Vancouver's disproportionately vocal uber-whiners have been struggling through a slump lately. They have been taking the usual barrage of shots, but having difficulty hitting the target. As the Canucks started to build some momentum after experimenting with many changes in the lineup and making adaptations to playoff-style hockey, they were left with a dilemna - what Canucks-wise is there to complain about?
The post-deadline panic may have finally subsided; the new Canucks have shown why they were acquired, and the depth players have helped produce results that evidence the balance on the roster - but you still get the strange sense that Canucks fans have been primed for disappointment. Is it a defense-mechanism? Or has a strange sense of entitlement and cynicism taken root? It wasn't surprising to hear that the sky was falling when the Canucks were 'slumping' - which for the Canucks means playing .500 hockey over a ten game stretch - but when they are winning... I mean really? Add the anticipation of playoff hockey to the mix and what is enjoyable for some, seems like life and death for others.
Case in point of someone who just won't give it up, even when the team is winning... Just when The Province's Tony Gallagher was convinced that his prophecied gloom and doom had taken root, once again, as things tend to, things changed. The Canucks regained their cohesiveness after retooling at the trade deadline, and Alain Vigneault, whose days as the Canucks coach Gallagher had aggressively numbered, put together lineups and gameplans that produced a seven game winning streak. Gallagher, being an expert in the field, nevertheless managed through experience to find something to bolster his resolute commitment to predicting failure The wins were a bit of an obstacle, but with signature repetition, Gallagher wrote more mopey articles (I'd include a link, but they are numerous and easy to find) bemoaning that the Canucks wins are just not exciting enough for him. Adapting to more lineup changes and preparing for the playoffs - not worthwhile considerations - what mattered was that they were not entertaining enough for Gallagher. It's almost like he is wishing the Canucks turn to Leafs and freefall so that he can exercise the chip on his shoulder. Those 1-0 games...too boring - and the Canuck's successful strategy, well it may have been good enough to beat a handful of desperate teams fighting for their playoff lives, but according to Tony's clockwork-consistent negative speculation, not good enough to beat the better teams in the NHL. Forget the fact that the better teams were not playing as well as those on the bubble that the Canucks were defeating... That fact could get in the way of another dire story. That winning streak was nothing less than inconvenient for Gallagher, whose determination to continue calling for the coach's head was no doubt frustrated...
I will never forget what Neil McCrae (who could certainly rival Gallagher's negativity in his day) once said when he was asked why no one had heard a word out of him for weeks - his answer was essentially 'the Canucks are winning - I have nothing to complain about'... I had grown more than tired of McCrae, but to be honest, I loved the candor. But unlike McCrae, winning does not deter Gallagher... it's enough to want to request from Mark Spector an "Open letter to Tony Gallagher"...
The ultimate doom must be lurking somewhere else then...a 'lack' of scoring (more than their opponents, but somehow still not enough). In the 'lack of scoring', Gallagher found something to go on and on about - (which no doubt relates to his having deserted the Canucks as a result of the Hodgson trade) - but as usual, Gallagher didn't bother to delve too deeply into context. The Canucks focus on team defense may not have impressed him, but as far as I am concerned, it made nothing but perfect sense. With Ballard still out of the lineup, Bieksa missing games to heal and rest, Rome suffering a knee injury, and Sami Salo unable to get much time to rest before the playoffs, the Canucks blueline found itself in familiar territory, dipping into their wealth of depth in order to sustain the Canucks stellar play of late. Wouldn't it be logical to suggest that the forward units offer a little extra support?
I personally find a 1-0 game every bit as exciting as any other close game, and preventing the opposition from scoring is extremely satisfying from a fan of hockey's perspective, but under the recent circumstances, I appreciated these wins even more. The Canucks had half of their top six blueliners out of the lineup and were depending upon two rookies (although Tanev has the poise of a veteran) and solid depth defensman Andrew Alberts - while the team may not have been lighting it up as much as the expectant Gallaghers out there protest, the fact that they were managing to shut down desperate, very good hockey teams (regardless of what Gallagher might think) was very impressive. Combine that with the fact the Canucks were not looking to take any extra physical risks - not necessarily throwing themselves in front of every potential shot to block, not throwing body checks at their highest clip, or forechecking like gangbusters - and you have a very intelligent, balanced strategy that resulted in lower-risk, confidence building hockey - that also happened to pay off extremely well in the standings. The Canucks reminded us that they can win despite injuries, with team-defense. solid goaltending, limiting quality scoring chances and having the depth of talent to counter-punch very effectively. They have a group of very skilled forwards that, to-a-man, play very defensively responsible hockey. They have a blueline that can pinch regularly, contribute a good deal of scoring, and (with the exception of the rookie Gragnani who is still developing, probably in reality 9th on the depth chart, and getting accustomed to playing with his new team-mates in a new system) they can depend on everyone in their top eight to play very effective shut down hockey. Remarkably, as everyone knows, the Canucks now find themselves in a position to potentially win the Conference or even President's trophy for the second straight season. And when the time comes, they will likely hit and forecheck more, take a larger toll on opposition's blueline, generate more scoring chances... but for the time being, there has been no sense in wearing themselves thin before the playoffs begin. They turned their game from what was perceived as 'coasting' - to calculating - with excellent results.
Ok, so Alain Vigneault - we tried real hard, but really, so little to complain about where the coach is concerned. Lack of scoring - takes some creative negativity to complain about that in the midst of seven straight wins and really, it has been over-stated - and oh yes, the this-style-of-hockey-wouldn't-work-against-better-teams theory... that was a nice effort by Gallagher, but ultimately another fail. The theory that defense wins championships is heard repeatedly in sports, for good reason. The Canucks have made their stategy work in the context it was intended for - beyond that, Gallagher is outsmarting himself with an extrapolation that is nonsense.
What else could fuel some discontent? Of course - no matter how good things may get, there is always the irrational expectations of Mason Raymond...but he too, has not been co-operating. Whether it was a game-off from Alain Vigneault. or a chance to rest, whatever it was that helped him revitalize, the results have been obvious, and the implications no doubt sour in the mouths of naysayers - again, as difficult as it must be to swallow, Vigneault, and Raymond deserve credit. The other candidates for whipping-boy unfortunately have sustained injuries.
The Sedins... they were 'slumping' weren't they? Possibly even getting close to "too old to get anything done five-on-five" according to Gallagher ... Yeah, whatever.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. Roberto Luongo, of course. How could any Canucks fan forget to complain about Luongo? The minor speed bump that was giving up four goals in what was another victory anyhow against Anaheim was all it took to break the levee in Vancouver - so much unexpressed discontent gets pent up over a seven game winning streak (it makes for such hungry whiners) - the nimbus that hang over Vancouver accumulate a hell of a lot of precipitation, tend to cool off rapidly and are inclined to hover over a predictable outlet - Luongo - the receiver of all blame. On the eve of his birthday, on the verge of consecutive President't trophies, and after a four game stretch in which Luongo had a shutout, had not given up more than two goals and gained 7 of 8 possible points - there was, nevertheless, no room for error. Enter Schneider, and Canucks fans have another to place all our 'faith' and expectations upon...ah, the novel habit of funnelling all our anxiety onto the shoulders of a goaltender. But really, at-the-end-of-the-day/game, the Canuck's tandem has given so very little to complain about. It's really, really easy to see why Mark Spector wrote his "Open letter to Canucks fans"... With the amount of whining that goes on around here, you'd think the home team were wearing a bunch of Maple Leafs.
Anything else to whine about? Oh, of course, that's right - the Hodgson trade - always lurking, poised to backfire. What if the Canucks were to lose a key scorer from their lineup? Without Hodgson, that would most certainly spell doom, wouldn't it. Without Hodgson carrying the team with his "secondary scoring", the Canucks have no chance... Mike Gillis really screwed up there. I mean, Zack Kassian? ...and Samuel Pahlsson? What was he thinking? Or this young puck mover Gragnani - clearly not ready to be a top-four defenseman. Where is the fifth or sixth top four defenseman that we needed so badly? What a bust. Why couldn't we have just given up the farm for Steve Ott? How inconvenient for the outspoken discontents that Pahlsson has played outstanding hockey in a Canucks jersey, and Kassian has shown why he was so highly regarded - he has taken his cue from the veterans, has not tried to do too much, has shown good hockey sense and made intelligent decisions with the puck, been disciplined when aggressive, defensively responsible, has surprising speed, obvious offensive potential - he has been playing a range of roles and fitting in quite nicely for such a young power forward.
Vancouver - a city that really could use a good head shake for perspective before the puck drops on the playoffs. Forget the levee and try some levity. There are no guarantees - the fear and anxiety of losing is irrational - and obviously brings out the worst in the city. A large part of the pleasure of winning is supplied by the very real possibility and (15 of 16) probability of losing. It can almost seem at times like a minority position amongst fans in Vancouver to love this team and it's players, win or lose - but I think the truth is that the majority who think that way are just not as loud about it as the nimbus (perhaps fairer to title this 'tough times on the Boohouver side of town'). What makes Vancouver 'deserve' a Cup, while nothing else is good enough? When it comes to Luongo and the Canucks, there is a large part of Vancouver that takes what-have-you-done-for-me-lately to a truly epic level. At least that is how some of the most vocal complainers make it seem...perhaps it is overdue for a change of tone in Vancouver. The old one misrepresents - it is a losing approach to being a fan of the game - and ironic considering how good, in reality, the team has been. The fans are one thing - but how people who follow and cover this team "professionally" can fail to appreciate the finer points of a team threatening to repeat as President's champions would be difficult to understand were it not Vancouver we are talking about. Henrik could be hoisting the Stanley Cup above his head, and the Vancouver media could still find a way to see the cup as half-empty...