Welcome to Plinko.
The middle. The blender, the juicer. I like to think of NHL seasons that way, and I think I sort of have to. Because it’s not very easy to write about these teams and these players all the time. If you’re going to try to find a conclusion from each game, and if you’re going to treat each note in a very long ballad like it really matters on its own, then you’re going to fail. Writing about sports can suck… and your peers litter their tomes with cliches and needlessly short first lines (like, welcome to Plinko) to the point that they all sound the same. And it’s not fun to read, unless the writer is saying something you already believe. But it’s not their fault because, like I said, writing about sports can suck. And it’s hard – it’s hard to make things matter over and over, especially when they don’t and won’t. Because, eight months later, only one team will win a Stanley Cup. And then all 30 of them start over, including the champion.
So I think of it like Plinko. You toss some chips down your respective chute, you watch yours jump back and forth, flirting from each second with the JACKPOT and then BANKRUPTCY and the other numbers in between, and it’s not until they land at the bottom that you really know what you’ve got. And at the end, you’re likely to have a pretty meh reaction. Something like, “Oh, okay. Thanks.”
You could argue that building a contender isn’t random. It requires a lot of working and planning and preparation. This is true but, as a fan, we have no control. So, for us, it is random. Our allegiances depend on where we were born or where we live or, probably, some genetic or cosmic lottery that files some of us into one camp and the rest into others.
Do you get where I’m going here? It’s okay if you don’t – that’s my fault.
I have tried to write about the Vancouver Canucks for a while, and weekends like this past one have always been a nasty little thing to deal with. One night, Vancouver loses 7-3 to Colorado in Denver. Two nights later, they come home and beat down Washington 4-2. And sure, they didn’t run away with that Capitals game last night – they scored three goals in one second-period flurry and then batted the winner away with an empty net goal in the third – but they certainly made a statement.
They never once looked out of control of the outcome, whereas on Friday – where the Avalanche outscored Vancouver 4-1 in the game’s final frame – they looked breakable. The speed of players like Matt Duchene and Nathan McKinnon broke Vancouver’s back, but was that performance the norm or was it the anomaly? Same goes for two games before that, when the Canucks were slapped silly by Dallas, 6-3 in Texas. But in between then and now, the Canucks have forced in two strong, stable wins – last night’s over Washington, and a rather impressive 4-1 talk to the hand against St. Louis.
So… what does that mean exactly? Where are we now? And will we really need to address these questions after every damn game?
(Just look at Willie Desjardins in that video below. He’s like, “Seriously? I have to talk to you guys again? I just talked to you a week ago.”)
After 60 minutes three nights ago, it was easy to say the Avalanche (who entered Friday’s game with a 1-4-2 record) were back and the Canucks were finally cracking. But now? Hell, good luck thinking of something fresh to say.
With a 5-3 record and no particular pattern of either greatness or awfulness, your guess is as good as mine. I’ve been asked several times where I think the Canucks will make the playoffs, and I truly do, because I think they’re good enough. But I think there are 10 or 11 teams in the West that could be good enough. If everything falls right in Calgary and Edmonton – falls right, like in Plinko, you know? – I wouldn’t be shocked to see either of them or both of them leapfrog Vancouver or Colorado or some other incumbent, and if they do that then the playoffs are a possibility. And what about the Nashville Predators or the always overachieving Arizona Coyotes? Basically, any team in the West besides the Winnipeg Jets has a chance to crash the postseason’s party.
So while I think Vancouver should finish seventh, I could just as easily see them finishing 12th or 13th.
And I don’t think they’d have to even fall to land there. The start to this season is proof of that.
You wouldn’t think a 5-3 team could be called inconsistent but I’m afraid that’s where we are, right now, with the Canucks. I’m more confident we’re going to see a solid effort every night, even in a loss, and I’m happy for that. Because two Saturdays ago, when Vancouver dropped a well-played 4-2 decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning, I was tremendously disappointed the Canucks couldn’t pull off the upset.
But only six months ago, I’m afraid I and thousands others would have just given up before puck drop. We would have looked at the schedule, seen Stamkos on the horizon, and then we would have shown up with our folded flag in our hands. And I’m sorry, but I think the Canucks themselves might have done the same.
So that’s changed now, and that’s cool. And it’s sort of comforting to think of Vancouver falling to the bottom of the West after 82 games, and that being okay. They won’t be letting anyone down, at least. And they’re better than that, sure, but Tampa Bay finished third-last in the league two years ago, and now they ride into Rogers Arena like Genghis Khan.
The Canucks were scary once. They can be scary again. But we may have to roll over first. Or have we done that already?