As the Vancouver Canucks take on Minnesota Wild tonight in an effort to gain much-needed points, I couldn’t help but think about the actions that have led to today’s reality – a team who made it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals on June 15, 2011 (a date forever etched into the minds of Canucks fans, for the wrong reasons), now left battling for a spot in the playoffs with nine games remaining in the 2013-14 regular season.
Let’s start with January. It started off with a January 7 visit from the Pittsburgh Penguins that also coincided with the Team Canada roster announcement for men’s hockey. Two Vancouver Canucks were named to the represent Team Canada on Russian ice – Dan Hamhuis and Roberto Luongo. This was an encouraging start to the Canucks’ 2014. Weeks later, a January 18 clash with the Calgary Flames erupted in a line brawl, thanks in part to Flames coach Bob Hartley starting his fourth line grinders to face the Canucks’ top line stars for the opening faceoff. This prompted head coach John Tortorella to storm down to the Flames dressing room with the intent of delivering a knuckle sandwich to Hartley. Two days later, the league announced Torts would face a 15-day suspension without pay, with Hartley receiving a $25,000 fine for his part in the scuffle.
Despite the 18-day break for Sochi 2014, February was littered with losing streaks and injuries – Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows all missed significant time with a smorgasbord of ailments – but the slump was deep and morale plummeted, permeating every level of the team.
On March 2, Vancouver welcomed in the 2014 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic. A 54,194-person spectacle held at a snow-covered BC Place was set to reignite the passion of Canucks fans as their team took on the Ottawa Senators. While the game was a marquee event for the franchise, Torts didn’t see it that way – he benched Roberto Luongo in favour of Eddie Lack, much to the displeasure of 50,000+ people chanting a ‘Loooooooou’ that echoed around the arena, in the hope of gaining much-needed points. The Canucks fell 4-2 to the Sens and the roof of BC Place remained closed despite the promise of an ‘outdoor game.’ The benching of Loungo served as a catalyst for his now-infamous trade to the Florida Panthers on March 4. Instantly, Eddie Lack became the official starting goaltender for the Vancouver Canucks. With a 0.915 save percentage, Lack made a good effort despite having been placed on a sinking ship. Or at least a ship that had sprung a couple leaks.
And this brings us to the present day. The reality of battling for a playoff spot with little over three weeks remaining in the regular season has Canucks fans frustrated at worst, and at best, despondent. A two-game winning streak aside, the Canucks currently find themselves six points behind the Phoenix Coyotes for the final wild card position.
The off-season will surely see substantial changes for the Canucks, and while speculation abounds surrounding what those changes will look like, one thing is for certain. It will be Wild.