There’s an old sports adage that says that some times a top-ranked team’s glaring weaknesses aren’t revealed until they lose the championship. Chuck the Canucks into that file and, by all means, don’t bet on them to make it the Stanley Cup finals in 2012.
The Boston Bruins were a far superior team to the Canucks, who were lucky enough to run the series to seven games. I began watching the finals with a slight sentimental preference for a Vancouver win that would put Canadians out of their cups and into Lord Stanley’s after a thirteen-year drought. But even when they won games one and two, it appeared to me that the Bruins were better. And as the series went on and Vancouver evolved from being chippy to being dirty, I found myself pulling for the Bruins. It wasn’t just Aaron Rome’s vicious hit on Nathan Horton, it was small things like gloating, sticks to the midsection when officials were preoccupied, and defensemen who were clearly looking to line-up hits instead of skating to position to make a play. With a two-game lead they played like they were desperate; after that the Canucks played like what they were--a team that couldn’t match up and were trying to force their opponents to beat themselves. Good luck with that if you’re facing a team coached by Claude Julien, the NHL’s smartest coach. Poor Alain Vigneault was outmaneuvered time and time again, especially on home ice where it simply shouldn’t happen.
Here are six reasons why I don’t think Vancouver will recover from their game seven thumping.
1. The Sedins are soft. Look for renewed lampoons calling them the “Sedin Sisters.” Feel no pity; Daniel and Henrik earned their scorn. They sure as hell didn’t earn the $12 million they collectively pocketed. Daniel will win MVP this year, but don’t think for a moment the rest of the NHL didn’t see what the Bruins did: clog up the lanes, put a body of them, and never let them see open ice. The Sedins scored 198 points this year; I’m betting that drops by a third next year. Tim Thomas won the MVP award for the finals, but I think that Zdeno Chara was the real difference maker. Want to stop the Sedins? Park a Chara clone in front of the net and watch them skate away.
2. The Sedins have little help. As I said, the Bruins were a better team. Much was made of the Canucks being the league’s highest-scoring team. Actually, they weren’t; Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kessler scored nearly a third of their goals. After Kesler’s 73 points, the Canucks had only four guys with more than forty; the Bruins had ten with forty or more. Put simply, you can win games with several superstars, but you won’t win it all unless the rest of the roster is strong. (Ask the Miami Heat!)
3. Western conference hockey is too European. The Canucks were the best European team on the ice; too bad it was NHL ice. Teams west of Chicago tend to go soft in the playoffs because most of them like wide open offenses and lots of skating room--exactly what doesn’t happen once the playoffs begin and defenses clamp down like pit bulls with bones. In the past twenty years, only four teams from the far west have won the Cup (Anaheim ’06, Colorado ’00, ’97, Edmonton ’90.) The Canucks actually aren’t the worst team in the west when it comes to not being able to scrap, dig out pucks, or blast their way out of the neutral zone--that would be the chronically disappointing San Jose Sharks led by Powder Puff Joe Thornton.
4. Roberto Luongo is vastly overrated. Yeah, the guy puts up big numbers, but can he do it when it matters? Even before the finals this guys was as shaky as a can of grated parmesan. Bottom line--in game 7 of 1-0 game you simply can’t let a fallen player slide a shorthanded goal past the goal line with the play in front of you. Luongo gets a lot of praise, but who wouldn’t rather have any of the following: Marty Brodeur, Ryan Miller, Henrik Lundqvist, Marc-Andre Fleury, Casey Price, Jimmy Howard….
5. It’s hard to set up plays if you never win a face off. Seriously, did you ever see a team lose so many face offs on its home ice? That’s just horrible execution. Look for teams to learn from this and start pinching in their defensemen when a face off is in the attack zone.
6. The Canucks aren’t a pressure team. Some teams lose a series, get mad, and come back and win it all the next season. That doesn’t look like the Canucks’ MO to me. Here’s a team that had all of Canada rooting for them and they came out in game seven as flat as road kill. I’d say the Canucks have some serious character and courage issues.