With the start of hockey’s regular season only a few days away, the Guardian Liberty Voice will be taking an in-depth look at the 30 organizations, one for each day. Today, 30 in 30 will look at the Vancouver Canucks. Since their 2011 Stanley Cup Final appearance, the Canucks have been trending steadily downward. The two years that followed, Vancouver was eliminated in the first round, first to the Los Angeles Kings, then to the San Jose Sharks. Both series were embarrassingly short. It seems that, since falling just short of hockey’s ultimate prize, the Vancouver Canucks have lost their team identity.
Last Season – Last season began with many changes to the Vancouver organization. After being swept by the Sharks in the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Canucks fired head coach Alain Vigneault, as well as the assistant coaches. Former New York Rangers coach John Tortorella was hired to lead the team shortly after. In addition, Vancouver attempted to end a growing goalie controversy between Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider. They traded Schneider at the 2013 NHL Entry draft in an attempt to show faith in Luongo’s abilities.
Arguably, this was one of the biggest mistakes for the Vancouver Canucks. Luongo made it clear that he wanted to leave the organization, and even after hearing about the trade, he apparently spent time researching whether he could void his contract. Still, Vancouver began the season with the disgruntled goaltender in net, only to face the same controversy as the year before. Young goaltender Eddie Lack was the usurper to Luongo’s starting position last year, and the Canucks were not going to make the same mistake twice. The team dealt Luongo to the Florida Panthers at the trade deadline.
The goaltending was not the only issue with the Vancouver Canucks. The undisputed leaders of the team, the Sedin twins, were anything but productive. Henrik had 50 points in 70 games, while Daniel had 47 in 73 games, a far cry from the point-per-game pace they posted the year before. In addition, the team’s second line center, Ryan Kesler, was starting to become a bit demurred toward the Vancouver organization.
The team finished the season with 83 points, 5th in the Pacific and outside of the playoffs for the first time in six years.
The Offseason – The Vancouver Canucks spent the offseason fixing the mistakes they made the season before. The first to get the axe was general manager Mike Gillis, who many blamed for mishandling the Luongo situation. One day later, the organization hired Vancouver legend Trevor Linden as team president to assist them in searching for a new general manager. In the process of the search, Tortorella and his assistant coach were both let go, getting only one season behind the Canucks bench. Vancouver eventually hired Jim Benning as their new general manager and Willie Desjardins as their new head coach.
At the draft, the Canucks showed they have learned their lesson and dealt Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks before Kesler became yet another distraction the team would have to deal with. In return, Vancouver received two draft picks and two roster players: Forward Nick Bonino and defenseman Luca Sbisa. It was a solid return for a player that did not want to be with the organization, but more likely could have been gotten if the organization had traded him when he first made his displeasure known.
Knowing that Lack was inexperienced, and not wanting questions to surround their goaltending for the third year in a row, the Vancouver Canucks signed Ryan Miller to a three-year, $18 million deal. It is likely that Miller will be the starter coming into the season, which would allow Lack to develop a bit more before taking the full starter’s workload.
What to Watch for This Season – Vancouver is a team without direction at the moment, and unfortunately for them, with very little time to sort it out. The Canucks have relied on the steady play of the Sedin twins since drafting them in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. However, at 34 years old, their prime is past them, with shrinking window for them to win the Stanley Cup. It may not happen this year, but at some point, the Vancouver Canucks may want to think about dealing the twins to a Cup contender. The return will not match what they are worth to the organization, but it may be what’s best for the players.
If Vancouver wanted to start the season without addressing goaltending concerns, they failed. Ryan Miller showed two different levels of play last year. On a terrible Buffalo team, he was playing at an elite level. He was dealt to the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline, one of the stronger teams in the West. His play for the Blues, however, was anything but elite. It could hardly be called even average play. Which Miller shows up in net for Vancouver this year will determine how their season will go.
With the Sedins reaching the twilight of their career, and other core players like Bieksa and Hamhuis not too far behind them, the Canucks should be thinking about a rebuild sooner rather than later. They do have young talent on the roster. Linden Vey has impressed in camp, and though he has recently suffered an injury, Bo Horvat has done the same. With Chris Tanev and Luca Sbisa on defense, Vancouver could have a decent roster of young players if they embrace the rebuild.
However, at the moment, their goal appears to be the Stanley Cup. “We’re still trying to win games. We’re not throwing in the season,” Bieksa told ESPN.com. “[Management] knows we’re still on the verge of being one of the top teams.” With their eyes set on becoming one of the top teams, but their roster telling a very different story, it appears that the Vancouver Canucks will remain a team without direction for at least one more year.
Join the Guardian Liberty Voice tomorrow, where 30 in 30 will examine the struggling Washington Capitals. Also check out yesterday’s article, discussing how the Toronto Maple Leafs could be a playoff team if they stay out of their own way.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner