“the more you near your destination, the more you’re slip slidin' away”
Paul Simon perhaps best described the state of the 2006 Vancouver Canucks with his pop hit of the seventies. At the start of the season, the western favourites were far and away the Canucks, a team that had been assembled for success and seemed on the cusp of fulfilling former GM Brian Burke’s goal of a Stanley Cup parade for Robson Street. The year long labour disruption and the still lingering ramifications of the Todd Bertuzzii/Steve Moore incident seem to have cast an evil eye over this core group of would have been Stanley Cup champs.
Burke, who by the start of the season had been exiled to Anaheim, is busy in the process of rebuilding the team that Donald and Mickey built and it’s not lost on many in hockey, that it may be his Mighty Ducks that deliver the mighty blow of sneaking by the Canucks for the final playoff spot in the West.
Vancouver has been a troubled team since probably just before Christmas, with injuries to their goaltender Dan Cloutier and veteran defenceman Ed Jovanovski, they have been unable to get untracked since the holidays. While Alex Auld has stepped up to fill the Cloutier void, the rest of the team seems to have left him to his own devices at times.
The latest embarrassment and perhaps the definitive blow to their playoff hopes was Sunday night, a match up available only on pay per view (Suckers!!!) which featured a tired Detroit Red Wings skate into GM Place and provide a clinic in successful hockey.
By the time all had cleared, the Wings were winners by a score of 7-3 and the Canucks were an even more dispirited group than usual. With only a win over Columbus to show for their last seven games they’ve watched the Calgary Flames tail lights grow dimmer while the high beams of Anaheim and San Jose start to flash around the rearview mirror.
Once again the Canucks found little to be happy about in their effort, the first line, the big money line (or tandem as it’s become) of Naslund and Bertuzzi continue to struggle on the ice, if not for the second line of the Sedins and Anson Carter the goal scoring output would be even more anemic than it has become.
This team has been called fragile far too many times for one that was supposed to be of championship timbre, fragile is for teams that are just getting their act together, long suffering squads of youngsters and old guys looking for one last hurrah. That was not what Vancouver was supposed to be. They’re tentative in their play, stupid in their penalty taking and at times seemingly devoid of effort any more. It's as though they want the season to end and take their parting gifts to wherever they disperse.
The next three games will surely tell the tale of this high budget but suddenly low expectation squad, by a quirk of the scheduling Gods the Canucks play three games in a row against the Edmonton Oilers. Their very own little elimination round, lose all three and they can surely let the blood letting to come begin early in Vancouver. Edmonton has the opportunity to squash the Canucks into the ice over the next three games. On the other side, the Canucks can shake the troubles off with a sweep of the Oil.
That may be asking for too much however, the Canucks don’t seem to listen to their coaches anymore; they surely don’t seem to care about their long suffering fans and by all accounts don’t seem to be listening to each other in the dressing room. Sunday night was an example of polar opposites in the world of the NHL, Detroit a long time champion and still the class of a league, a pure definition of a team if ever there was one. In some other part of GM Place were the Canucks, a team in name only which nowhere near understands the concept of the term.
There perhaps is no more dysfunctional squad in the league right now. So much potential at the start of the season is quickly free falling into disaster by the end of it.
Come to think of things, perhaps put away that old Paul Simon chestnut. A more appropriate tune could come from Tom Petty. They’re bad boys for breaking our heats, this skid continues and they'll be leaving the playoffs for a while. These Canucks’ are Free falling…. They’re just free falling.