League-leading Canucks have fans thinking Cup
Not even the anniversary of last year’s successful Winter
Olympics has diverted Vancouver’s attention from a matter of
national importance – the Canucks and their chances of ending
Canada’s Stanley Cup drought.
Though Olympic memories abound following recent celebrations to
mark the opening of the 2010 Games, Vancouver is once again all
about its NHL team.
”It keeps the pressure up. It means that sometimes you’re not
as happy as some people think you should be or might be,”
Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis said. ”But that’s the nature
of the beast. This team hasn’t won in 40 years and we think we have
a unique opportunity in front of us to capitalize on if everything
goes well and we get some luck.”
Nearly two decades have passed since a Canadian team won a
Stanley Cup, but the Canucks are doing their best to give hope that
maybe it’s time to break the drought.
They led the league in points entering Friday’s games, the
latest into a season Vancouver has ever found itself in line to win
the President’s Trophy. A team that’s topped 100 points in the
regular season only five times in franchise history cracked the
80-point mark with 25 games remaining.
During the 18 years since the Montreal Canadiens won the Cup in
1993, the warm-weather expansion teams of Anaheim and Tampa Bay won
titles – as have relocated teams Carolina and Dallas – while
Canadian clubs are 0-4 in the finals during that span.
It’s a failure Canadians take personally. And while two Olympic
golds during that time, including Sidney Crosby’s legendary
overtime winner in this town a year ago, have eased some of the
pain, winning a Cup remains a priority.
So excuse the optimistic blue-and-white clad Canucks fans who
are more than a little hyped that their team is the class of the
league with two-thirds of the season gone.
Vancouver has gone 40 seasons with just two Stanley Cup finals
appearances, the last coming in 1994 when Pavel Bure and Trevor
Linden took the Canucks within one victory of upsetting the New
Bure, once known as the Russian Rocket, has been replaced in
Vancouver lore by Swedish twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Ryan
Kesler, the Canucks’ leading goal scorer, is an American hothead
who’s tempered his penchant for fighting to set a new career high
in goals, deciding to punish his opponent by scoring instead of
letting his emotions boil to the point of distraction.
Goaltender Roberto Luongo is on pace for the finest regular
season in his career, recently going 21 consecutive starts without
a regulation defeat.
Maybe Canadians longing to return the Stanley Cup north should
be optimistic about these Canucks.
This Canucks’ renaissance is due largely to Gillis and coach
Alain Vigneault, and their ability to keep a core of stars – the
Sedins, Luongo, Kesler, Alex Burrows – happy and content.
Gillis brought a new approach when he took over the Canucks
before the start of the 2009-10 season. The former agent
restructured the operations department when he arrived, bringing in
more than 60 years of playing experience to the front office.
”At the end of the day if you have to take less money because
the resources are being used in different ways, it seems like our
guys have bought into it and if you don’t buy into it you’re not
going to be here,” Gillis said. ”You’re either in, you’re fully
in, or your not. I think that’s been an incredibly positive from a
team perspective, managing a team, having players willing to do
that and I think that leads to success.”
While the Canucks continue to win at a franchise-record pace,
there are concerns.
Foremost is the stream of injuries that began last summer when
defenseman Sami Salo ruptured his Achilles’ tendon playing floor
hockey, only returning to the team last week. The big loss came
last month when Alexander Edler, the Canucks’ best offensive
blue-liner, was sidelined by back surgery. He hopes to return just
before the playoffs.
The defense has been especially hard hit with Dan Hamhuis
(concussion), Keith Ballard (knee), Lee Sweatt (foot) all missing
time. The latest blows came when Andrew Alberts broke his wrist
against St. Louis on Monday and Bieksa broke his left foot blocking
a shot Tuesday in Minnesota. There is no timeline on their
There’s also the question of whether a finesse team can succeed
against physical teams in the playoffs.
The Canucks aren’t physically imposing and lack an enforcer.
They try to hurt opponents on the power play, where Vancouver is
the best in the NHL this season.
But can that translate in the postseason? The last two years, an
easily distracted Canucks team got bullied out of the playoffs in
the conference semifinals by Chicago.
The Canucks say they learned from the mistakes they made last
year. Of course, the only opportunity to prove that will come when
the postseason begins in April.
”A lot of guys have been here a long time and realize we
haven’t done anything until we’ve won the Stanley Cup,” Daniel
Sedin said. ”That’s what it’s going to come down to.”