If you read all the bashing that the Canucks have recieved over the past few days it is possible. Yes, the Canucks have not looked very good in the playoffs but they still managed to defeat an impressive Dallas Stars team and last night's series opener against the Ducks was not their worst effort of the post-season. Enough has been made about the loss of two of their top four defense and two of their top 9 forwards so we won't go into the excuse column here.
GM Dave Nonis was busy last summer, a summer in which he dismantled the core of his team by firing coach Marc Crawford, trading Todd Bertuzzi, allowing 33 goal scorer Anson Carter and All-Star defenseman Ed Jovanovski to leave for free-agency all the while drastically triming his team payroll. Of course, the money was put back into the team but not in the fashion that it had been in the past. The addition of Roberto Luongo, as necessary, took up a huge chunk of the cap space as did the introduction of Willie Mitchell's defensive ability. With the money left over Nonis went out and searched for some extra parts. He was able to fill-out his roster with several roll players and players that had been honing their craft with the clubs minor league team in Manitoba.
During training camp, the media cautioned the Canucks faithful that the team was heading toward a season of rebuilding and that they should not expect much from the team. As the season began, looking at the Canucks roster raised one question...We know who is going to stop the puck, but who is going to put the puck in the other teams net? Well the Canucks struggled through the first part of the season, averaging an appalling goals-per-game average and at the Christmas break the team was out of the playoffs. Then something clicked...
The Canucks came out from the turkey fest with a certain fire in their bellies. Trevor Linden was added to the power-play unit, Brendan Morrison was skating to his ability, Willie Mitchell was coming into his own and of course, Roberto Luongo was standing on his head to keep the puck out of the net.
By the time the Canucks hit the All-Star break they were on the verge of first place in their division. The Canucks managed to string together several 3, 4, 5 and even six game winning streaks as the team headed toward the final strech of the season. Yesterday on the Canucks pre-game show, play-by-play man John Shorthouse, mentioned that since Christmas and including the first round of the playoffs the Canucks have played the equivalent of 9 seven game playoff series and their record is 9 wins, 0 losses. January's record was 8 wins, 3 losses; followed by February 8 wins, 4 losses; March 11 wins, 4 losses at total combined record of 27 wins and 11 losses.
Yes they have not done it pretty, but the Canucks of the past always tried to win with a run-and-gun offense but Alain Vigneault understood at the begining of the season that he could not win with that style. He has consistently tweaked with his line-up, using ice-time as a carrot and using the press box as punishment; he has also allowed his roll players to have the opportunity to enjoy some time on the power play and in the end it worked.
The roll that this team has been on since the Christmas break is something that should be admired, they have ridden their goaltender (but they are not the first team to do so) they have worked together as a unit and they have beaten all pre-season expectations. When will the ride stop? no one knows for sure, but one thing is for certain. They did not win the divison by accident.