History shows Canucks can’t be satisfied after one breakout season

Iain MacIntyre and Dan Murphy discuss Patrik Allvin's message at the end-of-season media availability and explain why there's an important summer ahead for the Vancouver Canucks' General Manager.

VANCOUVER — It was not by accident last week that after the most successful season for the Vancouver Canucks in 13 years — and one of the most enjoyable seasons for its fan base in franchise history — Patrik Allvin began his post-mortem press conference by declaring his unhappiness.

It was, perhaps, a little surprising (and impressive) that the general manager spoke passionately and uninterrupted for more than two minutes about his level of dissatisfaction after the Canucks’ 50-victory, division-winning season was capped by 13 playoff contests and a Game 7 loss at home to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup quarterfinals. 

“I’m not happy sitting here today,” Allvin announced. “Definitely not satisfied. We lost our last game and it was only in Round 2.”

That was the message at the start of his meeting with reporters, and it was the message at the end of his exit meetings with players. It was a great year. But still not good enough. Not where the Canucks need to go.

A finalist for National Hockey League manager of the year, Allvin may still be relatively new to his position, hired by the Canucks less than 2 1/2 years ago. But he has been around long enough to know that complacency and satisfaction are lethally poisonous to teams.

Most hockey fans on the West Coast should be aware of it, too.

[brightcove videoID=6353816965112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

The Canucks, with the same glittering core of young players they have now, only younger, emerged from the rebuilding abyss in 2020 by making the playoffs for the first time in five years, and then won two pandemic-tournament rounds in the artificial summer bubble in Edmonton. The Canucks had arrived!

And just as quickly, they departed again the next season when, after previous GM Jim Benning misplayed free agency and the Canucks lost a chunk of their leadership group, the team started 6-11-0 and descended into three years of utter chaos.

The Daniel and Henrik Sedin-Roberto Luongo-Ryan Kesler Canucks finally broke through in 2007 with a then-record 105-point season and won a playoff round (just like this spring) before making a U-turn the next season, collapsing under the weight of injuries in 2008 and disappointing so much that general manager Dave Nonis was fired.

And the Markus Naslund-Todd Bertuzzi West Coast Express Canucks a few years before that?

In 2001, they brought playoff hockey back to Vancouver for the first time in five years, but were 14-21-4 at Christmastime the next season before GM Brian Burke famously blistered players during a come-to-Jesus meeting. The Canucks managed a second-half cannonball run to the playoffs before losing in the first round to the Detroit Red Wings and Nick Lidstrom’s goal from centre ice.

Until you win a Stanley Cup, you’ve never really arrived. 

If you think you’ve arrived without winning one, you’re halfway doomed.

It is this mindset that the Canucks, led by Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson, Thatcher Demko and Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller, must guard against this summer and next fall.

It’s not really complacency or carelessness that could topple them, but just simple naivety. One of the many things new to these Canucks and this group of youngish leaders is dealing with success. In some respects, it’s more difficult than dealing with outright failure.

Which is why Allvin was spinning like Conor Garland with the puck behind the net as he tried to frame the Canucks season for reporters.

“You don’t know how many chances you’re going to have to play in Game 7,” Allvin said during the middle of his oratorio. “My message to the players is that this is something you’re going to bear with you the whole summer, that we lost our last game and that it was only in Round 2. It’s just going to get harder.”

[brightcove videoID=6353539094112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Most Canucks players know this. Or at least they understand the concept in an academic sense because Allvin, coach-of-the-year Rick Tocchet and his staff, and a few veteran players have warned the group about the dangers of being one-and-done.

But, again, the Canucks haven’t lived it. Most of them have not had to follow one excellent season with another.

“I hope that the taste of the playoffs and seeing Vancouver in May, and what it’s like to play a Game 7, you know, puts a hunger in a lot of guys’ stomachs and shows how close we are,” Miller, the Canucks’ emotional leader, said last Thursday. “At the end of the day, we have a really good hockey team and we have a lot of good qualities. These opportunities just don’t come around very often. I’ve learned that over the years of my career. I was spoiled with playoff hockey as a kid (in the NHL), and then all of a sudden you go five years without it.  I’m 31 years old, and when you look at it like that, things happen quickly. 

“That is going to be a challenge — not taking it for granted and raising the bar again. We can feel good about what we did this year, but at the end of the day, we still lost. For me, it makes me want to work even harder knowing that we’re a goal or two away from the Final Four.”

The tasters’ challenge will be an off-season theme for the Canucks.

“I would think they’re going to have a taste of it now and I would hope they’re going to want it even more,” Allvin said. “And for us as staff, myself and Rick, it’s about communication here. We have set the standard here now where the players know what the expectations are coming into training camp. Game 1 next year is going to be hard because we won the division. (Opponents) all know that we’re a good team. Based on the conversations I had with the players, they want it more.”

Garland said: “For us as players, we just have to realize, you know, we won the division, went to the second round (and) lost in Game 7. We’re not a secret anymore. It’s not going to get any easier. We’re not going to surprise teams. It’s going to be hard to win games in the regular season. Every team is trying to get better, and we have to get better. Guys that are coming back have to get better. Everybody’s going to have to improve because it’s going to be a lot harder to win.”

Tocchet will remind players of this over the summer as he checks in with them.

Yes, he wants them all to be better conditioned. Depending on the player, there are physical tools that must be sharpened. A heavier shot. A better skating stride. Quicker hands. Sharper edge work. But all of this improvement is predicated on having the correct mindset and urgency leading into next season.

The Canucks have not yet arrived. They are merely getting there.

“You don’t think you’re going to lose, and then when you lose the next day, everybody feels empty, right?” Tocchet explained. “That’s the hardest part. Can you channel, can you take the feelings that you had when you lose… for your training and your motivation and how you’re going to get better? That’s really what the summers are for. We’ve just got to make sure that we have a motivated group next year, and it’s up to our staff here to make sure that they get the message.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.