As the canucks head into their next NHL season, it is surely to be one of the most anticipated seasons in well over a decade for this organization.
After six long years, the Burke era finally ended going into the NHL lockout, on the backs of the canucks losing yet another playoff series. Two years, and one hockey season later, marked the end of the long standing Crawford era as well. Crow - love him or hate him - was undoutably clinging to his position with this organization for at least two years too long. Not even the greatest coaches in the game usually have a shelf life of longer than four or five years with any one team - Crow was well past his expiration date when he was let go.
And every canuck fan will tell you, it was time for him to go.
But with that change, comes a whole new era in canuckland. No more run and gun team relying on the offensive capabilities of a quiet superstar and his enigma of a best friend. No more front heavy core that left a goalie hung out to dry. This team is heading in a new direction, and with any new direction comes a plethora of uncertainty.
So what's the prognosis for this team for next season?
The optimistic fans, myself include, see a lot of silver linings appearing on what seemed to be never ending dark clouds over this organization. Nonis - all the burger jokes aside - has done a remarkable job of pointing out the problems and then actually doing something about it, unlike his predesessor, who had earned the reputation of not only a stand-up guy, but a stand-pat guy as well!
After last season, the problems weren't too difficult to pick out. The club fell apart last season again relying on a few stars, without one in goal. The system didn't work, and yet didn't change. Instead of hearing players take responsibility last season for their lackluster play, we'd more often hear players pointing figures at others for not carrying the load.
There was no cohesion on the team. No leadership rising from the ashes. There was no silver lining last season - or if there was, it was ignored by million dollar players, and the billion dollar egos of some of them, that couldn't play like they even cared if this team would see any playoff light!
So Nonis basically cleaned house. What it led to was a coaching change, and a new system in place. A new franchise player, who the game would be built around. And a commitment to going from a run and gun offensive team, to one which would depend more so on the collective accomplishments of a group, rather than one or two individuals.
For all of that, you have to tip your hat to Nonis. He clearly did indentify the problems, and at least without hindsight, has gone ahead and made the moves to rectify them.
What that means to the canucks and their fans - for the first time in over a decade, and maybe the first time in their lives as fans and followers of the canucks - there's finally a franchise goalie in place. The last time this organization had something even close to that, it saw two Cup finals - in 1982 with Brodeur and in 1994 with McLean.
Also gone is the baggage that Bertuzzi couldn't figure out how to lose. And after hearing from the man himself how he refused to follow the coach, and felt he had any say in how the team should play - it seems clear that Nonis again has made the right move.
So what happens to a team that misses the playoffs by a mere 3 points, while adding one of the league's best goaltenders, and losing one of the league's most difficult personalities? Hopefully at the very least, a playoff spot... but that still remains to be seen!
As for the dark clouds, they aren't completely gone just yet. Until this team can prove that the changes that have taken place will lead them to a positive direction, and not into another abyss, questions will continue to come up of just how good - or bad - this team really is.
Afterall, it's not all sunshine and roses in canuckland.
After letting Crawford go - the only member of the team to actually lift a Stanley Cup - his replacement comes in with as many question marks as Crawford had when he left. Do you place more value on Vigneault's nomination - not win - for an Adams award, or do you write that off, much like Crawford's Cup in his rookie coaching season?
Reality is though, that Vigneault does have a losing record, with very limited NHL experience to begin with. He is coming off an excellent season, albiet in the AHL. But the bottom line is that he's been a part of losing franchises - in Montreal and in Ottawa before that - a lot longer than he's seen any success at the NHL level.
But that was then, and this is now! Now he's on a playoff contender with a franchise goalie. Or is he? Luongo, already placed firmly on a pedestal as arguably the greatest canuck goalie ever, before even playing a minute as a canuck, has his own demons to battle. This is still a guy who has never skated a second of playoff time. He's now on his third team, and didn't leave without controversy of his own. While many canuck fans are happy to be moving a malcontent talent in Bertuzzi for him, many panther fans are equally rejoiced in moving a rebound machine, who they insist made their defense look worse than it really was, for an elite powerforward only in need of a change in scenary!
Well the euphorisms not withstanding - from either side - there are no doubt question marks around both players, and their ability to carry the inevitable load which will be place on each of their shoulders.
Outside of that, the dark clouds don't disappear. After all this is Vancouver, and if we can't see the rain here, you won't see it anywhere!!
Along with Bertuzzi, the offense also loses Carter - who went from being a washed up, overrated bum, to the catalyst who carried the Sedins to heights previously unseen. Until next season, it won't really be clear which of these extremes he was closer to.
Jovanovski's loss shouldn't also be ignored. Injuries and all, he ignited the offensive flow of this team moreso than any other player. A change in the team's style should help lessen the blow his loss will cause, but no one on the team is ready to replace the spark he brought this team - both on and off the ice.
So add it all up - Luongo, Mitchell and the new cast of has-beens or never-beens that the club is banking on next season to turn into contributing parts of a contending team; as well as the loss of Bertuzzi, Carter and Jovo, and the change in philosophy from Crawford to Vigneault, and ask yourself, does this team truly have what it takes to be a playoff contender?
Perhaps next season, moreso than any other year in the past decade, that question right now is impossible to answer. But while the canucks and their fans are looking at every silver lining out there, fans from around the league it seems are hoping the dark clouds stay over lotusland indefinitely.
The one thing the club, and the fans, need to consider though is that history seems to show that most teams that make the number of key changes that this club has done, in one offseason, seldom see immediate success because of it. If we're betting on the canucks to do otherwise, we're betting on something that hasn't happened often in the NHL.
Whatever happens though, it is surely to be an interesting season - and hopefully an entertaining one as well!