Victims of the Blame Game

It sure didn’t take long for Vancouver Canucks fans and media to start playing the blame game. And after yet another unsuccessful playoff run for the Canucks – who haven’t made it passed the second round since 1994 – there is plenty of blame to go around.

Along with captain Roberto Luongo, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Mats Sundin, Willie Mitchell and Mattias Ohlund, two players who have been the subject of constant criticism since Vancouver’s season ended are Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows. Kes and Burr, nicknamed by their teammates, combined for a total of eight points in 10 playoff games. As top six forwards, this simply wasn’t good enough. So why was it that two of Vancouver’s most consistent forwards throughout the regular season were unable to continue their strong play into the post-season?

Perhaps they were injured, and in that case, feel free to disregard anything written beyond this point. Perhaps the pressure of being relied upon to contribute offensively affected them more than anyone expected. Or maybe, just maybe, they gave it all they had in the regular season and as a result, were unable to elevate their game to a playoff level.

You’ll probably never hear anyone actually say it, but most National Hockey League players only exert about 80-90% of their energy during the regular season, which is only natural. As opposed to what many want to believe, several NHL players don’t give it their all on every night. Many players tend to leave some gas in the tank for the playoffs, and this is illustrated through the increased level of intensity and increased tempo during the post-season.

But then, there are Kesler and Burrows. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the Canucks organization who questioned their hard work and determination in the regular season. Kesler, named the Canucks’ Most Valuable Player, and Burrows, named the Canucks’ most exciting player, seemed to be playing at 110% on any given night. Those two players were the heart and soul of the Vancouver Canucks this season, and even when the team went on a prolonged losing streak in January, they were the bright spots in an otherwise dismal stretch.

Then came the playoffs, when every one else raised their game to a new level. But, as the Vancouver fans and media are quick to point out, Kesler and Burrows did not. It’s not that they were playing any worse than they were in the regular season; they were still giving it their all on each shift. On the contrary, it was that everyone else around them that got better; it was that everyone else that gave it that extra push – something that Kesler and Burrows had been doing all season long.

When it comes down to it, yes, Kesler and Burrows do deserve some of the blame for Vancouver’s second round playoff exit. Not because they had some sort of breakdown, and not because they choked under pressure, just because they were unable to adapt when everyone else simply got better.

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