Cam Cole: Hope ‘springs’ eternal in NHL also-ran cities this (garbage) time of year

 

 
 
 
 
In the ‘garbage time’ of late season, when teams like the Vancouver Canucks are out of playoff contention, you have to hope that veterans like Alex Burrows (on the ice on the right, getting congratulated by teammates) and 20-year-old sophomores like Bo Horvat (left, behind Burrows) are finding positives and, in the case of young players, learing from their mistakes.
 
 

In the ‘garbage time’ of late season, when teams like the Vancouver Canucks are out of playoff contention, you have to hope that veterans like Alex Burrows (on the ice on the right, getting congratulated by teammates) and 20-year-old sophomores like Bo Horvat (left, behind Burrows) are finding positives and, in the case of young players, learing from their mistakes.

Photograph by: Ben Margot, AP

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VANCOUVER — In golf, they call early winter the silly season: that time of year when there’s nothing major at stake any more; only some prize money and, at the bottom of the pecking order, job security for next season.

In sports generally — and right about now, for the have-nots of the National Hockey League — it is known as garbage time, which Wikipedia defines thus:

“Garbage time owes its name to the fact that this period is frequently marked by a significant drop in the quality of game play. This occurs for two primary reasons. First, the players involved during that time are generally less experienced … Second, the fact that seldom-used substitutes usually desire more future playing time means that when those players do play, they are often more concerned with making an individual impression than with executing team play at its best …”

Garbage time is dangerous.

For a coach, for a manager, it is too easy to get unduly excited about wins, and overestimate young players, and sell hope based on glimpses of shining futures.

For a fan, it is too easy to buy that hope.

In Edmonton and especially in Toronto, garbage time has come early and often, and has made monkeys out of those who have mined that fool’s gold and tried to take it to the bank.

In Vancouver, at least since the millennium, this has been uncharted territory.

It has been a pretty solid 15 years of hockey out here beyond the mountains, but it came to a screeching halt this season, and Canucks fans are only now discovering how it feels to be invested in a team that has nothing to play for but pride and professional development.

“For sure there’s a different vibe,” said the long-serving Canucks winger, Alex Burrows, “but I think everybody understands where this organization is right now and where it’s heading.

“We’ve seen it on other teams. I’ve never experienced it before, but if you want to have a successful team for a long time, you’ve got to rebuild from the draft and with your prospects, and give them some opportunities to grow as players and learn from their mistakes.”

Small wonder, then, with the kids in full flight, given more ice time, more responsibility and better linemates, that so much hype greeted the arrival from the KHL of 21-year-old defenceman Nikita Tryamkin, whose introduction at Thursday’s Canucks practice drew a throng of Crosbyan proportions.

You can’t teach size, and at 6-7 (and ½) and 240 pounds, with a wingspan like a pterodactyl, the team’s third-round pick in 2014 is inspiring visions of a giant patrolling the front of the net like some hybrid of Zdeno Chara and Chris Pronger.

(Reminder: it’s garbage time.)

The kids are loving this time of year, though. The Leafs have their Nikita Soshnikov, their Zach Hyman, their William Nylander to fantasize about. The Calgary Flames have Garnet Hathaway. The Canucks have Tryamkin, to go along with established rookies Ben Hutton and Jake Virtanen.

For the veterans, it’s a tougher go: every day is a challenge to stay sharp, be upbeat, not count the days.

Burrows, for one, has had to take a lesser role, and handle it with a good attitude. He has.

“As an older player, you try to keep working hard and be a good influence on those young guys and make them feel comfortable and be a good teammate,” he said.

“It’s frustrating a little bit, for sure. You always want to be in the playoffs and play for the Stanley Cup, it’s the best time of year and why you work so hard in the summer to be ready to compete.

“But when you’re not, there’s different goals. A lot of the young guys are playing for jobs next year, or next contracts. So there’s something to play for. And we all have pride, and want to finish it off on a good note.”

And if others choose to place too much faith in what they see as the season winds down, that’s not the players’ concern.

Burrows has been around long enough to know late-season results for non-playoff teams are unreliable.

“But I think guys are still going to play hard. Nobody’s packing it in, no one’s booked their tee times already. We’re pros, we want to finish strong,” he said.

“Sometimes, teams may take us lightly a little bit because we’re already out of the playoffs, or they’re gearing up for playoffs so they want to make sure they’re feeling good going in and don’t push as hard …

“I remember Columbus last year went on a really good (15-1-1) roll when they were already out of it. Maybe they play looser, no pressure, just have fun and and go with it.”

So believe what you see, and extrapolate it to next fall at your own risk, or dismiss it as an optical illusion.

But fans in Toronto, sick to death of the same old same old, will tell you that it’s a lot more fun these days, watching the Leafs play the kids.

In Vancouver, albeit belatedly, the Canucks are coming around to the same conclusion.

ccole@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/rcamcole

 
 
 
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In the ‘garbage time’ of late season, when teams like the Vancouver Canucks are out of playoff contention, you have to hope that veterans like Alex Burrows (on the ice on the right, getting congratulated by teammates) and 20-year-old sophomores like Bo Horvat (left, behind Burrows) are finding positives and, in the case of young players, learing from their mistakes.
 

In the ‘garbage time’ of late season, when teams like the Vancouver Canucks are out of playoff contention, you have to hope that veterans like Alex Burrows (on the ice on the right, getting congratulated by teammates) and 20-year-old sophomores like Bo Horvat (left, behind Burrows) are finding positives and, in the case of young players, learing from their mistakes.

Photograph by: Ben Margot, AP

 
In the ‘garbage time’ of late season, when teams like the Vancouver Canucks are out of playoff contention, you have to hope that veterans like Alex Burrows (on the ice on the right, getting congratulated by teammates) and 20-year-old sophomores like Bo Horvat (left, behind Burrows) are finding positives and, in the case of young players, learing from their mistakes.
Vancouver Canucks winger Alex Burrows during a practice at UBC in Vancouver on Oct. 20, 2015.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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