This is a great time of year to have a hobby that isn’t related to hockey. If you don’t have one, find one. Take up golf. Or chess. Or lion taming. I learned to play pinochle this off-season. It was a great decision, because nothing is happening in hockey.

For the really fanatical fans, this is the most excruciating time of the year. It’s too early for season previews, and season reviews get old really fast. Everyone’s looking for something to talk about, something to say, so the tiniest bits of news get analyzed to death. We just spent a week or so talking about Mike Duco, because there’s a controversy over the guy. Surprisingly, none of it revolves around his hockey-playing ability. I’d never heard of him before, so I’m not 100% sure he existed before the Canucks acquired his rights. Maybe he’s just a fictional player the media created in order to generate some semblance of news.

One of the downsides to having a patient GM like Mike Gillis is he doesn’t feel pressure to keep hockey fans entertained. Brian Burke at least has the courtesy to jump up and down and say “look at me” every so often, so fans don’t get bored. Of course, then he traded two first round lottery picks for Phil Kessel. Maybe no news is good news.

One of the problems with making the Cup Finals is that it’s clear the team doesn’t need much in the way of wholesale changes, so during the off-season, there won’t be many big moves. The Canucks could feasibly stand pat with what they have and still make the Finals again. Keith Ballard can do most of what Christian Ehrhoff did — his point shot isn’t as good, but he’s more physical, so the tradeoff isn’t all bad. The Canucks have enough depth that they’d put together a strong campaign.

That’s not to say Gillis is done. I really don’t think he is. Two seasons ago he was very opportunistic in his acquisition of Ehrhoff. His patience paid off. Then, there were teams trying to clear cap space and make big trades. There were deals to be made, and Gillis just waited for the right one. This off-season, there are RFA franchise players who have yet to be signed, and teams trying to reach the salary floor. Plenty of teams need to make something happen. The Canucks aren’t one of them, so they can afford to wait and see what develops. Once again, Gillis can be opportunistic.

As great as that is for the Canucks in the long run, for Canucks fans it just means excruciating boredom. Long games of solitaire and tetris. Trying to find silly ways to amuse oneself, like photoshop contests or interesting twitter hashtags.* This is going to be a long month.

*Editor’s note: I plead the fif.

This is All Gillis’s Team

One milestone that’s gone largely unreported is that this season, every member of the Canucks’ roster will have been acquired or retained by Mike Gillis. Last season, Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo were still playing on contracts from Dave Nonis. It’s pretty clear Gillis liked them on the team — especially after he re-signed both of them two weeks ago — but there’s still some significance here.

Next season will be the first time that Gillis had something to do with bringing in the entire roster. Every contract on the payroll, Gillis will have either negotiated himself or acquired by trade. It may not seem like he’s been the Canucks’ GM very long, but in his reasonably short tenure, he’s made the team his own.

Experience Will Grow the Team

Because this isn’t a young team going through a rebuilding phase, it’s easy to count out the influence of experience on the team. Naturally, fans are going to compare last season’s roster to next season’s, and will decide there whether the team has improved. That’s all well and good.

The problem with that, though, is it fails to take into account the intangible improvement of experience. A couple players seemed invisible for large stretches of the playoffs last season, and came under heavy fire because of it. There’s a reason, though, that teams seek out seasoned veterans with playoff experience. The playoffs are very different from the regular season, and it takes some players longer to make the adjustment. Look how long it took Joe Thornton to get the playoffs figured out.

Every year, people lament the Canucks’ lack of Stanley Cup Finals experience. Now nearly ever player on the roster has seven games of it. Plus, they want more. Canucks fans were disappointed in their team for their poor showing in the Finals, but no one was more disappointed than the players, who are now standing at the foot of the mountain again, looking up. They grew from the experience, for sure, and either way, they’ve got a couple months to sit around and stew. Coming that close and getting embarrassed has to be the best motivator there is.

Western Power Shift

While the Canucks haven’t changed much this off-season, the West has. Besides the obvious continual threats of the Red Wings and Blackhawks, Vancouver now has plenty of reason to worry about the Kings, who have likely supplanted the Sharks as the team to beat in the strong Pacific division. With Kopitar and Richards, the Kings have two legitimate first-line centers, and enough quality on the wing to make them truly dangerous. They’re in a bit of a cap crunch, but have talent to spare up front. Whatever the final roster looks like, it’s likely to be dangerous. Serious long-term injuries set the team back last season — this season, they could give the Canucks a run for their money in the Western Conference Finals.

While Brent Burns will improve the Sharks’ defense somewhat, the forward corps have taken a step backwards. Losing Heatley and Setoguchi is significant. The Sharks still have goal scorers, but Havlat is never a guarantee, and if he gets hurt or just plays poorly, it’s hard to see who picks up the slack. The Sharks are a weaker team this season, and while the Canucks are still likely the strongest team in the West, it’s the Kings that may now be the biggest threat standing between them and the Cup Finals.

 

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6 comments

  1. J21
    July 15, 2011

    “One of the problems with making the Cup Finals is that it’s clear the team doesn’t need much in the way of wholesale changes”

    I agree with this, but the funny thing is, heading into Game 7 overtime against Chicago, there was essentially a 50/50 chance of the result going either way. Had the Canucks lost this figurative coin flip, heads would likely have rolled and the fans would call (as they always do, even this year somehow) to “blow it all up”, fire everyone, etc. Yet it would be the identical team that later made it to the Finals which, we agree, turned out to be very worth preserving. It seems absurd to pin the fate of everyone and everything on one goal — in a sample size that tiny (one sudden death goal), luck has way more to do with it than whether or not the Canucks were a team worth holding together or a team good enough to win it all (which they clearly were).

    Kind of demonstrates how the typical fan approach of results-are-everything-process-is-nothing is deeply flawed.

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  2. invisibleairwaves
    July 15, 2011

    Meh. The more I think about the team’s future, the less thrilled I am with Gillis. The Canucks have a roster full of players that are either in their prime or past it, a disturbing number of whom have fairly long deals with NTCs, and as you say, all those contracts were acquired or negotiated by Gillis. Prospect depth is a gigantic question mark, with the team’s supposed best young player failing to impress in any of his call-ups. And now two very talented 25-year-olds in Shirokov and Sweatt are gone, to say nothing of Grabner last year (though Grabner’s notable flaws make that one almost forgivable). Not a single player drafted by Gillis is likely to make the Canucks out of training camp this coming season. That has to be cause for some alarm.

    Yes, he deserves a lot of credit for putting together a dominant team that came within a win of the Stanley Cup. But then again, so did Darryl Sutter. Ultimately it’s going to come down to the next season or two, because the window is closing fast and the future doesn’t look too pretty after that. I desperately hope the team can get a Cup out of it.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      July 15, 2011

      You’re such a grumpypants, John. Why you be hatin’?

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      • invisibleairwaves
        July 15, 2011

        Because besides being a Canucks fan, I am also a Leafs fan. Symptoms of this disorder include complete pessimism towards all hockey matters, a distrust of management, fear of the words “traded away a first round draft-pick” and occasional projectile vomiting.

        Lots of love for high-scoring Swedish captains though.

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  3. Chinstrap Joe
    July 15, 2011

    Kind of along the same line as J21, it is freaking hard to make it back to the finals. Looking at the list of finals the last 10 years, the only teams to make it back the next year are Detroit and Pittsburg.

    I remember having the feeling after ’94 of “look at how good we just did – just wait until next year!!!!”. I think that most people are thinking the same thing right now about our Canucks – just wait until next year. I can’t wait until next year but the chances of making it back to the finals are pretty good with the roster that we have but all of the intangibles that happen during a season make it a long shot. Just ask Chicago, Pittsburg, Detroit, Anaheim, Carolina, Tampa…

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    • Chinstrap Joe
      July 15, 2011

      Sorry – Pittsburg(h)…

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