The Vancouver Canucks are returning home after their most difficult road trip of the season with a 2-1-1 record. On the surface, that doesn't seem so bad. But upon closer examination, it was horrible.
The Canucks were badly outplayed in Chicago, and only some last-minute heroics to score two goals in the dying minutes after a Vezina-worthy performance from Cory Schneider allowed the Canucks to escape with a single point, rather than suffer a blowout at the hands of their arch-rivals.
In Dallas, the Canucks beat the Stars, and this was the best game of the road trip.
Against the Predators in Nashville, the Canucks forwards were terrible, going a whole period without generating a single shot on net. Only a shutout by Roberto Luongo and a late goal by NHL fourth-liner and Dutch league superstar Dale Weise allowed the Canucks to escape Nashville with a win.
In Detroit, against the perennial Western power that is the Red Wings, the Canucks got slaughtered with an embarrassing final score of 8-3.
Remember how in the earlier games they got some last-minute clutch scoring and lights-out goaltending to earn points?
Well, they didn't get either of those in Detroit, although Luongo can hardly take the sole blame for the Red Wings running up the score.
The debacle in Detroit should be a wake-up call for Canucks general manager Mike Gillis. The roster has largely been unchanged the last couple of years, and has produced back-to-back President's Trophies and a playoff run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011.
But if changes aren't made, this team is heading for a first-round exit, not a playoff run.
There have been troubling components to the Canucks' games all year, although they had been papered over by some stellar goaltending and the general weakness of the Northwest Division.
Against Northwest Division opponents, the Canucks are undefeated in regulation, with a 6-0-1 record.
The problem is that they won’t be playing Northwest Division teams in the playoffs, because frankly the Northwest Division is the worst division in the NHL by a large margin.
Most of the Canucks’ divisional "rivals" are competing for a lottery pick, not a playoff spot.
Against the Central and Pacific Divisions, otherwise known as divisions that actually send teams to the playoffs, the Canucks are a much more sobering 4-3-3.
Now the Canucks are guaranteed the third seed in the Western Conference at a minimum if they win the Northwest Division, which should be a lock even for the team in its current state of disarray.
So there is plenty of time for Gillis to make some changes if he deems it necessary. The Canucks don't need to make a change just to make the playoffs, although they might not go far in the playoffs without some changes.
Should Mike Gills:
There's the status quo option: Gillis could let his players play themselves out of this slump. It's a viable option, as this is a good team on paper and based on past history, but when combined with the troubles scoring down the stretch and into the playoffs last year, this would be troubling to most fans.
To be fair, the Canucks recently got Ryan Kesler and David Booth back from injury, and they are still working their way back into game shape. And the spark plug of the blue line, Kevin Bieksa, is out with a groin injury.
A variant to the status quo option would be for Gillis and head coach Alain Vigneault to shake up the lines without changing the roster. Perhaps they could try something unusual like separating the Sedins and Alex Burrows to spur Kesler and others into producing.
The second option is for Gillis to make a major roster move. The trade deadline is April 3rd, a little more than a month away.
The obvious move to make would be to trade one of his goaltenders. But the question is, which one?
Cory Schneider hasn’t been bad, with a 5-3-1 record, 2.68 GAA and 0.912 save percentage, but Luongo has been better. Even after absorbing the eight-goal debacle against the Red Wings, Luongo has a 5-1-3 record, 2.11 GAA and 0.916 save percentage.
Either goalie could fetch a return that could galvanize the team and ready them for a playoff run. Although it would leave the Canucks without a proven backup unless they made a second trade, perhaps that wouldn’t be a big deal.
Between the trade deadline on April 3rd and the end of the season on April 27th, the Canucks play 12 games, but have only one back-to-back situation.
Theoretically the starter could play in 11 of the 12 games after the deadline, although that wouldn’t leave much rest prior to the start of the playoffs.
A minor roster move, albeit one that might help on depth, would be the addition of Nicklas Jensen.
The 6'3" power forward was drafted 29th overall in 2011 and has been playing in the Swedish Elite League this season. He will be returning to North America soon after his season in Sweden is over, and he could be available for the Canucks.
Jensen almost made the team as an 18-year-old last season, and after his OHL season ended in 2012, he scored six goals in eight games for the Chicago Wolves, the Canucks' AHL affiliate.
A third option, and not one I think Gillis would take, would be to make a coaching change.
While some fans in Vancouver have been calling for a coaching change, I don't see that making sense in a shortened season with so little time. Besides, Vigneault is a good coach, and there aren't really any better options available at the moment.
Perhaps in the offseason this gets a second look if the Canucks fall short of a lengthy playoff run, but I think at least in the short term Vigneault's job is secure.
Regardless of whether Gillis decides to pull the trigger on a major deal, change his coach or stick with the status quo, the results of the most recent road trip should inspire some serious soul-searching by the Canucks GM.
Maybe the debacle could be a spark for the team to rally around, as they did in 2010.
A 7-1 beat down by the hated Blackhawks on November 20, 2010, on Hockey Night in Canada and in Vancouver no less, spurred the Canucks to elevate their game.
The Canucks went on to dominate the NHL to an unprecedented level the rest of the season, win the President's Trophy and go on a run to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Gillis stood by his roster in 2010, and they responded.
Could that happen this time? It could, but I'm not holding my breath.