Canucks fans burning up Vancouver after a playoff loss in 2011. via.
It wasn’t long ago that the Vancouver Canucks steamrolled the entire league on route to a President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup Finals. The team fell a game short, the city briefly burned, and things haven’t quite been the same since.
The Canucks won a second straight President’s Trophy the following year, partly because they were playing in a preposterously weak Northwest division. But they were dispatched from the postseason in five games that year.
This season, in a lockout-shortened campaign, the Canucks finished third in the West and looked to be among the six or so contenders with a legitimate shot at winning a Stanley Cup this season. Instead they are finding themselves down 3-0 in their first round series against the San Jose Sharks. As of this writing the Canucks are the only team in the NHL who hasn’t won a game in the postseason.
Their postseason performance this year has given rise to a number of fun theories about why the organization is so dysfunctional. Some (like myself) blame the bounces, some blame the dithering by management in the crease, and some blame the dithering by management more generally, while others blame the coach. Meanwhile Canucks fans have shown how invested they are in this team’s fortunes by eschewing the purchase of playoff tickets en masse.
The popular perception at the moment is that Vancouver’s “championship window” is now closed and that this team is over the hill. I run a Canucks blog and am a Canucks fan (though when you cover a team every day you find you become increasingly detached emotionally from their performance). I think the “championship window is closed” chatter is overstated because the Sedin twins aren’t really showing their age yet and Vancouver’s goaltending and defence-corps will remain very sturdy going forward.
This is a franchise, however, that is surrounded by a certain brand of fatalism. For example, one of the great moments in team history dates back to when then head coach Roger Neilson waved a white towel in mock surrender from the bench after a referee made a borderline call against his team. This moment of surrender is commemorated with a statute outside the team’s building.
In the history of the NHL, no cup-less franchise has ever made game seven of the Stanley Cup Final and lost. Except the Canucks, who have done so twice (both games were followed by riots in Vancouver’s downtown core). In short, being a Canucks fan sucks and the team’s performance so far in this postseason simply reinforces that.
Born out of the frustration of being down three to nothing came a juicy quote from Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who is quite clearly out of sorts as a result of injury in this first round series. He called out several Sharks for diving on Monday afternoon, saying that Sharks star forward Logan Couture and Joe Thornton in particular “lack integrity.”
“Couture has been snapping his head back and this isn’t my opinion, the evidence is in the video,” Bieksa said, “Thornton takes his glove off and shakes his hand and draws a huge 5-on-3 for them.” He continued: “Those are two Canadian guys who are supposed to be playing the game with integrity. Maybe our team has to do more of that, maybe we have to sell calls.”
Ironically, the Canucks are the team most associated with diving across the NHL, and it’s not without some justification. Bieksa has had a personal bee in his bonnet about diving for a while – he was on the NHL’s anti-diving committee this past summer, and called his own team out for diving during their 2011 run to the Cup Finals.
Still, “embellishment” or “diving” has little to do with integrity; I tend to think, and everything to do with tactics. For a couple of seasons the Canucks were the NHL’s most dominant club five-on-four, so it was smart for the team to do everything in their power to generate power-play opportunities. If that meant selling a call occasionally, that’s what you did to help the team win. That’s what I like to call jerk-puck.
This year the San Jose Sharks boast the league’s best power play (at least in terms of shot rate, if not conversion rate) and in their first round series against the Canucks in particular, they’ve enjoyed a huge advantage five-on-four.
They’re not dummies, they know what they have to do to win, and if that means shaking your hand or popping your head back (and to the left), then they’ll do what they need to do. That’s playoff hockey, and any honest player will skate through a wall if that’s what they have to do to get a shot at the Stanley Cup. Out of this ethos means what logically follows is that any honest player will also sacrifice some integrity if they have to.
The Canucks did this for years, and in doing so accrued a reputation for it. That reputation was furthered by Alex Burrows’ brush with Stephane Augera few years back and it got to the point where media members outright accused them of embellishment to their facesduring the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Now they can’t buy a call because that’s the cyclical nature of such things.
This Canucks team is facing elimination on Tuesday night for a multitude of reasons. It starts with the club’s inability to score, it’s furthered by the fact that San Jose has superior depth, and it’s worth noting the fact that the Sharks have received superior goaltending in this opening round series so far.
But we should also mention that the Sharks have received over 27 minutes of power play time in this series while the Canucks have received about ten? Some might blame the referees—y’all fuckin’ know that’s a Canucks fan tradition—but I’d rather point the finger where it belongs: on the team itself. If you make your own bed, you can’t bitch about having to sleep in it, I figure.
Follow Angry Hockey Nerd/Thomas Drance on Twitter @ThomasDrance
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