Beating the Odds: Canucks Season Gives Vancouver Fans Reason for Optimism

Joel LefevreAnalyst IMay 23, 2009

Another season in the books in Vancouver and once again not the way anyone wanted it to end.

Yes, it's disappointing when you look at all the leads they had against Chicago and everything they had going for them but all in all there is a lot to be proud of with the Canucks this season. The Canucks obviously overachieved bigtime and will have much more expectation going into next season.

While we will have to wait another long year to possibly see Lord Stanley you can't help but be proud of the Canucks and what they were able to accomplish this season.

Going back to the end of the 2007-08 campaign, the Canucks were a sinking ship, missing the playoffs for the second time in three years and a busy off-season to come.  The disappointing season cost Dave Nonis his job as general manager but that was just the first of many changes as the core of the Canucks was to be completely dismantled. 

There were the significant losses of captain Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison to free agency and the retirement of Canucks favourite son Trevor Linden.  New GM Mike Gillis was bringing in a new look and looking for a new attitude to get this team back on track. 

However, Gillis could not imagine how terrible things would be at the start of his tenure as Canucks GM.  Shortly after he was brought in, the Canucks family was hit hard by the tragic death of top prospect Luc Bourdon.  His death not only severely depleted the teams depth on the blue line but his presence and passion for the game was something that you couldn't help but be inspired about. 

Going into the regular season with all the key losses over the offseason and no significant moves, everyone expected this Vancouver team was a recipe for disaster.  A 6-0 win in an emotional opening game did little to silence the critics who believed it was just a matter of time before Luongo and company crumbled.

Then came Nov. 22 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, when Roberto Luongo injured his groin.  There was no way they could overcome Luongo being out longterm, not even with the early Christmas present of Mats Sundin, right? 

Well, if you watched this team in January, you would have thought for sure the Canucks had hit a brick wall.  While newcomer Jason LaBarbera performed admirably in Luongo's relief the team could not get the victories they needed to stay in the race for the Northwest.  Even the return of Luongo did nothing as the team suffered through a dreadful January that saw them lose eight games in a row and nine on home ice. 

Then, out of nowhere, came a sudden resurgence that has not been seen with the Canucks since perhaps the team of '94.  Alex Burrows' short-handed winner against Carolina turned the season completely around, as the Canucks quickly went from bottom feeders to world beaters. 

After suffering through a dreadful home losing streak the Canucks would go on to set a new team record with 11 straight on the road to get right back in the thick of things in the West. 

Still, late in the season people were still writing them off.  Having been over a dozen points behind division leaders Calgary in January, it was somewhat of a miracle that, going into April, Vancouver managed to get itself in the hunt for the Northwest title.  The Canucks earned the right to win the Northwest, going 23-of-32 from February to the end of the season, a winning percentage of .719. 

All of this came on the heels of another tragic loss, as Taylor Pyatt lost his fiancee in a car crash mere weeks before the end of the season.  Nonetheless, the Canucks carried on and were able to find another gear and come back to win the Northwest division for the second time in three years.

Then the playoffs came around, and still people were doubting the lack of Stanley Cup experience and whether the Canucks could stay with the red hot St. Louis Blues.  Despite the skepticism from critics, the Canucks were fully deserving of their four-game sweep against the Blues, as they swept a seven-game series for the first time in club history. 

While things went sour against the Chicago Blackhawks, no one can say that the Canucks were not without their chances.  Having the lead in every game in the series, they have only themselves to blame.  However, looking back on this disappointing playoff loss, Canuck fans can look back and realize that with all the team went through maybe in the end it was just too much to overcome.

As disappointing as it was to see the Canucks go out, when you look at where they were and what they had to go through you have to have a little bit of pride in the Canucks. 

No team in the league had to go through as much adversity, mentally, physically, and emotionally, as the Vancouver Canucks did all season.  Right from the summer of 2008, the Canucks had the deck stacked against them but refused to die. 

Now the question will be can the Canucks respond next season with much more expectation for the '09-10 campaign.  With a lot of changes on the horizon, it will be tough to see the Canucks duplicate what they did this season. 

But for now, be proud of the Canucks; they had their backs up against the wall all season and refused to say "uncle," and no team can take that away from them.  A team that without question had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at them this season can be proud of how well they responded. 

Everything aside, fans in Vancouver still have a lot to look forward to next season.