That is the question. What if the 40 year Stanley Cup drought in Vancouver that has fed this city's desire to see it's first place team win the Cup is not satisfied? What if the best version of the Vancouver Canucks ever, and the best team during the NHL's regular season is on the wrong side of the history books for one of North American Pro Sports largest collapses of all-time? What if the Canucks lose Game 7 on home ice Tuesday night against their hated rival, the Chicago Blackhawks?
Again, this article is written under the hypothetical assumption that the Canucks lose Game 7 against Chicago.
Well, let's start at the top. After being nominated as one of the league's top three executives, Canucks GM Mike Gillis will have a lot of questions to be answered. Indeed, it would be frustrating a good team that was one goal away from advancing is now being scrutinized for every weakness imaginable, but that's exactly what will happen. Many fans are already increasingly frustrated with his off-season additions.
The team had an amazing regular season, but in this playoff round, the Canucks are without injured centre Manny Malhotra. Raffi Torres has been a lightning rod for criticism for his penalties and hit on Brent Seabrook that woke up the Blackhawks. The $4 million man Keith Ballard has been a healthy scratch for two games and barely a presence at all. (While Michael Grabner receives a Calder nomination in Long Island). Trade deadline acquisitions Chris Higgins and Max Lapierre have one goal to show for their efforts, and the 39 year contract extension to Roberto Luongo might be hanging around his neck like an albatross if the Canucks win OR lose on Tuesday. Indeed, many of Gillis' bold moves this year may not have the desired impact.
Let's discuss Luongo a bit more. His struggles have been documented to death, but the decision to start Cory Schneider in his place in the biggest game of the season is a huge statement. The Canucks have stroked Luongo's ego for years and the wake up call is probably long overdue, but the ramifications of this decision will be felt all year. Even if the Canucks rally and win the Stanley Cup, will it be because of Schneider or Luongo? The decision for the Canucks to go elsewhere in their moment of need is a troubling sign when your franchise goaltender is locked up for 73 more years. If Schneider outperforms Luongo, surely you have to get rid of Luongo, but who wants a $10 million regular season goaltender? On the other hand, why would you trade Schneider to keep Luongo if he clearly cannot get the job done? Big questions. Fans in Vancouver will be very impatient - they already are - and will not want another 82 games just to have a crack at the playoffs again with the same goaltender who has failed in three consecutive years.
Henrik and Daniel are two of the best players in the game. Back to back Art Ross Trophies, and perhaps back to back Hart Trophies. if the Canucks are ousted from the NHL Playoffs in the first round, how does that reflect on Henrik's leadership as captain? This even-keel, mature, composed team suddenly offers up perhaps the largest choke job in the history of the NHL? Markus Naslund might finally be off the hook for his infamous speech in 2003 when they lost the Division, Art Ross and Richard trophies with a pathetic effort against a Los Angeles team filled with AHLers.
To their credit, Henrik and Daniel have been consistent in their message and embodied a more confident group than any team led by Naslund. Henrik has answers to questions of the media and does not appear to be a deer caught in the headlights. That being said, the twins have disappeared for a couple of games and let the Hawks back in the series. If they do not step up in Game 7, they'll absorb the same abuse Alex Ovechkin has in comparison to Crosby for his inability to win on the big stage. Again, presuming the Canucks lose game 7, the twins leadership will be forever attached to the massive collapse, but it's not as if GM Mike Gillis will trade two MVPs and the core of the team. They're under contract for a long time. Gillis will have to adjust his supporting cast and take another kick at the can.
Ryan Kesler & Alex Burrows
Dubbed the Heart and Soul of the Vancouver Canucks, they certainly provide the emotional engine that powers the team. This series, they've been back on their heels too much and have but one goal to show for their efforts through 6 games. This duo is still fairly early in their NHL career to be labeled non-winners, but they have taken on larger roles with the team and must share in the blame. Will Gillis deem the pair to be part of the problem, or in need of a better supporting cast?
On defence, Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff and Sami Salo are all UFAs. Bieksa and Ehrhoff have had solid years and deserve offers. The team may be unable to afford both. Salo most definitely will follow the Mattias Ohlund / Willie Mitchell route of slinking out the back door at the end of the season. Alain Vigneault seems convinced that Keith Ballard is a $4 million waste of space, while Chris Tanev looks capable of making the team full-time. Sufficed to say, whether the team succeeds or not, changes are afoot.
Coach Alain Vigneault
What can you say about Vigneault? He's done a terrific job coaching the best team in the regular season. He's won a Coach of the Year award already and may be nominated for another. Can you fire him? Should you fire him? GM Mike Gillis has watched Vigneault lose to the Hawks three times, so how can you reward that? Coach Vigneault has run his team as a meritocracy and seems to be well respected, but his insistence on playing the likes of Tanner Glass, Aaron Rome, Andrew Alberts, and previously Rick Rypien, while refusing to give long looks at rookies like Hodgson, Shirokov, and playing Ballard a paltry 10 - 15 minutes a night seems a bit odd.
GM Mike Gillis has his work cut out for him. His team set all kinds of records this year. His Vezina-nominated goaltender cannot stop a beach ball. His likely-Selke nominated Ryan Kesler is goalless. His Hart Trophy winning captain is on the verge of steering the titanic into an iceberg. His Jack Adams winning Coach has been unable to write the ship, and his hand-picked complimentary players aren't getting the job done.
Do you trade your Vezina-calibre goalie? Trade your Hart Trophy / Art Ross Trophy winning captain? Bring in another crop of defensemen? Fire your Jack Adams worthy Head Coach? Quite the head scratcher.
Regardless of what Gillis does, he will be questioned. Vancouver has never been hungrier for a Stanley Cup and has never had a better opportunity. Fans will be furious - and rightfully so. The Canucks may lose a lot of fans and there will be a lot of vitriol. Canucks fans will have to put up with more trash talk from Oilers and Flames fans, and even Maple Leafs fans can laugh at Vancouver fans. It won't be pretty.
Gillis hasn't been one to sit back and expect a different result with the same players, so aside from Vancouver's crime rate sky-rocketing from an angry populace, Vince Vaughn Voodoo Dolls and Patrick Kane witch hunts, what will happen, and where does this choke job rank all time?
Whether it's a Lidstrom goal from center ice on Dan Cloutier (2002)
A 3-1 series lead collapse against the Minnesota Wild (2003), a Bertuzzi sucker punch that devastated a franchise (2004), or back to back goaltending debacles against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Canucks find gut wrenching ways to lose playoff series. Let's hope for Vancouver's sake that this year is different.