Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Special to Taking Note
VANCOUVER -- All is well when a team is consistently winning, in the regular season and playoffs.
But when one isn't winning, not so much.
There was a time not too long ago, in 2010-11 to be exact, when the Vancouver Canucks not only won the Presidents Trophy as the top team in the NHL with 54 victories and 117 points, but also reached the Stanley Cup final and faced the Boston Bruins.
The series came down to one game: Game 7, with people all over B.C. watching live at Rogers Arena or on a television screen somewhere, following on the Internet, or tuning in via radio in the hope that Vancouver would write a new page in the history books.
But it all took a turn for the worst, as Vancouver lost 4-0 to the Bruins and there followed riots in the streets of Vancouver. Cars were flipped, fires were started, and store windows were broken and stores looted.
It was a day that no one wants to remember.
The riot may have symbolized something else, however. It marked the beginning of the downfall of the Canucks. Because although Vancouver was able to capture another Presidents Trophy, victories in the playoffs didn't come as easily.
Two seasons ago, in the first round, Vancouver faced the Los Angeles Kings, who had finished eighth in the Western Conference with 95 points. To many people's surprise, the Kings defeated the Canucks in six games.
But no other team had much success against the Kings, who went on to become Stanley Cup champions.
For the Canucks, it was much the same story last season. Again, Vancouver was
able to show success in what was a lockout-shortened 48-game regular season. The Canucks were the No. 3 seed, thanks to 59 points, and were matched up against the No. 6 San Jose Sharks in the first round. Down 2-0 after losing twice at home, the Canucks knew they were in trouble.
“Right now, it's two evenly matched teams, and two team that are competing very hard,” Alain Vigneault, who was the Canucks' head coach, said, sounding clearly defeated after a 3-2 loss in Game 2. “Right now, we're on the wrong side for two games and we need to find a way to get on the right side.”
Vancouver couldn't find a way to win a single game in that series and changes were going to happen.
“We're going to look at every element of the organization and change where ever we need to change,” general manager Mike Gillis stated at the team's season-ending press conference on May 9. “It doesn't begin and end with me, it goes all the way through to the players and we're going to have to make changes. I think
there is a couple of significant changes that we have to consider and make.”
One, was the coaching staff. Vigneault and assistants Newell Brown and Rick Bowness were relieved of their duties 13 days later. Their time was up.
“Well, I think that we're in a results oriented business,” Gillis said. “If you look at the last two playoffs that we've been in, we were the higher seeded that lost the first two games at home, we've lost consecutive games the last two playoff years, and there comes a time where the message has to change but we have to be better. We simply didn't get the results that we expected and, in this business,
you have to get results.”
Enter John Tortorella, who had spent five seasons as the head coach of the New York Rangers, before being fired by for many of the same reasons as Vigneault. The bottom line was that Tortorella wasn’t able to lead his team to success in the playoffs.
The Rangers were eliminated by the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of a second-round series.
“Lots of things (led us to hire Tortorella),” Gillis said. “First of all, his demeanour and how he approaches the game and the expectations that he has as a head coach. I think coming to our organization at this particular point and time, it was the voice that I wanted to hear. He's won at every level, which is very important for our players here.”
Oddly enough, Vigneault was hired by the Rangers eight days prior to Tortorella being named the Canucks' head coach on June 25.
But perhaps coaching was never the issue for Vancouver.
Tortorella is a new voice with a different message, with many of the same players on the roster. But even with that, not much has changed and the Canucks find themselves unlikely to make the playoffs.
In a season where the NHL introduced divisional realignment, that didn’t help either. When Vancouver was at least successful in the regular reason, it was in a Northwest Division that also included the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild and Edmonton Oilers, teams that consistently finished out of the top eight in the conference.
Now those teams are gone. With realignment, the Canucks now are in the Pacific Division, battling with the likes of the San Jose Sharks, Phoenix Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings, Phoenix Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks, along with Edmonton and Calgary.
Were the Canucks well-equipped enough to defeat those teams? The answer, it seems, is no. Vancouver has had trouble getting victories, especially in the 2014 portion of the schedule, and finds itself 10th in the conference.
Close to 3,000 miles away, meanwhile, the Rangers and Vigneault are doing just fine. They are comfortably at No. 5 in the Eastern Conference.
“We're losing games so I'm the idiot, and he's winning games so he's the smart guy — and rightfully so," Tortorella said after the Canucks’ Monday practice. "When you lose games and you struggle, you're going to get scrutinized.
"That's part of the business, and I should be scrutinized."
He continued to be under the microscope on Tuesday, as the Canucks lost 3-1 to the visiting Rangers.
“No whining,” Tortorella said after the game. “We lost. We're losing. We just have to keep on trying to get better.”
The Canucks bench doesn’t appear to be a fun one to be on, and it likely won't be until the coaching staff is given some new cards to shuffle. Vigneault has his cards, and left Rogers Arena laughing and smiling.
And it wasn't from somebody telling him an April Fools joke.
NOTES: Vancouver RW Zack Kassian suffered an injury to a kneecap in the first period, but was able to finish the game. . . . Canucks C Ryan Kesler scored Vancouver's lone goal at 6:21 of the second period. . . . New York F Martin St. Louis scored his first goal with the Rangers, a shorthanded effort at 10:15 of the third period that gave the visitors a 3-1 edge. . . . Rangers D Ryan McDonagh suffered an upper-body injury at 19:16 of the third period after a hit from Canucks' RW Alex Burrows, who was given an elbowing major and game misconduct. . . . The Canucks are scheduled to practice at Rogers
Arena on Wednesday as they prepare for a Saturday night visit by Los Angeles. . . . The Canucks have only five games left in the regular season, with four of them to be played at home.
(Follow Dickson Liong on Twitter: @DLLiong)
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