Opinion

Reality Check: The Vancouver Canucks Were Never Really That Good

Canucks general manager Mike Gillis gave an interview to Vancouver radio station, the Team 1040, on Thursday. - Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Canucks general manager Mike Gillis gave an interview to Vancouver radio station, the Team 1040, on Thursday.
— image credit: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

You know what, Vancouver? You were never really that good.

I give Mike Gillis credit for his speech, or his interview, on Team 1040 yesterday. I appreciated the candor, and I appreciated at least his effort to accept some responsibility, knowing that he would have to also unintentionally throw John Tortorella's coaching style/desire playing style/general idea of what hockey is under the bus. Likewise, I have appreciated Tortorella's sorrow this year, too – the stubborn coach that seemed a lot more tyrant than any everyman has, I dare say, seemed downright pleasant this season, although he's been unsuccessful to win any game his team had to win. A winner? Not right now. But a decent guy? Yeah, you could say that.

But the problem with the Canucks, their front office, and – honestly – their fans (that's us) is that their rear-view mirror is hopelessly muddy, scuffed, and fingerprinted.

When we look in our mirror, we see someone completely different to what the rest of the league and the rest of Canada see. We see a former champion... they see a popped collar and too much cologne.

The thought out West seems to be, based of Gillis's words Thursday, that the Canucks were the best team in the history of the universe, that they were only one or two games away from the city's first Stanley Cup, that they had figured something out that 29 other teams hadn't.

(And Vancouver has never won a Stanley Cup, in case you need to be reminded of this. No offence to the Millionaires, but we can't live off that Cup you won before World War I.)

"I want us to play up-beat, puck possession, move the puck quickly, force teams into mistakes, high-transition game," Gillis said on Thursday.

"That's my vision, that's how I believe you are going to win in the Western Conference and the National Hockey League… the top teams play that way.

"That's the way we played."

But the Canucks were never really that good, were they? Their greatest years were always second-best to someone at that time – first Chicago, then Chicago, then Boston. Even that famed 2011 year, the one that's suddenly looked back on like it's the one that got away, that was cobbled together through a series of fortuitous bounces... AND the Canucks lost. To Boston. While the world burned.

I'm not just talking about Bieksa's OT goal, which the old school defenceman one-timed off the stanchion and knuckleball'd past a blind Antti Niemi.

I'm not even only talking about that Chicago series only a couple weeks before, when Vancouver inexplicably handed the momentum back to an eighth-seed Blackhawks team and let them crawl to the surface, once down 0-3.

I'm talking about the regular season, too… the greatest year that was was only made possible because the NHL's one true competitive club – the team that actually should have won the Presidents' Trophy that year – had to go its final four months without Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

The latter would have easily won the Hart Trophy over Daniel Sedin and Corey Perry, had he not suffered the mother of all concussions in that year's Winter Classic, handed to him ever so politely by David Steckel.

And Malkin returned the following season, in 2012, to dominate the league and win its MVP.

When we talk about those years of Canuck perfection, we're only talking about one year, aren't we? And even then, we're not talking about the whole year, because the season ended with an embarrassing 4-0 loss in Game 7 and a riot that cost more than Boston's Stanley Cup parade.

Gillis's quote above… that sounds like a 55-year-old reminiscing about when he had hair. And you're thinking, "Sure, you could use gel and that must have been fun, but were you actually handsome?"

You're always better in your memory.

Tell me, what did the Canucks win? What did they do that was so great at the time? They scored a lot of goals one season. They won an Art Ross or two. And then… anything?

That puck possession game Gillis is going on about, he's not wrong – that is the way the best teams win. But those teams were Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles. Those teams are still Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles. Add San Jose and Philadelphia in there, too. The Canucks were in the mix once, yes. They were excellent, of course. They were exciting and fresh. But their expiry date was printed right there on the carton for all to see.

Other teams have flicked off this problem. Detroit, for example. Hell, even when the Red Wings are losing, it still seems like they're winning.

In Vancouver, when we're winning, it's like we're still losing. We're just waiting for the pin to drop, because we know it will. Castles made of sand, stuff like that.

The years before 2011 were a wind up to a climax that never came. The years after? Well, we're in them.

The problem with every loser franchise is that it thinks close counts in more than horseshoes.

And Vancouver, you're blind to just how irrelevant you really are... and were.

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