It was a season unlike many before and yet hauntingly similar at the same time.
The Vancouver Canucks began the 2014-2015 season with extremely low expectations. Management was preaching a push to make the playoffs, but the fan base and media alike weren’t buying any of it. The Canucks had come off of a John Tortorella led 83 point disaster of a season and making the playoffs seemed nothing more than a pipe dream.
Jim Benning and Trevor Linden did not win many friends in Vancouver when they decided to “re-tool” the lineup so as to make a legitimate run for the playoffs. The reality is that the term “re-tool” or “rebuild” makes zero sense in reference to NHL teams. Every team changes the make-up of their team every offseason regardless of the previous seasons successes or failures. It is near impossible to “blow it up” in the salary cap era, but I digress.
Tortorella had publicly said the core was stale, but Benning and Linden thought differently. Ryan Kesler was the only core player moved out, necessitated by a Kesler trade demand. Jason Garrison joined Kesler on the outgoing train while Linden Vey, Derek Dorsett, Luca Sbisa, and Nick Bonino were welcomed into the Canucks dressing room. Ryan Miller and Radim Vrbata were UFA signings, both of which came to Vancouver with more venom (particularly for Miller) than fanfare. New coach Willie Desjardins was a rookie to the NHL and had a lineup that, for the most part, closely resembled the one that had crumbled the year previous.
Here is the crazy thing, Benning and Linden’s plan worked! When is the last time the Canucks came into a season with low expectations and came out a surprise success? Yeah, it doesn’t happen.
Early in the season Canucks fans began to witness a team that seemed to have a lot more depth. Bonino was scoring on a regular basis early, Vrbata quickly became one of the best UFA signings in Canuck history, and Ryan Miller just seemed to always find a way to win.
Without a doubt – Vrbata is the #Canucks best UFA signing since Hamhuis
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) March 31, 2015
Benning proved to make some pretty shrewd moves. Desjardins played all 4 lines and amazingly kept all his forwards above the 10 minute time on ice mark game after game. Daniel and Henrik Sedin enjoyed a rebirth. Vrbata recorded a career year by scoring 31 goals along with 32 assists and did this playing the bulk of the season on a line without the Sedins. Ryan Miller played inconsistent, but somehow found a way to win 29 games. Eddie Lack stepped in during Miller’s knee injury and posted better numbers than Miller. Oh yeah, the Canucks also found out they had a gem in Bo Horvat and that a Latvian rookie with a pluaralized name could be a mainstay depth player for years to come.
In the end, the Canucks ended up finishing 2nd in the Pacific Division with an astounding 101 points and secured home ice advantage in the 1st round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Benning and Linden knew exactly what they were doing when they decided trying to build a team to make the playoffs rather than doing the so-called “rebuild” and losing. The philosophy can be summed up in one word: HOPE. As all seasoned NHL fans know, any team can win the Stanley Cup if they get on a roll, get favourable matchups, stay healthy, and have luck on their side.
In hindsight this seems ridiculous, but in the moment it looked like the Canucks had something special and could make a surprising run.
Walking up Robson Street to the game. I've somehow convinced myself the Canucks could win the Cup. God help me.
— Jay Adams (@SFOJay) April 16, 2015
Jay’s tweet was a gem and eerily accurate. Hope turned to agony in less than two weeks. Just as the regular season brought surprise success, the postseason brought unsurprising defeat. The Canucks disappointed with a 6-game series defeat at the hands of an underwhelming Calgary Flames team that proved too much for the Canucks to handle.
Here’s the truth you don’t want to hear.
As much as fans are outraged at the lack of success the Canucks had this postseason and want to “blow up” the team (or whatever terminology is being used for something that literally never happens in the NHL), what is clear is that the hope that the Canucks brought to you only two weeks ago will be achieved again if the Canucks can once again make it back to the postseason next year.
And we’ll go through the agony once again, just for the hope that this is the year. You gotta love sports.