This NHL season has been strange for me, as a fan. While I pulled back my emotional attachment in the Vancouver Canucks after the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, I still follow the team. I do want them to win, and I still enjoy watching hockey.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I haven’t quite felt this way about the local NHL team before. It's a mixture of resignation and acceptance, with only a little hint of optimism.
Then, it dawned on me. The Canucks are a lame-duck franchise.
What does this mean?
“A lame duck, in the context of a game, is a player who remains in the game but has no chance of winning. It must be literally impossible— not merely highly improbable — for a player to win for it to constitute a lame-duck scenario”
The Vancouver Canucks are a good team, and have some very talented players, but are obviously a far step down from the elite teams in the NHL. The Hawks, Bruins, Penguins, and Kings are a clear step above, and it's not close.
Let's face facts ... the Canucks have no *real* chance of winning the game. Lame-duck is often used for non-playoff teams playing out the string, but I think it fits in well with the current Vancouver Canucks.
Most of the core players on the Canucks are over 30, on the decline, and are signed to very expensive contracts. The Canucks have little Salary Cap room to add more talent, and will only continue to get worse as time goes on. Basically, the Canucks are on a slow road to mediocrity.
What makes this so weird for me is that I’ve never experienced this in my lifetime as a Canucks fan.
Look at this chart. LOOK AT IT!
Then, we fast forward to the early 90s and the Pavel Bure/Trevor Linden years. The Canucks had a nice spike, resulting in a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994 and some fun and exciting teams to watch. Although the Canucks team that made the Finals was barely over .500, the talent was certainly there.
Not soon after, the NHL lost half a season to a strike, and the Canucks had a really sudden downtown. The fall into the Mike Keenan/Mark Messier abyss years was quite abrupt, and the Canucks quickly became a laughing stock.
After Mike Keenan thorough destroyed the Canucks, Brian Burke and Marc Crawford came in and cleaned everything up. The Canucks drafted the Sedins, Naslund and Bertuzzi developed nicely, and the Canucks started trending upward at a fairly consistent pace. For a good decade, the Canucks were one of the league’s better teams.
This peaked in 2011, when the Canucks finished 1st overall and were one win away from winning it all. Even when Naslund and Bertuzzi were finished, the Sedins simply took over and flourished. The Canucks also robbed the Panthers of Roberto Luongo, while Ryan Kesler became one of the league’s best 2-way forwards. It was a nice long run of #WINNING.
Sadly, there is no third wind for the Canucks in the upcoming years. There are no good young players that will take over for the Sedins, as the prospect pool is pretty bare. Our current core group of guys will continue to slowly degrade in quality, as we've seen with the Sedins. Unlike the Keenan error, there isn’t likely to be a sudden plunge into Oilers territory.
So, watching the Canucks struggle to remain in the top tier has been a strange experience. You know the Canucks can’t possibly win it all, yet they aren’t a terrible team. Any team that makes the playoffs has a shot, as the 1982 Canucks would tell you.
I don’t quite know how to feel, since this isn’t something Canucks fans have really had to deal with in the past. I almost wish Gillis would realize this and start looking to the future.
The Canucks, instead, will try to hang on and remain competitive, all the while watching the competition around them pull ahead and leave the Canucks in the dust. *sigh*