by Brian Beitz
I must admit, I’m confused about the Canucks’ current predicament. The team was awarded the 2011-12 Presidents’ Trophy, and that trophy, according to the NHL, is awarded to “the club finishing the regular season with the best overall record.” Best. And it only stands to reason that the club with the best overall record is the best club, right? So how did it come to pass that the Canucks found themselves down 0-3 and facing a sweep in the first round against the 8th seed LA Kings—the first such sweep in NHL history?
Surely, the explanation must be something other than “poor play.” Poor play is not indicative of the best team in the NHL. Poor plays are indicative of high school musical theatre. Wednesday night, in Game 4, the Canucks came out strong in the 2nd and 3rd periods, scoring 2 powerplay markers en route to a 3-1 victory. The difference between Game 4 and the first 3 games of the series, aside from the fact that the best team won, was that Daniel Sedin finally returned from injury after suffering a concussion at the
hands elbows of Duncan Keith. With Daniel’s return came a return of the Canucks’ top line, their cycle game, and the Team 1040’s annoying game of “Which twin said this?” It’s safe, and fairly obvious, to assume that the Canucks have struggled in large part because they have been without their leading scorer.
And since the Canucks are the best team in the NHL, as acknowledged by the league, they must just be unlucky. As you’ll see after the jump, this isn’t the only season where that’s been the case.
Last season, the Canucks were flying high down the stretch, far ahead in the race for the President’s Trophy and leading the league in goals for, goals against, powerplay percentage, and penalty kill percentage. One of the reasons for their success was the enabling play of Manny Malhotra, who freed up Ryan Kesler to play more offensive game while Manny shut down scoring lines and took the tough defensive draws. Then, on March 16th, Manny had a puck deflect off a stick into his left eye. As a result of this fluke play, he would go on to require several surgeries, miss the last 10 games of the regular season and the first 19 games of the post-season, returning in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. He has still not returned to the level of play he was capable of pre-injury, and he may never do so.
In 2006-07, the Canucks lost Ryan Kesler, then an important role player and penalty killer, for most of the second half of the season as he required hip surgery. Kesler finally returned for Game 1 of the 1st round of the playoffs versus the Dallas Stars—his first ever playoff game. Late in that game (and I mean late—it went to a 4th OT), after Kesler had played 27:51, he took a puck in the hand, breaking his finger. Despite his attempts to have trainers cut off the finger so he could get back on the ice, and the trainers foolish attempts to stop this from happening, Kesler would miss the rest of the playoffs. Tommi Santala drew in in Kesler’s place for Game 2. He played 2:16 in a 2-0 loss.
In 2003-04, Todd Bertuzzi (while admittedly not the offensive force he was in 2002-03) was nearly a point-per-game player when he caught some bad ice in a game and reached out to brace himself. How unlucky that Steve Moore was in his way, taking a punch to the back of the head and ending up at the bottom of a dog pile, tragically fracturing his neck and ending his playing career. Bertuzzi was suspended for the rest of the season and playoffs, which left the Canucks offence lost and confused in a 7-game loss to the Calgary Flames (despite a nearly miraculous comeback in Game 7).
OK, so that last one wasn’t so much bad luck as anger, poor judgement and tragic circumstance, and we don’t mean to make light of the horrible result, but sometimes even the best of us do stupid things. Either way, the other injuries I mentioned certainly were unfortunate accidents. Nor are these the only examples. Here is a table of injuries/incidents the Canucks have faced in the stretch drive since 2001:
|2001||Markus Naslund||Broken Leg||Mar 16||Missed Rest of Season and Playoffs|
|2002||Trent Klatt||Abdominal Injury||Feb 12||Missed Rest of Season and Playoffs|
|2002||Dan Cloutier||Remained Healthy||—||Played Rest of Season and Playoffs|
|2003||Ed Jovanovski||Broken Foot||Jan 30||Returned for Playoffs|
|2004||Todd Bertuzzi||The Bertuzzi Incident||Mar 08||Suspended for Season|
|2006||Ed Jovanovski||Groin Injury||Feb 02||Team Missed Playoffs|
|2007||Ryan Kesler||Hip Surgery||Jan 26||Missed Last 34 Games|
|2007||Ryan Kesler||Broken Finger||Apr 13||Out for Playoffs|
|2008||Brendan Morrison||Wrist Surgery||Feb 10||Missed 38 Games|
|2009||Taylor Pyatt||Death of Fiancée||Apr 2||Missed 6 Playoff Games|
|2010||Willie Mitchell||Boarded by Malkin||Jan 16||Missed Rest of Season and Playoffs|
|2011||Manny Malhotra||Eye Injury||Mar 16||Missed 29 Games|
|2012||Daniel Sedin||Elbowed by Duncan Keith||Mar 21||Missed Rest of Season and 3 Playoff Games|
Ed. note: Utterly predictable incidents, like Sami Salo injuring his shoulder in the 2006 Olympics, or Sami Salo getting goosed in the second round of the 2010 playoffs, or Sami Salo missing 4 games in the 2011 playoffs with a leg injury, have been left off the above list.
As you can see, the Canucks have been at the business end of Lady Luck a few times heading into the playoffs. Of course, all teams have injuries, but what’s notable about this list is that almost all of the 12 skaters were key players for the club and 7 have made the All Star team at least once. In each case, the Canucks were left without an important piece of their offence or defence and suffered for it in the post-season. Who knows how far these teams could have gone with the important cogs in place? We do.
We at Smug Nation don’t like to make excuses, but clearly these injuries are the sole reason that people aren’t talking about the many Stanley Cups of the Canucks dynasty. Not since Martin Short has anyone been so unlucky. And it goes back further than you think.
Because Trevor Linden is the ultimate sportsman and competitor—and, let’s face it, human being—you may never have heard of the gruesome hangnail he played through in Game 7 of the 1994 Cup final, limiting him to 2 goals. You may also never have heard about the trainers accidentally mixing up Thomas Gradin’s and Stan Smyl’s skates for the 1982 finals against the New York Islanders. It wasn’t until after Game 4 that they realized why their feet were hurting so much. That’s right: if not for this mixup, the Islanders would have been left with a measly two Stanley Cup victories in a row. That’s nothing compared to the dozen the Canucks would have won by now if they hadn’t been so unlucky.
Now that Daniel Sedin has returned, it’s difficult to say if the Canucks will be able to dig themselves out of this unfortunate hole that they have been placed in through uncontrollable circumstances. What is clear is how far they would have gone had Duncan Keith not skated around the ice like he had his hands glued to the back of his head, and how much Lady Luck seems to dislike the Vancouver Canucks. Perhaps she spends too much time listening to the media.