Early Struggles Raise Question: Are the Vancouver Canucks Good Enough?

Ian MathesonContributor IIIMarch 18, 2013

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 13:  Head Coach Alain Vigneault goes over game plan with the Vancouver Canucks during Game Six against the Boston Bruins in the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 13, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

After a wildly inconsistent start, there is cause for concern for the Vancouver Canucks this season. Their 13-8-6 record is deceiving, and also incredible, if you consider how poor their special teams have been so far.

For the first time in recent memory, the team has surrendered as many goals as it has scored. Vancouver currently ranks No. 27 in the league on the power play and No. 15 on the penalty kill.

These numbers aren't anywhere near the totals amassed over the past two Presidents' Trophy-winning seasons, and that's likely because this isn't the same team.

Sure, the roster is almost the same—with the exception of several minor role players—but the attitude and compete level of this team has been unrecognizable.

This isn't a recent phenomenon in Vancouver, though. It's been accumulating since a well-documented grudge match versus the Boston Bruins last season, which saw the Canucks emerge victorious, only to begin stumbling over themselves all the way to a first-round exit.

An extended offseason and much-needed break was supposed to be the solution; however, the middle-of-the-road hockey has followed this group into the shortened season. And it's only getting worse.

Now, obviously, missing players like Ryan Kesler and David Booth for extended periods of time never helps. Nor does having Mason Raymond shift from the wing to center in order to help prop up a pathetic lack of depth up the middle. Nor does a goaltending controversy help, particularly one that has dragged on for months and likely won't end until the offseason.

Those are temporary problems, though, which can be solved when injured players return and order is restored to the roster. What's troubling is this team's lack of desire, indicated, for example, in how it tried to pitch a shootout loss to a rebuilding team like the Columbus Blue Jackets as a solid effort, especially when it was clearly the second-best team on the ice.

Call it a lack of leadership—or perhaps complacency has set in after several seasons with little roster turnover. Or maybe this team is used to pulling points out of the fire and believes it can rely on its skill rather than work ethic and determination.

No matter how you slice it, the fact remains that this team needs a change if it wants to hit the ground running come playoff time.

Addressing the concerns at the center position is a good place to start, and ending the crease conundrum by trading one of the goaltenders would also yield a return that could strengthen a playoff run.

Or perhaps it's as simple as firing the head coach and bringing in a new voice and system to the locker room.

If that sounds uncomfortable, look no further than the Los Angeles Kings last season for proof that this can work. After firing Terry Murray and eventually bringing Darryl Sutter back behind the bench, the Kings went on to win their franchise's first championship in 44 years.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are another example.

A team that boasted players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin was struggling enough to cost Michel Therrien his job. The hiring of Dan Bylsma sparked the team, helping it catch fire and go on to win the cup that year as well.

It's been a great run for Coach Vigneault in Vancouver, but perhaps it's time to look at changing the guard—especially with a name like Lindy Ruff available.

With just over 20 games remaining before the playoffs, the time for such a drastic move is here and it's up to GM Mike Gillis to take action.

The Canucks' general manager has previously cited the team's near brush with success in the Stanley Cup Final several seasons ago as validation for staying the course and keeping the roster intact.

However, to keep players accountable, you have to keep them playing for the jobs and make sure they perform at all times to ensure results.

If accountability means trading a fan favorite, or if improving means moving the goaltender with the most manageable contract and upside, something has to be done to bring the desire and compete level back into the locker room.

If this team suffers another uninspired playoff performance resulting in an early exit, no player, coach or general manager will be safe this summer.

This team has an expiry date, with an aging core and high expectations, and the trial period has long since passed. It's time for this team to produce.