It's not the worst season this franchise has ever seen, but because of the steady, sometimes shocking descent from top to bottom, the hyperbole is understandable. And true to form, Canucks fans are in 3 camps: Draftists, who understand that a stronger drafting position, especially in this year of 3 bonafide blue chip prospects is one thing that can help the team. There's the 'real fans', who refuse to accept that losses are ever beneficial. And then there's the rest, the ones who either don't remember how bad things used to be and can't deal with this, or the ones who do and can't take another day of it.
In a season that has defied logic at every step, I struggle to wrap my head around how this team can go into California and sweep, then go to Alberta and lose so embarrassingly. This team has quit on Willie Desjardins, and nothing anyone says will convince me otherwise. What else could explain the lack of effort shown in games where 'pride' was supposed to be their motivation. Wille's inexplicable reliance on players that were, by any metric you chose to use, not the ones who could give the Canucks the best chance to win. Tinkering with things that weren't broken, and doing absolutely nothing about the obvious fires burning all around them. The Canucks had the 10th best PP and 2nd best PK in the NHL last season. The PP now sits, like the Canucks funnily enough, near the bottom, dropping over 3 full percentage points to 16%. How on earth can this team tell us that the coaching staff will return next season when you look at this.
Sure, there's some amount of slack to be given. The Canucks brought in a number of rookies, more than even they had intended to when camp started, as prospects like Ben Hutton, Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen played their way into spots on the team. The injuries this team suffered, the length and the players they affected had an impact, of that there can be no doubt. There was some positive things that came out of it, most notably the emergence of Bo Horvat, forced by the necessity of the injuries to Brandon Sutter. Horvat is becoming the player the Canucks had thought he could be when they took him 9th overall, and Ben Hutton's increase in ice time and responsibility should leave you with some hope. And let's not forget, even with the small sample size, of Nikita Tryamkin and the tantalizing potential he's shown.
But for all these moves, we still have the dual albatrosses of Derek Dorsett and Luca Sbisa's contracts. The signing of Matt Bartkowski, a player so bad it made us actually happy when Sbisa would return from one of his multiple injuries this season. And the inability for the Canucks to get any kind of a deal for pending UFA's Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata, which compounded the embarrassment that is the Canucks defence, was one of the final indignities inflicted upon the fans. We were told that last season was a sign this team didn't need a rebuild, but just some retooling. Yet the off-season moves by this team were all so predictable in how disastrous they would be, when combined with Willie's line usage, ice time and flat out resistance to go with what was obvious to everyone would work sealed this team's fate.
So what now? Here's what I see as the minimum this team needs to do moving forward if they want to avoid heading down the Edmonton path:
- Willie's gotta go: These last two games against Calgary and Edmonton are proof this coach no longer has the team's collective ear. The common response has been that Desjardins and his staff have done the best with a) what they were given and b) all of the injuries the team had to contend with. His insistence on putting Derek Dorsett on the ice in the last minute of one goal games, or increasing his ice time despite nothing to show for it game in and game out renders these arguments moot. Willie, Glen Gulutzan, Doug Lidster and Perry Pearn need to be shown the door. Oh, and for the love of dog, do what you have to and get Roland Melandson to stay. The Canucks have a lot of problems but goaltending isn't one of them (and isn't that refreshing?). My hope is to see Travis Green, who has done a hell of a job in Utica with the Comets, get promoted to the parent club. Many of the players have or will have played for Green via time in Utica and it would ensure a fairly seamless transition. After that, I'm not sure. Marc Crawford's name is being mentioned a lot as always, and there was a lot of discussion about Boston's Claude Julien being available should the Bruins fail to lock down a playoff spot today. Not sure how all of you feel about this, and honestly, I don't know about it myself.
- Draft smart: If they can luck out in the lottery and get a top 3 pick, there's some serious hope for the future. Should they not snag one of the top 3, the lowest they can pick is 5th and if the 2 Finns are gone, the thought is to get a defenceman. Will it be Jake Bean, Olli Juolevi, Jakob Chychrun, or Mikhail Sergachev? Some interesting possibilities, but if you can't get Auston Matthews, Jesse Puljujarvi or Patrik Laine, then one of those 4 seem like the best choice.
- Change up the D: Time to get some wheeling and dealing done and bring in a legitimate NHL defenceman. That means NOT re-signing Matt Bartkowski and finding a loophole in the collective bargaining agreement that will allow the Canucks to send Luca Sbisa back to Switzerland if firing him into the sun isn't available as an option. There's going to be some free agents available come July, and by letting some players walk, the team should have the cap space to make a splash in the market. Maybe bringing in a guy like Bryan Campbell to help usher in the youngsters alongside Alex Edler and Chris Tanev would be a good move. Campbell is playing around 22 minutes a game, is a solid PP Dman and doesn't take a ton of penalties. Those 3 with Hutton, Tryamkin and Pedan or Jordan Subban? Nice mix of youth and experience and on paper alone a hell of an upgrade from what they've iced this season.
- Look at moving Ryan Miller: This isn't a #VancouverGoaltendingControversy thing, at all. Miller's had a decent season, and along with Jacob Markstrom was one of the few bright spots. They both gave the Canucks a chance to win on most nights, and to a team with a solid D core could be a great addition even with his cap hit . Take Miller's $6 Million off the board, and with Radim Vrbata's $5 Million, Hamhuis' $4.5 and the combined $3.25 from Bartkowski and Yannick Weber and suddenly this team has some cash to spend.
- For the love of all things right and good, this team better acknowledge Alex MF'n Burrows and his contributions to this team: This may very well be the last game in a Canucks jersey for Alexandre Burrows. Forget what others tell you about him: if you are a fan of this team you know that next to the Sedins, he was the heart and soul of this squad from the moment he arrived from Manitoba. His journey, his relentless effort, his desire to win. On any other team he would be a GOD. Fuck your narratives. This team could not have had the success they did without him, and he will leave a void should they decide to move him in the last year of his contract. So if that's the case, do him right and pay him the tribute he deserves. The Dragon Slayer. Mr. Everything. He is a no brainer for the ring of honour, and deserves a proper send off at the end of the game if they have decided to move on. The Canucks have already announced he will play with the Sedins tonight, so that may be a sign.
So, this brings an end to the Canucks Game Day Coffees for another season. We'll have the open threads for the playoffs as always (and game threads for the upcoming World Championships as well). Thanks to everyone for taking the time to read my stuff. Go Royals, Go Panthers, remember: a loss means a shot at winning the lottery. All hope is not lost, friends.
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