Philadelphia, PA – As if losing Game 7 of last year's Stanley Cup Finals on home ice wasn't enough to motivate the Vancouver Canucks, the rest of the NHL has given the team another incentive to reach the top of the mountain.
On CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada" on this past Saturday, the results of the NHLPA's annual player poll were released and the most common answer to one particular question grabbed headlines.
When asked, "Which team is overrated?" 24 percent of the players named the Canucks. That percentage is double what is was last year, when Vancouver garnered 12 percent of the vote in finishing second to the Washington Capitals.
How is that possible?
Last year's poll numbers made sense. After all, the Canucks were stuck in a cycle of putting together great regular seasons only to bow out in the second round in all three of their post-lockout playoff appearances. However, one would think that Vancouver's performance last spring, when it followed up a Presidents' Trophy-winning season with a Western Conference title, would have gone a long way toward earning the club respect.
A quick glance at this season's standings reveals the Canucks are close to running away with the Northwest Division title and are once again in contention for the best record in the league. The poll results look even more ridiculous considering Vancouver enters Tuesday's game at Nashville having gone more than a month since its last regulation loss.
So how is it possible that nearly one-fourth of the league's players are again so thoroughly unimpressed by the Canucks?
In every sport, there are teams that simply rub people the wrong way and this current edition of the Canucks certainly fits that profile. Vancouver has brash, outspoken players like forward Ryan Kesler and goaltender Roberto Luongo.
The latter player inserted his foot in his mouth during last year's Cup Finals when he criticized the play of Boston goaltender Tim Thomas after Vancouver won Game 5. Although the damage was already done, Luongo said over the summer that he wished he could take back what he said about Thomas, who stopped 73- of-75 shots over Games 6 and 7 en route to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Then there's the Sedin twins, who have been an easy target since joining the Vancouver organization as the second and third overall picks of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. Daniel and Henrik have been labeled as "soft" players who fail to rise above the pressure that comes along with the NHL postseason. Even though the twins put together their best playoff year in 2011 by combining for 42 points in 25 games, the "soft" label stuck thanks to the Sedins compiling just two goals and three assists during the Cup Finals.
Outside the realm of hockey, the city of Vancouver did not do itself any favors by rioting following the 4-0 loss to the Bruins in Game 7. Clearly, that had nothing to do with the organization, but perhaps that ugly display of civic unrest and the extensive media coverage that followed it has given the rest of the NHL a case of Canucks-fatigue.
Like it or not, the Canucks are going to be in the playoffs this season and there is a good shot they're headed for another long postseason run. After all, no team has won more games over the last two seasons than Vancouver and the club could be even more dangerous heading into the 2012 playoffs.
The Canucks have never won a Stanley Cup title and obviously a large portion of the NHL doesn't think the club will change that fact over the next few months.
In reality, the league should be wary of the Canucks now more than ever. With Vancouver's relatively easy run to the playoffs this season, there was a chance that the team would be complacent heading into the postseason. But, if motivation was an issue for the Canucks before the poll was released, being deemed "overrated" by a quarter of the league will fix that problem in a hurry.