As cool as the weather has been in the lower mainland in the past week or so, it makes me think about one thing: the coming 2008-2009 hockey season for the Vancouver Canucks.
To help get you and me both prepared for this, I figured I’d go back on some key points from the end of last season while looking ahead to this next one. Of course, these are the things that stick out the most to me, so feel free to add your comments. And if you are a Vancouver Canucks fan, you’re probably doing the same thing as me when someone asks you your opinion on what to expect come this fall. You’re probably shrugging your shoulders and saying, I’m not really sure.
The passing of Luc Bourdon
For me, this is really how last year ended. I was going through my day when news started trickling around work about this rumor. As the details came in, the air seemed to get sucked out of the building for me that morning.
If you know anything about my day job, the world of radio that I live in brings me very close to these players, and I’ve had my share of elbow rubbing with Luc Bourdon. I’m just some tech guy, so there wasn’t that much of a relationship to even speak of. That doesn’t change the elation I felt when I was there on the night the team was determined to get him his first NHL goal. I also witnessed his second one, a shot so hard that it got stuck in the back of the net. All I could think about is how much better this kid would get over the next few seasons.
To take a cue from Sean at Waiting for Stanley, this young boy would finally be able to stop throwing up in the back of his mouth and get his nerves in check to become a recognizable force from the point.
It won’t be that way, and I will certainly miss the opportunity to watch him grow into a great NHL player, yet alone becoming a man. Luc was on the cusp of a potentially great career. A young guy whose life was far too short and will be honored at the home opener on October 9th.
Luc Bourdon and his first goal in the NHL – Photo credit: Canucks.com
The GM: Out with Dave Nonis, in with Mike Gillis
Enter the next, strange focal point at the end of last season. I had often wondered about Dave Nonis[wiki] taking the fall for a string of questionable trades and signings ahead of last season (Marc Chouinard[wiki] being one guy that sticks out the most in my mind). He wasn’t the worst GM, but there have been others who have done better, especially living the shadow of Brian Burke[wiki]. It was with that, in my opinion, that he became the fall man for poor performance of the team and was given the pink slip.
Things got interesting after that. The Aquilini’s had their first, big decision to make as recent owners of the team, and many of us fans hoped that their heart would bring us something that would bring as much faith to the team to truly match the amount of sold out games at GM Place.
Enter Mike Gillis[wiki], player agent turned general manager.
It still makes me pause for a second when I ponder that selection, even this many months after it happened. It was my co-worker, the diehard Oilers fan, who told me the news, and I recall saying, “Who the hell is that?”
I don’t follow as much of the business of the NHL as others, but I was quick to learn that this was the same player agent that represented the captain of the Vancouver Canucks, at the time (and we’ll dive into this later), Markus Naslund[wiki]. He’s a former NHL player now representing NHL players to various organizations. At the press conference for his official hiring as GM, I was a little more impressed with his ambitions with the organization, but the fans haven’t seen a ton to really throw their weight behind the guy. We’ll have to come back to his performance around mid-season before we really know what this guy is going to do for us.
Trevor Linden retires
Rebecca Bollwitt on Flickr
Another night that I was very fortunate to be in attendance was the final game of the season for the Canucks where Trevor Linden received numerous ovations and a huge outpouring of love for a man who has captured a city’s heart like I have never seen before.
I know that’s a cliche, but the guy is just a hockey player. Of course I know that he’s more than that, but when you break down the nuts and bolts, that’s all he was. He also donated his time to charity, but he has achieved a level of greatness that only a few other people have done in an entire lifetime. I’d bank that he’s only halfway through his own.
Once again, with the day job, I was there when he made his announcement, and it was tough to hold back the emotions. I haven’t had nearly the amount of experience to appreciate what I was witnessing, but I did have the chance to shake the man’s hand and tell him congrats on a wonderful career. That’s a moment I’ll long remember.
Update – Sep. 4, 2008: The Canucks announced today that Trevor Linden will be honored at the Dec. 17 game against Edmonton, and his number will be retired to the rafters.
So long to the West Coast Express
It’s true that the West Coast Express ended when Todd Bertuzzi was sent in a blockbuster trade to Florida for our man in the net, Roberto Luongo (so you can’t say that Nonis never made a good trade). However, when you see Brendan Morrison head off to the Anaheim Ducks and Markus Naslund making the jump to the New York Rangers, the chances of a reunion are officially done. That era is over.
When this all went down, I had to wonder if this is the worst thing to happen. The writing was on the wall, and you really can’t stop a free agent from doing what they want with their career. It’s their choice to decide what will happen with their time in the NHL when the contract is up, so these two guys decided to do something that is in their best interest. I support that but hope that their respective teams fail when it comes to any direct competition with the Canucks.
On top of that, I hope that fans who have been calling for their heads are finally happy to exist with a team minus Naslund and Morrison. Your wish has finally come true, even though Bertuzzi[wiki] is back in our conference with Calgary. That almost seems like karma, but that remains to be seen.
Gone baby gone
Going through a quick list, we already know that we’ve lost Luc Bourdon, and I have already mentioned that Trevor Linden, Markus Naslund, and Brendan Morrison have departed in their own ways. Ryan Shannon was re-signed and then recently traded away to Ottawa, Byron Ritchie is off to the Swiss League, third string goalie Drew MacIntyre took the free agent train to Nashville, and the same can be said about Mike Weaver, now with St. Louis. I might have missed some others, but those are the notables to me.
That might not seem like a lot in terms of hard numbers, but the face of the team has changed dramatically.
Update – Sep. 4, 2008: Brad Isbister has also left us for Ottawa.
The next C
On the heels of mentioning the departure of Markus Naslund, that means Vancouver has an opening for the captain of the Canucks. The next two candidates for the C, Morrison and Linden, are both gone so before we get into new faces of the team, who would be the most likely person on the current roster to be the next captain?
For me, my money is on Willie Mitchell. It’s not a choice based on stats or brilliance as much as it comes down to a guy who plays his butt off. He is willing to block the shot, throw down the gloves, and argue it out with the referee on a bad call. He’s seasoned and understands what the game takes. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a B.C. native, something fans can get behind as well.
Other candidates could be Matius Ohlund, Sami Salo, or Ryan Kesler, but I’m not sure how any of those fellows fit the role as well as I think they should. Kesler is certainly a young player with a ton of potential, and I could be comfortable with him as the captain. However, Salo and Ohlund are players who don’t give me the heart and grit that I see Vancouver as in need of.
Even though my mind is pretty set on Mitchell, I can’t help but think back to the early days of Ryan Kesler when he went head to head with the captain of the Calgary Flames, Jerome Iginla. Kesler was quoted as saying that he didn’t know if the Flames’ captain fought, but he found out pretty quick when Iginla dropped his gloves within mere seconds of Kesler dropping his own. It’s pretty gutsy for a young guy to do against a veteran like that, but it makes me feel like I could survive if #17 wore the C over #3.
The Mats Sundin epic saga story of a comic strip graphic novella
When it comes down to it, I don’t care where Mats Sundin[wiki] plays. I just want this story to be over. Give us a decision and move on. All I ask is that if he signs with Vancouver, do not make him the captain.
New faces, familiar names
So what else has Gillis nabbed us to help fill in the gaps? Well, it’s not all such doom and gloom, but there are a lot of new faces coming into Vancouver.
Pavol Dimetra, Steve Bernier, Darcy Hordichuk, Kyle Wellwood, Ryan Johnson, Jason Krog, Rob Davison, Mark Cullen, and the recent addition of Lawrence Nycholat from Ottawa. Nolan Baumgartner is making his return to Vancouver as a free agent, and Curtis Sanford, Zach Fitzgerald, Mike Brown, Rick Rypien, and Nathan McIver have all be re-signed. I only mention those re-signings because of the likely-hood of seeing these guys a little more this year.
That’s a lot of new faces, but all we are asking for, as fans, is a little more scoring. That will make us and Luongo mighty happy.
Shrugging my shoulders
So what are we to expect this season? I have no idea. Even the intrepid DaveO has said that he doesn’t know what’s wrong with him. The excitement for the kickoff this October just isn’t there like it has always been, and I’m not that far behind him in saying that.
What is there to get excited about? Who are all these new guys? What will the lines look like?
On one side of the equation, there is the unknown. On the other side of it, it’s what we don’t know that will be exciting to watch unfold, but if we’re living on the cellar floor come the all-star break, life won’t be so grand.
Still, there’s a little electricity that is growing in the air as we are just a few weeks from training camp from kicking off in Whistler. There is also a lot of excitement that comes with a hockey season spent getting together with friends to catch a game at a pub, and some of the best people to do that with are my Crazy Canucks buddies. We’re gearing up for a third season of the podcast, and it’s hard to believe that we’ve made it this far.
Bring on the season. No one expected that the first year under Coach Vingeault would have seen the Canucks in the playoffs, and even that year was one of speculation at the start. Here’s hoping for another year like that.