The Vancouver Canucks donned jerseys worn by their century-ago forebears, the Millionaires, maroon replicas from the first professional hockey team in this West Coast city.
The modern Canucks plan to wear the jersey this month in a game against Detroit. It is the only jersey in these parts that can lay claim to a Stanley Cup, hoisting the trophy in 1915, the Canucks having failed to win a championship since their debut in 1970.
On Friday, when the team unveiled the jerseys, it felt like the Cup was just a little farther away, as the team tumbled into some disarray this week.
It began when the Canucks on Wednesday lost Ryan Kesler, again, to injury, a fracture in his right foot. He could be absent well into April. It sparked a roster churn, including the departure of fourth-line grinder Aaron Volpatti – who in hindsight the Canucks could have kept. Instead, the team welcomed Tom Sestito, with 149 penalty minutes in 34 career National Hockey League games, and, soon, Steve Pinizzotto, who has never played in the NHL.
“In this league right now,” said team president Mike Gillis, “you’re one injury away from being a .500 hockey team if you think you’re a good team.”
Time to trade Roberto Luongo, one might wonder. “No,” was Gillis’s succinct answer on whether the loss of Kesler hastened a push to move the star/backup goaltender.
All this comes as the Canucks are in danger of losing the lead in the Northwest Division, where they had a three-win just six days ago. Now, the stumbling Canucks welcome to Vancouver the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night. The last time the defending Cup champions visited the city they, with ease, bounced the Canucks out of the playoffs, beating the home team three times in their own building. And like last April, the Kings arrive hot, winners of seven of their last eight, a span during which they’ve given up a little more than a goal a game.
“They’re playing big, they’re playing heavy,” said Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault of the Kings on Friday, adding the Canucks will have to use speed to overcome the visitors on Hockey Night in Canada.
The Kings were terrible to start, 3-5-2, but Vigneault said, “They’ve found their gear, they’ve found their game, as far as grinding teams down, and using that size. So, if ever we need to be good, tomorrow it’s the night.”
The Canucks have looked reasonably good at times this year – but it can be illusory. They are 10-5-4 – which means they’ve barely won half their games. And the wins came again easy opponents, a 6-0-1 showing against the limp Northwest Division, while going 4-5-3 against the rest of the West. And if Minnesota wins on Friday night, and Vancouver loses Saturday, the Canucks get knocked off their perch atop the division.
All is hardly lost. Vancouver is one of the NHL’s best puck-possession teams, a buoyant sign, has a strong defence, and two stalwarts (for now) in goal.
But with Kesler gone again, the Sedins will suffer. Although Vancouver went 8-2-2 without Kesler (as they rolled over Northwest teams), the Sedins together put up just 18 points in 12 games, facing the stiff competition of other team’s top lines. Kesler eased that burden, and the Sedins pocketed 20 points in the seven games Kesler was back.
The Cup felt a little farther away in Vancouver this week – and could feel much farther away by the time Kesler returns.