The NHL playoffs have been unkind to the Vancouver Canucks this year.
It seems downright ungrateful when you consider all the Canucks have done for the NHL playoffs. Three years ago, they teamed up with the Bruins to give us one of the most memorable and controversial Stanley Cup Finals in hockey history. The next year, the Canucks lit the Kings on fire and sent them into the second round that way. The rest is history. And last season, the Canucks played the all-important supporting role in The Annual San Jose Sharks’ Postseason Collapse™ as the team that gets crushed in Round 1 to make people think it might actually be San Jose’s year. (The Kings, meanwhile, were tapped to play that same role this season, but refused to see it through to the end, because they’ve been spoiled by their own success. Unprofessional scene-stealers, the lot of them.)
Anyway. Despite all the Canucks have done to make the postseason compelling in previous years, this year, they weren’t even on the guest list. A classless gesture by the NHL playoffs, in our opinion.
But this goes beyond the unceremonious snub. The playoffs also paved a path for Alain Vigneault, fired by the Canucks for failing to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final in consecutive years, to do exactly that in his first year with the New York Rangers.
The Rangers’ path to the Final was through three teams that finished the regular-season in the bottom half of the league in puck possession, the most reliable metric for predicting playoff victory. Sunday’s Game 7 between the Blackhawks and Kings is a showdown between the NHL’s no. 1 and no. 2 Corsi/Fenwick teams. The Boston Bruins were no. 3 in this category.
The Flyers, Penguins, and Canadiens, meanwhile, whom the Rangers got to face after Montreal lucked its way past Boston, were 23rd, 16th, and 22nd, respectively. (Yeah. Things got easier for New York in Round 3, and even moreso after Carey Price got hurt.)
Compared to the teams thrown at the Canucks in their quest to win the West during the Vigneault era — the eventual Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, and Los Angeles Kings, to name a few — the path to the dance in Vigneault’s first year in the Eastern Conference has to feel like a yellow brick road. One suspects if his Canucks drew more paths like that, they’d have reached the Final more than once during his tenure, and maybe even won one.
But nope. Hockey has been saving this cakewalk for AV until right now, when his former club can be suitably embarrassed.
This isn’t to say Vigneault’s a bad coach, or that his Rangers don’t deserve to be where they are. They do. But a lot of luck goes into making it through three rounds of NHL postseason, and Vigneault’s Canucks got none.
(Sidenote: It’s amazing to see Canucks fans suddenly willing to acknowledge the role of luck in playoff success now that Vigneault’s on the receiving end somewhere else. In Vancouver, everything was all his fault, and he was a dumb, bad, do-nothing coach holding his team back.)
But even that’s not all. Not content to leave the Canucks at home while carrying Vigneault and the hated Rangers to the Final on a cloud, hockey also took the time to make Dale Weise look like a Conn Smythe candidate. Dale freaking Weise.
You’re the worst, hockey.
All that said, though, there are several ways this postseason could have been worse to Vancouver. Here are four.
1. Vigneault could have drawn the Colorado Avalanche in the Final.
Far and away the worst possession team to win an NHL division, the Avalanche would also have been the most beatable opponent from the West. Which is likely why they bowed out in Round 1.
Instead the Rangers will get either the Kings or Blackhawks, so their run is likely over — unless the West winner runs out of gas. It’s not out of the realm of possibility. For one thing, the winning team will have already crossed the 20 playoff game mark by the time they reach the Final. (For contrast, the Kings played 20 total when they won in 2012.) For another, everything is coming up Vigneault right now.
2. That Kesler-to-Pittsburgh trade could have happened.
You remember. The one with Pittsburgh? It reportedly fell through because the Canucks wanted top defensive prospect Derick Pouliot, and the Penguins were unwilling to part with him, especially after Kris Letang’s long-term health came into question.
But imagine if Pittsburgh had caved, and Kesler had joined Sidney Crosby. Probably a safe bet that Pittsburgh gets past New York. That stops Vigneault’s success, which stops some of the hand-wringing, sure, but then you have to watch Ryan Kesler, who is detestable the moment he’s in another uniform, probably win the Cup. And furthermore, while he’s off winning elsewhere, the Canucks announce that the guy they got for him has undergone shoulder surgery. Nightmare scenario.
3. Dale Weise could have won the Conn Smythe.
Think about it. He scores the equalizer in Game 6 between the Habs and Rangers, then wins it in overtime. Back at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens punch their ticket to the Final. Once there, Weise registers a hat trick in Game 5, say, then the series winner in Game 7 double OT. Conn Smythe for Weise. Facepalm for Vancouver.
4. The Canucks make the playoffs.
They hold it together down the stretch and sneak in under the wire. Granted, they probably wouldn’t have make it out of Round 1, but the ramifications would have been far-reaching nonetheless. John Tortorella, the coach who hated Alex Burrows, practice and goal-scoring in equal measure, returns, and the Canucks don’t realize he’s a toxic presence for another year. No massive changes happen. They don’t get the no. 6 overall pick. We redo this year all over again.