SAN JOSE, Calif. — Mike Gillis wasn’t around to be interviewed Monday, probably because he sensed the media’s eagerness for a post-mortem on his Vancouver Canucks, and it’s bad form to perform an autopsy on a corpse that’s still twitching.
But who’s kidding whom?
This series, and this season, and this Canuck era are all over.
For a lot of reasons — not the least of which is the coming realignment that will no longer allow them an exalted playoff seeding by virtue of sitting atop the weakest division in hockey — it is time to start getting used to how the other half lives.
Yes, Vancouver. Again.
There is only one way for an organization to remain strong while its core ages gracefully, a la the Detroit Red Wings, and that is with a constant replenishment of NHL-level talent that can grow into bigger roles as the stars begin to fade.
That will not happen with the Canucks, not soon enough, because the cupboard is, if not entirely bare, decidedly bereft of young impact players capable of curing the team’s No. 1 deficiency: a lack of offensive firepower.
To use the elegant analogy of Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk: lots of piano movers, not many who actually play the instrument.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin are still there front and centre, superior human beings that they are, to answer nightly for the club’s impotence.
But without a lot more help than Gillis has given them in the way of a supporting cast, they are not going to be able to dominate games even remotely the way they once did.
And the San Jose Sharks — with ample assistance from a rulebook that has been allowed to slide back nearly to pre-2005 levels of permissible interference — have provided a pretty good road map, in building their 3-0 series lead, for future opponents to short-circuit the twins’ cycling, telepathic Sedinery.
Ryan Kesler has been hurt too often to hold out hope of ever seeing him return to his 41-goal, Selke-winning form of 2010-11. Moreover, he and Alex Burrows and Max Lapierre made such a bed of nails for themselves over the years with antagonistic behaviour and embellishment, it hardly matters if they’ve tried to reform — and Burrows, at least, has.
Kevin Bieksa’s artful skewering Monday of Sharks’ “so-called Canadians” Joe Thornton and especially Logan Couture for diving and overacting doesn’t change the fact that referees apparently have no intention of ever looking at the three Canucks with an unjaundiced eye. When they’re on the ice, the calls will always tend to go the other way.
“We’re the embellishers,” Vigneault said Monday, stone-faced. The question mark was implied.
Meanwhile, Canuck management is carrying a plethora of albatrosses into the off-season — roughly $13.8 million worth of wasted contracts with Roberto Luongo twiddling his thumbs, Keith Ballard evidently consigned to the discard heap and the ever-injured, grossly overrated David Booth taking up space — and unless Gillis can go, cap in hand, to owner Francesco Aquilini and ask him to buy out a couple of them, and eat some of Luongo’s salary in order to move him, they will be hamstrung when they try to re-stock the shelves.
And wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall when that conversation takes place?
So far, we haven’t come to anything that’s Alain Vigneault’s fault, unless you think a sterner hand, earlier, by the head coach would have broken Burrows and Lapierre and Kesler of their thespian tendencies.
Sunday night’s third-period meltdown by Cory Schneider — in a game that, arguably, might have been Luongo’s to lose, based on his play in the first two — obscured a whole lot of other ills, most glaringly the lack of scoring, but also the utter invisibility of any number of forwards who’ve been exposed next to the dynamic, deep and muscular cast of the Sharks.
But really, it’s a little late now to be terribly outraged about the demise of the Canucks, because the die was cast last summer.
That’s when (we only found out much later) they were already all but certain that Manny Malhotra wasn’t going to make it back yet made no provision for the day when they’d have no one who could win a faceoff, let alone anchor a decent third line.
It’s when they didn’t trade Luongo, gambling that the market was going to improve if they held onto him. No one could have predicted how abjectly that gamble would fail, or how the consequences of that failure would dog the team all season long.
And then, at the trade deadline, Gillis’s cure for the lack of scoring depth was to trade for Derek Roy, another smurf centre for an organization that is fairly teeming with them. The Sharks have brushed Roy aside like a mosquito, as surely as they, or any other sizable playoff opponent, would have dismissed Jordan Schroeder or Andrew Ebbett.
The expression on Vigneault’s face after Game 3, the redness in his eyes, said: “I’m all out of ideas.”
The atmosphere in the Canucks’ room was shell-shocked, funereal.
“There’s not much to draw from right now,” said Luongo, who didn’t allow a goal in his 15:53 of relief work and looked as though he might bite a hole in his tongue when someone asked if he felt he should have started the game.
“There are not many positives in the first three games,” he said. “There are a couple of guys who are playing their hearts out. Other than that …”
And still we search in vain for the compelling reason to fire Vigneault that’s such a popular theme as this team’s era of excellence winds down, and Gillis’s loyal cornermen try to misdirect the responsibility.
Anyone who thinks that arranging the forward lines differently, or changing the defence pairs, or putting this player or that out on the ice at the end of a game would have made the difference is dreaming in Technicolor.
Not that coaching doesn’t have an impact; it surely does. Not that there isn’t some truth to the idea that after seven seasons, a fresh voice, some fresh ideas, can sometimes be a tonic to a group that’s lost its way.
But let’s not insult anyone’s intelligence: Scotty Bowman couldn’t have won a Cup with this outfit.
Not this year.
A reader reminds us of an old hockey adage: “The general manager is responsible for goals FOR, the coach is responsible for goals AGAINST.”
Draw your own conclusions.
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