Saturday, January 01, 2011

Living Up to History

Here are a few ridiculous superstitions in which I firmly believe: If you suck out on someone in poker, you will be rightly punished with bad card luck for a while; Hiccups can be cured by asking the person if they own a white horse, and their answering "no," but only if they know that doing so is a cure for the hiccups; The Goo Goo Dolls cover of the song "Give a Little Bit," when played in the car loudly, dispels traffic jams; and, all NHL teams have a historical character that, if honored, will bring success, and if abused, will act as a curse. This last, I credit with much of the recent success of Mike Gillis's Vancouver Canucks.

The idea of historical recognition being important to success seems silly, but like most superstitions, it can be justified with what Dogbert called the best evidence of all -- anecdotal evidence. The Pittsburgh Penguins -- the team of Lemieux and Jagr -- weren't successful again until they brought in some flashy superstars in Crosby and Malkin. The Flyers of late weren't a force until they became the Broad Street Bullies again. Recall that they were the most oft-suspended team in their comeback season. The Devils' adding Kovalchuk shouldn't have hurt the team at all on paper. Even in the worst-case scenario of his being a horrible player spending all his time on the fourth line, the team is still deep enough that they should be in playoff contention. Still, they've got a strong belief in New Jersey that the team is bigger than the individual, and Kovalchuk's contract and lazy defensive play fly so in the face of that idea that the team doesn't have an identity anymore. The same thing happened with the Dallas Stars when they signed Sean Avery. The same thing, honestly, happened to the Canucks when they brought in some guys who were more about themselves than they were about Vancouver.

It's weird to talk about Canucks history, when I've experienced so little of it. During the '94 run to the Finals, I was seven, and all I remember is my drunk uncles yelling at the television. I'd imagine it was also weird for Henrik Sedin hanging out with Orland Kurtenbach for all those photo shoots and talking about what he meant to the franchise. The Sedin twins were born six years after Kurtenbach retired. Still, from the interviews you could tell Henrik knew his stuff, and that's good, because respecting the team's history is important.

This 40th Canucks season has brought intermission segments about the inaugural season of the team, and they've been a real treat. I know I'm not the only one who's enjoyed hearing talk about how the team was originally built with players who believed strongly in being competitive, who really hated to lose. The character of that first Canucks team set the tone for the franchise. From season one, the team's been all about competitiveness and character. The great Canucks haven't all been flashy, but they've all had heart.

What excites me most about this team is that they fit that model so well. As I noted earlier, there are no prima donnas on the team. No one puts himself before the team, everyone buys into the Canucks' game plan. That's a good model on any team, but it's more important for the Canucks than it is for the Thrashers, the Capitals, the Rangers, and others. Some rules in New York are understood not to apply to Sean Avery, for instance. The Canucks simply could not handle that as a team.

The 2010 playoffs were an eye-opener for Mike Gillis. It's doubtful he's as superstitious as I am, but give Gillis credit for learning more quickly from his mistakes than any other GM out there. His first season, he said while the playoff ouster by the Blackhawks was tough, he could see that speed from the back end was what the Canucks needed, and he's definitely brought that in. The 2010 ouster was less easy to pinpoint, but mostly it seemed the Canucks imploded because they just couldn't stay disciplined. Discipline was a problem against L.A. and it was death against the Hawks. The moves Gillis made in the off-season were mostly character moves. They went from just being a tough team to being a competitive one.

The Canucks of this season care a lot less about being hard to play against and a lot more about being hard to win against. Gone are the players who, for whatever reason, couldn't seem to think of the team first. This has its clear advantages in the reduction of stupid penalties, in renewed focus and all that. But it also has its advantage in being what the Canucks are supposed to be about. Offense, defense, grit and whatever else are second to the strength of the group as a team.

Again, this is the 40th season of the Canucks organization. The city's gone 40 years without a Cup, and that sucks. There are so many guys in Canuck history who, in their dedication to the team, and to the city, deserved to win the Cup. It wouldn't feel right if the Vancouver acquired some flashy superstar glory-seeker and won the Cup on his shoulders by doing things his way. It would suck because it doesn't respect the great tradition set by Kurtenbach, Smyl, Linden, Naslund, and other Canuck greats. That wouldn't happen, though, because the Canucks aren't a team that can win like that. That's not what Vancouver's about.

What convinces me most that the team could win it all this year is that it feels like they should. The theme for the 40th season has been honoring the past, and that's been far more than a marketing scheme. Moreso than some teams in the past, this feels like a Canucks team. If a team's going to win one for Linden, for Smyl, for Naslund and those guys, I'll be glad if it's this one. That way, it won't just be their year, it'll be Vancouver's year, from this season all the way back to the first.


  1. But the Canucks went on a run like this a couple of years ago when they had a huge prima donna in Mats Sundin. They might have won the Cup that year if there was a real referee on the ice in Game 5 against Chicago.

    The team is successful because it has two first lines and a couple of Swedes who play a possession game and eat up minutes, not because of some ancient magic that unlocked when the team honoured a guy who scored 62 goals over a four-year period where the team not only failed to make the playoffs, but failed to improve on their first-season winning percentage.

    It's a nice narrative, but has no basis in reality. Save it for the group of conflict of interest reporters who reminisce in poetic terms about the olden days while collecting paycheques from both Sportsnet and the team.

  2. I don't know, Cam, supposedly stacked teams have screwed the pooch. Never underestimate the power of ancient magic detected via superstition and anecdotal evidence.

  3. Who are you kidding calling Mats Sundin a prima donna? He was a solid character guy and his influence on the Canucks was well-documented.

    There's really no basis for calling him a prima donna unless you're a Toronto fan still choked up, but it's not his fault Toronto wanted to sign him without an NTC for the sake of trading him later. Listen to the interviews with Kesler, the Sedins, or Alain Vigneault about Sundin's character, and his positive effect on the team despite his short tenure with them.

  4. Agreed with everything Qris said above. Sundin helped our core players develop to who they are today.
    Chicago was a better team than us both years and Vancouver needs to learn and from that.

  5. He didn't make a decision on whether he wanted to play until December, and I thought that was a little selfish of him. That doesn't take away from whether or not he was a good hockey player, don't get me wrong. But I'm a numbers guy and I can't judge character analytically.

    I'll defer to Admiral Motti from Star Wars for this one: Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Qris.

    *strangled by anecdotal evidence*

  6. The "Ring of Honor" will never be complete without the inclusion of Phil Maloney, captain of the WHL Canucks for years and scout, coach and general manager in the early years of the NHL Canucks. According to Walter"Babe" Pratt he "was never a very funny guy, but he made a lot of other guys look funny when he was skating around them and scoring those beautiful goals." He was at least once funny in lovely ironical way. Asked why he wasn't playing in the NHL, he responded dryly, "We aren't in the minor leagues because we skate too fast or shoot too straight." I well remember him emerging from the smoky haze which always filled the Vancouver Forum in the third period, breaking over the blue line between two opposing defensemen, and roofing the puck for the winning goal. It's an image from my teens that has never left me. Give the guy the honor he deserves along with Kurtenback, Naslund and those to yet be recognized as part of the "ancient magic" making the Canucks who they are.


  7. It would have been nice if he could have decided earlier, but in his defense, when you play your whole career with one team and it becomes clear you can't anymore (if he did re-sign they'd trade him at the deadline), it's got to be tough walking away and going to a new team. I'd imagine it was a truly difficult decision.

  8. I just realized who Madwag is. Man, am I slow.

  9. I like how Sundin hangs around Nucks games more than Leafs games, thes days... Seems the team made as big an impression on them as he did on the team.

  10. "It wouldn't feel right if the Vancouver acquired some flashy superstar glory-seeker and won the Cup on his shoulders by doing things his way. It would suck."

    totally disagree with this. if GMMG trades for superstar that wins us a cup then im all for it. is it going to happen? no, but i dont see how winning a cup would suck.

    ever. ill take it anyway i can get it

  11. Really, jake? You'd be okay with a scenario in which the Canucks, say, trade away Kesler, the Sedins and Luongo and acquire Sean Avery, Alex Kovalev, Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrick Kane, Chris Pronger, Alex Semin and Evgeni Nabokov? Semin insists on wearing number 28, Patrick Kane insists on being captain? Captain Kane famously misses a morning game because he's hungover, and Alex Kovalev refuses to play another game unless Alain Vigneault is fired. After AV is fired and replaced with "Iron" Mike Keenan, who hires Messier as an assistant coach, the Canucks hoist the Cup, after Chris Pronger horribly injures Marc-Andre Fleury with his skate in the Final and Brent Johnson is unable to keep up? Nabokov announces after hoisting the Cup that it sucks he couldn't do it for the Sharks because he hates Canada.

    That'd be okay for you? At least we won?

  12. Jake is just cup hungry. We all are, and some fans are getting impatient and desperate. Thankfully Gillis is patient and has the right idea on how to develop players and a team.

    Developing our own superstars has worked out pretty well, and we're finally seeing the fruits of years of patient player development take shape. The Sedins have matured slowly and they've arrived as superstars (seriously, they were very late bloomers... They're 30, but we got prime years with them longer then you think), Kesler is taking it to the next level, Burrows is surmounting all odds, Edler is rounding into form, Bieska has found his game again... Add that top of a few key signings of good players with good character, and some diamonds in the ruff... This is a good, disciplined Canucks team.

    It's why get mad when people say trade Schneider... He's our prospect, we developed him, and one day I want to see him (eventually) succeed Luongo.

  13. Wisp, Schneider won't succeed Luongo. He's under contract for two years at $900,000. After that, he'll require more money than a backup is worth. And we're not trading Luongo.

    That said, he's the most valuable trading chip we have--maybe that we've ever had, and that comes from good in-house development.

  14. I know. I have this this scenario in my head that I dare not stare, lest it fails to come true, where Schneider does succeed them.

    But I'll never tell until it happens...

  15. As someone who's been a Canucks fan for a while, I truly appreciate this post. I'm probably too attached to this team, to these players, but that's how it is for me. Seeing this group win a Cup would mean way more to me than any other Canucks group simply because of the way they're "homegrown" and getting to watch them develop over all these years into the players they are.

    Basically I agree with this whole post, especially this bit:

    " Moreso than some teams in the past, this feels like a Canucks team. If a team's going to win one for Linden, for Smyl, for Naslund and those guys, I'll be glad if it's this one. That way, it won't just be their year, it'll be Vancouver's year, from this season all the way back to the first."

  16. honestly qris, with that scenario i would still take it cause it means we won. just cup hungry is all. would i prefer the have character and heart win the cup? for sure, but if im forced to choose between losing year in and year out with "character" or winning a cup with a bunch of prima-donnas, i'll take the latter any day

  17. I'm with Jake, Qris, but only because I want to witness the impossibly absurd situation you've described firsthand.

  18. I wanna see the cup in Van no matter what it takes but there is no denying that this core group is special and it would be something else to see them go all the way!

  19. I thought of more to make the situation worse:

    Chris Pronger, after hoisting the Cup, says in an interview that the Canucks would never if they hadn't traded "that little bitch" Kesler away.

    Alex Kovalev, who scored the goal that ultimately wound up to be the Cup winner (it made it 4-1, the final score was 6-3), says in an interview that the Canucks could never have done it without him. He claims to be the best person on the team.

    Alex Semin defects to Russia, taking the Stanley Cup with him. He refuses to tell anyone where he's hidden it, and the NHL is forced to create a new championship award. Semin reportedly says to a Russian newspaper, "Those stupid Canadians take this way too seriously. I pissed in the Cup."

    That'd be preferable to not winning the Cup?

  20. That'd be preferable to not winning the Cup? i'm gonna say no just to see what else u come up with

  21. nope still want the cup... even if Pronger said he was the best in the world ever!


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