Four ways the 2014 NHL postseason could have been worse to the Canucks

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.

17 comments

  1. shoes
    May 31, 2014

    Some serious truth to all this. It does take a huge amount of luck to make it through and sometimes the path is easier. I think this was one of the easiest playoffs in recent history. In fact it was so easy that all and sundry are absolutely raving about the Kings-Hawks…..best of all time, when in fact they played like ladies up until the last 3 games.

    I think there is a good, not great, chance the Rangers surprise the tired old LA or Hawks that get through tomorrow.

    And good for AV.. I warned Vancouver fans they would regret hating on him and Lou and MG for that matter. Freakin Torts was way over the top for karma though.

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    • syb
      May 31, 2014

      Played like Canada’s Olympic ladies?

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  2. Chris the Curmudgeon
    May 31, 2014

    I for one am cheering for AV wholeheartedly. As much as the Rangers’ opponents have been weaker than those he faced as coach of the Canucks, the personnel he’s working with there are also not as good as the 2011 Canucks (save for, perhaps, their goalie). I hold nothing against Vigneault for getting fired due to the crippling incompetence of Mike Gillis’s later years.

    I do agree that just missing the playoffs, rather thanjust sneaking in, was great for the long term health of the team. Both Gillis and Tortorella had to go and I doubt they both would have after a playoff appearance, even a brief one.

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  3. John Matrix
    May 31, 2014

    I wonder if CDC will finally give AV the credit he deserves?

    Nah, they’ll just say he rode a hot goalie and got lucky.

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  4. what!
    May 31, 2014

    Fenwick schmenwick you run thru giroux crosby and malkin kudos av

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  5. agepay
    May 31, 2014

    Love your take on it, Harrison, as I almost always do. Missing the playoffs was the best thing that could have happened in the wake of The Meltdown and The Snub and the team disintegrating before our eyes. Oh, and then The Trade. How the new management group decides to rebuild is going to be interesting, but it hardly seems possible that they could do worse. Btw, I always liked AV, so I hope it’s his year. Maybe his team can jump on the Hawks or Kings the way they did on the Canadiens, coming off a tough, emotional series. All things being equal, the West is the best, but in the NHL a lucky bounce or strange officiating (bad calls, bad non-calls) can be the difference makers. Add in the fatigue factor…

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  6. gretchen Grouse
    May 31, 2014

    I’m Gretchen Grouse the grammar geek
    Concerned with how we write and speak
    It’s ” ‘whom’ the Rangers got to face”
    The verb wants the accusative case.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      May 31, 2014

      I hate you, because I actually sat there and looked at that for about 30 seconds, like, oh man, if I get this wrong I’m gonna hear from Gretchen. DAMN.

      Fixed.

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      • Andre
        June 1, 2014

        It’s a bad spell for Canucks fans when we worry more about ‘whom’ than Luongo…

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      • akidd
        June 1, 2014

        that’s quite the service gretchen provides. you get a correction and an explanation…in verse.(accusative case?…you don’t say.) all up-and-coming writers should be so lucky. and readers too benefit.( the ‘latter/ last’ reminder was duly noted.) at the very least gretchen should get a salo-palo t-shirt this xmas. making the world a more orderly place, one correction at a time.:)

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        • gretchen grouse
          June 2, 2014

          The accusative case can indicate
          That one’s being acted upon.
          I am the object of his hate
          When offering a sine qua non
          To what we three appreciate:
          That proper usage has its place
          Though most the language do debase.

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  7. Noodle
    May 31, 2014

    I have been enjoying the playoffs a lot so far. It has been nice to watch the games without having a personal stake in it. However, at this point it has fallen into worse case scenario, with only LA, Chicago and the Rangers remaining. Any of those three win and it will just make me sad/bitter/angry as a Canucks fan.

    I know we’ll win the Cup someday but it’s times like this where it feels like it would have been a lot simpler to have just been born a Wings/Bruins/Hawks fan…

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  8. akidd
    June 1, 2014

    i think AV was well-respected by canuck fans. coulda played coho a bit more and the team did need a change but we all appreciated his coaching prowess. okay maybe his series strategies vs. guys like quenneville raised a few eyebrows too but all-in-all, dude was a pro.

    conversely, now king gillis has been deposed there’s certainly more graffiti on the palace walls. cowardly humans:)

    and did i miss the playoff series vs. the ducks? that’s what happens when you get hit in the head with a rock(damn kids.) whole chucks of time go missing.

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  9. Lemming
    June 1, 2014

    I called the Wild to win the cup while they were in their series with Chicago.

    Needless to say, I get berated every time I see certain friends…

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  10. Naturalmystic
    June 2, 2014

    I’m torn about who I hope will win the Cup.

    NYR:
    -20th anniversary of their Cup winning championship over Vancouver.
    -Mark Messier will be there if they hoist the Cup.
    -AV getting a cup after being stabbed in the back by GMMG.

    LA Kings:
    -2 Championships in 3 years to Vancouver’s bagel since they got in the league.
    -The amazing guest column The Royal Half will right for PITB, oh, the gloating…

    Also….

    “this year, they weren’t even on the guest list. A classless gesture by the NHL playoffs, in our opinion.”

    This year, Vancouver is standing in line outside Club Coupe Stanley with their new buddies Edmonton, Florida and Buffalo. We all know that the bouncer isn’t letting them in,but those losers won’t leave.

    Next season will be better, 7th place wild card spot and out in 4 games.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      June 2, 2014

      Just a note, because I noticed you posted this comment twice (I removed the other). For some reason our comment section has switched to needing approval for every comment. We’re trying to get that fixed, but for the moment, if your comment doesn’t show up right away, it’s actually not the server’s fault for once.

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  11. Naturalmystic
    June 2, 2014

    Thanks for the info. PITB has been pretty erratic since the move over to the Sun. Kim Bolan probably has the best talk-back in the entire Post Media Network(The setup, not necessarily the comments).

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