Desperately Seeking Stanley
Of all the current Canadian teams the Vancouver Canucks are the only one to have never won a Stanley Cup. The closest the city of Vancouver has ever come to winning the coveted silverware was during the 1914 –15 seasons, when the then Vancouver Millionaires won The Challenge Cup as it was known at that period.
The last time a team from Canada won the cup and sipped champagne from its bowl, was when the Canadians were victorious in 1992 – 93. What did those teams have that the Canucks seem to miss? Is it the extensive lack of such great players like, Georges Vezina, Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Frank Mahovlich, Wayne Gretzky or perhaps Joe Nieuwendyk?
On the two occasions that the Canucks have made The Stanley Cup Final they have had great athletes like, Smyl, Lindon, Bure and McLean, to name but a few. Since those erstwhile days the style in which the game is played has changed considerably. The cup winners in today’s modern game still have similar characteristics, which help to make the winning formula.
Every hockey team needs to excel in the areas of offense, defense and special teams, in each game all of the time. They also need depth at each position so when a club is hit by injuries, that team faces a bump in the road rather than a gaping pothole that decimates them.
Do the Canucks possess the correct elements required to be a cup winning team?
We shall now look at the teams that have won the Stanley Cup in the last three seasons. To make comparisons with Vancouver we shall put offense, defense and special teams play during the regular season under the microscope. Looking at stats from the regular season of each cup winner will do this.
Our first subject will be the 2006-07 - Anaheim Ducks. Goals For Tot: 254.Goals Against Tot 198. PPG Tot: 89. PP% 22.4. 3RD in the NHL. Time Short Handed Tot: 410.PPG Against Tot: 61. PK% 85.1. 5th in NHL. Five of the Ducks players had 25 goals or more. Teemu Selanne had 45 goals and 94 points. Defensemen Niedermayer and Pronger scored a combined total of 28 goals that year.
Vancouver’s stats were: Goals For Tot: 217. Goals Against Tot: 197. PPG Total: 70. PP%17.2. 20th in the NHL. Time Short Handed 436. PPG Against 57 PK% 86.9 1st in NHL. Only one player had 25 goals or more. D Sedin with 36. On defense Salo and Bieksa scored a combined 26 goals.
2007-08 - Detroit Red Wings. Goals For Tot: 257. Goals Against Tot: 179. PPG Tot: 81. PP% 20.7, 3rd in the NHL. Time Short Handed: 357. PPG Against: 57. PK% 84.0, 7th in NHL. Three players had 25 goals or more. Henrik Zetterberg scored 43 goals.
Defensively Rafalski and Lidstroms goal totals were 23.
The Canucks numbers we as follows: Goals For Tot: 207 Goals Against Tot: 206. PPG: 63. PP%17.1,18th in the NHL. Time Short Handed: 368. PPG Against: 64. PK%82.6. 14th in NHL. Two players with over 25 goals. Again D Sedin was the leading goal scorer with 29 goals. Defensemen Ohlund and Salo cooperated to combine for a total of 17 goals.
2008-09 - Pittsburgh Penguins. Goals For Tot: 258. Goals Against Tot: 233. PPG Tot: 61.PP%17.2, 20th in NHL. Time Short Handed: 180. PPG Against: 60. PK%80.2, 20th in the NHL. Pittsburgh had four players with 25 goals or more. Malkin scored a total of 35. On defense Letang scored the most goals with 10.
Vancouver on the other hand recorded the following stats. Goals For Tot: 244. Goals Against Tot: 213. PPG Tot: 66. PP% 18.8 17th in the NHL. Times Short Handed Tot: 371.PPG Against Tot: 69. PK% 81.4, 16th in NHL. With three players who scored 25 goals plus. Not surprisingly (or depending on how you see things it could be a surprise) D Sedin amassed the most goals with 31.Bieksa and Salo were the biggest offensive producers on defense, who tallied for a combined total of 21 goals.
We all know that stats don’t win games; although they do give an indication as to where a team needs to improve. The first obvious area for improvement is Goals For Total. The most recent cup winner’s have scored at least fourteen more goals than Vancouver each year. If the Canucks had four or five players in the three previous seasons that were capable of recording twenty-five plus goals a year then, the teams offensive production would be more effective. If you add up the amount of twenty-five plus goal scorers over the last three years, Vancouver has a grand total of five players who have produced twenty-five or more goals. During the 06 – 07 season Anaheim had five players with twenty-five + goals.
Each team also has at least one 40-goal scorer. D Sedin has been Vancouver’s leading goal scorer in each of the last three years. Since becoming a member of the Canucks in the 2000 – 2001 season he has not scored more than 36 goals a year. Yes Daniel and his brother are both excellent players and certainly the keys to the offense. One may question where are the Ovechkin’s, Malkin’s or Crosby’s on this team? The problem is that at times the Sedin’s have been the only offense and have had to carry the team.
Vancouver clearly needs a forty plus goal scorer and more offensive production from all four lines. With less emphasis on a defensive style of play and a greater focus on attack, this would surely increase the offensive production and elevate PP%. Most people have heard the old saying; the best kind of defense is offense. With that kind of mentality across the whole team perhaps the offensive play can be more successful.
It is also noticeable that Vancouver’s defensive core needs to improve and reduce the amount of goals against that have been incurred. Better penalty killing would also enhance the team’s success. Another significant point is that apart from Pittsburgh, Vancouver scored fewer goals from its most offensively talented defensemen. Having one of the best keepers in the game is generally a positive for any team. That is unless a team’s defense expects their keeper to win the game when holding a lead. A keeper is expected to secure a lead for their team but still needs to be able to rely on his defense. Team cohesion is of great importance, as games are not really won by just one player alone. Unfortunately for Vancouver having one of the best keepers, on occasions seems to be a hindrance.
There are many formations that a coach may use for both offensive and defensive play. One such formation is called the collapsing defense. Where players will assemble or collapse back in front of their goalie, with the intention of preventing opposing players from getting shots on goal. Essentially making it harder to reach the net, thus limiting the ability to generate scoring chances. At times Vancouver’s defense seem to take the word collapse literally, by going into auto pilot mode and expecting the keeper to be the 1st and last line of the defense.
GM Mike Gillis took direct and positive steps in the off-season to address issues faced by his team. The need for a natural goal scorer is still apparent. Wouldn’t it have been more beneficial if Gillis had signed the offensive powerhouses that other teams acquired in the same ilk as Gaborik, Havlat, or even Tanguay? Instead of signing players like forward Rick Rypien, who has whopping seven goals in five NHL seasons. Rypien is a pugilist not known for having great scoring ability. Games aren’t won by toughness and aggression alone. Too much brawn and less brain often result in too many trips to the penalty box. On occasions it does look as if management would rather take the easy option and sign a third or fourth line forward who has limited ability, to a one-year contract. Instead of taking a bigger and somewhat more costly risk by signing that established goal scorer. With every player comes risk but if that player can reignite your offense, then the positives far out way the negatives.
Vancouver does have much of the attributes required to be a cup winner. With the adversity that Vancouver has endured so far such bad luck could stop the likes of Detroit, Anaheim and Pittsburgh from winning the cup again. The Canucks are currently 11th in the Western Conference and are hoping to turn things around. In the next three games the Canucks will face-off against the following opponents, LA, Edmonton and San Jose. Of those teams Edmonton is the only team placed lower in the standings than Vancouver. The Oilers currently sit in 12th place. While LA and Anaheim sit in 5th and 1st place. If the regular season were to end today Vancouver would not be heading straight to the play offs.
Vancouver is by no means a bad team; as yet they may not be a great team. Like all teams Vancouver has it’s faults and needs to fine-tune certain aspects of its play. With each win the journey to greatness becomes even shorter. That journey shall finally reach its course if the Canucks can hoist the hallowed Stanley Cup?