Coming out of the NHL All-Star break, the Vancouver Canucks are not only at the top of the NHL standings but also at the head of the hype train.
The Canucks top the ESPN power rankings, they’re at number two on the NHL.com power rankings, and analytics site MoneyPuck has them as the favourite to win the Stanley Cup. In the wake of the acquisition of Elias Lindholm, the Canucks are being talked about more and more as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
It makes sense. After all, the Canucks have the star power — they had six players at the All-Star Game — but they also have the substance to go with it: a structured defensive game that makes life easier on their star goaltender and allows every line to shutdown chances for the opposition and create chances of their own.
But as the Canucks head into the final 33 games of the season, head coach Rick Tocchet sounds a little like Han Solo as he cautioned Luke Skywalker: “Don’t get cocky.”
“We’re getting a lot of publicity, which is great to a point,” said Tocchet to the media in Carolina on Monday. “I think we’ve got to make sure that we don’t buy into the hype, that we in this room know who we are, how we play, and we want to be a disciplined team. So that’s really the message for the second half.”
One of the keys to the Canucks’ success this season has been a refusal to be satisfied, so Tocchet’s message not to buy into the hype seems to be finding fertile ground with his players.
“We’re happy with where we’re at — I mean, this is everything we worked for in the summer,” said J.T. Miller earlier in January. “But, at the same time, we haven’t achieved anything yet.”
The Canucks as a whole have been repeatedly pointing out that this final stretch of the regular season won’t be easy and none of them are resting on their laurels. For Tocchet, the focus will be on remaining disciplined in every aspect of the game.
“I’m talking about everything,” said Tocchet. “On the ice, off the ice, the way we think, our system, being unselfish, going on the ice early, working on your game, eating properly — that’s the discipline. If you want to go far in the playoffs, if you want to make the playoffs, if you want to win, you have to go through these things. All the teams that win are the most disciplined.”
Tocchet made the point that not everyone likes being disciplined. It’s so much easier to cheat, whether it’s on the system by cheating up ice in hopes of a breakaway pass instead of staying above your check in the defensive zone or cheating on proper eating habits with a sweet treat or fatty comfort food. If the Canucks believed their hype, it would be that much easier to cheat, thinking that the job’s already done.
This group, however, has missed the playoffs too many times to be comfortable putting the season into cruise control.
“If we’re not careful or we don’t respect the work that we’ve put in and realize that we have to continue doing that, we’re going to lose what we’ve accomplished in a hurry,” said Thatcher Demko coming out of the Christmas break and he’s surely saying similar things a month later.
In past seasons, the Canucks’ players have had to block out the noise in order to avoid things like trade rumours and negativity. This season, they need to block out the noise to avoid too much positivity.