If it isn’t obvious by now, as I tried to preview in last round’s analysis, this 2011 Stanley Cup is clearly the Vancouver Canucks' to lose. Last night’s goal by journeyman Raffi Torres should have confirmed that to any still doubting—if Kevin Bieksa’s bouncer that no one saw which clinched the West in the previous round vs. San Jose wasn’t enough.
You know when you are scoring goals as the Canucks are—with 25.5 seconds left last night or Ryan Kessler’s prayer with 13.2 left which made Bieksa’s goal possible in the double-OT thriller—that it's simply your year.
In fact, some would call it destiny.
I guess we should have seen it coming. After all, they did win the 2011 Presidents' Trophy by having the league’s best record and were far and away the best team from wire to wire since the first puck dropped last October.
But perhaps more interesting, as the St. Louis Post Dispatch’s Bryan Burwell noted on last Sunday’s The Sports Reporters on ESPN, that the previous two times the Olympics were held in a Canadian city (1976 in Montreal and 1988 in Calgary), the NHL team of that city went on to win the Stanley Cup the next season.
The 2010 Vancouver Canucks, whose home city hosted the games, certainly would be no exception.
Additionally, some will note how I tend to write after the first games of a series, as I did it last round versus the San Jose Sharks. In reality, it really doesn’t matter, as a series cannot be won after a game anyway, and even if Boston would have won the game 6-1 last night, there was simply no way I was going to go against the Canucks.
Jim Rome noted on his show last week in an interview with ESPN’s Pat Forde that he has affiliates across Canada in cities like Calgary, Toronto and Montreal and they are anything but united behind their so-called Canadian brethren in Vancouver. Forde went on to add that British Columbia is kind of like its own island that the rest of Canada doesn’t care about.
This sectionalism will only be amplified once the Quebec Nordiques, with their French ancestry background and province’s secessionist/nationalist ties, are admitted back into the league via the Phoenix Coyotes' inevitable relocation if Videotron Arena can get off the ground by its 2015 target date.
Still, when it's your year, it's your year.
Juggernaut in the Making?
Ryan Kessler, the Sedin twins and goalie Roberto Luongo are all signed to long-term deals, suggesting that this Vancouver club should be a force to reckon with for years to come. Add in the fact that they play in quite possibly the NHL’s easiest division and it's easy to see why one must like their long-term potential.
Sure, players like Torres will likely come and go, and pending free agents Christian Ehrhoff and rising star Kevin “Big Game” Bieska could get paid handsomely somewhere else. But the foundation has been laid and each player will have to weigh whether it's smart to really leave a team like this.
Montreal’s Travis Plekanec, last year’s hot free-agent name, decided to re-sign long term so he’s shown the blueprint to others that you don’t necessarily have to leave when your stock is high, as it certainly will be in Bieksa’s case.
One has to think, though, that a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks-like fire sale could be coming. They can’t keep them all and the players left surely reached their escalator (performance) clauses; thus, the projected payroll actually exceeded it's allotted amount.
Like Chicago, Vancouver is a big-market club, yet that didn’t stop the former from having to make tough decisions, the first being the likely departure of Bieksa, who I can only hope goes to a team like Edmonton or Winnipeg who will need the fanfare and leadership.
Has anyone noticed that each round the Canucks advance, they cut one game off in the following series? For example: Round 1 vs. Chicago was seven games, Round 2 vs. Nashville was six and the San Jose series went five.
I guess by that logic, they will surely sweep these hapless Bruins. Thanks for coming, thanks for filling out the quota, someone had to win the Eastern Conference and take their beating.
It's almost getting to the point where you can call the player and pick his moment of impact. Bieksa had his, Torres too, so why not go with Ehrhoff, top-shelf Game 2 in the third period of a 3-2 game for the winner? Make it under 10 minutes to go, as it wouldn’t be the Canucks without the drama.
Like the game of Clue—“Colonel Mustard with the lead pipe, in the study"—I’ll go with “Erhoff with the wrister, in the third period.”
At some point, you know Alex Burrows will have an impact game, probably one of those 5-2 beatings Vancouver likes to have at least once a series on their opponent. Save that for Game 4?
A lot of people are going to see that dismissive sentiment and think I care nothing for Boston. While I am “Bostoned-out” thanks to the Celtics and Red Sox dominance in recent years, mixed with a strong suspicion of bandwagon effect, it is nice to see an “Original Six” team in—especially one that hasn’t even been to a Finals since 1990, let alone win one.
At 39 years for Boston vs. the entire franchise history (41 years) for the Canucks, consider this the “Something’s Gotta Give” series similar to last year’s streak-buster Chicago (1961) vs. Philadelphia (1975).
I’ve made it clear I want Vancouver to win for the good of Canada and the sport as a whole. Although I would be very disappointed if Boston won, I could get over it easy. With that said, I expect the Canucks to win in five games. When you have castoffs like Torres who failed in New York and Edmonton before finding a home in Vancouver, you know you’ve got something.
If this be the new NHL, God bless it, as it's about time. I could get used to that trend. Who's next? A New York Islanders (1983) vs. Calgary Flames (1989) Final? Or perhaps a Toronto Maple Leafs (1947) vs. Winnipeg Jets (never/1972) Final in 2012?
I purposely chose the above teams, most notably Toronto and New York, given the progress each made this year. Looking for a dark horse next year to pull for? Go with these clubs—that is, if they don’t just hand Winnipeg the Cup given the hype, emotions and sentimental feelings behind their return.
Canada’s had quite a week—from Tuesday’s announcement of Winnipeg’s return, to Vancouver’s hardly surprising (just wait for it) game-winner in Game 1. I half expect to hear news of Quebec City’s progress soon if only to capitalize on this momentum and moment.
Is that a shovel I hear hitting the ground, Pierre-Karl Peladeau?
Information and references from ESPN.com. “The Sports Reporters," St. Louis Post Dispatch’s Bryan Burwell, Jim Rome, Pat Forde and “Jim Rome is Burning” directly contributed to the content of this article.