Sports

Blame the Uniforms?

The Canucks were supposed to be good, right?

By Steve Burgess 26 Oct 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess jinxed the Canucks playoff run last year by saying too many positive things about their play in these pages.

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Luongo's long month.

Fall is usually a lovely time in Vancouver, but we didn't get much of one this year before things turned to shite. And if you turned off the hockey game, the weather was crap too.

For Canucks fans, pre-season euphoria has quickly given way to the season. That's often the problem around here. You've got to love that Canucks off-season -- nice weather, barbecues at the beach, lots of optimism. Winter -- that's when things tend to suck.

It is early yet, and last year started badly as well. But Luongo Year Two was supposed to be a hit-the-ground-skating type of deal. The team figured out the Alain Vigneault system, Luongo got comfortable in his new colours, and away we went to the division title. Come the second playoff round away we went again, but hey -- we lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champs. The 2007/2008 season was not supposed to require training wheels.

Endless labours

You get a feeling about a team when you watch regularly. Last year you got the feeling the Canucks were never out of a game. So far this year you get the feeling they are a pop-gun outfit that's happy just to keep things close for awhile. Worst of all, Vigneault's disciplined warriors of yore are now sloppy and apparently unmotivated. As of this week they were first in penalties, last in shots. Wednesday, the Canucks scored on almost 14 per cent of their shots against Detroit goalie Dominik Hašek. They lost 3-2. The team's only recent win (heading into this evening's tilt against Washington) was last Sunday in Columbus, and it came despite a second period entirely devoid of shots on the Blue Jackets' net. This week Canuck defenseman Kevin Bieksa attended his wife Katie as she gave birth to a boy, a labour that was probably easier to watch than the Canucks' power play.

Meanwhile this week team captain Markus Naslund groused publicly about the team's offensive system and Captain Canuck, Trevor Linden, sat in the press box, a healthy scratch for the last two games (with a hand injury to Rick Rypien, he'll draw back in tonight by default). Vigneault famously hesitated over the summer before re-signing Linden. The last time Number 16 and a Canuck coach were at serious loggerheads was during the Team Turmoil era of Mike Keenan. The situation is different now -- Linden's on-ice role has diminished by mutual agreement.

Those of us not privileged to be in that Canucks locker room, redolent with the aroma of flop sweat, do not know just how crucial Linden's leadership role is these days. But it is interesting that Coach Vigneault is showing the most revered player in franchise history a distinct lack of respect -- particularly in light of the team's recent performance.

There was reportedly a bit of eye-rolling from the players recently when Vigneault and staff made them perform a junior-hockey-style shooting drill involving a chair. Could it be that the team is tuning out Vigneault already? Or did they merely overdose on last year's press clippings? Successful as they were, it is easy to forget that they couldn't shoot their way out of a paper bag last season either.

Meanwhile at Fenway stadium

It didn't help the local mood when our hero Jeff Francis, World Series Game One starting pitcher for the National League champion Colorado Rockies, got shelled by the Red Sox. Even worse, Red Sox pitcher Kurt Schilling led his team to victory Thursday night in Game Two. Back in 2004 Schilling helped lead Team Bush to victory as he campaigned for the President's second term. The rest of the Series may prove once and for all whether karma is real.

As for Canuck fans, they might now be dreaming of aging, unsigned superstar Peter Forsberg riding to the rescue. But despite the Swedish holdout's friendship with Naslund, Vancouver is still a long shot in that sweepstakes. Besides, recapturing last season's defensive style is probably more important than added offensive punch right now.

Eventually though, the team will have to find some scoring if they hope to do anything more than just repeat last year's level of success. There's a reason fans got over-excited at the prospect of speedy youngsters Ryan Shannon and Mason Raymond making the team. At this point we are like lost souls, ready to follow the first guy who shows up with a decent beard and sandals.

Apparently Canuck games are packed with scouts these days. GM Dave Nonis could be ready to swing a deal. The Sedins, Luongo, and a few defensemen are off limits -- how about anybody else for a Messiah to be named later?

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