Botchford: Sedins escape the blame game unscathed
The Canucks’ twin stars have managed to avoid having the solde accountability for the team’s downfall laid at their feet; call it ‘survivor’s guilt’
It’s an accepted truism in sports that the bigger the name, the bigger the scrutiny.
Think quarterbacks in football. Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh. Alex Ovechkin in Washington.
The problem, of course, is not all sports are equal. In basketball, one player can mean everything.
But one player in hockey will never be able to give a team a LeBron James-like bounce. There are just too many moving parts and variables.
Still, the stars continue to be draped with too much of the glory in the good times, and bombarded with too many slurs when things bottom out.
Oddly, this hasn’t been the case recently in Vancouver.
The Canucks are the Sedins’ team. They have the richest contracts, the most influence, the biggest names and the letters “C” and “A” emblazoned on their chests.
Yet, during their most miserably disappointing season in a decade, there weren’t a lot of scathing attacks directed toward the twins as they plummeted from 80-point players to 50-point players, taking the team down with them. It could be the other way around too, depending on your view.
Generally, the fans and the media laid off. Often, their right winger gets more heat than they do. Even when the Sedins kept saying they don’t need to score, people shrugged and said “They’re right.”
This is either a reflection of a sophisticated market where people realized the coach, injuries and bad luck all viciously conspired to work like lightning, striking down their point totals in an anomaly season. And that the underlying statistics show the season wasn’t nearly as catastrophic for the Sedins as it looked.
Or, and I think this is more likely, there is some survivor’s guilt going on.
The Sedins were ripped so unfairly early in their careers, only to burn those critics later with some monster seasons, flush with Art Ross Trophies, a Hart Trophy and a whole lot of love for this city, many people reluctant to go down that wormhole again.
So now, this is a town that’s more than willing to spread the pressure — and blame — around.
By default, a lot of it is going to tumble toward Nick Bonino, the centrepiece player in the Ryan Kesler trade.
He will literally be expected to fill Kesler’s skates, centring a second line that will need to produce if the Canucks plan on being even an average goal-scoring team.
A significant factor in the twins’ lack of success last season was a lack of support. Now, that falls mainly to Bonino and his wingers.
The problem for him is he is coming off a career year where he put up 49 points, with 20 of those coming on the power play.
He’s unlikely to match that on the Canucks’ second power-play unit, which means it’s up to him to make it happen at even strength. Last year, he averaged 11:40 in ice time at even strength, and spent most of it against third- and fourth-liners.
He won’t be protected like that in Vancouver, where the Canucks will need him to take on first and second lines, and do it nightly.
But I do think there will be patience in this market for Bonino, mostly because of the scorched Earth Kesler left behind, mostly for cutting his “I’ll waive my no-trade clause for” list from six to really one, which limited Jim Benning.
It was a bush move.
There will also be patience for Linden Vey, the other newcomer expected to start the season centring the Canucks’ third line.
Most people can appreciate it’s a lot to ask of Vey, who has just 18 mostly unimpressive NHL games to his resume.
Head coach Willie Desjardins may see him as a critical component of this uptempo style he’s promising, but fans, I think, will get it if he struggles early.
The real heat will be where it always seems to be — on the goalie. Ryan Miller, is probably Benning’s only strange and controversial acquisition this summer.
Miller not only has an expectation to live up to a $6 million-a-year contract, he has to do it in a market which is obsessed about goalies and in front of a charismatic, young backup who many believe is ready to at least share a No. 1 job.
It’s hard to imagine a healthy Eddie Lack not putting up lights-out numbers playing his five or six games a month behind Miller.
Can Miller keep up at 34 years old?
And if he can’t, what kind of pressure is going to be on him in December when Lack has better numbers?
The answer — a lot.
WHO’S FEELING THE HEAT
Alex Edler: If he doesn’t rebound in a big way, he’s at risk of becoming the No. 1 whipping boy in Vancouver. But there’s no way he can be as bad as last year. He suffered from the team having an extraordinarily low shooting percentage when he was on the ice. He also suffered when paired with Jason Garrison. Don’t expect either to happen again.
Kevin Bieksa: His love of Vancouver and engaging personality has helped alleviate the pressure on him over the years. He does have critics, and those could increase exponentially if he struggles, for two reasons: One, he’s the clear No. 2 defenceman, and two, you can’t blame Jason Garrison for anything anymore.
Alex Burrows: He just may be the most-beloved Canuck, which is partly why people didn’t freak out over his five-goal season. You don’t turn your back on the dragon-slayer in an instant. Most realized he was victimized by injuries and insanely bad luck. But his cap hit is $4.5 million, and if continues to put up David Booth numbers, everything changes.
Radim Vrbata: From the moment he arrives in Vancouver, the questions will topple over him about how he fits with the Sedins. There is no way he has any real idea of what he’s in for. Vancouver always obsesses over the Sedins’ winger.
Pressure will mount quickly for two reasons: One, many believe Zack Kassian should be given a shot there, and two, we all know Burrows can work there.
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