Hawkitis: Inflammation or disease originating from overexposure to the Chicago Blackhawks NHL team.
“One year to the day,” started CBC analyst Jim Hughson, “The Vancouver Canucks have been eliminated in the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Chicago Blackhawks.” Yes, May 11th could actually become the new “Black Monday” in Vancouver, British Columbia, in memorial of the Canucks unceremonious annual exodus from the tournament. After defeating the Los Angeles Kings in their previous series, there was talk of redemption, talk of a “new era”, and most importantly a new hope that this club had learned the valuable lessons that come with ‘maturity’. Unfortunately, the lessons learned this season are ones that come from the familiarity of defeat, and the anxiety that comes with inability to overcome obstacles from the past.
So much ado was made of the handshake that occurred following the Gold medal final between Canada and the United States, where Roberto Luongo whispered to Patrick Kane “See you in the playoffs”. Fans were excited in Vancouver, because as far as they could tell, the Canucks were on a mission, as if fate had something in store, redemption-esque. Surely, what more could the Canucks need than an inspired Roberto Luongo on their side? To be fair, Luongo was right about the Canucks and Blackhawks having a playoff reunion. He didn’t promise anything more than that (no hockey player is dumb enough to give another team words that the opposing team can write in on their dressing room Expo board). Turns out, it’s a good thing he only told Scott Oakes from CBC that the Canucks were looking forward to a rematch with the Hawks (following their series win over L.A.). In the same vein of fairness, he also did vow to be “better” in Game 5, where the Canucks stuck it to the Blackhawks in front of their home crowd in Chicago. He didn’t gaurantee anything for Game 6; only putting the thought out there that it’d be nice to force a Game 7.
Of course, there are many contributing factors to the Canucks disappointing second round exit in consecutive years. Many of the faithful will point to injuries as one of the main factors, and to an extent, they’d be right. I’m of the frame of mind that missing your main shutdown defender in the playoffs hardly bodes well for any team, no matter their pedigree. While some would argue (with some validity) that Sami Salo could possibly possess that title and not Willie Mitchell, I have other issues with that situation. A couple of them I’ll touch on in this blog, and a the other points are for the next one, which will evaluate possible personnel changes for 2010/2011.
They say hindsight is 20/20, and in most cases, those words of wisdom ring true. But what if that hindsight could have been adjusted by foresight? -I’m not trying to confuse the reader, but I feel management could have better handled the Willie Mitchell concussion (sustained Jan. 16, 2010 during a hit-from-behind incident involving Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins). No one could foretell Mitchell would be concussed all the way through the last half of the regular season and right through the playoffs. But my beef is that there was a STRONG indication that Willie would not be back to help in time for the post-season. GM Mike Gillis did right by the Canucks in the offseason bringing in Christian Ehrhoff (most notably a puck-moving defenseman), as well as experienced playoff veteran Mikeal Samuelsson. But where was Gillis at trade deadline? I know he was burning through the long distance plan talking with Carolina about Andrew Alberts. Surely there were other deals to be had, or GM’s other than Rutherford (Hurricanes) that he could have entered negotiations with. Injury in the playoffs is not some unicorn-like creature that exists purely mythologically. It is a fact, and NHL teams either prepare for it or they don’t. The teams that don’t are of the mindset that they are sufficiently stocked at that position to withstand one or two injuries.
Don’t get me wrong, thus far I’ve been a fan of Mike Gillis’ regime, and I think we’ll continue to see him around for a good little while. But his “We can’t force the right deal if it isn’t there” defense post trade deadline was too cliche; he made it sound as if the Canucks would have to move 2 or 3 bluechip prospects in order to secure a shutdown defender. That’s easy enough to say, because all that’s necessary post-deadline are vague statements about players they were interested in. Gillis didn’t have to provide any examples of deals that were available (and yes, I understand the whole ‘tampering’ issue), nor specific player names or prospects that would be required to bring in said defender. I’m sorry, but if Brian Burke knew that Dion Phaneuf was available, then Gillis did too. If Brent Sutter knew that Ian White was available, then so did Gillis. Derek Morris had a very good showing for the Coyotes after being brought in from Boston at the trade deadline. Dan Hamhuis (Predators) was available as a pending Unrestricted Free Agent, but obviously not enough was being offered to Nashville for his services. Darren Dreger from TSN wrote about Vancouver’s futility at the trade deadline, and pointed to defensemen such as Lubomir Visnovsky and Ryan Whitney as better theoretical acquisitions than Andrew Alberts.
At the end of the day, ‘disbelief’ and ‘sadness’ are words that aptly describe the city’s response to the most recent outbreak of Hawkitis. Listeners to Team 1040 radio have used those words the most with their calls, when referencing the Canucks’ elimination from the playoffs. As with any event in life, all that’s left is to pick up the pieces, and see if there’s any hope of making things right. The next Canuck Way will examine Canuck core pieces, Free Agency, and the fiscal picture heading into the 2010/2011 season. Hawkitis will definitely claim more than one or two more victims in the fallout…