Let's go back to the good ol' days, shall we? The one where Canucks win back to back Presidents' Trophies. We exorcize some demons beating the Blackhawks in game 7 OT after being up 3-0 in the series. Ryan Kesler dominates the Predators in round 2 of the playoffs. The Canucks make the Stanley Cup finals on a Kevin Bieksa goal so bizarre that Cory Schneider (and probably 1/2 of Rogers Arena) had no idea what had happened. And then the ups and downs in the finals against the Bruins which had Raffi Torres scoring a game winning goal with 20 seconds left in game 1, Alex Burrows scoring a goal 10 seconds into OT in game 2, Max Lapierre's happy dance after scoring the winning goal in game 5, and eventually succumbing at home in game 7 prompting the ugly events that took place in downtown Vancouver that night.
Back in those days, the Canucks dominated with a lineup predicated on mostly skill over size. But over the course of that ill-fated playoff run we got beat up, and injuries took their toll. As the years passed basking in the limelight of making the finals, we started to get old. Our skill players were still pretty good, but seeing as Father Time waits for no one, the extended seasons of battling caused our top players to lose a step or two.
As time went on this problem only seems to have been exacerbated. Having to play the Pacific Division giants of Anaheim, San Jose and LA 5 to 6 times a year is a grind, and at times these California teams have utterly dominated the Canucks with their size, speed, and tenacity. With only 3 teams guaranteed to make it out of the new Pacific Division each year, the question remains - what is the best way to compete in this tough division?
Some critics of the Canucks claim that they are too soft. Although they may be somewhat undersized, I would not say that they are soft players. Even though they may get outmuscled by some of the bigger teams, I would argue that the Canucks still play a reasonably hard game.
A lot of these critics also suggest that the Canucks overcompensate for this by acquiring only big, tough players. And to be fair, some of these players are needed. We got a start on this process by trading Cody Hodgson for Zack Kassian, who is a work in progress. We effectively traded Cory Schneider for Bo Horvat, who is a tank. Most recently we drafted the Zdeno Chara-like Nikita Tryamkin (6'7", 230+ lbs) in the 3rd round last year. Also, don't forget about the acquiring of Shawn Matthias. Despite this influx of size, you still have people arguing that we should have taken the bully-like (I mean this in a good way) Nick Ritchie instead of Jake Virtanen 6th overall in this year's draft - and at 6'1" and 210 pounds, Virtanen is no slouch. At the end of the day I would be happy with either pick, but I really like Virtanen and it's pretty cool that they took a local boy who will play his heart out for his home team.
Another issue with the Canucks that was notably raised by John Tortorella was that the core group of the Canucks is going 'stale'. Many people insist that the only way to regain our former glory is to trade away our core, finish in the bottom of the standings and draft high-end talent like Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. While it's definitely true that as our core players age (past their prime) their production will regress, I strongly believe that many of them still have value. The character, humbleness, passion and generosity of Henrik and Daniel, Burrows, Bieksa and Hamhuis truly exemplify what it means to be a Canuck. I can think of no better role model for our young players to train under. For these reasons I think it would be a mistake to trade them away (in such a case where a NTC would be waived).
So how do the Canucks proceed? How can we get back to an elite team not only soon, but for many years to come? Like many of you, I have also closely followed the Canucks player and administration moves over the past year. New GM Jim Benning and President Trevor Linden have made many moves since taking office, molding the team to fit their long-term vision. From these moves it is clear that the front office is focused on producing a depth of smart, coachable, hard-working two-way players with a bit of size mixed in.
The end result of this is that our prospect depth is now deeper than it has ever been over the past decade. We have young forwards like Horvat and Vey already making an impact, with other players like Virtanen, Shinkaruk, Gaunce, Jensen, McCann and Kenins poised to contribute over the next few years. And don't forget Jordan Subban - I expect him to fill out over the next few years and compete for a roster spot. And Tryamkin clearly doesn't need to fill out anymore. I'm pretty sure he fights bears in his spare time for fun.
The point of all of this bluster is that with our recent moves we are setting ourselves up for future success. No one in their right mind will claim we are Stanley Cup favourites, but as long as you make the playoffs you have a shot. And we are definitely playoff contenders - whether or not we keep that up is yet to be seen; the end of the season will be a grind for sure.
I would love to talk more about how I perceive the Canucks are modelling their team, but this post is already long enough - I'll have to make another one about that. If you made it through the whole article, you have my appreciation! Thanks for reading, and if you have any comments or reasonable criticisms I would be interested in hearing them.