Sam Lowry: Give my best to Alison and the twins.
Jack Lint: Triplets.
Sam Lowry: Triplets? My, how time flies!
–from BRAZIL

So the Canucks’ season is over, and the wrath of Oilers fans is meaningful for once, which despite Vancouver being down 0-3 to the Kings never seemed quite as fatally obvious as 0-3 would normally seem.

When the playoff began, I picked the Canucks in six. I doubted LA would score enough to win a seven game series, even with Jeff Carter. Arguably, they didn’t: 12 goals in five games normally wouldn’t be enough to win. At one extreme (Pittsburgh-Philadelphia), 12 goals in two games wouldn’t be enough to win. But out west, 14 goals in five games was enough for the Blues. 13 goals in five games was enough for the Predators (against the Datsyuk-Zetterberg-Franzen Red Wings, no less). 12 goals is more than enough when your opponent—Vancouver—scores only eight.

Why only eight? Some of it was missing Daniel Sedin for three games, if not a Daniel Sedin at 100% for all five games. Some of it was Jonathan Quick, who was stellar (4-1, .953, 1.59). But last year’s Penguins were missing Crosby and Malkin and still took Tampa to seven games (and actually blew a 3-1 series lead to not make it even further). And if Quick was stellar, so was Vancouver’s man of the hour, Cory Schneider (1-2, .960, 1.31). Vancouver even outshot the Kings, 172-166 (not taking score effects into account, though– the Canucks did outshoot the Kings the most in Games Two and Three, eventual 4-2 and 1-0 losses).

No, the only rational explanation is puck luck—what the Canucks had in 2011 (until the Curse of Cam Neely, at least) and what I never expected them to have much of in 2012, despite hoping otherwise (I thought Detroit would beat them in six in the next round—wrong again). Only one losing team has returned to the Stanley Cup finals since the 1983 Oilers—the 2009 Penguins who, like the 1983 Oilers, won the Cup. The only back-to-back Cup winners have been the Oilers and Red Wings. Puck luck is difficult enough the first time. But twice?

The 2011 Canucks weren’t the 1982 Canucks or even my beloved 1994 Canucks, though. Winning the President’s Trophy last year wasn’t the same as winning a Stanley Cup, but also wasn’t a fluke (hello, 2012 President’s Trophy winners), and no one expects the 2013 Canucks to fall off a cliff (not Ronning) either.

The only key UFAs for next season are Pahlsson and Salo; the only key RFAs are Mason Raymond and of course Schneider. According to CapGeek, without making any further roster moves, the Canucks will have approximately $9 million to spend on 10 players, including replacing and/or resigning the UFAs and RFAs.

In a worst case scenario, the Canucks are forced to either trade Schneider for decent picks and/or other under 25s (basically, Hodgson for Kassian and Gragnani, but with a goalie), run with Luongo and Eddie Lack or some career backup (call him Tychael Conkleighton) in goal, and get worse goaltending next year when Luongo isn’t Schneider or his backup isn’t Luongo, OR, trade Luongo for probably less than he’s worth, run with Schneider and Lack/Conkleighton in goal, and get worse goaltending next year when Schneider regresses or his backup is bad Luongo without good Luongo.

(In a vacuum, I would keep them both, with Schneider as #1 and Luongo as #1A, but given that that’s impossible, everything depends on the return. I may be optimistic, but I agree with Tom Benjamin that “the difference between what Luongo will bring in a trade and what the Canucks can get for Schneider is vast;” even if I am being optimistic, I trust Mike Gillis to make the call.)

Team age is somewhat more worrisome– the Canucks are in the bottom half at 27.907— but not as bad as I thought. Dallas is older? Florida? Tampa? Ouch. Talk about no future.

Regardless, the Canucks at the moment will be back with both Sedins, Kesler, Burrows, Booth, a full season of Zack Kassian, Hamhuis, Bieksa, Edler, an improving Tanev, Higgins, Hansen, and some better than average goaltender to be determined. As far as 2012, although it ended poorly, it wasn’t a bad year by any means. The Canucks had the 4th-ranked power play, the 6th-ranked penalty kill, scored the 4th most goals, allowed the 4th fewest goals, and scored the 2nd most power play goals– in an off season by both Sedins and Kesler, a season where no Canuck really exceeded expectations other than Schneider (.937, 1.96 would pretty much exceed Tim Thomas’s expectations). In the words of Tom Benjamin:

It’s amazing really. The Canucks have failed to meet the fan and media expectations for most of the year, yet with two games to go the team has a better than decent chance of being the first repeat winner of the President’s Trophy in more than 20 years.

Vancouver has sucked all the way to the top of the league. Amazing.

Why would, or should, five games make a difference? Scoring eight goals in a five game series is bad, but it was only five goals away from outscoring the Kings. Five goals is two Sedins on an “on” night. Five goals in five games is nothing.

Sometimes, even five reasons aren’t enough to explain something everyone seems to have at least one opinion on. Other times, they’re five too many. Vancouver started the wrong goaltender? The Hodgson trade hurt the offense? Vigneault had the wrong line combos? My, how time flies!

photo (c) 1995 by H. Wechsler


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