Locker clean out day.
It was a day for reflection and a day for contemplation. And it was most certainly a day for one last gathering of this group of Vancouver Canucks. Because change is coming and, without question, change is needed. When the pursuit of the Stanley Cup begins and your organization isn’t among the 16 teams in the chase for the chalice, moves have to be made.
So once exit meetings were conducted and hockey bags had been packed one last time, players scattered for a much-longer than expected off-season – some never to see the inside of the Canucks locker room ever again.
And now the process of overhauling the roster begins. And while there is a human cost in terms of lives disrupted, that is the nature of professional sports. With spectacular compensation comes the knowledge that lives can and often will be uprooted in an instant.
But it’s the other end of that change spectrum that brings with it such excitement.
What path will Trevor Linden choose to get this organization to the top of the hockey hill? Who will he handpick to help him get there? And once those key decisions are made, we’ll likely start to get a better idea of who’ll be wearing Canucks uniforms when the team reconvenes in September.
In the meantime, disappointing seasons open the door to a thorough examination of all areas of the organization. Change has already been made at the top and shortly a trickledown effect has to take place.
From this chair, it seems there is room for three new faces among the team’s top six forwards. Whether that’s via trade, free agency or promotion from within the organization, the top six needs tweaking and without question has to get more productive. Among the many reasons the Canucks are on the outside as the National Hockey League’s big dance is that the team was held to one or fewer goals in 26 of its 82 games. The Canucks managed to win one of those games.
The bottom six needs stability. For the first time in years, the Canucks need to use the summer to define the roles of their bottom six and then find players who can fill those spots. There has been too much experimentation in the bottom six -- particularly the fourth line – with players grasping to understand what’s expected of them.
Defensively, the Canucks need more from their blueliners at both ends of the ice. Obviously their first task is to take care of things in their own zone and there is plenty of room for improvement there. But the elite teams have a mobile back end that can contribute offense, too, and only two teams in the league had a top defenseman with fewer goals than the seven Jason Garrison and Alex Edler scored to lead the Canucks.
Some of that added offense could come on the power play. The Canucks need to take a long, hard look at the top power plays in the league and figure out how they’re going to get better. For too long now, the Canucks have been a static bunch when working with the man-advantage and the only movement in their power play has been down the league rankings. It’s time for a power play doctor to be brought on board to perform major surgery. With all the close games around the league, the power play can be a difference maker when successful. Next season, it simply has to find a way to win the Canucks more hockey games.
In goal, Eddie Lack should be given every opportunity to build on what was a successful rookie season in the NHL. He proved himself early on, dealt with enough drama in the middle stages to last him the remainder of his career and was leaned on too heavily after the Olympic break. He handled it all like a champion and has clearly shown he can play at this level. But he’s likely a year or two away from being a 60-game goalie and needs to have his workload monitored giving him more opportunity to work on his craft in practice and between starts.
And perhaps the most-exciting aspect of this Canucks off-season is trying to project where the youth fits into the equation. With the likes of Nicklas Jensen, Frank Corrado, Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, Brendan Gaunce, Dane Fox and whomever the Canucks land with their first round draft pick in June, there are players who could conceivably make the jump from junior or minor pro to a job in the NHL next season.
They won’t all be here, but the idea that some of them could certainly gives fans something to chew on. And considering in recent years there wasn’t much in the prospect cupboard to get excited about and really no hope of any of the young players cracking the opening night line-up, this is an area that could hold the key for just how quickly the Canucks get back on the right side of the playoff bar.
In reflection, 2013-14 was a short-season full of long nights and the harsh reality is that those kinds of seasons lead to awfully long summers. And that’s where the Canucks find themselves. It’s not a great place to be. But it gives fans plenty to talk about and it’s going to make an off-season like this one so much fun to follow.