VANCOUVER – Plenty of questions swirl around the Vancouver Canucks following a season where they looked like a team with all the answers to win the Stanley Cup.
A 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 Wednesday night ended the Canucks’ dream of winning their first NHL championship in franchise history. A team that won the Presidents’ Trophy for the best record in the league came up one victory short of being a champion.
Mike Gillis, the Canucks’ general manager, now has to figure out why a club that did so much right during the regular season, and most of the playoffs, suddenly had a lot go wrong in the final.
Why did a Vancouver team that led the league in scoring manage just eight goals in seven games against the Bruins? And get shutout twice?
How could a club that allowed the least goals during the season give up 23 against the Bruins?
What happened to the Vancouver power play which went just two-for-33 against Boston and allowed three short-handed goals?
Where were the Sedins?
Daniel Sedin, the league’s leading scorer and a finalist for MVP, had one goal and three assists in seven games. Canuck captain Henrik Sedin, who led the playoffs with 19 assists, didn’t manage one against the Bruins.
And the question that will burn up radio talk shows for the summer, what happened to Roberto Luongo?
How could a goaltender that was solid as a rock some nights shatter like glass in three games in Boston and give up at least two questionable goals on the night his team needed him most?
Coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t rushing to give answers.
“I’m not going to analyse this game right now,” he said after the loss.
“I think anybody in our situation would feel real disappointed. I know we gave it our best shot.”
Centre Ryan Kesler offered an opinion.
“We didn’t score,” he said. “That’s what went wrong.”
Vancouver built a talented team that uses speed and a solid defence to beat opponents. The Canucks rely on their mobile defencemen to quickly move the puck to their forwards. They use their power play like a stick to club teams that tried to slow them down by tripping or hooking.
The injury to Dan Hamhuis in Game 1 of the final sidelined Vancouver’s best defenceman. The suspension to Aaron Rome for his hit on Nathan Horton in Game 3 forced Vigneault to juggle his pairings. Both Christian Ehrhoff and Alex Edler were playing with injuries.
Suddenly, the Canucks were having trouble getting out of their own end. The pass that could spring Daniel or Henrik wasn’t coming.
The Bruins used their size and physical play to bat the Canucks around like a tennis ball. Huge defenceman Zdeno Chara put a leash on Henrik Sedin. Stop Henrik from passing the puck to brother Daniel and you suddenly turn off the tap to many Vancouver goals.
Canuck forwards likes Kesler, Alex Burrows and Raffi Torres didn’t shy away from the physical game. The Bruins were just bigger and stronger.
Kesler was also playing hurt. Speedy Mason Raymond missed Game 7 with a severe back injury. Vancouver lost Mikael Samuelsson, the only Canuck with a Stanley Cup ring, in the West semifinal.
“We’re not going to use injuries as a reason for not getting it done,” said Vigneault.
Luongo remains an enigma. Maybe his evil twin brother shows up some nights. He didn’t get a lot of help in some games, but he also didn’t make the big save on nights when the Canucks needed him most.
Gillis might look at adding some size and grit to his lineup. Vancouver has not had a big power forward since the days Todd Bertuzzi was in his prime.
The Canuck core will remain intact next season. Vancouver has 13 players under contract for around US$46 million. That lives Gillis around US$13 million to spend.
Defenceman Kevin Bieksa and Ehrhoff are both unrestricted free agents. Expect Bieksa to stay. Forward Jannik Hansen is a restricted free agent and someone might tend him an offer sheet.
The Canucks have the potential to be a very good team next year. Their playoff run showed they still need some depth, a little more experience, and a few upgrades.
The question now is, will Vancouver find the right answers.