Where does Vancouver go from here?
Under review, in comparison to circumstances such as the surprising and exhilarating runs of 1982 and 1994, last year’s Stanley Cup drive has to ultimately be considered a disappointment. The team assembled by GM Mike Gillis was tailored to extend regular season accomplishments into the playoff run, but came up short at the final hurdle.
So, how do the Vancouver Canucks follow up such a dramatic year and enable themselves to earn another shot at the top prize?
Let’s take a look at some keys to success for the coming year.
The first and foremost goal for the team is to ignore the calls in certain quarters for a radical shake-up and maintain the excellent relationship between the GM, coaches and players. General Manager Mike Gillis is held in great esteem by his charges due to his extremely professional handling of the organization, rightly earning his award for GM of the year.
He works very closely with his coaching staff. The respect shown by the players for their coaches is universal and real, and the team is always prepared to play come game time. Players know that the team is genuinely concerned for them, as seen with the handling and compassion afforded to Rick Rypien during his leave before his untimely demise.
On the technical side, opponents are extensively pre-scouted and detailed game plans are tailored specifically for each contest.
Sleep coaches, elaborate injury recovery treatments and innovative practice drills are all part of an overall scheme to maintain peak player performance and interest.
Although the team is very well prepared overall, there is room for some significant tweaks. The second most important consideration for this season is that the team needs to wake up to the reality that in the playoffs, despite years of pledges by the league to move a cleaner game, the tendency for refs is to let a lot more of the questionable antics go in the home stretch of the regular season and the post-season itself.
And so, Gillis and Vigneault need to get better toughness and protection for the Sedins, who require someone to run smarter interference for their line when necessary.
The Bollands and Marchands of the league are not about to go away anytime soon. In fact, other teams who surely paid attention to their success against the top line with the Sedins and Burrows, will be keen to make similar adjustments of their own. The team must be ready to counteract that preparation by actively seeking to pick up a tougher skilled player who can fill a spot on the top two lines, and who can skate with the Sedins when necessary.
The current edition of Owen Nolan is certainly not the answer, and hopefully Mike Gillis is prepared to flaunt those GM award winning credentials with a mid or late season pick-up, perhaps through a goaltender deal. (**He was cut after this article went to press**)
The third element to success is for players on the cusp last year, especially Keith Ballard, Cody Hodgson and Victor Oreskovich, to get more quality minutes in the rotation immediately in order to build up their confidence and to establish roles with the team.
Everyone knows about Ballard’s struggles, notably with positioning and puckhandling, and it vital that the Canucks coaching staff help him rebuild his confidence, as he can be a major weapon in the right frame of mind.
Hodgson will get his chance with Kesler out. However, Oreskovich could be a major key on the 3rd and 4th lines with the speed and strength he possesses, as long as he wins a steady position under the glare of a very competitive training camp this season.
If the Vancouver Canucks are to replicate the success of the Detroit Red Wings model they purport to emulate, then management is aware that that franchise found long-term success by building a system model that has been continuously fine-tuned from year to year.
This should be another promising and exciting run to the Cup, but whether the team has the patience to stick with such plans remains to be seen.