At the start of the year I made a couple of predictions regarding the Canucks. One was that Mats Sundin wouldn’t sign with them–I was obviously wrong about that. The second was that they wouldn’t make the playoffs. For a while there I thought the team was making a fool of me on that front, too.
But like a teenage boyfriend, they never fail to disappoint. This the Canucks team I’ve come to expect after twenty-odd years of fandom. Mediocrity, thy home is Vancouver.
A Low-Hanging Scapegoat
There are plenty of fans calling for Alain Vigneault’s head. Here’s something I’ve come to realize about NHL coaching: when the team does well, the players receive all the praise. When the team falters, the coach’s head is the first one on the chopping block.
On the one hand–to mix my metaphors–the coach is the lowest hanging scapegoat. He doesn’t cost as much as the players, is immediately replaceable and usually isn’t adored by the fans.
On the other hand, the average fan has very little insight into what the coach does. As with a team’s general manager, we get a tip of the iceberg view of an NHL coach. We see him behind the bench, watch him pick lines and observe how the players execute his strategy. We have no view into what happens off-ice, at practice, and only have a vague sense of his coaching during a game. We don’t see how Vigneault spends the majority of his time.
The first critique of a coach is often that the players appear “unmotivated”. I always find that silly. These guys make, on average, more than two million dollars a season. They are elite professionals–the best in the world. Does a brain surgeon need motivation to excise a tumour? Does a trial lawyer need motivation to win a case? If the players can’t get “up” for a game, they have only themselves to blame.
About half the forwards are playing well offensively at the moment. The Sedins are reliable as ever, Kesler and Burrows are shouldering more than their fair share, and Hordichuk and Johnson are ably filling their roles. Everybody else has been sub-par, and the team’s defence has looked pretty shoddy. Even the usually-reliable Willie Mitchell has been coughing up the puck in the defensive zone.
Truth be told, I have no idea what’s wrong with the team. Any suggestions?
A Swedish Dish Served Slow and Clumsy
When Sundin signed with the Canucks, I wrote a comment on Rebecca’s site:
I’m very glad Sundin wasn’t signed for next year at $10 million, as per the initial offer. If he sucks over the next six months, the Canucks will be well rid of him. Still, even if he only scores at a, say, 45-50 points for a season pace, that’s a handy player to have around. So, at worst, the team gets a little better and loses nothing (in terms of cap space or assets) in the long term.
That sounds a bit naive, doesn’t it?
Thus far, the Sundin experiment has been pretty miserable. After nine games with the team, consider the numbers:
- He’s got three points, two goals (one into an open net on the powerplay) and an assist.
- He’s taken eight minor penalties.
- His +/- is at -6.
Compare that with the cheaper Brendan Shanahan, another mid-year pick-up who is three years older than Sundin. In five games, he’s got three goals and an assist.
Even if you ignore those numbers, Sundin has clearly not found last year’s playing form. He’s always the slowest player on the ice, he consistently shuns the “dirty areas” in front of the net, and he struggles defensively.
Even if Sundin does find his game, the Canucks face an uphill climb to make the playoffs. Calgary more or less has the division locked up, so Vancouver needs to battle to secure sixth spot, thus avoiding a first round series against San Jose or Detroit.
A Soft Bunch
And even if they do make the playoffs, I’m worried about the team’s make-up. Consider the team’s top-six forwards: Sedin, Sedin, Demitra, Wellwood, Pyatt, Sundin and Kesler. After Kesler and Pyatt, that’s a pretty soft bunch. And grit becomes more important in the post-season, not less.
I’d much rather the team tank it than stagger through the rest of the season in ninth or tenth spot. If the Canucks are obviously sellers at the trading deadline, then the could get very good value for their veteran defensemen (assuming they waive their no-trade causes) and the likes of Taylor Pyatt and Pavel Demitra. That would put them in a better position for next year. Instead, they’re liable to barely miss the playoffs. Looking back, I see that that’s what I was hoping for last July.
Photo by Lava.