Since the last time you had to replace a calendar, the Canucks have made a switch behind the bench, made a significant move in goal and found themselves in a new powerhouse division in the National Hockey League. Without question, it has been an eventful year with plenty of memorable moments – Henrik Sedin becoming the franchise’s all-time scoring leader and Pavel Bure’s number 10 taking its rightful spot in the Rogers Arena rafters. However, a disappointing sweep in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs brought with it two of the biggest off-season moves in recent memory.
On the eve of the shortened 2013 season last January, the Vancouver Canucks announced they had reached a six-year contract extension with defenseman Alexender Edler. It was the first of several significant signings the hockey club made during 2013.
Three weeks later – on February 15th – Henrik Sedin picked up a pair of assists in a 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars. Those points were the 756th and 757th of his stellar career and pushed him past Markus Naslund into sole possession of the franchise’s all-time scoring lead. The thunderous standing ovation the Canucks captain received from the appreciative home fans lasted an entire television timeout.
The Canucks cruised to another Northwest Division title finishing the abbreviated season with a record 26-15-7. They finished third in the Western Conference and drew the San Jose Sharks in the opening round of the playoffs. However, less than a week after the post-season began, it was over. As shocking as it was short, the series ended on Patrick Marleau’s power play goal in overtime in Game 4 sending the Canucks home for the summer and starting an off-season overhaul of the coaching staff and leading to one of the most-talked about trades in franchise history.
Two weeks after being ousted from the playoffs (on May 22nd), the Canucks relieved head coach Alain Vigneault of the job he’d held for the past seven seasons. The franchise leader in coaching victories (313) guided the team to within a win of the 2011 Stanley Cup, but had been unable to guide his team to playoff success in the two years since. As a result, a change was made and a search was launched to find Vigneault’s successor.
On June 25th, John Tortorella was introduced as the 17th coach in Vancouver Canucks history. The fiery Boston native promised to bring his aggressive fore-checking style to the West Coast in an effort to re-ignite the core group that had experienced repeated regular season success but had run into a playoff wall.
With the coaching position filled, general manager Mike Gillis turned his attention to the NHL Draft. And five days after hiring Tortorella, Gillis was front and centre again. On the draft floor in New Jersey, Gillis struck a deal sending Cory Schneider to the hometown Devils in exchange for their first round pick – ninth overall – which the Canucks promptly used to select London Knights forward Bo Horvat.
It was a trade that sent shockwaves through the NHL. Not only had the Canucks dealt one of the top young netmidners in hockey, but they had cleared their crease conundrum and in the process paved the way for Roberto Luongo to return as the team’s undisputed number one goaltender.
That trade – and the fallout from it – gave Canucks fans and hockey observers around the NHL plenty to digest through the summer months. And when the Canucks hit the ice for the 2013-14 season, they did so as members of the newly reconfigured Pacific Division which is proving to be one of the toughest divisions in National Hockey League history.
Just a week into the new season, the Canucks welcomed the 25-millionth fan through the doors of Rogers Arena. North Vancouver’s Jeff Donohoe was the lucky ticket-holder and was met at the door by Canucks ownership and management, led to centre ice for the ceremonial puck drop, given Canucks season tickets as well as tickets to all Live Events concerts at the Arena over the next year.
With a new coaching staff and the new systems that come with it, the Canucks opened their new season with 13 of the first 20 games on the road. That included a seven-games in 10-nights road odyssey that concluded in St. Louis. Having played the night before in New Jersey, the Canucks posted one of their most-impressive victories of 2013 when they mustered the needed energy to beat the Blues 3-2 in overtime on Ryan Kesler’s game winner. That win gave the Canucks a 5-1-1 record on the road trip and boosted their early season record to 8-4-1.
The Canucks ushered in the month of November with a splashy announcement: Daniel and Henrik Sedin had agreed to terms on new matching four-year contract extensions all but ensuring the twins will finish their careers in Canuck colours. The Sedin contracts were the latest in a long-line of extensions granted to players in 2013: Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen and Eddie Lack all put their name on new deals as well over the past 12 months.
One day the Sedins jerseys will hang from the rafters the way Pavel Bure’s does now. Just one day after the Sedin signings, the Russian Rocket blasted off one more time as his number 10 was retired by the organization in an emotional ceremony prior to a 4-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
And speaking of emotional nights, December 14th saw the first visit to Rogers Arena by the Boston Bruins since Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. With the building buzzing, the Canucks responded and skated to a 6-2 win. The victory capped a perfect five game homestand and extended the Canucks’ win streak to seven games.
And two weeks later, the Canucks were into a prolonged Christmas break with a 22-11-6 record which remarkably is the identical record they had after 39 games last season and the same point they’ve had at the 39-game mark for a third straight year.
Considering there was no hockey being played at this time last year, 2013 has given Vancouver Canucks fans plenty to digest, discuss and debate. And history will surely show that this has been one of the most-eventful years the hockey club has ever seen.
These past 12 months have produced all kinds of thrills and spills and however you choose to reflect on 2013 for the Canucks, one thing I think we can all agree on is that it certainly hasn’t been a dull year.