NHL teams really should be making better use of the pre-season. Vancouver is the perfect case in point.
Optimism reigned supreme when the Vancouver Canucks cruised through the pre-season with a 7-0-2 record. Fans were debating the Stanley Cup parade route - down Robson Street or in Stanley Park?
Then the regular season came. They forgot to show up for the first period of the opening game in Calgary. They found their game but could not complete the comeback. Then in game 2 they territorially dominated Colorado early, but were unable to score on goalie Craig Anderson.
0-2 to start the year. The most curious explanation I heard was Willie Mitchell opining after game 1 that the team still has to gel because it was the first time the whole team had played together.
Which leads me to suggest the Canucks completely misused the pre-season, blowing a chance for a strong start. And it could cost them dearly.
An 0-2 start is hardly reason to worry. But the Canucks fancy themselves as Stanley Cup contenders this years. They have to know that standing in their way is the most unforgiving NHL schedule in history, including a 14 game road trip from January to March thanks to the Olympics in Vancouver. There is the stoppage of NHL play to break it up, but half of the Vancouver team will be playing in the Olympics instead of resting. The Canucks need to build up a buffer before mid-January.
The Canucks, like most teams, chose to use the pre-season to evaluate prospects, which is fine for the first 6 games. But the final three exhibition games they should have been employing their real team so that they can hit the regular season running. Let the team gel then. Get the specialty teams fully focused. Put the players into regular season scenarios. Play the lines together without the juggling they are now employing in desperate attempts to get back into games.
I know there are rules regarding veterans playing only so many games in the pre-season, but if the Canucks ever needed a year with a strong start, this would be the year. The road trips after Christmas are going to decimate them. The Canucks coaching and management staff bungled this opportunity. Will it cost them later in the season? Could it even cost them a playoff spot?