Sunday, April 08, 2012

President's Trophy Redux

Here we go again.
The Canucks are once again the number one team in the NHL.  That is the second year in a row that they have won the President’s Trophy. 
I wasn’t particularly upset last year when they lost the Stanley Cup in the seventh game to Boston.  Disappointed, for certain, but it was hard for me to be truly down.  They had been, not only the best Canucks team ever, but on paper they were one of the best teams ever in the regular season – only letting go of a truly remarkable statistic in the final game of the season (they very nearly had not only the league’s number one position, but also the most goals for, the least against, the best power-play and the best penalty kill – the last of which slipped from their grasp in the final game.)  They were the Western Conference Champions, they were assured a heap of hardware at the NHL awards, they had got the Blackhawks money off their back... what was not to love?  (Well, the asshole “fans” who rioted after game seven, that is what – but that is a separate tale.)  They had taken too many games to get to the final round and simply didn’t have enough gas left in the tank to beat what was quite possibly the goalie on the hottest hot streak ever.  Tim Thomas, Boston’s back-stopper, topped off a season that will be in the conversation any time people discuss the best season a goal tender ever had, with a Stanley Cup raising ceremony on our home ice.
But enough of Boston.  The Canucks were a wickedly good team last year – like the kind of team that could be threatening to dominate for years.  (I said so then, just check my Facebook feed.)  That was what mattered to me, that we were that good.  Losing game seven was simply a lesson – a team learning what it takes to go all the way.  The same lesson well served both the Edmonton dynasty of the 80s and the never ending juggernaut – now well into its second generation of players – known as the Detroit Red Wings (who won 1/3rd of the Stanley Cups between 1997 and 2008! as well as not missing the finals in nearly two decades – indeed this year may be their least contenderish since I was in University, and they are still to be contended with).
And now, they have done it again.  Last night they won their second President’s Trophy in as many years.  With the help of a few last minute stumbles from the Rangers and Blues, for certain, but you don’t get to the point of having the opportunity in your own hands by luck alone.
This is a pretty rare feat.  Less teams have been the top team in the league since the beginning of the expansion era than have won back to back Stanley Cups in the same period.  (President’s Trophy doesn’t go back that far, but you can do the math and project backwards.)
It is also somewhat scarily auspicious.  Every team that has won back to back President’s Trophies has gone on to win the Stanley Cup.  (Edmonton, Calgary and Dallas in their second President’s Trophy winning year; Detroit in both the following years, plus see stats above.) 
Last year when the oft repeated Canuck’s mantra “there’s always next year” began ringing again, it never felt like it was more real, and now it seems true.  The next three months will be long (especially in my neighbourhood, only 3 blocks from Rogers Arena) and the Canucks may fail again.  I won’t cry if we fall short, but the simple fact that the team is this good and it is clearly not a hiccough does make me well-up.  The Canucks have been good for years now, but their current level is truly something to behold. 
I simply don’t buy the “woe is us” attitude of most Vancouver fans.  Yeah, we don’t have a cup (yet), but there are teams that are worse off.  Teams that have gone longer.  Teams whose road has been rockier.  Teams who, even without the past two or even five years of Canuck’s success taken into account, haven’t seen even the Canuck’s level of success.  Specifically I think of the St. Louis Blues – who entered the league two years ahead of Vancouver and have only been to the cup final twice.  But that was during the NHLs expansion equivalent of affirmative action – where the expansion teams competed for one Cup final position, while the Original Six competed for the other.  Or, look at the sorry fate of Buffalo.  The Sabers and Vancouver joined the league together.  The Sabers infamously won the coin toss for top-draft pick and chose the mighty Gilbert Perrault, while Vancouver got Dale Tallon, who while a known Vancouver name, largely due to being our first ever draft pick, was not even close to the career-quality of Hall of Famer, Perrault.  Even with that extra out-of-the-gate advantage, the Sabers have only been to the Cup finals once.  And what a Cup final it was... the right team won (not the Sabers), but for absolutely the wrong reasons.  (You may recall that the NHL changed the rules as to what constitutes a goal for exactly the length of time it took for Brett Hull to put his foot in the crease and sneak the puck past Hasek and for the Dallas Stars to lift the hardware into the air.  No, really, go and check out the time line.  No exaggeration.  That is almost exactly how long the rule was in effect.  Almost certainly the worst single call in the history of the NHL.  But I digress...) 
We can’t complain.  The Canucks have been to the Cup final three times now – twice punching above their weight, and once by simply being mighty.  And if history repeats, we will be there again this year, hoisting the hardware.  Yes, I will be happier once we have won the Stanley Cup, but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth.  The Canucks of this decade are the best they have ever been, and I am delighted to revel in that.