VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks were statistically average for this decade about to end, which is amazing because during this period the team was either exceptionally good or exceptionally bad but almost never average.
For the first three seasons of the 2010s, the Canucks were the best team in the National Hockey League with a winning percentage of .677. And for the last four years, they were second-worst at .454, eclipsed in futility just by the Buffalo Sabres and only by the micro-thin margin of one point over 328 games.
This is why we say it is never dull around the Canucks, who went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 – with the St. Louis Blues’ championship last spring, Vancouver is the only NHL franchise 0-3 in finals – and back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies, then to back-to-back bottom-three finishes in 2016 and 2017.
Select the three most memorable moments of the last decade? Where do we begin?
CANUCKS LOSE STANLEY CUP, JUNE 15, 2011
This was the worst day in franchise history: the Boston Bruins easily beat the Canucks 4-0 at Rogers Arena in Game 7 of the final and Vancouver responded with its second Stanley Cup Riot in 17 years.
It wasn’t just that the Canucks came within a Game 7 of winning their first Stanley Cup, which is also how close they came in 1994 against the New York Rangers, it’s that the team that was by far the NHL’s best during a 117-point regular season failed to play its best when it mattered most.
With two chances to win one game for the title, the Canucks were outscored 9-2 by the bullying Bruins.
There was excitement and optimism over the Canucks’ 1994 playoff march, and pure joy at the Cinderella run to the final in 1982, but nothing noble about Vancouver’s series against Boston.
The spring of 2011 produced wondrous moments, like Alex Burrows’ Game 7 overtime goal in Round 1 that “slayed the dragon” Chicago Blackhawks, and Kevin Bieksa’s overtime goal off the stanchion at Rogers Arena that sunk the San Jose Sharks in the conference final and sent the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final.
But mostly, 2011 is remembered on the West Coast with regret and resignation as the best chance squandered for Vancouver’s first Stanley Cup since the Millionaires won the old challenge cup in 1915.
The Bruins outscored the Canucks 23-8 in the series and, by the end, it was a mismatch between goalies Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo, who angered and further motivated his counterpart by chirping about Thomas after Vancouver won Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead.
Including playoffs, the Canucks won 69 games in eight months but failed when it mattered most.
“This team is the best team I’ve been on by far — not only on the ice but off the ice,” Canucks captain Henrik Sedin lamented. “A lot of us have been here for a lot of years. We’ve grown up here and became a team here. That’s why we wanted to win it — for us foremost, but also for everyone who has been following us. We get up 3-2 in the series and we can’t close it out. It’s disappointing.”
It haunts them still.
The Canucks have not won a playoff series since.
ROBERTO LUONGO TRADED, MARCH 4, 2014
Roberto Luongo was not only the best goalie the Canucks ever had, he was one of the best of his generation and should one day have his number retired in Vancouver.
But the trade that returned him to the Florida Panthers, almost as shocking as the one that brought him to the Canucks in 2006, represented more than Luongo. It represented the end of a glorious era for the greatest Canuck team in franchise history, and also came to symbolize the end of Mike Gillis’ reign as general manager.
Fired a month later, Gillis oversaw the rise and fall of the Canucks. And the bizarre trade mission involving Luongo, a two-year melodrama filled with anxious plot twists and disappointment, was preamble to the dark, chaotic seasons looming for a team that had become old and stale and badly needed rebuilding.
“There was a lot of stuff that happened. . . but I’ve got nothing but good things to say towards the fans who were really supportive, especially towards the end,” Luongo told reporters hours after he was traded to Florida for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias. “It did not go unnoticed, for sure. All in all, it was a great run.”
Two potential deals with the Toronto Maple Leafs collapsed because Luongo, who had a no-trade clause in his 12-year, $64-million US contract, wanted to play only in South Florida. When he realized at the 2013 trade deadline that there was little interest in him around the NHL due to his contract, Luongo famously said: “My contract sucks.”
It sucks now for the Canucks, who are being hammered by the NHL for an annual $3-million cap-recapture penalty on Luongo after commissioner Gary Bettman revised history and made what had been a legal contract illegal.
The most remarkable and appealing aspect of the entire trade saga is that in defeat, a humbled Luongo became more human and likeable than he’d been as a detached NHL superstar.
“Some people loved him, but I feel some people misunderstood him or maybe didn’t like him for the wrong reasons,” teammate Burrows told The Vancouver Sun. “I don’t know if they wanted him to be a god or something, but he was a super role model for young kids. He carried himself as well as anyone on this team. He was a great goalie for us and I don’t understand why some people treated him the wrong way.”
Winger Daniel Sedin said: “In the end, how good he was got overshadowed by everything else.”
SEDINS RETIRE, APRIL 7, 2018
Danny and Henrik Sedin were the greatest players in franchise history and their impact not only drove the Canucks through their golden era but imbued the dressing room with integrity and decency that are as much the Swedish brothers’ legacy in Vancouver as their goals and assists and NHL scoring titles.
With less than one week’s notice, the Sedins retired at the end of the 2017-18 season, playing their final game in Edmonton at age 38 after a farewell game in Vancouver two nights earlier against the Arizona Coyotes.
On their last touches of the puck at home, Henrik set up Daniel for an overtime winner. On their last touches in the NHL, Henrik almost scored from Daniel in the final seconds of overtime before the Oilers won 3-2 in a shootout. By then, the Sedins’ children were watching from the Vancouver bench, and fans in Edmonton gave the brothers a standing ovation when it was over.
The twins will have their uniforms retired by the Canucks in February, and they should be Hall-of-Famers with what they accomplished as linemates unique in NHL history.
Henrik said after his 1,330th and last NHL game for the Canucks: “People can think what they want about us on the ice. There’s always going to be different opinions. But the least you can do is come in and treat people like they should be treated. Come in with a smile on your face. That’s what we tried to do.”
“I think at times their greatness has been maybe not as appreciated as it could have been,” former Canuck president Trevor Linden said at the time. “Who they are and the culture that they set will live on in this organization for a long time. They’ve left an incredible legacy with this organization and with this city.”