It’s been six years since the Vancouver Canucks had one of the worst seasons in franchise history. It wasn’t their worst record to date, but the season featured multiple events that caused a downward spiral. The Canucks landed the sixth-overall pick that season, the highest since 1999 when they drafted Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
5 Season Playoff Run
From the 2008-09 season, the Canucks were a Stanley Cup contender who made the playoffs five seasons in a row. In 2009 and 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated them in the conference semifinals. The Canucks finally slew the dragon in 2011, beating the Blackhawks in seven games in the quarterfinals and went on a memorable Stanley Cup Final run. However, the following two seasons marked the start of the team’s decline.
In 2011-12, the Canucks won the Presidents’ Trophy but lost in five games to the L.A. Kings in the first round, who went on to win the Cup. Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks swept them in the first round in 2013. The 2013-14 season was the final hope for the core made up of the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, Roberto Luongo, Alex Burrows and Kevin Bieksa.
After consecutive first-round playoff losses, the front office decided they needed a change. It started with the firing of head coach Alain Vigneault in May 2013. He had coached the team since 2006-07 and had only missed the playoffs once during that time. To replace him, general manager Mike Gillis hired John Tortorella. The two coaches switched teams as the New York Rangers hired Vigneault, Tortorella’s former team.
The Schneider Trade
The Canucks had one problem over the past three seasons, and that was having two talented goalies. Luongo was the starter for most of his time since joining the team in 2006-07, but Cory Schneider developed into a starting goalie during the 2011-12 season. As a result, Luongo requested a trade out of Vancouver, but management was unable to make a deal. In June 2013, they traded Schneider instead.
In the same offseason that they hired Vigneault, the Canucks traded Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for the ninth-overall pick, which they used to select Bo Horvat. Luongo became the starting goalie for the 2013-14 season but that did not end the goaltender controversy.
Torts vs the Flames
A highlight of the season was a line brawl that started a game between the Canucks and the Calgary Flames in January. The Flames started the game with their fourth line and Tortorella did the same.
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“I see the starting lineup and I know the other guy across the bench and it’s easy for people to say ‘Well put the Sedins out there and it’s deflated.’ I can’t put our players at risk like that,” Tortorella said. “With the lineup that (Hartley) had, I am not going to put those types of players at risk, and that’s what ensues.”
The line brawl ensued once the puck dropped and all 10 skaters on the ice were involved. Eight of the 10 players involved received a game misconduct. The two benches continued yelling at one another during and after it concluded.
Tortorella tried to storm the Flames locker room between periods, and received a 15-day suspension, missing the next six games. The game ended with a Canucks shootout win and 188 total penalty minutes.
Heritage Classic and the Luongo Trade
The first outdoor game in Vancouver took place between the Canucks and Ottawa Senators in February. Aside from wearing the Vancouver Millionaires jerseys, the game had more negatives than positives. Daniel Sedin was injured during the game and it was Luongo’s last game in a Canucks jersey.
Tortorella chose to start Eddie Lack over Luongo. Many felt Luongo deserved the nod, and fans protested the choice with “Lou” chants. The snub resulted in Luongo requesting a trade.
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In March 2014, the Canucks traded Luongo and Steven Anthony to the Florida Panthers for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias. Luongo retired after the 2018-19 season but his contract still has three years remaining at $3.033 million per season. This will push the Canucks closer to the salary cap.
Injuries Piled Up
The 2013-14 season featured a lot of unlucky events for the Canucks, including the number of injuries. Burrows only played 49 games that season due to a broken foot and jaw and he only scored five goals. Henrik Sedin’s 679-game iron man streak ended when he missed his first game since 2003-04. He played 70 games that season.
Luongo suffered a groin injury in January and reinjured himself upon returning to the lineup. January was when the team fell apart. They entered the month with a 23-12-7 record and ended it with a 27-21-9 record including an embarrassing 9-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
General Manager Change
In 2013-14, the Canucks ended up missing the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. After a loss to the Ducks in April, which ended all hope for the team’s chances to reach the playoffs, fans at the game started a “Fire Gillis” chant. The team hired Gillis after the 2007-08 season, the last time the team missed the playoffs prior to the 2013-14 season. He had created a strong contender in Vancouver but failed to draft well and provide a promising future for the Canucks.
The Canucks fired Gillis less than a day after the team had been officially eliminated from playoff contention. They hired Trevor Linden as the president of hockey operations the next day. In May, Linden hired Jim Benning as the team’s general manager, and in June, they hired Willie Desjardins as the head coach to replace Tortorella after one season of coaching for the franchise. Vigneault, on the other hand, coached the Rangers to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
Benning’s First Trade and Draft
Benning’s first big transaction came after Kesler had asked for a trade because he was not interested in the direction the team was going. Benning traded the second-line centre to the Ducks for Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa and the 24th-overall pick at the 2014 NHL Draft. The trade did not go as Benning hoped. After the 2014-15 season, the Canucks traded Bonino for Brendan Sutter, who has caused cap issues for the team recently. Sbisa was considered one of the worst defensemen in the league throughout his tenure on the Canucks. The team traded Jared McCann, the player chosen with the 24th-overall pick, in a package for Erik Gudbranson after the 2015-16 season.
Hired for his scouting background, Benning was considered a great pick as the general manager to rebuild the Canucks. His first draft in 2014 was hit and miss. It was a hit because five of the seven picks have played in the NHL, but it was a miss because they missed out on great players. The Canucks held two picks in the first round and selected Jake Virtanen with the sixth overall pick and McCann at 24. The team missed out on drafting William Nylander, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kevin Fiala, Dylan Larkin and David Pastrnak (twice). Virtanen is slowly starting to develop into the player fans hoped Benning drafted but the return for McCann did not live up to the team’s expectations.
Start of the End of an Era
The 2013-14 offseason was the start of the end for the greatest era in Canucks history. With the Vigneault firing after the 2012-13 season, the Canucks went in a new direction with Tortorella, which did not work out. The NHL Heritage Classic game ended up being a disaster. After eight seasons, the team traded Luongo back to the team they acquired him from. The team fired Gillis after six seasons as GM and Kesler requested a trade. The season ended all hope of seeing the Sedin era raising the Stanley Cup but was the start of a new era that features numerous promising young players and the potential for a bright future.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.