Is Ryan Kesler on the defensive or is he in denial about how the Vancouver Canucks stack up in a loaded Western Conference this season? When asked this past week about the Canucks possibly slipping into the second tier of the Western Conference Kesler had a bit of an issue with the question:
“To be honest, I don’t listen to that s—, That’s what it is. It’s s—. We believe in ourselves in the dressing room. All those negative comments we’re not even going to, To be honest, I shouldn’t have even answered that question. It’s s—.”
In some ways you have to admire Ryan Kesler‘s bravado if not his choice of language but the facts remain that the Canucks are no longer an elite Western Conference team. The conference and more importantly their division have passed them by. In fact, the Canucks are closer to missing the playoffs than they are to winning the division.
Has Ryan looked at the Pacific Division? Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose are clearly better teams on paper at this point. Vancouver has the slight edge on Phoenix, Edmonton, and Calgary but two of those teams are stocked with young talent (sorry Calgary) and Edmonton is poised at any point to finally put it all together.
How about the rest of the Western Conference? Chicago and St. Louis are leaps and bounds ahead of the Canucks and Minnesota is closing the gap. So that puts the Canucks at about the 6th or 7th best team in the conference. It sounds like second tier to me.
No one is saying that the Canucks are not a playoff team. They are. They just aren’t the class of the Western Conference anymore. They’ve been passed by and I think at least the Canucks organization (maybe not Ryan Kesler) has figured that out. This is why John Tortorella is behind the bench this year and sweeping changes could follow in the next few years on a team that is aging and isn’t on par with the more talented teams in the NHL.
The main problem for Vancouver is that the team is still built around Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin . Last season Henrik and Daniel were two of the worst values in the league according to Hockey Prospectus’ advanced statistic of GVS (Goals Versus Salary) at .7 and -1.7 respectively. The bottom line is that they are a poor fit for the Western Conference. They are at best on the perimeter but struggle to win the physical battles needed to overcome the tougher forwards in the conference. The Hockey News annually ranks their pre-season top 50 players and this year 17 Western Conference players we ranked ahead of the Sedin brothers and 43 overall in the NHL. This is a problem if you are Vancouver because they are taking up $12.6 million in cap space and your Stanley Cup hopes are built around them.
Tie the aforementioned into the return of the Roberto Luongo soap opera and the picture now becomes crystal clear as to why Vancouver is no longer a Western powerhouse. Too many distractions tied to fading talent. Even if there is minimal drama, Luongo is on the back nine of his career at 34 and clearly is unhappy to be back in Vancouver despite saying all the right things. Also, if you remember he seemed to break down mentally at the most important of times.
The Canucks had their window with this team in the spring of 2011 and 2012 when Chicago was reloading and St. Louis’ young core was maturing. But Boston and Los Angeles’ won more battles and ultimately the Stanley Cup. Even with their best opportunity in 2011 when all was going right the team failed to win a game seven on home ice.
That window is now shut. Tortorella will work all season long to pry it open but there needs to be major changes either in the way the Sedins’ play (See Joe Thornton and Patrick Kane) or the make-up of the team.
But for now the fact remains that the Vancouver Canucks are on the outside looking in on the Western Conference elite.