Stan Smyl pauses to draw a deep breath before answering the question and you’re not sure if it’s because he’s contemplating the subject matter for the first time or because he never stops thinking about it.
“Boy,” Smyl exhaled. “Thirty years goes by quickly.”
If you have any familiarity with Vancouver Canucks history and the fact life can sometimes feel like somebody hit the fast-forward button, you probably guessed Smyl was marvelling that Vancouver’s first of two appearances in the Stanley Cup final occurred almost three decades ago in 1982.
That was the Roger Neilson-coached group that went 30-33-17 in the regular season, then caught fire in the playoffs, only to be felled by the dynastic New York Islanders in the final. The Isles won four straight games to earn a third consecutive Cup and Smyl, who had 18 points in 17 games that spring, admits his club was overmatched from a talent standpoint. Still, Game 1 required extra minutes to settle the affair and had things gone the Canucks’ way, Smyl believes it could have at least slightly changed the complexion of the series.
“Would we have won in the end?” he asked. “I’m not sure, but I think it would have given us a bit more confidence as a group that we could beat them.”
Between that moment and the present, the Canucks had another showing in the final, when Smyl’s replacement as the heart and soul of the franchise, Trevor Linden, led a group that posted an extremely modest 41-40-3 regular season mark to within one win of a title, coming up short against Mark Messier’s Rangers in a series for the ages.
So, it would seem, the Canucks are making progress, just not at any tremendous rate.
This all provides a backdrop for a team hoping to celebrate its 40th anniversary season in style. Smyl is a senior advisor to GM Mike Gillis with the current edition of the Canucks, a squad that won’t be looking for any side-street route to the final this year. Vancouver has locked up its first Presidents’ Trophy and has posted a fourth 100-point season in five years. The team has tried to fill the holes Smyl and the rest of the management group felt were its undoing in recent years in the hopes of providing passionate fans across the province of B.C. with a happy ending, at last.
For the Canucks themselves, it’s a carpe diem edict from Smyl, who knows the events of a couple months can linger on for a lifetime.
“It’s happened so quickly,” he said of the time that’s passed since ’82. “And that’s what players have to grasp when the playoffs start is, before you know it, it’s over.”
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