It’s taken me a while to look back at last year’s season and start to think about how the team can take that step forward after a near perfect campaign last year. That’s one of the biggest challenges – it was near perfect. It could have been perfect when you look back at all the records that were set, but it wasn’t because of one game which went wrong – Game 7 – and as such the season wont be defined by its records and wins but rather by one loss.
I tweeted at the start of the playoffs (and hoped it wasn’t going to truly be a deciding factor) that the Canucks didn’t have that journeyman or veteran NHL player hungry for a Cup (or in other cases his last Cup). The Red Wings seem to have one every year. Gary Roberts helped Pittsburgh to the Cup Finals (although they didn’t win that year). We’ve seen Teemu Selanne give the Ducks a boost, Dave Andreychuk the Lightning, Ray Bourque the Avs, and the list goes on. Most recently, we were privileged to see the Mark Recchi and how he seemed to carry the Bruins on his back at the most important time of the season. One could argue that Samuelsson was that player, but we won’t know because he was injured and it seemed all the talent in the world wasn’t enough to handle the sheer will of Recchi.
Heading into training camp, we come out of a 2011 offseason that doesn’t look anything like the 2010 offseason. 2010 was rife with big-name signings and the bolstering of a line up that boasted many stars. 2011 was Gillis’ quiet confidence in the team he has and the acknowledgement that they are merely a step away. It’s something we all knew, but it’s also something he reaffirmed by inviting Owen Nolan to camp.
If there was one thing missing from the Canucks team it was heart. Mind you, it’s not the kind of heart that the entire team showed in order to beat the Blackhawks in the first round or the heart that Kesler showed by singlehandedly leading the Canucks over Nashville in the 2nd round. Rather, it’s the kind of heart you see from players like Selanne, Andreychuk and Bourque who know that they may never get another chance. It’s not easy to find that player. It’s even harder given the demands of such a high-caliber team, the restraints of the cap versus players’ egos, and the need for depth on a roster that is so susceptible to injury as a result of one of the NHL’s toughest travel schedules. While Nolan hasn’t gone past the second round in his career, he, as a veteran, brings something to the table that the Canucks don’t have. It’s a hunger and desire to sip from Lord Stanley’s Cup in a way that only a player fighting against time can demonstrate.
Is Owen Nolan the answer? Only time will tell.