You've got to hand it to a lot of Canuck fans. They really know how to get their hopes up. True, it's not as bad as last year, when the White Towel was already planning the parade route after the first round, but there's still a lot of ridiculous "this is our year" nonsense going around. This is NOT "our year."
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the Canucks won't win the Stanley Cup. They very well might. And if they do, all the yahoos going around saying "This is our year!" and "It's destiny!" will feel justified in saying so, even though, as some people point out, people say that every year. There's nothing wrong with saying it, except that it will never be true.
Teams don't have years -- they have windows. They'll win the Cup during those windows, or they won't, and then it'll be a while before they're in contention again. Pittsburgh fans thought they were going to make a good run at the Cup this season. If Crosby doesn't return, it's unlikely that they'll be a big playoff force without their two big superstars. Still, you won't expect them to behave like it's the end of the world because this was supposed to be their year. Look at Detroit. After they signed Hossa, they were ordained to win the Cup. They were the best team that had signed the best free agent. They didn't win.
Even the Blackhawks didn't have a year. It's easy to look at their team that year, and all the contracts about to kick in and the salary cap issues, and say, "If it's not this year, it's not going to happen." And that's true -- sort of. Their cup win pushed their bonuses up which created a lot more cap issues, but that's a different argument. The point is, there was never a time when the 'Hawks were guaranteed a Cup. There were several legitimate contenders. The Canucks could have stopped them in the second round if they were more disciplined at home. More importantly, the Blackhawks might not have made it out of the first round. Recall game 5 of the first round between the 'Hawks and the Predators, when the Preds were leading 4-3 with a little over a minute to go. Hossa's hit on Dan Hamhuis could easily have been called a hit from behind -- probably should have -- which means Hossa is assessed a game misconduct and isn't on the ice to score the game-winner. Then the Predators maybe take a 3-2 lead in the series, and who knows what happens after?
Can you imagine how much that would suck? Go for broke and things don't go your way, and then next season all that cap trouble means you dismantle the team anyway? Think about how the Sabres felt after losing in the '07 Eastern Conference Finals. Oh man. Goodbye, Drury. Goodbye, Briere. Soon they'd say goodbye to Campbell as well. Goodbye, window.
There's no such thing as having a year, but the Canucks have something few teams don't -- an almost guaranteed playoff berth before the season begins. On paper, at least, the Canucks can expect to make the postseason. This is a huge boon. It means you can hold on to your core and make tweaks to the team that will have instant payoff, rather than trading for picks and prospects. Once you're guaranteed in the playoffs, you can make moves to improve the team, now, rather than later, and you can do it in the off-season rather than making last-minute deadline deals that may disrupt team chemistry. Thanks to a strong core group of players, Gillis can make moves based on how things play out during the postseason.
In '09, the Canucks weren't fast enough on the back end. Goodbye Ohlund, hello Ehrhoff. In '10, the Nucks' 3rd line wasn't enough of a difference-maker physically, and the team lacked discipline and composure. Goodbye entire third line, hello Malhotra and Torres. Goodbye Shane O'Brien, hello Dan Hamhuis. Also, Gillis had a meeting with the team, forbidding Kesler and others from getting involved between the whistle.
If the Canucks are knocked out this season, many fans will whine about how this was our year, and how much it sucks. Gillis, on the other hand, will walk out of the building with a plan. One that involves addressing a small issue that he pinpointed. But really, while he's always looking to improve, he knows that you can't improve enough to have a guaranteed Cup. You can only stay competitive long enough that things go your way. Eventually, the bounces, the calls, the breaks will go Vancouver's way. Eventually, the right guys will be healthy, the right guys will step up, and things will work out. That may well happen this year.
But it might not. And if it doesn't, that's okay, because this is still our window. The dude at the top has shown some amazing poise and aplomb in working the roster. The Canucks have a real shot to hoist the Cup some time during his tenure. In the meantime, forget the buzz, forget who's the Cup favorite, and forget how often the top team in the league wins it all. Nothing is guaranteed, but this is our window.