Vancouver Canucks should not be despised anymore

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Vancouver Canucks' Radim Vrbata, of the Czech Republic,, from left to right, Daniel Sedin, of Sweden, Alex Burrows, Henrik Sedin, hidden, of Sweden, and Alexander Edler, of Sweden, celebrate Burrows' second goal against the Arizona Coyotes during second period NHL hockey action in Vancouver, British Columbia on Monday, Dec. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)
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NASHVILLE – There’s something completely different about the Vancouver Canucks in the 2014-15 year.

It’s more than just the new goaltender. It’s beyond the different general manager and coach combination (though all three are certainly a part of this). There’s something strangely likeable about this group.

(Gasp) Say what?

Yes, it’s true, the 2014-15 Canucks are not the despicable drama-filled group full of divers mixed with a pompous general manager that we once knew and despised. Instead this team has more honesty in its game. It’s more workmanlike in its appearance. More accessible in its approach.

When asked about this image differentiation, forward Alex Burrows (one of the faces of the old guard) laughed and said, “That’s changed a lot then.”

In all sincerity it’s a good situation for Vancouver and a weird one. The Canucks, who rank third in the Pacific in advance of Tuesday’s game against Nashville have done almost a complete 180 in terms of how they’re viewed.

Whether it was the firing of Mike Gillis, the trade of Ryan Kesler, the end of the Roberto Luongo saga (which actually happened under Gillis), Vancouver is no longer the team that many despised in its early-decade run of success that included two Presidents’ Trophies.

“I don’t really know where it came from,” forward Chris Higgins said about Canucks hatred. “I think it’s probably just from being a good team and if you’re a good team you’re not the most popular team.”

Maybe Higgins is sort of right, but there’s more to it. There was a persona that Vancouver needed to shift.

The change it actually started at the top, when the Canucks hired Trevor Linden as its President of Hockey Operations and Alternate Governor last April. There were few more dedicated Canucks than Linden, a former team captain, and this was a harkening back to the old days and early to mid-90s Canucks – a team the people of Canada’s Lower Mainland still adore. 

Said the National Post when Linden was hired:

This is will be a hard job, and the hiring of Linden feels like it’s part public relations, part human shield, and part hope. One reporter just about summed the whole day up when he asked, “Trevor, we all remember the image of 1994, Game 7; you were down on your knees against the boards, end of the game, tears in your eyes. The emotion and pain of that day, how does that prepare you for the job ahead?”

Linden said he may have had tears in his eyes because his nose had just been broken by Mike Richter’s stick, and he was trying to straighten it. He’s a lovable guy, that Trevor Linden. He evokes Vancouver’s treasured and beautiful sorrow from 1994, and that will buy him some benefit of the doubt. It’s just that he has never done anything like this before.

That 1994 team is often celebrated in Vancouver. It came out of nowhere as a seventh-seed and went on a miracle run to the Stanley Cup Final, but was stopped short in a one-goal Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers.

Now think of the 2011 team that also lost in Game 7 of the Cup Final, this time to the Boston Bruins. In 15 years will that group be as loved? The answer is probably not. More than the fact that the 2011 Canucks won the Presidents’ Trophy and were favored, they just simply aren’t (and weren’t at the time) viewed the same.

Said the Los Angeles Times in 2011:

An editorial in the Toronto Sun that called the Cup finals "the greatest two weeks on the Canadian calendar" noted that many fans haven't adopted the Canucks. "Can't say as we blame them. The reason is simple. It's not their team. In fact, it would also be a safe bet more Canadians will be rooting for the Boston Bruins than cheering for Vancouver, even if both have 17 Canadians on their roster."

Why the hate?

Jealousy is a likely factor. Vancouver's mountain and sea vistas make it one of the world's most beautiful cities, and it has milder winters than the rest of Canada. Its success in hosting the Winter Olympics has given it new prominence internationally, too. Is it fair for Vancouver to have all that and the Stanley Cup too?

Burrows does buy the jealousy argument to a large degree.

“Teams that are winning normally, you dislike,” he said. “I think that has been around for a while. Now you can see a lot of that with teams like the Kings and the Blackhawks because they’re having success the last couple of years. I think that’s probably the main reason.” 

But there was more to it. That group had Kesler, who at his worst chirped and jerked around his opponents. It had Luongo flopping everywhere and talking smack about Tim Thomas. Aaron Rome obliterating Nathan Horton in the 2011 Cup Final. Burrows biting the finger of Patrice Bergeron in that series. And Gillis, well … being Gillis.

Adding John Tortorella to the team last year to replace Alain Vigneault as head coach made it combustible.

And when you look at all those problems, most have been rectified to some degree. Burrows for example isn’t a choirboy, but he doesn’t play with the same reckless annoyance as the past. Just annoyance, which is his role in this league ... to be a pest and score. 

Luongo and Kesler are gone. Adios Torts and Gillis.  And say hello to Willie Desjardins of Climax Saskatchewan as coach and GM Jim Benning who cut his teeth for many years in management, not the agent business like Gillis.

‘Climax Willie’ and ‘Hardworking Jim’ … works for me.

“I don’t know if I’ve done a lot. I think we have a real good group of guys,” Desjardins said. “I think they lead on their own. I think if you stay out of their way they have their own culture. They’ve had it here for a while. I think Trevor Linden and Pat Quinn were a big part of that culture. I think the Sedins have come in and instilled that, so I don’t think I’ve done an awful lot on it.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!