Though not the Canucks most successful calender year, 2014 was certainly one of their most progressive. After enduring through the most disappointing season in recent memory, the Canucks underwent a major restructuring of the organization, making changes everywhere from the management to the players (You listening, Edmonton?) Under new leadership, the Canucks rebounded nicely. Sitting near the top of the Western Conference, it seems like the new regime is working and the fans are satisfied, which could not be said for the beginning of 2014.
With this in mind, let us count down the top 10 moments in the Canucks very eventful year.
#10 – The End of the Sellout Streak
— Matthew Sekeres (@mattsekeres) October 17, 2014
At 474 games, the Vancouver Canucks sellout streak was one of the longest in the league. Passionate fans packed the arena known both as GM Place and Rogers Arena for every game since November 14, 2002. It was speculated that Canucks twisted the definition of “sellout” a couple of times over the past couple years (there were a lot of empty seats for a “sellout”), but on September 18, the Canucks officially announced the end of their historic streak, as they failed to sell all their seats to their second home game of the season (a 4-2 lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning.) For better or for worse, we at least got this sentimental infographic released by the team’s social media accounts.
#9 – The Signing of Ryan Miller and Radim Vrbata
Jim Benning and Trevor Linden went into the Free Agency period with more cap space than Canucks fans have seen in a while. The loss of David Booth’s and Jason Garrison’s salaries gave Benning and company enough money to actually make significant signings on Canada Day, which is a rarity in recent seasons. The Miller signing was foreshadowed pretty heavily, as the goalie and his wife were in Vancouver for much of the week before his signing. The Vrbata acquisition was a lot more out of the blue, but the Czech winger wanted an opportunity to play with the Sedin twins, and the Canucks were more than willing to take him up on it. Miller and Vrbata, at three years, $18 million and two years, $10 million respectively, were expensive signings, but both have had flashes of excellence with the Canucks so far this year (though Miller’s consistency could use work).
#8 – Island Meltdown
In many ways, it was truly symbolic of the Canucks season. The Canucks, who had struggled in the games before this one, went into the March 10 game with high expectations, as they were playing an already not-very-good New York Islanders squad who were without their captain, John Tavares. Excelling early, the Canucks were up 3-0 heading into the third period. But in the final frame, the wheels completely fell off. Here are the highlights, if you can stomach them.
It was horrendous. The Canucks collapsed spectacularly, allowing seven (!) goals from seven different players, eventually losing 7-4. The Islanders, who were 33-37-11, scored a couple of quick goals, and the Canucks, lacking the willpower and gamesmanship they had struggled to play with all year, completely threw in the towel. It was representative of the Canucks season, in many ways. A strong start followed up by complete derailment and utter chaos. It was the final nail in Vancouver’s coffin, and the moment when Canucks fans finally and absolutely gave up on the season.
#7 – 2014 NHL Draft
The Canuckshad a horrible drafting record heading into the 2014 NHL Draft, but new GM Jim Benning was a long-time scout for both the Sabres and the Bruins, and he promised better results from the draft floor. The Canucks sat at the 6th overall pick, the highest pick the franchise has had since they drafted the Sedins at #2 and #3, so there was some pressure for the rookie GM to hit a home run here.
As it turned out, the Canucks used that pick on Calgary Hitman forward, Jake Virtanen, a hard-hitting, highly-skilled player from the lower-mainland. Having been ridiculed for not selecting home-grown talent in the past (read Milan Lucic, Brendan Gallagher), this was a rather predictable pick, although it was not without controversy. Writers from canucksarmy.com argued that Virtanen didn’t have the offensive potential as other draftees, most notably William Nylander (Toronto) and Nikolaj Ehlers (Winnipeg).
The Canucks also selected Jared McCann with the 24th pick and Thatcher Demko with the 36th pick. McCann looks to be a promising 2-way centre, while Demko has the potential to be a starter down the road, though that is far from a sure thing.
The Canucks also picked Nikita Tryamkin (66), Gustav Forsling (126), Kyle Pettit (156) and MacKenzie Stewart (186), along with making a considerable amount of trades. Speaking of which:
#6 – Trader Jim
This could easily be considered part of #7, but I made it its own category because both the draft picks and the trades Jim Benning made on the draft floor were important parts of the Canucks growth and Benning’s trades were such a massive story across the NHL.
Benning made four trades, all of which directly affected the Canucks roster, and reportedly came close to acquiring the 1st overall pick from the Florida Panthers. The busy day had members of the fanbase dub their new GM as “Trader Jim”.
By far the biggest trade on the day was the deal that sent 2-way centre, Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa and the 24th overall pick (which they used to select Jared McCann).
He also dropped Jason Garrison’s long and expensive contract on the Lightning for a second round pick, which he consequentally traded to the LA Kings for Linden Vey.
Finally, Benning sent a third round pick to the New York Rangers for Derek Dorsett, an effective fourth line grinder.
It was a coming out party for Benning and Trevor Linden, who set the stage for the new regime in Canucks management. And, as we approach the new year, each trade is looking like a win.
#5 – Torts Attacks the Flames
John Tortorella was brought in as the new head coach with the promise that his infamous temper would keep to a minimum, and, for the most part, he did a pretty good job of it. But his biggest slip up was during a Janurary 18 game against the Calgary Flames. There’s really no words to explain what was going on, but social media-ites had a field day with it, so I’ll let them do most of the talking.
Gotta give Torts a lot of credit for making this game entertaining.
— Shane? (@SocialAssassin2) January 19, 2014
Minutes after hearing Torts tell radio he wanted to "strangle" me for question this a.m. seeing him snap at bench makes me glad he held back
— Kevin Woodley (@KevinisInGoal) January 19, 2014
Torts heading into the Flames locker room earlier pic.twitter.com/MOYm42e4iC
— Dom (@dominikhl) January 19, 2014
Essentially, the Flames coach, Bob Hartley, sent his fourth line out for the opening faceoff, which incensed Tortorella. Torts retaliated by sending out a similar goon squad and, two seconds into the game, there was a massive line brawl. At the end of the first, Tortorella, who has a history with Hartley, went over the Flames dressing room to give the opposing coach piece of his mind. The hallway exploded as the Flames players had to restrain Torts from getting near Hartley. At the end of the day, Tortorella got handed a 15-day suspension (as well as a fierce scolding from CBC’s PJ Stock) and the game garnered league-wide attention. Also, the Canucks ended up winning that game 3-2 in a shootout, although nobody seems to remember that part.
#4 – The Luongo Trade
It is weird to think that trading the player who, for the past eight years, has been your starting goalie and the backbone of your franchise only comes as the fourth biggest moment in your year, but that is the kind of year the Canucks have had.
Roberto Luongo is simply the best goalie to ever play for the Canucks, but the long-term, expensive contract coupled with a persistent goalie controversy made Luongo a trade target for almost two years.
The trade went down on March 4, two days after Tortorella controversially started Eddie Lack over Luongo for the Heritage Classic game. This reportedly angered Luongo, who pressed management for a trade more intensely than ever. Gillis gave Luongo his wish, sending the All-Star goalie back to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias (a minimal return).
Luongo powered the Canucks through the best seasons in the team’s history, and his contributions won’t soon be forgotten. But 2014 marked the end of the Luongo era and the culmination of years of trade talk. At least Luongo left us with some quality tweets from his A+ twitter account.
Thank you Vancouver for a great 8 years! Really appreciative of all the support especially the last little while. I will miss the LOOO'ing!!
— Strombone (@strombone1) March 5, 2014
#3 – The Passing of Pat Quinn
Legendary Canucks coach, manager and president Pat Quinn died on November 23, 2014 at age 71. Quinn was one of the most influential and well-respected people in the league throughout his coaching and managing career, and in no city was he more loved than Vancouver.
Quinn has often been called the Canucks savior. He was responsible for drafting both Trevor Linden and Pavel Bure, and he coached an underpowered Canucks team to game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994. The team inducted Quinn into the “Ring of Honour” earlier in 2014 and he served as the chairman to the committee that decides who is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Trevor Linden said this about Quinn when the team announced his inclusion into the Ring of Honour:
“Pat taught me so much about the game and what it takes to be a leader. From the first time I met him, I was impressed by his presence. He commanded respect wherever he went but more importantly, he gave that respect back. Pat really made hockey relevant again in Vancouver and his presence remains strong with the Canucks, even to this day.”
The Canucks paid tribute to Quinn in a pregame ceremony, which was topped off by a beautiful rendition of Danny Boy sung by Mark Donnelly.
#2 – The Hiring of New
Trevor Linden was in charge of finding new management for the Canucks, whose 2013/2014 season was so dreadful that Francesco Aquilini was forced to establish a change of culture. Jim Benning’s name was linked to the Canucks for weeks leading up to his hiring, and when it was finally announced, it came as no surprise to anyone. Benning and Linden seemed to gel, both in their personalities and hockey ideologies, and Linden seemed ecstatic to land his former teammate as the Canucks new GM.
The biggest thing Benning brought to the table was his experience in scouting. He served as the head scout for both the Buffalo Sabres and the Boston Bruins, and has a very good reputation as a scout. As alluded to in moment number seven, the Canucks have been historically awful on the draft floor, so Vancouver fans and media were quick to laud the new manager’s background and express their approval. Benning seemed the perfect choice.
Linden and Benning then set out to find a new coach, after the team decided to fire John Tortorella, and Willie Desjardins’ name came up frequently. The man who coached the AHL’s Houston Aeros was said to be a fantastic player coach, who communicated excellently with his players (something that was missing with Tortorella). On June 23, they announced the hiring of Desjardins, and the rejuvenation of the Canucks front office was complete.
The additions of Benning and Desjardins marked the beginning of a new era in Canucks management, and the franchise started branding its new slogan: “Change is Coming”. The new management made many significant changes in terms of the roster, and promised more up-paced, exciting hockey for fans in the fall. It was the most dramatic change since Gillis’ takeover in 2008, and was only outshone by one moment:
#1 – The Firing of Old
Oh, Mike Gillis.
It’s hard to believe that only three years after winning the NHL’s GM of the Year award and taking his team to the Stanley Cup Finals, fans would be calling for Gillis’ head with such passionate enmity that, when he was finally relieved of his duties, it elicited joyous celebrations. Gillis had his moments of genius (trade for Christian Ehrhoff, fantastic contract management), but they were largely overshadowed by his notorious blunders (trade for Keith Ballard, Luongo situation), and, near the end of the 2013/14 season, fans in Rogers Arena were chanting “Fire Gillis”.
The fans were satisfied on April 8, 2014, when Aquilini announced Gillis’ firing and the institution of Trevor Linden as the team’s new president. It was the first changing of the guard in this organization since 2008, and it was the end of one of the most successful eras in Canucks history.
Linden pondered over deciding whether or not to fire John Tortorella for a few weeks, but when they finally announced that he too would be fired, it was also met with nodding heads. Tortorella was the wrong choice for the team when he was hired, and, after an abysmal season, that fact was even more clear. Torts will continue to get paid for the next four years by the Canucks organization thanks to the long and onerous contract he signed in 2013, but the Canucks needed a new voice in the locker room. Tortorella had completely lost his players and was a lingering source of animosity.