Thursday, January 20, 2011
Posted by Harrison Mooney
The Canucks have been good for awhile now, and I think I speak for everyone when I say this is relatively novel territory. It's not usually like this. I'm not used to caring very little how the other Northwest teams fared on a night-to-night basis, or clicking "League" instead of "Division" when I look at the standings. I'm not used to so many amusing quotes coming from such a happy dressing room. I'm definitely not used to hearing fans act reasonable about losses because they know the team is better than one bad game. It's strange.
But, as an amateur sociologist, it's also an opportunity for anecdotal observation. Here are three things I've observed, as a fan of a good team:
Your Prospects Look Pretty Impressive
So far, this season, we've seen some remarkable performances from Cory Schneider, as well as impressive debuts from Sergei Shirokov and Chris Tanev. We've seen first-ever NHL goals from Shirokov, Alex Bolduc, and Mario Bliznak. But, before you start praising the Canucks for the depth of their prospect pool, realize that it's a lot easier to look good when you're playing for a good team. This is no disrespect to these kids, who have shown NHL ability, but they couldn't have asked for a better situation.
The motivation to succeed is greater. They're surrounded by winning, and like the teams that test their ability to play against the best, these prospects, too, can test their ability to play with the best.
Expectations are lower as well. Unlike poor Nazem "Luke Skywalker" Kadri, for instance, who looks like a failure because he wasn't ready to save a team for whom he was the only hope, the Canucks' kids have merely been asked to play to their abilities. Rather than losing confidence because they can't meet impossible expectations, they can gain confidence because management believed they could fit on a talented team. It's one thing to make a bad team--someone had to. It's quite another to make a good, deep team that had other options.
People Rush to Take the Credit
Just like when time traveling, if there's a way, be sure to take the credit.
There are a litany of nuances to being an NHL General Manager but, if you take a step back and look at the big picture, it all boils down to one thing: building a winner. However you do it is fine. Winning covers all manner of sins. That said, if you're presently not building a winner, the only way to cover this sin is to cloak it in past accomplishments and point to past winners you've built.
Problem is, this goes the other way, too. General Managers presiding over losers don't want to take the hit to their reputation, so they blame everything on the past regime. This has put Brian Burke, for example, in a bind. He can't point to the cup-winning Anaheim Ducks, an organization still blaming him for the lack of depth that has them mired in mediocrity. So, instead, he glosses over that and points to the Vancouver Canucks, who are currently winning.
Everyone rushes to take credit for a winning team. It's easy to do in the NHL's slot machine culture among GMs. Nobody gets to hold a position long enough to see it through to the big win, so, inevitably, someone will win with a team primarily constructed of other people's acquisitions. Consider that Dave Nonis, Brian Burke, Mike Gillis, Mike Keenan, and Mike Milbury can all take credit, in some manner, for Roberto Luongo. It hardly means a thing. The reality is that it's an insular, incestuous league, with over 30 general managers who probably played some part, however small, in the construction of the team that wins the cup. But only one GM gets the cup ring, and the rest are just posturing.
Opponents Try Harder
In case you missed the Canucks' shutout loss in Madison Square Garden, let me remind you of what transpired: the Rangers played out of their minds. They battened down the hatches, threw their bodies in front of every shot, finished checks, and battled all night to keep the Canucks to the outside. Then, when they won, they celebrated as though they'd just won the Battle for Middle Earth.
Now, I don't know much about the New York Rangers, but I feel I can safely assume that, when the Associated Press calls your performance "All Heart", it's an indication you don't always play like that.
People can tell you teams treat every team like any team, but we all know that's rubbish. Against the best, you don't play your game; you try to outplay their game. The Rangers were jacked up to face the Canucks, and they went all out to test themselves against the best team in the NHL. This is what happens when you play the best. You put everything you've got into stepping up your game in order to see if you can.
When you're good, every team treats you like a final exam. It can be exhausting. This is why great teams don't stay great for long, and why Detroit's generation-long dominance is so downright impressive. Year after year, the Red Wings have the hardest schedule in the NHL by virtue of simply being the Red Wings.
This is what the Canucks have had to deal with since they vaulted to the top of the NHL standings. Consistently meeting and dealing with the sudden level-up of every opponent is what separates great teams from elite teams. Now that the Canucks are on top, everybody wants to bring them back to earth, and it can be exhausting fighting off the downers. But elite teams are capable.
It remains to be seen if the Canucks are as well.