It will only get harder for the Vancouver Canucks to turn it around

Two years ago, the Vancouver Canucks were the final team eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs. This season, they were the first to go. Sixteen teams started down the road to the Cup a week ago, but the Canucks have already been punted from the playoffs after being swept aside by the better, stronger, faster, tougher San Jose Sharks in a series that ended almost before it began. It’s just the latest glaring example—on a long and troubling list of them—of how far this once-mighty hockey club has plummeted in a relatively short time, and how far it is from getting back to the top of the sport’s food chain.

Shockingly inconsistent throughout the lockout-shortened season, the Canucks were remarkably consistent in their short series with the Sharks—consistently second best in on-ice battles, races for loose pucks, and every area that matters when the chips are down in the high-stakes game of playoff hockey.

Save for Ryan Kesler’s inspired effort in the third period of Game 2, it’s hard to point to an example of a Canuck player elevating his performance at any point in the four games. The Sharks had the best forwards, the stronger defence, and the best goalie in the series. They dominated the special-teams battles and won the coaching chess match, too. Certainly, San Jose had a ridiculous edge in power plays (24-10) in a series that had two games so close they required overtime. But make no mistake, the better team prevailed here.

This was the first round of the playoffs—the starting point of an epic climb where 16 wins are needed to reach the top of the mountain. The Canucks got none this year, after scraping together just one last spring against Los Angeles. Forget victories for a moment: it’s debatable whether the Canucks had 16 scoring chances in their four-game flyby against the Sharks.

It’s clear Henrik and Daniel Sedin are no longer elite scorers in the NHL. But at this stage of their careers, they shouldn’t be the only ones on the team expected to produce points. However, they remain the best the Canucks have, and it doesn’t excuse the fact that neither one scored a goal in the series. As noted, Kesler had 20 extraordinary minutes, but that’s hardly enough at this time of year. Alex Burrows came out of hiding in the final game of the series, but there are search parties still trying determine the whereabouts of Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen, Mason Raymond, Zack Kassian, and deadline debacle Derek Roy.

That so many of the Canucks supporting cast were allowed to float through four games makes no sense. Then again, very little about the way the Canucks have rolled over in their last three playoff series does.

Some of it speaks directly to coaching and the inability to push the right buttons, motivate players, and identify the ones who aren’t giving their all. But to lay it all at the feet of the coaching staff—which will surely be replaced in short order—absolves the players of blame, and they have no choice but to share ownership of another early exit.

At what point does personal pride kick in? Higgins and Raymond and Hansen have brought next to nothing to the offensive mix for three straight playoffs now. And their indifference and ineffectiveness seemed to rub off on Kassian and the newcomer Roy. It’s a team game, and the leaders can’t be expected to shoulder the load every night. The leaders needed to be better this year, but those around them had to show up too. The Canucks have been at their best over the past few seasons when spreading the scoring and coming at opponents with a balanced attack. But that’s impossible at playoff time when those expected to provide the secondary scoring pull a vanishing act year after year.

In this case, the numbers simply don’t lie: one win and only 16 goals in their past 10 playoff games, dating back to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

And so it’s on the Vancouver Canucks’ management now to sift through the rubble of another crumbled season and figure out why its supposed scorers whimper and cower at the thought of tough playoff checking, instead of embracing the challenge. This is the time of year when heroes are made. But it’s also the time of year that exposes the weak.

Like the losses to the Boston Bruins in 2011 and to Los Angeles last year, this sweep by the Sharks has shown the Vancouver Canucks to be a team that talks a good game, but for a variety of reasons isn’t able—or willing—to play one once the spring arrives.

And it will only get more difficult for this hockey club to turn things around and get headed in the right direction again. The core is aging and under contract, the team still has the black cloud of goaltending uncertainty hovering over it, and the number of its NHL–ready prospects is the same as its recent playoff win total. On top of all that, the league salary cap is dropping.

And that is the backdrop against which the Canucks, for the first time in a decade, will have to try to win back many disgruntled fans who’ve had all they can take—or who’ve at least reached their threshold for paying through the nose for what’s supposed to be entertainment.

When the hockey team hits the ice again next September, it must have a decidedly different look. Fans simply won’t accept more of the same.

And as an organization, neither should the Vancouver Canucks.

Comments (13) Add New Comment
TravisT
The lack of 60 minute effort was astonishing all season long.
Crooked Kelly Sutherland did this group a favour.
The fan base won't just settle for lipstick on this pig.
Major changes MUST happen and happen early this summer or else we will have another excuse filled wasted season.
Must get bigger,skilled + meaner or none of us will be watching anymore.
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yowza
Canucks played with the same intense love of the game as the true hockey fans felt about the halved season. Regardless, does the cup really mean anything in such an abbreviated season? Pro hockey is a mess.
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RUK
I don't watch close enough to say whether Kelly Sutherland is better or worse than average but I do see that the problem of officiating can be laid straight at the feet of the NHL. They have a rule book that they refuse to enforce consistently. The rules aren't hard to understand and they make sense: they deny actions that hurt or interfere with the other players.

But the macho culture of hockey, abetted by the benefit of perceived 'parity,' means that the rules are selectively enforced. The refs generally penalize the retaliation, not the initial slash. In the playoffs, they generally call fewer penalities. They are reluctant to call penalties during penalty kills. They make even up calls.

How can we blame referees, as a group, for this stupidity.
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a.l.
The canucks played OK. People too quick to jump on them. It could easily be 2-2 now instead of series over. A few calls here, a few puck dribbles there. Certainly, a few changes are in order but no need for panicked over diagnosis from armchair critics.
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RFJ
The tragedy will be if Kelly Sutherland continues to be an NHL referee. He is either on the take or extremely incompetent. Both are grounds for dismissal.
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RUK
@a.l.

Are you kidding me? The Canucks were drastically outchanced. They rarely won faceoffs, rarely established position in the zone, generated little on power plays -- they did hit but it wasn't doing anything apart from mucking Havlat in the goolies, which the refs probably took notice of.

This team is playing like a team that wants its coach fired.

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canali
was watching the toronto-boston series, after seeing the canucks sink again...what a contrast....the leafs are for the most part playing with grit, determination and consistency against the bruins...(4th game last night in which they lost in OT clearly showed that, being on the attack in the bruins' zone)...at least if the Leafs lose the series their fans can be proud of a full hearted effort....you definitely can't say the same about the Canucks.
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HowieMeeker
Every team that has captured the prize within the last half decade had 60-80% Canadian players. The top teams in the NHL have a mjority of Canadians.
http://www.quanthockey.com/
Perhaps the Canucks should re-build the club with more Can-Con. This mantra has been repeated by most pundits for several years now. Its time for the Canuucks Org.to remove its blinders.

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kev
the coaching staff needs to go, the sharks system was aggressive and too much to handle for the canucks, AV'S passive and conservative style is good for regular season but ineffective in the playoffs. what happens when a passive team plays an aggressive one? the get steamrolled...the only time the canucks had a chance is when AV took the leash off...too bad the leash was one 90% of the time...what's the point of having so many offensive d-men if you're not going to use them?
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john
im really excitied hopefully gillis will do something this offfseason and once again make canucks on top of the league
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durp
Beginning of the season some analysts said on local sports radio the canucks would be lucky to even make the playoffs. They are a bottom team full of dead weight contracts and Mike Gillis gave all the draft picks away so he could 'tweak' the team with failed near retirement players or terrible defenceman trades. We have no future prospects so yeah, time to trade the entire team away
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darrell
this is mike gillises team. it is obvious he is in way over his head. His statements on his first interview as GM prove it ... here are some examples .. are the canucks near a stanley cup ? his answer .. No ,, daring and bold moves need to be made ,,, one was ,,, making lou the captain ,,,, that turned out well ,,, was he in favor of long term contracts ... No he replied ... see lou again ,,, was he in favor of no trade contracts ... No he replied ... there will be at least 7 no trades as of July 1 .. asked if he would trade draft picks for playoff help at the trading deadline ,,,he said : when i signed on i agreed not ,,, then stopped mid sentence ... ( note to Jeff Paterson .. play Mike Gillises very first interview one day ) one has to assume his answer was no ... he is also a poor judge of talent .. he said " the cupboard is bare ... except for Cory Schneider and Cody Hodgson .. 2 NHL players ,,, in 5 years of Mike in charge that is 2 more NHL players than is on the roster now ... he said they have to draft and develop better ,,, it is worse .. the mishandling of Cody HOdgson will be alarming to every prospect ... mis-diagnosed by the Canuck doctors for 18 months ,, then the coach throwing you under the bus ,, the GM leaking things to the TEAM 1040 media ,, so most of the TEAM 1040 media always bring up a negative when talking about Cody Hodgson ... the reason Mike Gillis did that ,,, is to deflect critisism of the Canuck doctors and training staff's mis-diagnosis of his injury. A question for Jeff Paterson ,,, how often does a coach and GM throw a player under the bus ? .. sure Zak Kassian is big and can fight .. his hockey IQ is in single digits tho. Give MG credit for one good trade ,,, getting Erhoff ,,, which even the worst GM would have made. Having 10 million of salary cap money not on the ice shows his poor evaluation of talent ( not recognizing the ability of Schneider .. thus handicapping the team with Lou ,, the over estimation of Keith Ballard .. not many teams have a #7 defenseman earning 4 mil a year. Now that the team has to cut salary costs to get under the new cap and being in the new division with the Sharks, KIngs, Ducks ( combined reg season and playoffs the past 2 years 4 wins,, 13 losses ,,doesn't bode well for the Canucks
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Nelson
AV has been a great coach but time for change. For an intelligent GM, Gillis rates poorly on his player choices and their overpriced contracts. Perhaps he should go as well.
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