When your team has no proven goaltender, your best player
demands to be traded, your captain is too old to play
shuffleboard and your roster includes five rookies, you're in
need of comfort. Perhaps that's why Mike Keenan, coach of the
hapless Canucks, has turned to history for solace. "When I
coached the Flyers in '84, there wasn't one person who thought
we'd make the playoffs," he says. "Bobby Clarke had retired and
Pelle Lindbergh was a goaltender nobody had reason to believe
in, but we made it to the Stanley Cup finals. When I coached the
Rangers, they hadn't made the playoffs the season before. Then
we won the Cup."
Keenan insists this isn't cockiness, simply motivation for a
team that needs it. Not long after last season's disaster
(25-43-14), star right wing Pavel Bure said he would never again
play in Vancouver. "Pavel's agent assures me, hell or high
water, he won't put on our uniform," says Brian Burke, the
team's new general manager. Until Burke unloads the game's
fastest skater for, presumably, a slew of young talent,
Vancouver takes the ice with one of the league's thinnest
rosters. The most glaring weakness is in goal, where Garth Snow
and Corey Hirsch will attempt to stop what should be, thanks to
a dismal defense, an ungodly number of shots. "Coming into camp,
I felt we needed to get a starting goaltender," says Burke. "I
still feel that way, but both of our guys have shown in the
preseason they're very capable."
Maybe so, but even if Snow morphs into the next Dominik Hasek,
the Canucks will be hurting. Last year at this time, then
general manager Pat Quinn was hailed as a savior, having lured
Mark Messier from New York. That thrill lasted about a week,
until fans realized that the 37-year-old center had lost his
spunk. Messier had a measly 22 goals, and unless Keenan is right
(he says nagging injuries, not age, slowed his captain), Messier
might go down as a Godzilla-sized waste of money (three years,
$20 million). "My job isn't to make the playoffs this season,"
says Burke, who differs strongly with Keenan on that point. "My
job is to build a team in the long term. We're not interested in
Too bad. Vancouver will need 'em.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN TAMANIO [Drawing of golden hockey puck]
After being acquired from the Islanders at midseason, left wing
Todd Bertuzzi nearly doubled his points-per-game production,
from 0.35 to 0.68.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
--General manager Brian Burke must acquire a quality goaltender
for Vancouver to have any chance of making the playoffs.
--The Canucks need to improve their not-so-special teams, which
were ranked 21st and 24th in the league in power play and
penalty killing, respectively.