After arguably the greatest season in team history, the Canucks begin another season with only the highest goal in mind. What that means to the suffering masses, of course, is another regular season waiting to see if this team will have what it takes come playoff time to finally deliver us to the promised land.
And while it should be easy to revel in the recent regular season and playoff successes, what should be most alarming to fans is the way this team has come apart at the seams at the end of each of the last three seasons. This has hardly been a lovable pack of losers who have gone out on their proverbial swords.
In the post lockout era, the Canucks are among the most successful regular season teams. In fact, they are among an elite group of eight teams (joining Detroit, San Jose, Washington, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston and Anaheim) that have played above .600 hockey over the course of at least the last three seasons. The last five Stanley Cup winners are all part of this elite group. In the Canucks’ case, they have been able to maintain that standard over the course of the last five seasons.
And along with those other elite teams, the Canucks have had their share of playoff success, too (winning 54% of their total playoff games in that time span). In fact, of these eight elite teams, the Canucks have the highest playoff winning percentage of any team not to win the Cup since the lockout. And for a team that came within one win of a championship last season, that’s really not too surprising.
But what is quite surprising and should be quite alarming is the Canucks’ performance in playoff elimination games over that time span. A playoff elimination game is simply defined as a game that could end the season for either of the combatants and is ultimately the true barometer for killer instinct and resilience. In the last five seasons, the Canucks have played 18 of these games, winning only 7 - making them the worst elimination game team of any of the established elite regular season clubs of the post-lockout era. Even more so than notorious chokers like Washington and San Jose. And when it comes to championship clubs like Chicago, Anaheim, Detroit and Boston, the Canucks’ crunch time play does not come close to comparison. Those teams have won their many post lockout elimination games at the same rate as they would any other game - winning over 60% of the time.
Remarkably, some teams like the cocksure Black Hawks (having won a remarkable 9 of 12 elimination games with two overtime losses) , the gritty Ducks or even the combustible Capitals seem to play better with their (or their opponents’) season on the line. While the Canucks and, surprisingly, the Penguins seem to excel when the pressure is solidly off. Though the Penguins’ record in elimination games was outstanding up until their Cup win. Since then, they have lost five straight elimination games, mostly in the wake of some serious injuries.
So the evidence for the Canucks’ poor play when the pressure is at its highest is not just anecdotal; relative to the rest of the league in the post lockout era, it is fact. They are the biggest chokers.
So that leaves us to ponder why? Why does a team that wins well over 60% of its regular season and non-elimination playoff games over the course of 5 seasons, fail to win even 40% of their games when their or their opponents’ season hangs in the balance?
Well, there are no shortage of possible theories - perhaps an inability of the key players to deliver in the clutch, a lack of a physical and determined supporting crew who can make the difference in a game where the whistles are put away, a rash of ill-timed injuries, or a coaching staff that is paralyzed by process and fails to adapt to the urgency of the situation.
In our estimation, it’s likely a combination of all those factors. And each one of those theories deserves proper exploration in their own individual blog entries. But suffice is to say, nothing has transpired in the last three months to make you feel that the Canucks’ management have done a thing to address any of these possible issues.