepest team in the NHL, and came so close to the Cup everyone wanted. But he was pretty cold to the media in the last couple years, local and national. Part of that was warranted ( the CBC taking the Bruins AND Auger's side in such a public and anti Canucks way was never forgotten by him, and he nursed that grudge, knowing that there was enough of his fanbase that would support that kind of attitude towards the mothercorp, especially the mainly centered in T.O portion of it. ) . But when things went bad, the knives carved deeper and crueler as a result. The new guys are all good guys. Trevor Linden ? Respected all over the league because of his career and his NHLPA work. Jim Benning is a second generation scout who seems only focused on building an exciting team. And Willie Desjardins is a good guy. "Real good".
"It's all about the team on the ice".
The thing that fans of good hockey should love, and hopefully respect, is how this team plays now. No matter the results, as the team swings through most of the Canadian rinks on their way back home to face the Hawks on November 21st, the rest of Canada might be a little surprised by the way they play now. Not to compare this team to the 2011 team. That team was so deep, and while AV had defense at his heart, he adapted to his team and learned ( to the betterment of his career, it has to be said. You CAN learn all through life ) to be offensively aggressive. But Whiteboard Willie's style takes aggressive to another level. Defensemen pinched and jumped up for AV's team, but they could not do it too much ( like Keith Ballard, he was discouraged to jump up ). Willie has a lot freer hand there. He still wants the guys to think about consequences, but it is no mistake that some of the faster skaters on the team are new defenders Bartkowski and Hutton.
The other aspect that is a hallmark of Willie's team is how he rolls all four lines. We all remember Tort's, and his almost comical usage of his stars, and AV was never one to overplay the 4th line, though he was pretty good at spreading the ice time around. But the Canucks take the four line thing seriously. They will roll them over. Since the coach embraced his youth movement, and spread the kids throughout those four lines and his defense core, they have become a team that is less about the matchups, and more about the pace. That difference between AV and Willie is probably the most obvious in that regard. Willie will match up, to be sure, and has built a team with plenty of options to do so effectively. But for AV, that was his "thing".
So, while the team from Lotusland travels through the fine provinces of Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba, there will be a variety of stories written about those games. I would imagine that when Burr' does something good ( another mini prediction. If he scores a goal in any of those four games, the writer in the local papaer will also mention the Tootoo thing around his name ), he will get his usual underwhelming praise. They will gush all over the Twins, ( because how can you not ? ) and the kids will get their due. But hopefully the days of equating the team of the "Current Ex-Canucks That Are Now Ducks" with this one will abate after this swing through Eastern Canada.
Last thing. Most here know that Burrows is my guy, but I have never said he is a saint. That being said, hopefully his words on the issue will put this thing in the dustbin. I guess your outlook will affect how you interpret those words anyhow, and It will come right back up when the Devils play here the night after that Hawks game, guaranteed. But it turns out that the NHL did look into it, and dismissed the concerns. I don't know if Tootoo was slighted in the manner he thought he was or not., myself, I know he feels he was maligned. Perhaps it is a case of him misunderstanding the heavy accent that comes with Burrows' trash talk. If he feels he was slighted in the manner he said ( 'and, not to be too cynical, but Jordin used the "I can't say what, but it was BAD y'all" hammer like it was Thor's in the immediate aftermath...just sayin' ), then so be it. It would be neat if Burr' took his coach's advice and did the Stan Mikita thing, winning a Lady Byng after being a penalty magnet. But I don't think the guys that vote on that one ( it is the media, I think ) would ever let Burrows out of his narrative, even if he became an utter saint on the ice, instead of the sometimes bastard he is.