<table border=0 align=center width=80%><tr><td><img src=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2007/09/macri_headshot.jpg border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4>I believe that this team can compete in (or as of now, for) the playoffs. After all, being a fan is largely composed of belief. The problem is, I don’t know that this team can compete. Since the trade deadline passed, the Canucks have scored as many goals in four games as the Washington Capitals tallied 18 minutes into the first period on Monday. In a city that cried out for more offense in the waning hours of the deadline, a series of duds from the forward group hasn’t gone over well.
There are several hypotheses making the rounds on the call-in shows and the messageboards as to why the Canucks have gone into a slump at what arguably is the most important time of the season; trouble in the dressing room, players disheartened by a quiet deadline, and a simple lack of desire being chief among them.
While all three are assumptions used as radio fodder, it is undeniable that as of right now, the team doesn’t appear to be gearing up for a long playoff run. It can be difficult, especially for the ardent fan, to accept anything less than the best from their team. When expectations are set as high as they were at the beginning of the season, losing can be outright unbearable. I’ll spare you my speculation as to why the Canucks are currently out of a playoff spot with less than 20 games to go, except to say that the plan that Dave Nonis set out with at the beginning of the year might have just been seriously derailed.
<img src=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2007/12/121307_SJ02_t.jpg border=0 align=right vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Before the season got underway, Nonis made a point of leaving himself some breathing room under the cap in an effort to avoid the pinch felt in the prior two campaigns. With an ownership group committed to spend to the cap (not to mention the ability to go over the cap limit due to injuries), Nonis obviously planned to be a buyer at the deadline. What the Canucks’ General Manager hadn’t planned on was a league-wide parity that would see only a handful of teams under the .500 mark. Of course, this is a fabricated parity, as 3-point games have allowed teams like the Edmonton Oilers (a group that would be outright awful in years’ past) to compete via the shootout point. Accordingly, teams that would otherwise be major sellers at the deadline stood still or, in some cases, even ventured a chance at loading up. The market for scorers consequently shrivelled, driving up prices for the few that remained in the process.
As evidenced by the extraordinarily small number of trades completed in the months leading up to the deadline, one of two things is clear: team knew that prices skyrocket in late February, or more likely, the exorbitant returns that sellers had been seeking all year were finally met by desperate buyers. It’s the latter statement that makes the critical diatribes directed towards Nonis somewhat unfounded. This wasn’t a case of stalling throughout the season until prices were so high that the Canucks couldn’t afford to go shopping; this was an example of a reasonable General Manager who got shut out. Of course, the definition of “reasonable” in this case varies amongst fans.
<img src=http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2008/02/feb2508_nonis_t.jpg border=0 align=left vspace=1 hspace=4></a>Don’t misinterpret, Dave Nonis definitely deserves his fair share of blame for the team’s anaemic offense. While concentrating on improving the defensive depth in the offseason turned out to be a prudent move, the inability to bring in a legitimate top-six forward via free-agency or otherwise might just prove to be this team’s downfall for the second year running.
Perhaps this upcoming offseason will prove to be the best measuring stick for Nonis’ ability to build a team. With a couple of heavy contracts coming off of the books, there will be enough cap room to properly address the needs up front, while the backend remains virtually the same. In a season that has seen the Canucks come out on the wrong end of far too many one goal games, one player with a nose for the net could make all the difference.
It might be a tough pill to swallow for Canuck fans, but maybe next year will be our year. Aren’t you tired of hearing that?