Never mind the summer-like weather. The mood in Vancouver this week is grim.
Two years ago, the city fielded the best team in franchise history, and came within a game of hoisting the Stanley Cup. Last night, the city’s beloved Canucks became the first team to exit the playoffs, unceremoniously swept in four straight by San Jose, a 4-3 overtime loss that marked the passing of an era.
Gone was the team whose Sedinery once dazzled, whose wingers skated as if shot from cannons, which boasted the league’s best goaltending duo. The club—the only one of the NHL’s 16 playoff entrants to fail to win a single post-season game—is a shell of their former selves, replaced by a group that is no longer good enough to challenge for a cup.
No wonder so many Vancouverites are frowning through the glorious, afternoon sun.
Throughout the series, the team’s top players looked lost. Some never showed up. Goaltending was ugly. Cory Schneider looked shaky in both games he played after returning from injury, and got yanked on Sunday after allowing five goals—three in four minutes. The team, which couldn’t hold a lead, drew penalty after penalty (though some calls were dubious—more on that later).
A needless shove in the back by Kevin Bieksa late in the third period last night, when the Canucks were clinging to a lead (and their NHL season), led to the game’s tying goal, 34 seconds later, while Bieksa sat in the box. Halfway through the overtime period, Daniel Sedin took a boarding call; it was a perfectly legal shoulder-to-shoulder hit, and Sedin was understandably furious. Fifteen seconds later, the Sharks scored, sending the Canucks to the greens for the summer, as the cliché goes. (Exiting the penalty box, Daniel—one half of the team’s excruciating polite twin superstars—unleashed a tirade on the refs, and was assessed a further 10 minute major, for abusive language.)
There is a fair bit of grousing about the reffing in Vancouver today. And indeed, San Jose was awarded 24 power plays, compared to just 10 for the Canucks—the most lopsided differential of any first round match-up. It was an impossible disadvantage, particularly against San Jose’s formidable power play, the league’s seventh best. Calls were like chum in the water; and in the ensuing frenzy, the Sharks never failed to capitalize when it counted.
But bad calls don’t tell the entire story, and the Canucks were first to acknowledge it: “We put ourselves in the situation where one bad call costs you a game,” said Bieksa, who’d earlier called out the Sharks for embellishment. “It was four games of not executing. This wasn’t an isolated incident; we were in a 3-0 hole. We didn’t play good enough to win the series. There’s no way to sugar-coat it. It sucks.”
It sure does. So what now? A rebuild of the team’s aging core is unlikely. But change will come.
Alain Vigneault has spent seven years with the Canucks, rare in a league which has a three to five year shelf life for coaches. He’ll be gone come fall. GM Mike Gillis, who has the firm support of owner Francesco Aquilini, will stay.
Gillis will likely use the Canucks two compliance buyouts on D-man Keith Ballard and forward David Booth, the team’s disastrous acquisitions from Florida, saving the team—which is currently way over next season’s $64.3 million salary cap limit—$8.5 million.
And many of Vancouver’s soon-to-be free agents will follow Booth and Ballard out the door, including Derek Roy, Manny Malhotra, Mason Raymond and Maxim Lapierre. What of Roberto Luongo, the goaltender at the heart of a saga that gripped the city for the entire season? He was the best Canuck in the series. But Lui put his $4.2-million, downtown penthouse on the market this week, a sure sign of where he’ll see himself next fall.