Written by: Larry “The Nucks IceMan” Johnson
Last season, or should I say since Mike Gillis became the Canucks GM, this team has not been known for it’s physical play. Now you may get by with a soft team in the regular season but not in the play-offs.
For some reason, which I still can’t figure out, Gillis added certain physical players over the last three seasons, but none of the caliber that were difference makers against the more physical teams during the play-offs. Last season, Gillis’ philosophy was to build a team with speed and excellent special teams, which for the most part came to fruition.
Gillis felt that to counter teams that took liberties with the less physical Canuck players, they would turn the other cheek so to speak, which would draw penalties and then the power play would make the opposition pay the price. In theory that worked out quite well in the regular season, as the Canucks finished first on the power play and third on the penalty kill in the NHL rankings.
With the NHL referee’s calling penalties that we normally would expect them to call during the regular season, the Canucks with the help from their special teams, finished first in the NW Division and first overall in the NHL – winning the Presidents’ Trophy. This finish appeared to lead credence to the sports analysts, which suggested that the Canucks were poised to do some damage in the play-offs, and they did – going all the way to the seventh game in the Stanley Cup finals.
Now there were a number of areas that the Canucks had problems with, and you can throw in injuries, lack of depth, not enough physical players, goal-tending at times, but the straw that broke the camels back was the special teams. This area was suppose to make a difference come play-off time and it failed to do so.
In the play-offs Vancouver finished eighth on the power play and ninth on the penalty kill. The Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, were actually 14th out of 16 teams on the power play – but sixth on the penalty kill.
What really defeated the Canucks in the end was what appeared to be a change in the play-off refereeing, or should I say what was not called. I get that the play-offs are a different season, with greater intensity and the coveted trophy on the line, but why is a penalty that was called all season long during the regular season, suddenly become not a penalty in the play-offs?
There were a number of them like obstruction, holding, roughing, tripping, spearing and interference, take your pick. It was OK to conduct scrums after the whistles also, without any fear of retribution.
Now what I have mentioned previously is not a revelation, as this has been going on for years in the play-offs and really, it’s quite expected and taken for granted that the refereeing does change. So with that in mind and knowing the the Canucks were really built for the regular season, why did Gillis suddenly decide during the off-season to make a change?
Added have been the likes of Byron Bitz, Mark Mancari, Steven Pinizzotto, and yesterday Todd Fedoruk and Owen Nolan were signed to PTO (pro tryout contracts).
You mean to tell me it took three seasons for Gillis to figure this out?
You can go back as far as the Anaheim series, Chicago two seasons in a row and now last season, to see that the Canucks didn’t have enough grit for the play-offs. It’s fine to have talented players like the Sedins but you better surround them with toughness come play-off time, if you don’t want them to take a beating like they during these play-offs and previous ones.
Even though some of the above mentioned new players might only play four to seven minutes a game, they are the deterrant that is required to offset the more physical teams. These days there’s not to many teams that haven’t got that element. Maybe, finally, this team will be able to stand up for itself and not be pushed around when it counts.
Footnotes: Will a 39 year old Owen Nolan who played in Europe last season, really help the Canucks? Wasn’t Todd Fedoruk’s absence from hockey last season, due to concussion symptoms from a fight he lost?
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