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The Death Knell of the Vancouver Canucks' Stanley Cup Aspirations


hockeyfan87

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Ryan Kesler may be injured for the remainder of the regular season. The trade market for Roberto Luongo has dried up as relative unknowns such as Ben Bishop and Ben Scrivens have performed at or above levels of the former Hart Trophy nominee across the NHL. Despite all the doom and gloom that surrounds the Vancouver Canucks, specifically from a vocal segment of their fan base, they remain at the top of their division which they can expect to win handily for the fifth consecutive year.

The Canucks will make the playoffs. They will be labelled a “contender” in the Western Conference by all the pundits. They will have high expectations placed on them by fans, management and players alike justified by the skill level of the team and the success of the last several years. So why won’t this iteration of the Vancouver Canucks go on a run to the Stanley Cup Finals like the team from 1994 or 2011? An inability to score goals when it matters.

The 2010-2011 Vancouver Canucks who won the President’s Trophy before going to game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals led the NHL in goals per game in the regular season with 3.15. The Canucks from that year also had the league’s best power play during the regular season, capitalizing 24.4% of the time with the man advantage. For comparison this year’s Vancouver Canucks are currently ranked 15th in goals per game as well as being the 15th ranked team on the power play.

So why does any of this matter? A key part of the Vancouver Canucks in 2010-11 season was the ability to make teams pay for their mistakes when it mattered both in the playoffs and regular season. A key turning point of the series against the San Jose Shark during Western Conference Finals was during game 4 in San Jose when the Canucks scored 3 power play goals in the second period ultimately giving them a 3-1 stranglehold in the series and the ability to end the series in game 5 on home ice.

This transformation from the offensive juggernaut of the league to a middle of the road team less than two years later is perplexing. Many of the key offensive players on the Canucks remain on the roster while complementary players such as Christian Ehrhoff and Mikael Sameulsson have departed through both free agency and trade. The absence of Ehrhoff has particularly affected the Canucks’ power play as none of his replacements have been able to make crisp, lateral passes with the speed or finesse that Ehrhoff brought to the power play.

Some will be quick to point to a drop in Henrik and Daniel Sedin’s play in the last couple years as reasons why the Vancouver Canucks’ offensive prowess has diminished. In the face of such criticism the Sedins remain two of the most consistently productive forwards throughout the league. The true death knell of the Vancouver Canucks this season will be the secondary scoring and the power play. Mike Gillis, in his capacity as General Manager and witnessing the deficiencies of the team against the Boston Bruins in 2011, has made moves to address the Canucks’ toughness while at the same time having a younger roster. This, however, has changed the identity of the team into something different than what they were when made it to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins.

Out are highly skilled players like Sami Salo, Christian Ehrhoff, and Mikael Samuelsson. In are younger, tougher players like David Booth, Zach Kassian, and Jason Garrison. The Vancouver Canucks as they are currently structured depend solely on the Sedins for offensive production. If the Sedins are contained then the Canucks are without hope. Fans saw this in 2011 against the Bruins and more recently last year against the Kings. At the end of the day we are looking at a franchise that spends more than any other on payroll but has to rely completely on two players with a combined cap hit of 12 million to produce.

· All statistics included are of February 28th, 2013

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