Playoff fever, is that YOU calling my name? YES, it is! The Vancouver Canucks have officially punched their 2015 playoff ticket! There were many who said after the torpedo that was last season, that were beyond skeptical that the Canucks could return to the post-season THIS year. What a difference, a year can make!
Last year when Trevor Linden said that THIS team was going to make it to the playoffs, there were A LOT of doubters. How could anyone blame them after what was the Torts era? Many “experts” were certain that the Canucks would not be playoff bound THIS season and would stuck in rebuild mode for some time. Linden never said it was going to be easy for them to get there, but he did say they would try to make the team remember why they love the game and get a little tenacity back in their game. He has done just that.
Was the season perfect from start to finish? No, not at all but it sure was refreshing to watch this team come together rather than fall apart at the seams. This year was supposed to be about rebuilding rather than exceeding expectations. This year, the Sedins were supposed to be washed up, secondary scoring was a pipe dream and goal-tending was a question mark at best. This year the Canucks were supposed to be part of the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. This year in the hands of a newly minted team president, newly minted GM and newly minted head coach was a gamble. Well long story short, the Canucks took that gamble on that newly minted trio and they surprised a lot of people around the league with their success.
Now for the LONG story:
Trevor Linden wanted to bring back excitement to the Canucks on ice product and he has done just that and more this season. He brought in a scouting and development expert in GM Jim Benning and a coach who brings out the best in his players in Willie Desjardins. All three of them have been invested from the start in not only working with the current roster but also with their players on their AHL roster in Utica and their younger prospects still playing junior. From top to bottom of this organization, this management group has been involved to turn things around and continue building for the future.
The players came in knowing that last year was disastrous and determined to prove everyone wrong who said they were going to be bottom feeders and more than that they could still be competitive with the league’s top teams. More than that, the dynamic in the room had changed not only with new management but also with new players on the roster. Change was needed not just internally but also in the game that they played as a team EACH game. Consistency and cohesiveness was needed. Time would tell just serious this team was about moving forward from last season’s tornado.
The Sedins may not be on a point-per-game pace this season, but they are back to playing the way that proves they are still exciting to watch making dazzling plays on a nightly basis. They have both surpassed their point totals of last season and lately have been absolutely clutch when called upon (ahem, that TYING goal vs. LA anyone?). Henrik and Daniel have flourished under Desjardins in a way that did not happen with Torts. Last year between Torts and injuries, they seemed to lose their confidence, whereas this year they seem to have found that spark again. It never ceases to amaze me, the way those two work together with seamless no look passes and impossible angle goals.
It’s no secret that Alex Burrows struggled under Torts and was also low in the confidence department. This year, he made it clear that he did not care which line he played on as long he as he got to play, he would do whatever coach asked of him. Desjardins has played Burrows on nearly every line and in every situation (5-on-5, 5-on-4, 4-on-4 and 5-on-3) and he has been reliable adapting to each situation. He may not be breaking any records, but he is finding a way to contribute no matter which line or situation he’s asked to play. It sure is amazing what a little belief and confidence from the coach can make in the way a player plays from start to finish in a season.
Radim Vrbata easily became one of the best 2014 off-season signings! He is everything that Jim Benning expected and more! His 31 goals and counting is a team high and he is money in the bank when it comes to the not-so-dreaded shootout. It does not matter which line he plays on, he adds an offensive spark nearly every game. His consistency on the scoreboard has helped to take the pressure off of the Sedins and provide much needed secondary scoring.
And yes goal-tending was a fiasco after the Luongo and Schneider trades leaving people to wonder if Lack could carry the load or if a veteran would need to come in to solidify the crease. The truth is BOTH of those things happened. In the summer Linden and Benning signed veteran goalie, Ryan Miller to solidify the crease and be a mentor to Eddie Lack. Miller has been everything as advertised, having a stellar season posting six shutouts while maintaining a Canucks playoff position prior to his injury. Miller’s injury forced Eddie Lack into the reigns down the stretch and he stood up to the challenge helping to keep the Canucks in their season-long playoff position. Together these two have done exactly what they were asked to do from the start despite the doubts that outsiders projected at them. For the playoffs, no matter which one is in the crease, they BOTH deserve credit for helping get the Canucks this far.
It was NO easy task for Trevor Linden to come in and turn this team around in a year since taking over as President of Hockey operations. He did what seemed to many impossible: made the Vancouver Canucks believe that they were competitive and translated that to them BEING competitive more nights than not. He found the right GM and the right coach to help the team forward and change the mindset from last season’s disaster to this year’s success. Trevor Linden said that change was coming and that the team would be playoff bound come April. Change came and the team IS playoff bound. Linden and company delivered on their promises and never wavered from their desire to see the team succeed. Eighty games down, two remain with an opportunity to clinch home ice in the opening round of the 2015 NHL playoffs.
Are you ready, Vancouver? That noise you hear is PLAYOFF FEVER calling your name! Get those jerseys, white towels, flags and playoff gear ready for April 15th! The best part of the NHL season is nearly upon us!
As always, until next time, nuck said.