I've said before that Vancouver fans and media often suffer unfortunate bouts of tunnel vision when it comes to the Canucks. A Canucks' win is followed by praise, and a Canucks' loss is followed by blame, but nothing is ever attributed to the opponent. How did they play? Who plays for them? Is anybody on their team talented? Apart from gushing over Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, or tonight, Steven Stamkos, we often assume the guys who play for other teams have about as much volition as the targets in Hogan's Alley.
Recall an instance earlier this season when Alain Vigneault stood up for his defensemen following a game-winning Kings goal: "It was a simple 2-on-2 and two of their good players beat our two good defencemen and that's going to happen." It's incredible to me Vigneault needed to remind people that the Kings have players who can score, even on guys who are supposed to stop them from scoring.
Guys like Roberto Luongo, who takes blame for any goal, regardless of the circumstances. Did you know that a large part of an NHL players' livelihood is scoring on superstar goalies? They can do that.
With this in mind, it's typical that Vancouver's two consecutive oustings at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks have been painted as little more than collapses, disappointments, or failures on the part of the Canucks. It seems nobody's been willing to consider the opponent, or perhaps even utter the anathematic truth that, even at the Canucks best, the Blackhawks were just better.
The Kurtenblog pointed some of this out a month ago, but let's return to the argument. Consider the offseason turnover in Chicago: up against the cap, the Blackhawks were forced to jettison Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, Adam Burish, and John Madden. Among others. Effectively, they lost their entire bottom-six and the brunt of their defensive depth.
How is the former Blackhawks' bottom-six doing for their new teams? Incredibly. Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd are one and two in Thrashers scoring. More impressive, Ladd has been named Atlanta's captain, and Byfuglien is doing that scoring from the back-end. Brent Sopel leads Atlanta in blocked shots by a wide margin (20 more than the next closest skater), and Ben Eager is tops in PIM and hits. In Toronto, Kris Versteeg is averaging just over 20 minutes a night. He's 5th in goals and points, 3rd in shots on goal, and 1st in takeaways. But the most incredible thing about lost members of the Blackhawks playoff roster is this: they're all still in the NHL, and only Colin Fraser averages less than 10 minutes a night (at 9:56).
Canucks fans celebrated the somewhat sad dismantling of one of the deepest NHL rosters we've seen in decades, while ignoring the fact that their team actually underwent a similar turnover. Our bottom-six is effectively gone too, as the Canucks willfully said goodbye to Kyle Wellwood, Pavol Demitra, Ryan Johnson, Shane O'Brien, Michael Grabner, Steve Bernier, and Matt Pettinger. Demitra, Johnson, Wellwood and Pettinger are no longer playing in the NHL, and Grabner nearly suffered a similar fate after the Florida Panthers, who acquired him in a trade, placed him on waivers at the end of training camp. Steve Bernier has been playing on the fourth line. And Shane O'Brien has the third-worst plus-minus on the Nashville Predators.
I'm cherry-picking stats a little to make my point, but still: one year removed from a playoff series Vancourites label as a Canucks collapse, former Chicago Blackhawks are making names for themselves in the NHL. Meanwhile, former Vancouver Canucks are adding umlauts to their jerseys in Europe.
Do you think this had something to do with the outcome last May? I know we might hate to admit it, but it's possible the Blackhawks were simply icing a better team. In fact, it's more than possible. It's likely. In fact, it's more than likely. It's just true. Yes, we had a Selke candidate; so did they. We had a gold-medal winner; they had three. We had an Art Ross and a Hart. They had a Norris, and a Calder, and a Conn Smythe. And, behind these guys, they had an NHL roster.
It's hard for Canuck fans to see past their own team. We know our guys; we know their shortcomings and their potential, and we expect them to step it up. But, more often than not, we're just fooling ourselves and hoping for an upset. The Chicago Blackhawks team was so good that their bottom-six could be the top-six on other teams. The proof is in the pudding. Vancouver's bottom-six, on the other hand, was so questionable that, six months later, they're the bottom six for teams in Europe. I know it's tough to admit, what with the grudges we hold, but the Blackhawks were an incredible team. The Canucks played them well, but when they lost, we shouldn't have blamed them.
We should have blamed the Blackhawks.