The latter, that was The Lost Year, or at least that was as close as we tortured souls got to that dark place. When a team so good that it was hated for it's success fell just short. It was also a team where, for maybe the first and only time in my lifetime ( in 1994, the Canucks were "Canada's Team" ), the end result was cheered in more than those usual corners where being a fan of the Blue and Green can be tough slog. Tell me another team from Canada that made it to the Finals that was subject to the same scrutiny. I cannot think of one in my five plus decades on the planet.
You cannot tell me all of that is the result of Burrows reacting to a finger pushed into his mouth like most anyone would. Perhaps it was Lapierre trying to laugh about it with an uninterested Bergeron soon after that cemented it in the zeitgeist of that series. Perhaps it was the ( and this is the main reason the Canucks were cast as "villains" in their own country ) national hockey media all being Bruins "fans", or at least NOT a Canadian team "fan".. Perhaps Damien Cox et al are just assholes anyhow. In the end, we all know the result. Yet that was five years ago this season. Five teams ago. It does linger, and is of course the background against which Jim Benning does his current work.
Where the team is going, and will it get that fourth win in the Final as a result is the question that fuels the passion for this team that permeates the entire province. We make no apologies about it, nor should we. Because it is pure. All we want is for the team to win a Cup. Just one. Is that too much to ask ? To be thought of as more than the Buffalo Bills or Minnesota Vikings of the NHL is pure, because everyone wants their team to win it all.
A more apt comparison would be the Blues of St. Louis. It seemed like they were always in the Finals back in the infancy of the 12 team league. Their inability to get back to the Final, or even to get close to it, despite having a "contender" for years and years since not only shows in neon lights the fact that the "experts" are sometimes just full of shit, it shows that the Canucks are not alone. Winning the Cup is hard.
To finally get the their team name on the damn thing pales, for Canuck fans then, when compared to the three trips to the Final, with two Game Seven defeats in the 40+ years of existence. I cannot think of another team that has come so close without finally closing the deal. That is what Trevor Linden and Jim Benning are up against. It weighs heavy on the psyche of the fans of Canuck Nation. Because at this point, we might only have one more run left in us. Going 0-4 would be stupendous. It might be too much for this town if they got there and lost it though. So, no pressure fellas. Just get it right !
Jim Benning and his boss seem to be adhering to the plan. Most of the picks they have made recently, as well as the crop of those still in the system from the Gillis drafts have deepened the pool of prospects, and that is the simple secret of competing for and winning the Stanley Cup in this day and age. You need those young players on their entry level deals playing bonafide NHL minutes. That is how deep teams get deeper at the deadline with deals that make you shake your head. That is why Jake Virtanen, and perhaps a "camp story" or two, will get long looks in this coming year. Because that is one of the elements that Cup winning teams have. From Brandon Saad to Tyler Seguin, from Tyler Toffoli to a young Dustin Byfuglien, it is a defining element of recent successful rosters.
We can debate the merits and deficiencies of the players in the Canucks roster to become those players. They have one player so far that has done it, and he will be given the chance to play Top Six minutes next year as a result of his play. That has to be pretty motivating to the prospects. The team can point to Bo Horvat as the template, and the young guys then realize that there is opportunity and minutes there if you do "the right things".
The team has proven that they are about playing "the right way" in other ways as well. Promising but frustrating Zack Kassian is gone, and he will be replaced by a "heart and soul" player like Brandon Prust. On a one year deal. When you include the names ( stars like Radim Vrbata and Dan Hamhuis,as well as Yannick Weber and Matt Bartkowski ) going UFA at the end of this coming year, and guys like Alexandre Burrows, Chris Higgins and Nick Bonino getting there the year after, Jim Benning has a plethora of options in the coming years.
All of those options will be dependent upon the team and how they play. That serves the other master, the need to "make the playoffs" year after year. That one is harder to understand for some, but it is really quite simple to me. The owners of the team know this market. We are fickle enough ( and it is nice enough outside most springs as well ), and have shown repeatedly that this fanbase will stay away when the team is losing. The need to make the playoffs is a very real one with considerable financial rewards. Never mind the " every team that makes it can go on a run these days". reward that comes with making the dance. This team has made the playoff pretty regularly. Apart from the Lost Year and 2008, there has been a past here that has a mainly upward trajectory. No, the problem here has been the repeated losses in the first round after making it to the post season. With an eye towards that, and with the ability to refresh his roster as circumstances warrant, JB can control his timeline now with the right moves if he has too.
Sure, it may feel like everyone else "got better" this year. If you only listened to the "twitterati" this offseason, the Canucks are going to finish in the bottom three of the conference ( hell, I saw some click bait out there where the headline was " The West:Twelve Good Teams and The Coyotes and Canucks " , and that was from a supposed "expert" of a greater magnitude than say, Taj...), and trade away just about everyone at the deadline. I mean, come on you "homers" that believe there is something more positive to watch. The Oilers got McDavid, and Dougie Hamilton is obviously going to make the Flames a Cup contender. And the Jets have a pretty deep team too.
All of that is true, to a point. The final test of the season always seems to make the "experts" have to revisit their pre season prognostications and give the perfunctory "I was wrong" statement as they preface a story on a team that everyone was saying would "suck" suddenly does not. The team in Blue and Green has some of the best leaders on the league in their two identical superstars. Burrows is a shining example of hard work equaling success. They are part of a core that, even minus Bieksa, Kesler and others, was Top Five in the NHL as far as regular season results since 2008, and are probably still Top Ten even with The Lost Year factored in there.
That is a proud bunch of guys. They proved that this past season with yet another 100+ point season to rebound from The Torts Year. There is an argument to be made, right now, that they have replaced each and every one of the guys they let go with better ( and far more mobile as far as roster moves go ) options for the coming season.
- Bieksa ? He'll be "replaced" by Matt Bartkowski, one would think, with Clendening and Corrado joining the mix with Yannick Weber. Younger and faster is the way to go in the new NHL. You have to move the puck fast and make fast decisions.. I'm fine with the options to replace Juice this year.
- Big Kass' ? How can you replace him ? By the reckoning of the Canuck Tea Party, this irresistible force is a mix of Todd Bertuzzi and Milan Lucic, with the hands of an artist and the soul of a poet, who was kept down by The Man. ( if only Willie would have played him with the twins more, amirite? ) How can you replace him with a freaking fourth liner ? Well, you can't. The thing is, as is often the case with false narratives, Kassian only showed those game changing talents in fleeting and frustrating spurts that were mixed in with far more regular bouts of indifferent and coach frustrating play. Never mind that there are ( albeit a year or two farther down the ladder ) a few guys with big time shots to go with size and the ability to play a 200' game now in the prospect pool to replace him. Jake Virtanen will indeed get that hard look, but I for one am OK with a guy whose prime defining memory was a frustrating lack of consistency being replaced in the lineup by a paragon of that very trait in a positive fashion.
- You cannot say Eddie Lack is not a better guy to have than Jacob Markstrom Dan ? That is crazy talk ! Eddie Lack might be the most popular guy to play goal in Vancouver since the days of Suitcase Smith or Gump Worsley. I enjoyed his time here immensely. But a guy like Markstrom, bigger, and with a far greater pedigree than Saint Eddie, deserves the chance after his long run of stellar play in Utica this year. Goaltenders that excel at that level for that long, with that much sustained excellence, make it at the next level more often than not. Plus, he has the Rollie Melanson Stamp of Excellence. That has to count for something, right ?
Guys like Richardson and Matthias will find their replacements from the NHL roster ( Vey, Hansen, Higgins, etc,etc,etc ) and Utica stalwarts like my pick for "camp eyebrow raiser" Alexandre Grenier. He will be joined by guys like Gaunce, Shinkaruk, Jensen et al as young guys eager to make the team. And that does not even include the guy with the best and most real chance of making a big jump.
Sven Baertschi . He will be give every chance to make the Canucks, because his talents not only warrant the chance, but because a skilled Top Six winger like him can make the Canucks team that causes matchup problems. He is no Connor McDavid, and I know the Kings got Lucic too, but a guy like the Swiss rookie can go a long way to making this team one to watch for more than the Team Tank folks. If he can excel like Travis Green thinks he is capable, that presents problems for the other coaches in the West.
Last year, I told you all about this team being a Tabula Rasa, and pointed to, if "everything went well", the fact that they should be able to make the playoffs after the disaster of the preceding year. In the end, they dealt with injuries and still did exactly that, but faced the same results in the playoffs. Getting young and hungry is one aspect of changing that, and filling that slate a little more.
If you look at every team as a singular entity, perhaps a more fitting literary reference is Dante. We may be on the first or last level before the Earthly Paradise that the Cup of Stanley represents, depending on your outlook. But the journey, though unknown, is one that will end in a good place, Puck Gods willing.
Keep the faith this year folks. I think this will be a competitive team once again this year, and that they will compete for the playoffs all year long. But after yet another first round disappointment, the good will that a bounce back season should have engendered will be overshadowed by the first losing streak or run of bad luck.
None of us know how this season will go. It may be more "Tabula Rasa" than last year actually. And isn't that half the fun, not knowing ? Oh yeah, and ignore the experts, and just follow your own hearts' beliefs and desires. They have been predicting things that have gone wrong about as much as Eklund anyhow !