The collapse of the Vancouver Canucks

Mar 14, 2014 by

The collapse of the Vancouver Canucks

Less than three years ago the Vancouver Canucks were one game away from winning the Stanley Cup.  They were a team poised to bring a champion back to Canada for the first time since the Montreal Canadians did so in the 1992-93 NHL season.  All the ingredients were in place; led by a stellar goaltending tandem in Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, two elite scoring Swedish brothers in the Sedin’s, and one of the game’s top two-way players in Ryan Kesler. Vancouver was primed to win the cup and be a contender for years to come. Even after getting dominated in game six in Boston, there seemed to be a general sense that it was Vancouver’s year and they were going to do it at home. Tens of thousands of fans felt the same and filled the streets of Vancouver in anticipation of celebrating a Stanley Cup victory and a nation was ready to rejoice with them, but a funny thing happened…

Before Tim Thomas could pump Roberto Luongo’s tires the Canucks would blow a 3-2 series lead and lose 4-0 on home ice in game seven.  Adding insult to injury, rioting on the streets would draw international attention to a group of sore losers and tarnish a city’s reputation on what was already the most disappointing night in the franchise’s history.  It should have been a historical evening for the Vancouver Canucks franchise, but instead June 15, 2011 will be remembered for unruly, violent and destructive public behaviour which embarrassed the city and the country. Even with the disappointment of losing the Stanley Cup, there was still hope for the Canucks. All key players were in the prime of their career, under contract and prepared to contend for the foreseeable future.

Fast forward to today and the Vancouver Canucks are a shell of a team from the potential they exuded just a few years ago.  Since that time, a strange, frequently awkward and poorly handled goalie controversy would ensue, bringing about a consistently unwelcome distraction and tension to the team.  Even more puzzling, the final outcome would result in both goalies being traded. The Sedin twins now appear to be showing their age, are more susceptible to injury and aren’t producing like they once did and Kesler is disgruntled and rumoured to want to be traded.  Let’s not forget newly hired head coach John Tortorella who put the “I” in team and cannot seem to stop drawing negative attention and is embarrassing himself and the organization with regularity.

The Vancouver Canucks have become a circus and all signs point to the ringleader GM Mike Gillis for the mismanagement of the team.  Aside from attaining star defenceman Dan Hamhuis, over his tenure his transactions have largely resulted in disappointment. Whether it’s his trades (ie David Booth and Keith Ballard), free-agent signings (anyone else aside from Hamhuis?) or his hiring of “Torts”, nearly every move has backfired.  To top it off he made an absolute mess out of his once enviable goaltending situation.  Under his watch both of his star goalies were misled and alienated. Luongo was signed to a massive long-term 12-year deal, but lost the net to young upstart Schneider who was then offered an extension with the promise to be the future starter.  It was expected that Luongo would then be traded but his contract was too cumbersome to move and in a surprising transaction at the 2013 draft, Schneider got traded to New Jersey instead.  It seemed like the goalie controversy had ended, but somehow Luongo again got supplanted by new back-up Eddie Lack and through his agent initiated contact with the Florida Panthers to cement a trade just before the deadline.  Now Vancouver has no established goaltender, star players want to be traded, very few prospects are in the cupboard and the Sedin’s have only so many years left to perform at a high level.  Instead of being a contender the Vancouver Canucks now need to look at rebuilding as a viable option.

No one wants to see a person get fired, but at this point Vancouver ownership has no choice but to initiate significant change in the offseason.  It’s difficult to be confident in the current leadership of this team and the likely outcome should result in the firing of both Mike Gillis and John Tortorella.  Both have long-term deals, but ownership has to bite the financial bullet before any further damage is done to the organization.  Gillis’ handling of the goaltending situation alone warrants his dismissal, but he hasn’t done himself any favours in the areas free-agent signing, trades, or even drafting and development.  How many years has it been since the Canucks drafted and developed elite or promising NHL ready prospects? Who is coming through the system to give Canucks fans hope for the future aside from last year’s number 9 overall pick Bo Horvat? How did this team end up with Eddie Lack as their starting goaltender? In general fans are screaming aloud “What the hell happened here Mike”? Too many questions about the present and the future of the Canucks point to the same direction and Gillis is to blame and should be held accountable.

The firing of Torts is less obvious than Gillis, but no less as important.  He constantly draws attention to his questionable decision-making and appears oblivious to the ramifications.  His suspension for trying to physically confront Calgary’s head coach Bob Hartley was childish, embarrassing and unprofessional.  His tendency to publicly criticize his team’s best players continues to get tiresome and the choice to start back-up Lack for the outdoor game was very clearly an unnecessary shot at his starter and may be the final act which ultimately sealed Luongo’s and his own fate as a Vancouver Canuck.  Additionally, the team is likely to miss out on the playoffs, a far cry from contender status.  They may only sit 4 points back from the last playoff spot, but it might as well be 50. There’s no chance this team qualifies for the playoffs in the Western Conference when they are capable of conceding 7 goals in single a period to a lowly Islanders team without John Tavares in the line-up.  Don’t let their recent win against Winnipeg fool you – this team is in free fall and Tortorella is a big part of the problem.  In the long-term, keeping the services of a wildcard like him is only going to stunt future development and exacerbate any existing problem. Unfortunately, at this point in his career his coaching acumen is being overshadowed by his ego driven, attention seeking novelty act and in a team setting there is no room for such selfish displays of individuality.

It’s clear the Canucks tenure as NHL contender has come to a sad end.  Now it’s time to decide a new vision for this team and it’s clear to even the casual observer that a major shake-up is required.  Welcome to mediocrity Vancouver, because you’re about to experience what teams like Edmonton and Calgary are now experiencing.  Perhaps the Canucks won’t be bottom feeders, but their heading in that direction.  Its difficult imagining a scenario where this team doesn’t take a significant step back before becoming a legitimate playoff team again, which will likely take years to develop.  If somehow I’m mistaken, you can be sure the current management team and coaching staff will have nothing to do with it – that much is certain.  For Vancouver fans let’s hope I’m wrong but I think it’s safe to say that the day after Vancouver plays its last regular season game against Calgary on April 13,  all of us will have a better idea about the future direction of the franchise.


  1. Adam

    The outdoor classic start of Eddy Lack was extremely puzzling….considering you have a team Canada olympic goalie sitting on the bench!!

  2. Agreed Adam. I think that decision will haunt Tortorella for the rest of his career. He embarrassed Luongo and the organization that night.

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