VANCOUVER - Amidst all the drama surrounding the Vancouver Canucks this season, with John Tortorella's lengthy suspension, Ryan Kesler's reported trade request, and the newly-announced sequel to the Roberto Luongo goaltending controversy, it can be easy to overlook that, occasionally, the Canucks play hockey games.
Not all that well these days, mind you.
Going into Sunday's Heritage Classic, the Canucks find themselves tied with the Dallas Stars for the last Wild Card spot in the West, which appears to be the only playoff spot they still have even a shot at snagging.
It's their own fault. The Canucks can't score, especially on the powerplay, and they're paying for it now, treading water while watching clubs they once scoffed at like the Minnesota Wild and the Colorado Avalanche leave them in the dust.
At this point, you wonder if their best bet of beating the Ottawa Senators is doing what the Vancouver club did back in 1915: steal the Senators' best player away by offering him a ton of money and an off-season job, then immediately play his former club.
The story of the Canucks this season is a story of decline and descent: the decline of the Sedins; the descent from their perch atop the Western Conference; descent into self-parody and dysfunction, with a player reportedly asking out for the third straight year.
It's never simple in Vancouver, and this season might be the most Vancouvery season yet.
All that in mind, the Heritage Classic could be good for the Canucks. A chance to simplify things, to return to their roots, to remember that, at one time, this game was fun.
"I want them to enjoy it," John Tortorella said Sunday of the atmosphere experience playing in an "outdoor" game.
(We put "outdoor" in quotes because, with the rain falling in Vancouver, as expected, it sounds as though the roof will be closed, making it the most indoor outdoor game in NHL history.)
"I think we have, during our week of preparation after the break going into our first couple of games, we’ve tried to relax them," Tortorella added. "We’ve tried to relax ourselves. We’ve done a lot of work, but we don’t want to put it under the gun. There are enough people putting us under the gun and rightfully so. And where we’re at and the situation that we know where we’re at as far as the standings and what we have to do to try to get it in."
"But you also still need to feel good about yourselves, and I think our team should feel good about itself going into this game because I think we’ve improved. Maybe a venue like this will relax them a little bit more and loosen them up."
That's of the utmost for this Canucks team. They've got too many guys clutching their sticks -- too many guys that have lost their confidence, their ability to make plays. There's nothing fun about that.
Participating in a special event like The Heritage Classic, on the other hand, could be, and if the Canucks can refind their love of the game, they might be able to refind their game at a crucial time.
"Maybe that will help us," Tortorella said.