For a country that is stereotyped as being peaceable and polite, it’s pretty remarkable how much virtually every region of Canada hates every other one. Everywhere hates Toronto because it’s a big city and that hurts their feelings or something (I wasn’t really listening, sorry.) But Alberta is constantly threatening to secede and form the Independent Republic of Fossil Fuels. Vancouver would like you to remember it’s been rated the best place in the world to live if you can afford $6000 a month in rent. Winnipeg resents everyone who doesn’t have to live in Winnipeg. And [gestures broadly] Quebec.
As you would expect, all of these intramural hatreds get their fullest expression on ice. Hockey is our national sport. And this year it’s going to be exacerbated by the pandemic and the NHL’s division plan, which has dropped the seven Canadian teams into a pit and directed them to fight it out amongst themselves. Since we’ll be seeing so much of each other, we thought it was only fair to remind ourselves why we really, genuinely hate each other in a hockey and every other sense.
So let’s start from the west.
The Vancouver Canucks
While we’re doing this series premised on the many Canadian rivalries, the fact is, not every pair of teams can really hate each other with the incandescent fire of an exploding sun. If everyone’s your rival, nobody is, and so it goes; you can’t always get the ancient enmity of Leafs-Habs or the siblings-drunk-at-Thanksgiving bitterness that makes Toronto-Ottawa games fun. Sometimes you just get what you have between the Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks, where Toronto occasionally glances west in polite interest and the Vancouver fanbase wants to murder the entire Greater Toronto Area and drink their blood.
For real! This might confuse you if you’re an ordinary Leafs fan who thinks about the Canucks three times a year and says “hey, Elias Pettersson is neat” before returning to your morning pancakes, but the deepest, angriest loathing in Canada’s heptagon of hate is the one-way rage coming out of B.C. This is because, and I really do mean this, the Vancouver Canucks fanbase is a moon colony.
Every fanbase thinks on some level that the refs, the media, and the hockey gods are out to get them. This is natural and understandable. But most fans believe in it the way older children believe in Santa Claus: they recognize it’s fun but it’s also not real. Vancouver thinks that Toronto, the league, the east coast hockey press, TSN, the Illuminati, and Bob Cole are out to subvert their hockey franchise through dark means, like 4PM local start times on Saturdays.
This goes back to the 1970s, but it’s reached a new peak in the modern era. Vancouver has still not forgiven the rest of Canada for not rallying around it in the 2011 Cup Final, ignoring the fact that a) Canadian fanbases do not want each other to be happy and b) the Canucks that year were one of the least likeable teams in NHL history.
Anyway, as you may recall, the Canucks lost that year, and Vancouver handled things with their typical restraint and grace, and then the team endured a spiral downward as the Sedin twins fell prey to Father Time. Watching Swedish franchise legends retire without a Cup is something Leaf fans can empathize with. Maybe you can see how it’s put so much of the left coast in such a bad mood. Maybe you even think I’m being a little unfair in attributing the traits of a few vocal complainers to an entire city and fanbase of millions of people. To which I say, sure, whatever, let’s make fun of the lineup now.
He can’t make fun of Elias Pettersson, you say confidently. Pettersson is too good! Yeah, about that. Pettersson is in the class of the very best young centres in the NHL, a group that includes Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, and probably no one else that Oilers fans would be mad at me for not mentioning. Pettersson is genuinely good and cool, and any GM worth entrusting a fantasy team named after a dick joke to ought to be capable of building a contender around him.
(Pausing here for no reason.)
But Vancouver’s capacity to take a good thing too far, evidenced in their real estate market and the fact it rains there 300 days a year, strikes again with young Petey. Just saying he’s really incredibly good is not enough, and if you imply he might not be quite as good as the young man in Toronto who scores goals about twice as often, you are going to hear about it. So in the interests of sincere and constructive criticism: the harshest thing I can say about Pettersson is that as brilliant as he is, he probably isn’t good enough to cover for all the mistakes that have been made around him.
First, though: Quinn Hughes. Quinn Hughes is dope! He skates like Virtue & Moir and racks up points in bushels. Recognizing this might be an unfair advantage, the Canucks have paired him with giant pylon Tyler Myers, thereby keeping their team from becoming too powerful. Similarly, they got Nate Schmidt in a salary dump, who is a good player assuming his track record up to now isn’t just from a combination of being on an elite team and doing PEDs; they appear to be poised to pair him with Alexander Edler, who is 83 years old.
The longer you look at the Canucks lineup, the more it really does look like they seem to think the key to team-building is to make sure you have enough bad players to balance out your good ones. Why do Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle make $3M a year? What is Brandon Sutter for? Should Jake Virtanen really be playing that high in the lineup? All makes sense when you understand the plan of general manager Jim Benning: to one day be approximately the 12th-best team in the NHL.
I recognize this is just another Torontonian failing to give the Canucks the respect they deserve, but to get real for a second here: Vancouver actually should be as good as their fans believe they are by now. They hit a grand slam on the toughest part of the rebuild. They drafted a 1C in Pettersson, a 1D in Hughes, and very possibly a 1G in Thatcher Demko. They even got a swell winger and a decent 2C in Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat, respectively. Plenty of teams go decades longing for a core like that.
And what have they done with it? Vancouver was bottom ten in CF and xG last year. Yes, they got to the second round, which the Leafs could never, ever do, I hear you. But it was a goalie run that let them push Vegas as far as they did, and I hate to say it, but watching that series it was pretty obvious the better team wasn’t from B.C.
If you’re a Canucks fan, that fact and the team’s CapFriendly page ought to be much more bothersome than whatever disrespect TSN is throwing westward today. Jim Benning won the hockey lottery—not first overall, which as any Vancouver fan would tell you, they were better off not getting in 2017, but in the confluence of a few spectacular draft hits. And Benning appears to be taking his lottery winnings and putting them into penny stocks. We might be witnessing one of the greatest wastes of talent in recent memory.
Pettersson and Hughes need new contracts next year; Eriksson, Roussel, Beagle, and Myers will still be owed $18M against the flat cap. Sure, that shouldn’t be enough to wreck the team, except the guy who signed all of those contracts is still in charge, his terrible free agency record whitewashed by those sparkling draft hits. Benning’s contract runs until 2023. Do you trust him to get this team over the hump? I wouldn’t.
Of course, Toronto has struggled to make that last step, too; despite stronger regular season results most of the time, they haven’t won a round recently, and the Nucks did last year. I’d cling to that too, if I were Vancouver. Because if you want to know the truth, I think what the Canucks hate most about Toronto is that they’ve proved star draftees aren’t enough, and Vancouver looks poised to find that out in even more tragic detail.
That and the 4PM start times. Horrible!