Drew Doughty #8 and Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings watch as Henrik Sedin #33 of the Vancouver Canucks comes from behind the net with the puck during the first period at Staples Center on April 18, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.
Photograph by: Harry How, Getty Images
Mike Gillis’s greatest contribution to the Vancouver Canucks — even better than the Steve Bernier trade or the Marco Sturm signing — has been his single-minded and unrelenting commitment to creative, attack-oriented hockey.
It seems he isn’t ready to deviate from that philosophy. On Tuesday, during the always cheery post-mortem presser to the Canucks’ season, the general manager reiterated his pledge to the game’s higher purpose and even dropped this gem on the fourth estate.
“I believe in offence. I always have. I believe the league believes in offence. If not, we should change the name of the game to ‘goalie.’”
So the Canucks, it seems, aren’t going to change, and that’s good news for the patrons who fork out for season tickets. But if you’ve been paying attention, you also understand the game has changed around the Canucks and the question can reasonably be asked if a team can win playing that style.
With a couple of series still to be decided, it’s now apparent these playoffs have marked a sea change for the NHL.
The Canucks, one of the league’s skill teams, have been eliminated — but they’re hardly alone. In the West, they’ve been joined by Detroit, San Jose and Chicago, who all favour a similar style. They were knocked out, respectively, by Nashvillle, St. Louis and Phoenix, who also all favour a similar style to each other. It just happens to be the polar opposite of the game played by the Canucks and their pals, and that creates huge implications for the league.
At least it should.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the four teams left in the West don’t have a player who averaged a point a game [in the regular season],” said Gillis.
“They all have outstanding goaltenders. They surround [the goalie] and block tons of shots and limit scoring opportunities. The teams that play our style are out.”
But can they get back in? There’s the question.
Seven years after a ruinous lockout forced the NHL’s stewards to reinvent the game, the league finds itself in the middle of Dead Puck Era II, the Goalie’s Revenge.
In ’05-’06, the first season after the lockout, the average number of goals per NHL game was 6.1, which was the highest total in a decade. That number has since dropped every season over the last four seasons and sat at 5.3 this year, a massive downturn.
As for the playoffs, it’s been brutal.
In eliminating the Blackhawks on Monday night, the Coyotes basically played the first half of the game like they were killing a 30-minute penalty. When they took the lead on a second-period power-play goal, the shots were 26-5 for the Blackhawks.
But the Coyotes, Blues, Kings and Predators all play a similar style in the West and the Panthers, Rangers and Bruins have adopted the same template in the East.
The Flyers, in fact, are the sole remaining speed-and-skill team left in the playoffs. Unless fans are keen to see a steady diet of 2-1 games for the next five years, they better hope Philly wins the Stanley Cup this season and wins it decisively.
Which brings us back to the Canucks.
Gillis, who was providing lively copy all the way around on Tuesday, said the team will try to get bigger and younger this offseason. That will be tricky because most of the Canucks’ best prospects are arty types.
Roberto Luongo might fetch some help in a trade. But with that contract, the best player the Canucks are going to get in a Luongo trade is Cory Schneider.
But Gillis was adamant he will not alter the game plan. He said the NHL is committed to wide-open, fast-paced hockey. He said that’s the message he’s picked up at league meetings. That’s laudable but it should be noted he said some thing similar at the end of last season, while maintaining he wasn’t going to change the Canucks to play the Boston Bruins.
“I still believe offence is a critical part of the National Hockey League,” he said. “I’m not going to change from that. There’s success that goes in cycles and, perhaps, we were on the wrong side of the cycle this season. But it isn’t reserved to just us.”
And you hope he’s right. You hope teams that play dynamic, offensive-minded hockey will be rewarded. But when you look around the league, there are a lot more teams playing like the Bruins and a lot fewer playing like the Canucks.
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