The Vancouver Canucks wake up Monday morning as the third Presidents’ Trophy-winning team in the past four years to get put down by an eighth-seed in the first round.
Ten months ago, the Canucks were the only recent regular-season champion to storm deep in the playoffs, coming within 60 minutes of the Stanley Cup.
Now, everything’s in question.
What of coach Alain Vigneault, one of the best in the National Hockey League, whose sixth season in Vancouver ends before April is over?
What of Mike Gillis, president and general manager, who has overseen four seasons and who made trades this season that brought in David Booth in October, and sent away Cory Hodgson in February?
Decisions about management will rest with Francesco Aquilini, whose family has owned the team for eight seasons. In all their business, from construction to cranberries, the Aquilinis take a long-term view. With the Canucks, the family also aims for a Detroit Red Wings-like consistency, not lurching from year to year, reacting to losses with firings.
But some changes will surely come, if not among management, then with the players. And what of the roster? Roberto Luongo, the long-time starter who lost his job a week ago to Cory Schneider, looks likely to be traded. What of Ryan Kesler, who scored 41 goals last season but the 27-year-old assistant captain finished this year with a goal drought of 17 games, not scoring for more than a month.
The Philadelphia Flyers, last summer, did a major rework of their roster, jettisoning Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and their huge contracts. It worked, bringing in four players who more than made up for the departures - and now Philly is in the second-round this spring after overcoming favoured Pittsburgh.
And, come September, the Sedin twins are 32.
One of the younger Canucks encapsulated the team’s position best.
“You realize, as you play more years in this league, you only get so many chances. So, you can’t let them slip by, especially with a good year we had like this year,” said Cory Schneider, the backup goaltender turned starter - who looks like he may be the Canucks’ No 1 come October.
The Swedish twins, who have completed their 11th season with the only NHL team they’ve ever played for, turn 32 in September. Both were resolutely in favour of mostly the status quo, keeping the group together for another push.
“We’ve got to come back and be stronger,” said Daniel Sedin, the star scorer who missed the first three games of the L.A. series, all losses, with a concussion. “We’ve been through a lot and we’re going to go through a lot next year, too.
“We have a good thing here. We have an ownership that are prepared to do anything to win, good management, good coaching. They bring in the players every year to give us a chance to win. That’s the good thing about playing for the Vancouver Canucks. ... We have a good thing going, we’ve just got to get back and work even harder.”
Henrik said much the same.
“We didn’t produce [goals]the way we have in the past,” said Henrik after the game. “A lot of guys were down scoring-wise but we still showed we are a good team. It’s a tweak here and there, but it’s not much.”
He invoked the consistency shown by the Red Wings over the years, with their roster, and management, making the playoffs every year for more than two decades.
“Good teams around the league, when they have an off year in the playoffs, look at Detroit, they still stick to their guys. That’s what made them successful.”
Asked about his coach, whether Vigneault still has the attention of his players after six years in the job, Henrik said:
“Absolutely. It’s never been about the coach. We were good enough to go deep in the playoffs this year as well, that’s not the case. There’s always going to be questions about him when you lose early on, when the expectations are higher, but that’s not my decision at all.”
The team is a close one, Sedin said, and he wants to see that kept together.
“We have a tight group in here. The players like to be around each other. We want to win for each other. That’s the only thing you can ask for and that’s what we have.”
Vigneault himself, asked about his job security, was terse.
“I’m not going to get into that tonight,” said Vigneault.
On the Canucks going down in the first round, Vigneault talked about the stiff competition in the NHL, as he often has through this season. He pointed to Boston and Washington going to a seventh game, and Phoenix and Chicago going to overtime in each of the five games of their series so far.
“It’s a tough league,” said Vigneault. “I mean, all the teams are good, all the teams are competitive. Every game, the momentum goes from one team to another. We’re a good team but L.A. is a very good team also. They played better than we did in this series.”