Regardless of what you do in your life, the good or the bad, it is generally perceived that a fresh start to anything at all, is a consistent and effective way of improving at the things you desire to.
A new year brings optimism and reflection; not only for you and the people around you, but companies, organization’s and teams, as well. For the Vancouver Canucks, 2021 is a long path of the unknown, a road they will go down clinging to the momentum and enthusiasm that they worked so hard to build upon in 2020.
2020 was the year of power and perseverance, for everyone and everything. It brought to light the problems and struggles of people, and even more, those same individuals daring abilities to get through the darkness and find the hope.
After losing in 7 games to the Vegas Golden Knights and being bounced in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Canucks felt as if they could’ve had more. They looked at the distance they had come and said it wasn’t enough to satisfy the hunger they still had in them to keep going.
Through all the hardship during a draining campaign, one that saw their starting goaltenders father lose his battle with cancer at the season’s start. One with early injuries to key players and young pieces to integrate. A global pandemic bringing it all to a sudden halt, the 2019-20 Canucks may have not been the most talented and physically imposing team, but they finally started to build something that doesn’t show up on an analytics sheet –
Heart and Culture.
That brings us here, as fans of this specific hockey team, excited for another new beginning, but this time one with a little more anticipation than the last few. A fanbase that has never gotten to witness their team with the big one, but hasn’t wavered a bit, even when they were putting a product on the ice that maybe made you start watching more Leafs games (kidding).
As for who they are, this season will bring forward new questions for the hockey club. In this business just like most others, faces come and go, people find better opportunity and fortune elsewhere, and that brings the need to sustain and replace those parts of the motor, in an attempt to improve upon what you have built so far.
As a team that was very closely watched during the NHL Bubble, the offseason saw the repercussions of that. Vezina caliber Goaltender Jakob Markstrom got a lucrative deal with some team that plays in Alberta, so did longtime veteran defensemen Chris Tanev.
And… so did forward Josh Leivo.
They also lost the services of hometown product Troy Stecher (Detroit), and the goal scoring ability of Tyler Toffoli, who went to Montreal on a very affordable deal. The outpouring of disappoinment was clear and overwhelming when Toffoli took the deal in MTL, as the price that was paid for him at the Trade Deadline was steep, and ended up feeling as things never really got started on the Toffoli era in YVR.
With that being said, new parts were brought in to bolster a roster that was hit hard by free agency. Defensemen Nate Schmidt and Travis Hamonic are both journeymen editions to an already experienced D-core. Goaltender Braden Holtby was a highly sought after pickup for the team to complete a solid goalie tandem with Thatcher Demko. And finally the arrival of young Swedish wonder-kid Nils Höglander has everyone on the edge of their seats before the puck has even dropped.
A lesson that this group may have to learn from the team of last year is one that may take some time to fully integrate, and that is identity.
“Knowing others is intelligence; Knowing yourself is true wisdom.” – Lao Tzu
The Canucks have been collectively working on this for years. Finally, it is starting to come to fruition, the vision that was set forth years ago with the hiring of Coach Travis Green. It took another gigantic step in a positive direction with Bo Horvat being named the next captain, and last season when the numbers 22 and 33 were hung up in Rogers Arena for eternity.
The culture of this hockey club is strong, arguably stronger than it has ever been. Years ago, it was a trend to hate the Canucks. The “divers and finger-biters” and the “team with no cups.” You heard it everywhere, but that narrative is starting to take its rightful place behind the curtain, and the new one is getting its time to shine.
Around the league during the playoffs, you saw the amount of support and respect the Canucks got, players like Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes electrifying empty arenas. Passion, grit and leadership displayed from Bo Horvat. Underdog stories like Tyler Motte, this is the vision that was being set every time the team was in a draft lottery.
The 2021 Canucks have a different feel to them, they now feel like not as much of a stepping stone, but more of the other side of the mountain where the view gets nicer, and clearer.
Their identity will take time, but in my honest opinion, it will be pretty effortless. This team has heart, those of lions. Pieces like Nate Schmidt and Braden Holtby will only contribute to improving that even more. A yearly question that this city has began to ask themselves is, “what Canuck will be in the rookie of the year race this season?”
That is culture and identity, nothing more and nothing less.
An opportunity is arising for this group, most of the core not yet having began the primes of their NHL careers, almost all set up for new contract extensions in the coming years, this is the time to act and perform for a city that needs it (ASAP).
The identity of this team will form itself, over time and trust, I believe by March this may be the tightest knit and most readily prepared to contend team we have seen since 2011.
And I believe I speak for many when I say,
I’m going to enjoy every, single, second.
Evan Power, Evolution 107.9