Friday, April 04, 2008

Canucks: The post-mortem

Well, the Canucks continued their slide right out of the playoffs yesterday, losing their sixth game of the last seven to the Edmonton Oilers. Combined with Nashville's earlier win over the St. Louis Blues, the loss meant that Vancouver is now eliminated from playoff contention. Every suspicious death requires a post-mortem examination, so here's my take on the anatomy of a collapse.

Head: Dave Nonis
As James Mirtle wrote today, one of the big problems with this team was how they were built and the almost-complete lack of scoring depth. Responsibility for that has to fall on the GM's desk. Granted, he hasn't had all that much room to work so far, and has made some nice moves (Luongo, Willie Mitchell and Aaron Miller come to mind), but he hasn't done much of anything to improve the offense. Matt Pettinger was a decent trade-deadline pickup, and may be able to contribute offensively next season, but he isn't the whole solution. Nonis' draft record is also spotty, as Patrick White and Michael Grabner have both shown little potential so far. He needs to find guys who will come through in the clutch, instead of folding when the stakes are high. As Tony Gallagher wrote the other day, there's going to be a lot of scrutiny on Nonis this summer. I wouldn't axe him yet, but next year should be the defining moment for him: if he can't make substantial upgrades over the summer, make some solid draft picks and get the Canucks back into the playoffs, the team should look to someone else.

Brain: Alain Vigneault

Last year's Jack Adams Award winner fell off a bit this year, and wasn't able to get his team motivated down the stretch. They also lost a lot of games that they should have won throughout the year. Granted, he didn't have all that much to work with, but the coach should be the one pushing players, building confidence and ensuring that the team doesn't give away leads (like they did against Colorado the other night). The performance down the stretch suggests that the team might be starting to tune him out. I think Vigneault's a great coach, but he might have to get a bit more fire and brimstone to do anything with this team next year.

Right hand: Roberto Luongo
It was another great year from Louie. Unfortunately though, the team didn't give him a lot of support. They actually allowed less shots on him (2020 vs 2169), but that's in four less games, and they also gave up too many good chances a lot of the time. Luongo is the brightest spot on this team, and they'll need to start building around him fast: I don't know if he'll want to stay in Vancouver otherwise once his contract expires.

Left hand: Markus Naslund
Nazzy took a lot of heat this year, but he actually finished with not-bad stats (25 goals and 30 assists for 55 points, only five less than last year, and there's still one game left). He was still one of the best offensive players on the team, which shows the lack of depth. The problem is, he's playing like an excellent second-line scorer, but he's paid like a first-line scorer. I'm not sure if he'll be back next year, jump to another team or return to Sweden, but if he wants to return at a number that makes sense for the Canucks, he should be given the chance: he's meant a lot to this franchise over the years.

Heart: Trevor Linden
Linden's another free agent, and if this club has any sense, they'll bring him back. He was one of the best at fulfilling his role on the team this year, brought a lot of leadership, and even chipped in offensively at key times (such as the other night against Calgary). He's also one of Vancouver's best in the shootout, which is incredibly important considering that almost everyone else is terrible: Vigneault's questionable decision to make him a healthy scratch for several games that wound up going to shootouts (which the Canucks usually lost) may have made the difference between the Canucks making and missing the playoffs this year. In my mind, Linden should be given the "C" next year: he's the one player who came through when the chips were down.

Legs: Daniel and Henrik Sedin
The Sedins deserve their fair share of criticism for ineffectiveness down the stretch, but they'll probably get much more than that. They aren't the problem: the problem is the Canucks have no other credible offensive threats, so they draw the opposing team's shutdown pair and checking line each and every night. Towards the end of the season, teams figured that stopping the Sedins meant stopping Vancouver. If the Canucks get a legitimate second line next year, the Sedins should return to top form.

Feet: Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Willie Mitchell and the rest of the supporting cast
The three guys mentioned were big standouts this year. Unfortunately, some of the others took a step back due to injuries (Kevin Bieksa, anyone)? Still, the defense is solid (except for Lukas Krajicek, but even he's improving), and young forwards like Mason Raymond and Ryan Shannon showed some flashes of brilliance. Kesler took a long time to mature, but he's become one of the best two-way centres in the league, and certainly justified that Bobby Clarke offer sheet. If the Canucks can build around some of their solid younger guys and bring in more scoring talent, they may again be a team to reckon with.

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