As it’s looking more and more as though there might be a lockout beginning in the middle of this coming month, looking ahead to how a shortened season might affect the Vancouver Canucks could be interesting.
While nobody knows how this is going to work out when all is said and done if teams have to lower their payroll by offloading players, if it’s necessary we know GM Mike Gillis and his assistants Laurence Gilman and Lorne Henning are as apt to do it as skillfully as any other management team in the same position.
If we assume a 48-game schedule as was the case in 1995, the last time there was a shorter season, a guess, granted, but a reasonable one given the animosity and history of these two sides, the topography for the Canucks looks very interesting.
For starters one would expect Ryan Kesler to be able to start such a season, which certainly would help, that second-line centre position which looks like a gaping hole now being plugged rather well.
Hopefully he will be fully recovered and able to perform at the level he did when his career was at its zenith during the 2011 playoffs before that fateful playoff injury.
If there’s one thing that is clear, it’s that the Canucks would not easily be able to afford their traditional slower start after an Alain Vigneault training camp followed by the traditional October doldrums.
Those slow starts are often associated with or assigned as it were to the slow start of Roberto Luongo, but it’s clearly unfair to pin them all on one player.
It would be nice if you could, given that Cory Schneider is likely to be the No. 1 here and not Luongo, but that’s not a good analysis overall. But if you’re only going to play 48 games, which is the assumption we’re making for this discussion, that kind of start could put them in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs entirely, if you assume Minnesota and perhaps Edmonton have much improved seasons themselves.
The Canucks have flourished by thumping teams in the hapless Northwest Division the past few years and have won Presidents’ Trophies by fielding a strong lineup every night of the marathon season by virtue of their depth. Even though they’re still deep, a shorter season minimizes that strength.
But if the Canucks, a mature and very intelligent bunch, to be frank, can realize that they can’t afford the usual slovenly stroll out of the starting gate, well, then the world starts to look very much improved. Sure, the schedule is apt to be very condensed, which is not likely to be very helpful when you’re trying to play games from the West Coast, but over the short course of such a schedule the Canucks’ age is likely to be as much an asset as a drawback when competing against younger teams.
Having older players who are used to a grind and used to taking care of themselves is going to be just as valuable as having young legs who went out for a couple of jars the night after the last game. Over the short term, the brain might actually win the battle of attrition over youth, or at least hang in very well.
Traditionally the Canucks play their strongest hockey in games 45 through 65 or 70 in the regular season, which would be the exact time of the playoff window on the season body clock, something that should stand an older team in excellent stead, given that the wear and tear of the traditional marathon season wouldn’t yet have kicked in.
It just might be a perfect time to play those important games for this group, but again, this assumes they can offload that traditional slow start and make the playoffs.
The real danger for Vancouver would be the loss of the season entirely. That’s something that no hockey fan wants to contemplate, but it’s a particular horror in this city where the roster is filled with veterans. In that case, the Sedins — and for that matter all the core guys who are ready to win right now — would lose a whole season and be that much older by the time they got to put the jersey on again, while teams like Edmonton and Colorado might be that much more mature and closer to perhaps being able to dominate the division, at least.
Missing a whole season again is clearly something no Canucks fan wants to see.
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