It’s not easy to sell a crappy product. Just ask the makers of Diet Water (apparently it’s a thing).
Yes, selling product is what the Canucks are trying to do right now, being in the midst of their season ticket renewal drive for next season.
In their apparent desperation, they’re including incentives such as a free jerseys or hats, and food or beverage credits at in-arena restaurants.
They’re also working hard at branding the team as one that competes, is hard to play against, and powers through the rain (it’s a metaphor, I guess).
Problem is, from the fans’ point of view, the Canucks have been atrocious to watch.
Management and coaches set out at the start of the season with a high-risk, high-reward plan: play a tighter, more defensive system.
Had it worked, they’d have the high reward – playing competitive games down the stretch and reaping the financial rewards of a playoff run, however brief. But the risky plan didn’t pan out. Now, not only do they have a losing team, they’re left with a boring product as well.
And let’s be honest, watching these games is more painful than listening to long voicemails from your older relatives.
None of this is meant to say Vancouver fans can’t handle a rebuild. What they can’t handle is a harsh dumbing down of the game that turns skilled forwards into puck-dumpers, and that consistently prefers defensive hockey over the type that produces goals.
Over the past two seasons, the Canucks have been one of the worst teams at creating scoring chances. They are ranked last in even-strength unblocked-shot attempts over two years, and by any stat you look at – shot attempts with or without blocks, including or not including power plays, they’re in the bottom-three in the league.
There’s not much for fans to cheer for.
The blame for this can be directed two ways.
First, the roster put together by management was never blessed with an abundance of skill. Moves such as Bonino for Sutter and McCann for Gudbranson haven’t helped this.
Any offensive flair hasn’t been utilized, with Willie Desjardins showing constant preference to balls and grit players such as Brandon Sutter, Jayson Megna, Michael Chaput, and others (AKA not-good-at-scoring players).
Second, the system: offensive players are required to come all the way back below their own faceoff dots to help their defencemen limit scoring chances, and they have shackles on when it comes to taking risks – meaning be creative – at the other end.
Because of this, when they get the puck, they have to skate the full length of the ice to score.
That system can only work with the quickest of forwards, so there’s a reason Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, Jannik Hansen continued to look strong. Meanwhile the Sedins, whose skating was never compared to Bret Hedican’s, have struggled to stay afloat.
If you’re thinking a system can only hurt players so much and the cream will still rise, recall what people were saying about Sidney Crosby in the early months of last season.
Many wondered if Crosby’s best days were behind him as Pittsburgh played a system that required forwards to come all the way back to help their defence under coach Mike Johnson. The question was the same one you’ve heard about the Sedins so often this year – “Have they lost a step?”
From Crosby’s resurgence during the stretch drive, Cup-winning run and since, it’s clear how much that defence-first system was hurting him.
All this to say those ready to push the Sedins out of town for this down year, might want to hold off. Under a coach who pushes offensive players to, you know, be offensive, they will look a lot better.
Point is, the Canucks had more offence in them, and they should have been more fun to watch this year.
With at least a few years of rebuilding ahead, fans won’t have any appetite to see more of this “system.” It’s not as if it worked anyway – the results could hardly have been worse.
The Canucks should realize if they want ticket holders to fork over their hard-earned cash, they not only need more players like Goldobin, Boeser, and Horvat, they need a coach who helps those players do their thing.
And here’s the rub: if Vancouver’s creative players are allowed to do their thing, they’ll make Canucks hockey fun again, even if the team isn’t winning.