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Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver Canucks – A New Era Begins

If you don’t follow the Vancouver Canucks on a regular basis you may not recognize this year’s team. So here’s a little background that you may find helpful

In the final two weeks of last season the Canucks imploded losing 7 of their last 8 games and finishing 3 points out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. With 88 points, the Canucks were tied for last place in their division and 17 points fewer than their first place finish the year before. Needless to say the air went out of the team’s fan base with a big whoosh and even chants of “Wait until next year!” were few and far between.

Within weeks of the season ending the team’s ownership fired Dave Nonis the young GM who had looked like a genius only the year before when he had traded Todd Bertuzzi for Roberto Luongo. Nonis himself had replaced his mentor Brian Burke after the infamous ending to the 2003-04 season when the same said Bertuzzi ended the playing career of Steve Moore with a sucker punch heard around the world. Marc Crawford the Canuck coach at the time survived that event but was fired after the Canucks missed the playoffs the next season. Nonis replaced Crawford with Alain Vigneault who led the Canucks to a record 49 wins in 06-07.

Now the Canuck ownership is a whole other story. The Francesco Aquilini family purchased 50% of the team, including the building they play in, from Seattle billionaire John McCaw in November 2004. They purchased the other half in November 2006 and shortly thereafter Aquilini’s former partners in a joint venture to purchase the team brought a civil action against him claiming they were shut out from participating in the eventual deal. The disgruntled partners, Tom Gaglardi and Ryan Beedie are, like Aquilini, the sons of successful fathers and they all have a high profile in Vancouver’s social scene. As well, they all have real estate interests and the Canucks, in the short term at least, may be as much about real estate as they are about hockey. So the eventual eight month trial was splashed across the front pages of local newspapers until it was settled in Aquilini’s favour in January 2008. For Canuck fans it played out like a day time soap opera, but it did nothing for the team’s eventual dismal finish to the 2008 season.

With ownership question firmly behind him, the firing of Nonis was the first step taken by Aquilini to put his stamp on the team and start a new era for the Canucks. When Mike Gillis was hired as the new GM in mid April 2008, local fans knew that things were about to change dramatically as Gillis, a former player, had been a high powered player agent until taking the job and he has no experience in running a hockey team.

Major moves among Canuck players during the off-season include the retirement of long time Canuck fan favourite Trevor Linden who holds down the team record for most games played and most assists and is second all-time in goals scored and points. Markus Naslund who holds the team record for goals, points, and hat tricks became a free agent and signed with the Rangers. Brendan Morrison a long time Canuck centre also became a free agent and signed with the Ducks. For most of the current decade Naslund, Morrison and Bertuzzi formed the West Coast Express line which was a most feared combination that Wayne Gretzky once compared to his line of Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and himself. Canuck management did not make offers to either Naslund or Morrison.

The key players returning to the forward lines for the Canucks this season include the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, along with Ryan Kessler and Alex Burrows. Major additions include Steve Bernier from the Sabres, Pavol Demitri from the Wild and Darcy Hordichuk from the Predators. The defense is solid with holdovers Kevin Bieska, Willie Mitchell, Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo. And of course the goalie many consider to be the best in the NHL, Roberto Luongo.

The most news made by the Canucks this year was when Mike Gillis announced that the team was offering Mats Sundin a two year $20 million contract. As of October 15th Sundin has not decided whether he will play hockey again. If he does, Vancouver may still land him.

The Canuck season opener on October 8th was a highly charged emotional event that was preceded by the team’s dedication of a Wall of Dreams in honour of promising rookie Luc Bourdon who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in April 2008. On this night, the Canucks demolished the Calgary Flames 6 to 0 and Alex Burrows, Luc Bourdon’s best friend on the team scored 2 goals. Burrows only had 12 goals in 82 games last year.

After opening at home the Canucks embarked on a six game road trip that begin with a rematch against the Flames last Saturday. The Flames came out hot and held a 3 to 1 lead after the first period. The Canucks showed come from behind determination and ended up winning the game 5 to 4 in overtime on Pavol Demitri’s 700th career point. Mike Keenan, the well traveled Calgary coach, may very well be the first NHL coach fired this season.

The Canucks turned up flat in Washington on Monday night and lost 5 to 1. Of some concern is the fact that Luongo, after an opening night shutout has allowed 9 goals in six periods. The remaining 4 games on this current road trip will tell fans a lot about this team. The adjectives being used to describe the team so far are grit, toughness and determination. Time will tell.

The fans in Vancouver are not going to be very happy if the team fails to make the playoffs again this season, but not many observers are giving them more than a 50 - 50 chance to do so. This writer will go out on a limb and say they finish out of the playoff pack again this season.

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