After the end of last regular season, we pondered the significance of the Canucks’ President Trophy winning performance. Despite the myths about a supposed trophy curse, the fact remains that the top seeded team is always the most likely to win the Stanley Cup.
Teams seeded either 1st or 2nd in their respective conferences have won 22 of the last 31 Stanley Cups. And in that time, not a single team seeded less than 5th in their conference has won it all. So on that simple basis, the Canucks could once again be considered the Stanley Cup favourite.
But make no mistake, this season is much different than the historic performance that preceded it. In fact, the Canucks’ performance this season is likely the poorest of any league regular season champ since the league expanded to 21 teams back in 1979.
A good barometer of a team’s relative dominance is their goal differential. And this year’s Canucks had the lowest (51) of any President’s Trophy winner ever and are one of only three regular season champion teams to post a differential of less than 60 in the modern era (post 1979). Throw in the fact that the Canucks got to play a hefty portion of their schedule against divisional opponents, none of which qualified for the post-season, and you’ve got a result that is more than a little inflated.
In a campaign that rarely featured a 60 minute effort but was frequently rescued by stellar goaltending, the Canucks have had some trouble holding the attention of their rabid fan base, many of whom haven’t recovered from last season’s heartbreak.
While last year’s squad entered the playoffs with little concerns, this year’s team has raised some interesting questions that will be answered one way or another in the weeks to come.
Has Ryan Kesler (along with many of his mates) simply been sandbagging this season, saving himself for what he knows is coming or, after significant multiple hip injuries, has he simply lost a step, one he won’t get back? At this point, we could be easily convinced of either - this is clearly the point on which this playoff run will most turn.
Will Daniel Sedin return soon and will he be able to contribute? In some respects, it has been nice having Daniel out. It has elevated the play of his brother, who once again realizes there are actually four passing options and not just one. Further, the Canucks have looked more inspired since his loss. With today’s news that Daniel will not return until at least the mid point of this series, the Canucks will need to continue finding ways to win low scoring affairs.
How long before Roberto Luongo’s choke chain gets yanked, leading to the inevitable playoff transition to Cory Schneider? Like it or not, deserved or not, Roberto Luongo will not be allowed the usual amount of playoff rope to hang himself. His play will need to be almost perfect to avoid losing the reigns to Schneider, whose performance this season was among the league’s best. Goaltending shouldn’t be an issue with this year’s playoff performance - it’s simply a matter of whom it will come from.
This year’s Canuck version has sacrificed some scoring for additional playoff depth and toughness. With Daniel Sedin hurt, Cody Hodgson traded and Ryan Kesler and David Booth struggling, the Canucks’ are lacking significant five-on-five scoring. Will the contributions of Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins be enough?
In the long run, the answer is a resounding NO. It might not even be enough to oust the low scoring Kings (who have actually outscored the Canucks in the last half of the season).
We must not forget, too, that we are in the middle of another dead puck era with a peak in parity. And in the western conference, particularly, there are no less than six squads who could seemingly contend for Cup.
Ultimately, the perch among this year’s post is not nearly as lofty. So while the Canucks could very well wind up in another Cup Final, it’s not near as safe a bet as last year.