I hope you’re prepared for this folks. There’s a very real chance that the Vancouver Canucks are a legit Stanley Cup contender this year. Of the six Canadian teams, only Vancouver is going to have a real chance of going all the way in the foreseeable future. Montreal is good enough to make the dance this year, but they’re a few fathoms away from being elite.
This country has a habit of backing any native unit that happens to make a push in the post-season. The memory may be fading somewhat for Flames fans, but back in 2003-04 Calgary rapidly became "Canada’s Team" during their unlikely playoff ascent. Giants fell before the Flames and support swelled around the nation. Sure, there were a few hold-outs in the dank, seedy dens of our closest rivals, but by and large the country climbed aboard the bandwagon.
Now, I’m not certain the same thing would necessarily happen should VAN go for the brass ring this coming spring. In part because they aren’t underdogs, and people love to support the little guy. The Canucks have cooled down a tad since their 17-game point streak, but they remain one of the best clubs in the league by just about any measure: special teams, goals for, goals against, possession, etc.
No one in the Western Conference matches them in goal differential, with only Detroit within spitting distance (+36 vs +24). So if the West Coasters appear in the finals, no one will be overly surprised, which may kill the nation-wide impetus to support them.
Of course, there is also the fact that the rest of us find their fans to be kind of annoying.
Im sure whatever success the Canucks garner this post-season will be difficult to swallow in these quarters. Vancouver has been Calgary’s chief rival (sorry Edmonton) for most of the last decade, particularly after Sutter’s arrival. The 2003-04 seven game series sealed the hatred on both sides and the clubs have more or less battled back and forth for the NW division crown since that point. Until recently that is.
The Canucks are something of an example for a Flames franchise looking to find it’s footing again. Although the two teams have parried to and fro since 2003, there have been major changes and upheavals in Vancouver over that time period: GMs and coaches have left, strategies have been re-tooled and an incumbent "core" of players was swept aside in favor of the set that currently guides the team in their success.
Todd Bertuzzi, Marcus Naslund, Ed Jovonovski, Dan Cloutier, Brendan Morrison and Matthias Ohlund were the bright lights in West when the two teams met in the first round. The Flames boasted Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold, Miikka Kiprusoff and Craig Conroy. Today, the Canucks are led by the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Mason Raymond, Roberto Lunogo, etc. The Flames have…Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr, Miikka Kiprusoff…you get the picture.
Men peak and wane. In hockey – indeed in all sports – heroes inevitably give way to their usurpers. The stars glory fades and replicating the past grows impossible. At some point very soon, the Flames will have to learn this lesson and find new pillars upon which to build a competitive squad.