With most teams in the NHL you can point to one player on the team who is the face of the franchise. The Capitals belong to Ovechkin, the Penguins belong to Malkin, the Islanders are Tavares’ and the Kings are Kopitar’s. The list goes on but the point is most teams have one face, one super star that either makes or breaks the team based on how they play. With that concept in mind, these Canucks once were Luongos. The face of the 2006-07 franchise-record-49-Win Canucks, was Luongo. He won his first career playoff series single-handedly, and lost his second career playoff series single-handedly.
Since then this team has evolved around a core group of players that are a combination of to tier forwards, rock solid blue liners, a passionate goalie and a desire to win. That being said, this season has exemplified one thing in particular: The Canucks don’t have one leader, they play as a team. This year’s Canucks define exactly what a team should be and that’s been the story all year. I can remember just how many times over the years I’ve said, “We need secondary scoring, the top lines are in a slump”, and the Canucks haven’t had the depth or talent to pull it off.
When you look at this year’s team, secondary scoring was at one point the only reason we didn’t tank. Through the Canucks injury problems all year, through the slumps, and the highs and lows, there has always been someone to step in and take over. In one particular game it was Ryan Johnson and Tanner Glass against the Avalanche resulting in Johnson’s first multi-point game of his career, in another it was Mason Raymond who decided to go on a streak. When the Sedins came back and the Canucks needed to turn things around Burrows took over, but post Olympics it’s been Kesler who’s carried the team. With the Sedins in a pre-Olympic slump as a result of a snubbing Samuelsson has stepped his game up. What’s even more impressive is that Samuelsson has stepped his game up during the Canucks most critical point in the season.
Between Henrik’s offensive outburst, Burrows’ nose for the net, Samuelsson’s response to the snub, Raymond’s breakout year and Kesler’s ascent to the next tier of forwards, it’s no surprise that this team doesn’t have one singular face. This team has learned to find a way to win. What’s more important, and most important is they’ve found a way to win without having to rely on Luongo to perform near miracles on an almost nightly basis. The Canucks chemistry is at an all time high and with the number of players having career years what makes this year’s edition of the Vancouver Canucks unique is their ability to step up individually and carry this team when it needs someone to take the reigns. The most perfect example was Samuelsson and his second period hat trick against the Avalanche, but in the streaks various different Canucks players have thrown together it’s clear that when there is a hole in the offense or defense someone steps up.
On a blue line that has struggled from the get go and had to give more responsibility to the likes of everyone’s favourite Canuck Shane O’Brien, Christian Ehrhoff has come in and stepped up. The German Olympian who is having an outstanding year on the blue line has scored key goals for the Canucks on several occasions this season. Heck, even O’Brien has buttoned down and become a responsible defenceman. While he might have the odd defensive breakdown, he’s strayed from racking up the penalty minutes and he’s stepped up to the increased responsibility as the Canucks infirmary tries to spit players out as fast as they come in.
This year’s Canucks are not defined by one player but by many. They’re not defined by one success story, and the story around this year’s team has not been about individuals. It’s been about a team that’s had to come together over the adversity of injury, the obstacle of the NHL’s longest road trip, and the sportsmanship of a game which saw players go from teammates to rivals and back to teammates in the span of two weeks. This year’s Canucks are defined by their city, their fans, and their desire to win. This year’s Canucks are defined by a coach that’s on the verge of being a miracle worker, and players that buy into the team picture. This year’s Canucks are defined by players that step up when they have to, not when they’re called out to. This year’s Canucks define what it means to be a team.