OK, let’s talk some hockey. I’ve avoided it so far because I’ve been sick, dealing with the littany of mistakes that various organizations have made at my financial expense, and adjusting to new nocturnal hours. The disappointment of the Canucks’ late season collapse and failure to make the playoffs was just too much to deal with on top of all that. Now, I think I can write about it.
On Monday, Canucks general manager Dave Nonis was “relieved of his duties”. That’s fired, to you and me. The team had missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. Last year they made it to the second round, only to be eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Anaheim Ducks. Everyone expected this year to be a step forward from that, even though there wasn’t much change last summer. It didn’t work out that way.
The Canucks suffered a neverending string of injuries throughout the season. Their solid defence – some said the best starting six in the league – never played a single game as a complete unit. Key forwards also suffered injuries. Some players had multiple injuries. To their credit, the players never used injuries as an excuse. They said they should find a way to win, anyway. They have to say that and keep trying. Now that their season is over, however, Hockey Night In Canada’s Kelly Hrudey seems to be saying it is part of the explanation.
To make matters worse, star goalie Roberto Luongo wasn’t his usual spectacular self, mainly because his pregnant wife was thousands of miles away in Florida so that she could stay near her doctor. There was the potential for complications. I guess that could make you lose focus, occasionally.
So, why fire the GM? Because, in this case, two out of three IS bad. On paper, this team was good enough to be in the playoffs. People in Vancouver want a winner. This team has threatened greatness for about seven years, now. But, it’s always something. Former goalie Dan Cloutier let’s in a bad one. The next two years, he’s injured at playoff time. Director - sorry - referee Kerry Fraser and video goal officials in Toronto make bad calls that cost them games in a first round series they lose in seven games. Then, the lockout writes off a season. Then, the Bertuzzi incident and they miss the playoffs. They bounce back the next year, but now - this.
Francesco Aquilini, the team owner, said the word “leadership” repeatedly at a press conference announcing the change. Does that mean the coaching staff are next? What about leadership on the ice? It was widely believed that captain Markus Naslund, and possibly Brendan Morrison, would not have been re-signed under Nonis. Will that still be the case? Will there be a complete clearout of the old leadership on the ice, behind the bench, and in the head office? That might be the easiest way to deal with the problem because, you see, nobody really knows what is wrong with this team. Everybody has their favourite target to blame.
Me – I just don’t know. Maybe it’s just the injuries and Luongo’s temporary distraction. Maybe the problem would have fixed itself by next year. Maybe the coach didn’t make the best use of the players he had. Some people think the owners overreacted, in an emotional manner, because they are also fans. Maybe.
Now, the talk is about who will be his replacement. There is speculation that Brian Burke will come back. Not likely. He has a year left on his contract with Anaheim. I seriously doubt the owners there would let him out of it early, considering they just won the Stanley Cup last year. Pat Quinn’s name has been mentioned. Then there’s current assistant manager Steve Tambellini, who has also worked with Team Canada. Trevor Linden’s name has been mentioned as a possible member of the management team, if not the GM. His experience with the NHL Players Association could help him.
Whoever they hire, and whatever they do, I hope it gets results. It’s bad enough that I watch the Stanley Cup final every year without really caring who wins – but the entire playoffs?