Life can be a mixed bag sometimes. Promotions come long after you dreamed of a bigger office. That old flame returns just at the moment that you meet your future spouse.
The Vancouver Canucks probably related to those types of feelings during the 2011 NHL Awards. Major members of their team took home some impressive hardware. Daniel Sedin fell short of the Hart Trophy but earned the almost-as-good Ted Lindsay Award. Ryan Kesler blew away the competition on his way to his first-ever Selke Trophy. Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider shared the underrated William M. Jennings Trophy for their combined brilliance in not allowing goals while Mike Gillis received the GM of the Year award for buying all the right ingredients.
It was the best regular season in Vancouver Canucks history, one of the most impressive runs for any regular season team and a deep, dramatic run in the playoffs to boot. Yet all of those accolades can be washed away by a single image of Zdeno Chara raising the Stanley Cup far above our heads.
Kesler expressed his own mixed feelings about the highs that came from being rewarded for his individual achievements and the pitiful lows of coming one win short of the ultimate goal.
“Obviously it’s nice to get acknowledged but at the end of the day that [the Stanley Cup] is the trophy we all want,” Kesler said. “It’s still hard to swallow now, but I’m sure in the next couple of weeks we’re going to look back and realize we had a great season, and we came one game away. Obviously it wasn’t our goal to come one game away, we wanted to win. But we did a lot of things as an organization that we’ve never done before. We won a Presidents trophy, and we did a lot of things. Time heals all wounds, right?”
Canucks GM Gillis made a lot of great moves before and during this season. Some were small (the surprisingly beneficial trades for Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre) and some were big (winning the Dan Hamhuis sweepstakes), but an impressive majority of those transactions ended up being positive for Vancouver. That’s the thing about playoff hockey, though; sometimes all it comes down to is those nagging memories of one night that went wrong.
Gillis appreciated the award, but couldn’t deny the underlying truth that it wasn’t enough to fill that Cup-sized hole.
“It’s great, I guess,” Gillis said. “It’s nice, I appreciate it but I would trade it in anytime for a Stanley Cup.”
While some Canucks players or representatives seemed less dour than the others, the overarching theme was that these series of accomplishments were stained by falling just short of a championship. Vancouver is actually in a pretty solid position to maintain their high level of play going forward – depending on how much you’ve given up on Roberto Luongo, perhaps – so maybe this crushing loss will actually be assessed as a painful stepping stone one day.
That’s probably the message head coach Alain Vigneault and GM Mike Gillis are sending, so we’ll learn a lot about the makeup of this Vancouver team in the 2011-12 season.