Saturday, January 01, 2011
Posted by Qris Johnson
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.