May 29, 2023
The Athletic

Drance: Canucks fans deserved better, and they demanded it in the “awkward” home opener

VANCOUVER – They say history repeats itself: first as tragedy, then as farce.

Make no mistake, what happened Saturday night at Rogers Arena when the Canucks were routed 5-1 by the Buffalo Sabers and were insatiably booed off their home ice in the sixth game of this fledgling NHL season wasn’t tragic – even if the performance of the club was.

No, tragedy was felt back in 2018 when the club never found a way to reload with sufficient discipline or strategic coherence in the Jim Benning era, ultimately failing to provide Henrik and Daniel Sedin with another relevant team to play with before retiring.

What we are witnessing now is a farce.

The Vancouver market, and most disturbingly the players on this hapless Canucks team, are so adept at going through the “team in trouble” moves that we seem to have fast-forwarded the process this time.

The regular season just started 10 days ago! Ten days!

That hasn’t stopped this team from setting a new record, not just for failed leads, but for how quickly they went through the performative stages that bad teams ritualistically go through while the reality of their ineptitude sets in over time as regular NHL regulars do -Season.

After taking a multiple-goal lead in their first three contests, the Canucks had a players-only meet in Washington last week. That was only three games in.

Before we could think about it, the club gambled away another lead in Columbus. After four games, the insider reports that management is not (yet) thinking about a change behind the bench.

After another playful third-half lead in game five, the club returned home and struck an unconvincing pose, insisting their game was trending in the right direction.

Finally, the club returned to the supposedly friendly surroundings of Rogers Arena on Saturday night. And this one had it all.

The road team opened the scoring with a lucky power play goal. A gentleman wearing a retro Canucks jersey and a paper bag on his head, posing for photos with fellow fans in his section. Fans booed throughout the game as play swung away from Vancouver. They booed as the Sabers top line endlessly cycled the puck in the Vancouver end. They booed the Canucks on the power play. They even booed “Sweet Caroline”.

There was an edgy moment between JT Miller and Luke Schenn after a late Miller turnover in the second half as the inevitable tension that arises between teammates dealing with the constant hopelessness of losing became public knowledge.

At the end of the evening, Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau ripped off his players’ effort levels. He said his message to his team after the game was to “look in the mirror”.

During an intriguing moment in his postgame availability, Boudreau appeared to be bargaining against himself — as the Canucks often do when signing overpriced veteran players — and unsuccessfully attempted to convince himself his players hadn’t quit in the third period .

“I never like using that word,” Boudreau said of the idea that his players might have “quit” too late. “It just looked like they said, ‘Oh, there’s no way we can catch up.’

“And because they haven’t had success yet… I mean, I would love to think that there wasn’t anyone who said, ‘I don’t care what happens now, I’ll stop’, but I just can’t, I’ll never accept that in my head.

“But I certainly mean it … like when you need two men to precheck because you need a gate and only one man goes in. And I mean they know exactly what to do with some goals and in our D-zone they don’t do that at all… it’s really frustrating.”

Finally, to cap off the evening, Jim Rutherford, the club’s still relatively new president of hockey operations, appeared on Canadian interview show After Hours on Hockey Night, fresh from an emotional, disheartening defeat for his team .

He was asked the million-dollar question we’ve all asked ourselves, even though we’ve secretly always known the answer: “Why doesn’t this organization commit to rebuilding?”

More precisely, he was asked by longtime VIP Graham M., “Jim – we want a rebuild, we’ve wanted a rebuild since the end of the Sedin era. Why is this team so adamant about giving us a rebuild?”

‘Yeah well,’ Rutherford began after his club’s defeat to a burgeoning young side who had traded Jack Eichel only 11 months earlier, ‘I think people need to realize how long conversions take.

“You look at some of the teams that went through that and we look at them now and how good they are now, but there have been a lot of tough years. We may be in the process of rebuilding in the direction we’re going, but ideally we’d like to switch this team on the fly.

“We have some core players, some young players who are really good and those guys just have to keep working and trying to work through that at this point. But we will continue to add younger players to this team and bring it together over the next year or so.”

It says everything you need to know about the state of that Canucks era — and the farce their fans are now reliving — just weeks from providing $56 million over seven years for a 29-year-old forward , the club is already rapidly moving in a direction where the new management’s preferred plan of “switching this team on the fly” is untenable.

A spontaneous move is untenable as it greatly contradicts the reality and capabilities of this team. There just isn’t enough talent in the backend for this team to credibly compete in the short term. The infrastructure is simply missing.

More importantly, it’s unsustainable in this hockey-savvy market due to the appetites of paying customers.

Fans want a plan. They want a fight. you want to real Hopefully not that flimsy, artificial stuff that the organization sells to the gullible every summer, only to have it go to waste year after year by November.

At least on Saturday night, the fans made that clear. And it only lasted six games.

(Photo of Buffalo Sabers players celebrating a goal while Canucks players look dejected: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

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