Vancouver Canucks aim to outdo themselves in 2011-12 season
In hockey, as in life, it is tough to accurately measure the value of wisdom. And as the Vancouver Canucks begin the long journey to the National Hockey League playoffs and what they hope is another lengthy push once they reach the postseason, the debate has begun about whether or not the Canucks are a better team than they were last season.
It’s a fair question for a team that lost a 50-point defenceman in Christian Ehrhoff and its most physical forward in Raffi Torres and didn’t make any sort of splash in free agency to address either void. Without those pieces of the puzzle, it’s certainly going to be a challenge for this year’s edition of the Canucks to surpass what last year’s team accomplished while setting franchise records for wins and points and getting to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final. So don’t bet your mortgage on the 2011-12 Vancouver Canucks being better than last year’s squad.
But winning the President’s Trophy for the first time and getting within one win of the title has to mean something to a team that returns 22 players who suited up during last year’s playoffs. This team may not be better than it was a year ago, but it only seems logical to conclude that this group should be smarter based on the experiences gained during 82 regular season games and 25 nights in the playoff pressure cooker.
It’s an intangible that not a lot of other teams can boast as they embark on the road to the playoffs and on to the Stanley Cup, and it has provided some perspective the Canucks hope they can use to their advantage at all stages of the season to come.
“I know it’s a cliché to take it one game at a time, but that’s just the way you have to approach it; you overwhelm yourself if you start thinking too far ahead,” defenceman Kevin Bieksa tells the Straight after a recent practice at Rogers Arena. “Expectations are going to be very high this year. Obviously, we got as far as we could without winning, and fans are going to expect the same thing and we’re expecting the same thing. But you can’t forget the process, and that starts with winning one game at a time, and getting into the playoffs is the first step.”
Last season yielded unparalleled individual success for the Canucks, with Daniel Sedin winning the league scoring title, Ryan Kesler setting career marks for points while earning his first Selke Trophy as the top defensive player in the league, goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider sharing the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals against, and Mike Gillis being named general manager of the year. Then add the fact that the Canucks had the most potent power play in the NHL and had the second-best penalty killing in the league. As impressive as that lengthy list is, none of that was enough to get the Canucks the one victory they needed when they needed it most against the Boston Bruins.
And so they’re back to try it all again, and captain Henrik Sedin insists the team will benefit from the many accomplishments of last season as it chases the dream in 2011-12.
“I think it’s a team-first thing, because that was our approach last year and we had a lot of guys sacrificing their own success to be good, and that’s what you need,” he says. “Some guys played lesser minutes [than they wanted]. Guys were sitting in the press box here that could have played on a lot of other teams. And that’s what you need to be a good team. I think we’re all motivated more coming into this year because we came so close. It’s a new season, and I think it’s important that guys have some positive feelings about what we did last year.”
The Canucks certainly won’t sneak up on anybody this season and will almost always see the best their opponents have to offer. But that was the case on most nights last year and was certainly the way it was every time they stepped on the ice in the playoffs. So they’ve been through the grind and now have a benchmark to know what it takes to have success.
They also have a perspective of the importance of the regular season. And because of that, Daniel Sedin says, this year’s version of the Vancouver Canucks will be ready for anything.
“We went all the way and we lost in the last game, but we’ve been through everything you can go through in the regular season and the playoffs, too,” he says. “We’ve been through everything, and there’s nothing that’s going to surprise us. We know it’s going to take a lot of hard work and preparation to get to that point again.”
Getting back to the Stanley Cup final won’t be easy: only three times in the past 22 years has a team successfully defended its Western Conference crown. So the odds are stacked against the Canucks. But their window of opportunity remains wide open, with all of their top players still in the prime of their careers and almost the entire team now armed with the knowledge of what it’s going to take to get back to the top of the mountain.
Surpassing the statistical accomplishments of a year ago likely won’t happen. But applying the many lessons learned from coming so close and falling just short may be what makes the Vancouver Canucks an even tougher opponent than they were a year ago.