I get the argument for falling to the bottom of the standings, getting a guy like Auston Mathews. I really do. People point to the Hawks, when they got Toews and Kane and all the rest that comes with picking first in every round (from the 97-98 season until the 2007-08 season, the Hawks made the playoffs once, bowing out in five games in the 1st round in 01/02 ) see the Cups, and get caught up in that "blueprint for success". They forget for every team that gets lightning in a bottle ( twice, back to back ), there is a Columbus team, still founding in the wilderness.
We understand losing in Lotusland. There has been a lot more of it than winning in this team's history. In fact, while that may not apply right now, one could say we just finished a Golden Era for Canuck fans. The playoff record has sucked recently, of course, but if the barometer is getting there, the Canucks have been pretty consistently amongst the Top 16 for quite a while ( see here ). In fact, looking at that list, the worst period was only when that supposed "great leader" Mark Messier was here. ( Great leader ? Media types and Rogers ads conveniently ignore that period to laud him , but I think he should have been stripped of that "title" after his performance here. The Canucks only paid him more than anyone else in the NHL at the time. He knows all about stripping away things in Vancouver anyhow. Like stripping the "C" from Linden, or the # 11 from Wayne Maki. Who the hell does that ? And yes, I know there was more wrong on that team than him. But he was the one that told everyone how he was going to take us to the promised land. Great leader my ass ) The team has been pretty competitive for a long time, even if they have not achieved the heights we desire.
This time around, however, things are a little different. While the team had experienced this twice in it's existence, ( check the list linked above, they were competitive a little bit after each of those runs, before not being competitive, for various reasons ) this time, the team went and won the league regular season again, only to flame out in the first round. That put some pretty high expectations in the minds of everyone, even as the style of play they were playing was getting passed by.
Some will remember my past articles on Big Boy Hockey, and how there were, recently two conflicting styles of play in the NHL, and then the teams like the Hawks who played "just enough" Big Boy Hockey. They also kept to their "skill style" roots, and used that cornucopia of hockey talent that Mr Bowman Jr managed effectively to achieve multiple successes. That hybrid style became the new blueprint. There is a reason why the Canucks and Hawks rivalry was, for a short time, the best in the NHL, and why that is a game you should always want to see still.
The games are still always competitive, and the teams play a similar enough style that it sometimes becomes that breathless back and forth that makes hockey the very best sport on the planet. If there is still a question as to the most effective winning "style", it is because the Kings became ( also a team that had to suck for years to get where they are now. They did not qualify for the dance for six seasons from 2001-02 to 08-09, the second of back to back last in the Pacific division seasons ) the new progenitors of BBH, as the Bruins faltered to adapt as the game changed yet again. Of course, that success is helped, in part, because BBH is allowed to succeed in the playoff more than in the regular season, not by rule, but by the changing judgement of the refs as soon as the tourney begins. Of course, one need not remind a Canuck fan about the vagaries of officiating when it cimes to the post season over the regular one.
Does that mean Canuck fans are going to have to wander into the wilderness for a while ? Lose and lose and lose for years? Of course, there are many saying that we are already out amongst the tall trees already. When you are getting 40-45 shots plus against in your last six, yet are playing the kids up and down the lineup while you are doing it, is it good or bad to be so damn competitive that you are screwing up that "Fall For Auston" that some of your fanbase are clamouring for ? Complicating matters is the fact that your team is competitive enough that you are actually in a playoff race. ( 7th in the West as of this writing )
The thing is, losing is what, you know, losers do. When the fans talk of "tanking", and therefore the media types dutifully asks them about it, they always look slightly uncomfortable and slightly confused, like their coach suddenly started speaking Swahili in the video session or something. Losing is just not what they are wired to do.( Like the Herm Edwards quote "you play to win the game". ) Right now, players like Ben Hutton and Jared McCann are getting experience in positions that they had no business being in if you believed the preseason prognosticators. Bo Horvat is taking that next step. Alex Biega is showing what hard work and not giving up can do, and Jake Virtanen has shown some pretty tantalizing flashes as a teenager. Daniel Sedin nails it here, when he talks about the injuries and guys playing in different positions. Congrats on the milestone sir.
What is the value of it all though ? That is the kajillion dollar question. Is it better to just lose and lose and lose this year, and hope that a team like the Oilers does not just steal your magic ping pong ball like they did to the Sabres? Is there another Eichel in this upcoming draft as the superstar in waiting concession? You are only losing for a chance at a top notch guy, not a certainty. And you also end up doing things like the Sabres did last year, when they started winning and traded the goalie on a hot streak at the time to snuff that shit out quick. That sets a horrible example for young players to follow.
That was ( no offense expansion cousins ) Buffalo. Can you imagine how empty Rogers Arena would start to look if the team was losing that overtly ? Sure, the TSN callers would happily wallow in it all, and the arguments would fly fast and furious all the while about the relative merits of the strategy. But the players themselves ? They would just play. Never mind that the Sedins would simply not allow themselves to "tank", even if that thought entered the farthest reaches of their mind. Why on God's Green Earth would they even think that way when they are currently in a playoff spot ? Because in their minds, no matter what the pundits, fans or bookies think, once you are in the dance, you have a chance at the reason why they play, the Cup. And this fanbase should know about a team on a run, considering that they did it in 82 and 94, better than most. We should never deny them the sincerity of that.
There are possible benefits of "tanking" that the fans and media can talk about. And this is certainly not to say that the manager should not move contracts that he deems moveable as this retool on the fly continues. But when you look at where they are, then it becomes a bit more complicated. Do you move Vrbata, or keep him to get into the dance ? Dan Hamhuis is a warrior, and a player that could help many teams. Do you sign him, or trade that expiring deal too ? Ryan Miller is another name the echo chamber has thrown out there, although I don't see how you still compete for a playoff spot and trade your number one, even if Jakob Markstrom is having a solid year.
Those decisions and more await Mr Benning and the Canuck braintrust in the coming month(s). But while they make those decisions, let's just enjoy the ride. The Canucka played in Boston, and won 4-2. That was a good win, and is indicative of what I am saying. On the night Daniel Sedin passed Markus Naslund as the best all time scorer in team history, the Canucks went into a building full of bad memories, and beat a good team, and did NOT allow 40+ shots ! They did it with youth up and down the lineup too.
The bottom line is that you have a team that is rebuilding on the fly, and are still competitive. Yeah, I know, Pacific Division, loser points, yada yada yada. But they are still closer to the dance than any other Canadian team. Consider this as well. The Canucks have 11 OTL points. That is more than the rest of the NHL, with a team that dressed 7 guys under 24 years old last night. ( consider this, the Wild are being lauded as having a "good season". They have 8 OTLs, and 2 more wins than the Canucks. They have played 2 less games, and have ONE more point than our boys ) I think the amount of experience our young players have gotten this year in close games, learning how to win and compete, is invaluable. It is something a little tougher to quantify, but I believe it will pay off handsomely down the road.
Let's just enjoy the ride, without looking at every play, game, win or loss through the "tank" prism. The media in this town have been intimating it, so I don't really blame the fans for saying it. But it is so alien to the thinking of an athlete that it is almost laughable, and since there are no guarantees that dropping to the bottom will ensure a rise to the top.
This team is competing hard, almost every game. Let's focus on that as much as the points. Last thing: The term loser points, can we change our thinking there too ? The NHL had ties for most of it's existence. Look at it this way. They still do, it is just that they now play for the other point. Until the league does something like three points for a regulation win, ( which I doubt they will no matter how much some of us think that would open up close games in the third period ), this is the system we have. Getting that point is a good thing, no matter how much folks want to derisively call it a "loser point". The Canucks are the Canadian team closest to the dance right now because they play hard, and are competitive enough to take teams to O/T.
They may not have the horses to win it all this year, or even next, but the way they are playing and competing this year is going to pay off down the road.