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76073715JV010_Calgary_FlameThe fans who bought tickets to the Canucks vs. Calgary this past Saturday night were not offered discounts. In fact, many fans present at the Garage last night paid extra to catch a glimpse of Trevor Linden’s last game as a Canuck — after two years of consistent abuse and neglect by Canucks management and coaching staff, it’s now become clear that his time with the team is done.

Apparently though, the real last game of the season was Thursday night at GM Place, when the Canucks’ first line inexplicably failed to deliver even a modicum of scoring effort against the Oilers, a team which won’t see the post-season this year but which still had the fortitude to end Vancouver’s shot at the Stanley Cup only one year after they won their Division.

If the Canucks’ consummate professional Roberto Luongo wasn’t clued in to the fact that things were pretty-much wrapped up on Thursday, then, he sure figured it out Saturday morning. On Saturday, the day of the team’s last game against a fierce division rival that they utterly pummelled the Saturday before, on the day when they could at least leave the fans (and Linden) with an up-note, and on a day when their game was featured on Hockey Night In Canada nationwide for only the 8th time all season, there was an optional practice.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, professional hockey teams typically have mandatory and optional practices. Those on particularly tough game days at home are quite often of the optional variety. Practices held on days off are almost always mandatory.

The only attendee at Saturday’s optional practice was goaltender Roberto Luongo. He worked out by himself with the assistance of the training staff.

After the game Saturday, where he was pulled after three goals on nine shots as the defence fell apart all around him, Luongo said “You know what, I don’t really care… my season ended Thursday, as far as I’m concerned. I tried to bring it, but obviously I didn’t have anything in the tank.”

Of course, with one win in the last seven games of the season, one wonders whether the season didn’t actually end in the middle of March. Or at the trade deadline, when Dave Nonis’ Big Idea to solve all of the team’s scoring problems was to bring in Matt Pettinger. Yeah, I had to look him up, too.

Why did Vigneault play Luongo for this meaningless last game, when it was patently clear the players had already disconnected from any desire to win; when he’d started Luongo the previous 31 games in a row through his wife’s difficult childbirth and his new baby’s tough first weeks? Where is the coaching here?

Vancouver’s leadership is the real disappointment. From leaning too hard on their goalie all year, and thus clearly jeopardizing his emotional balance in the coming season; to not beefing up the scoring on the team in a competitive division; to continuing to place too much faith in the Sedin sisters, who will only be scoring goals in coming seasons if they widen the nets all the way to the corners; to the ineffectual wannabe-GM; to Naslund’s constant “I hate this game” grimace… the list goes on.

The players who do contribute grit and determination and creativity — Linden and Mitchell are good examples — are loathed by the coaching staff, benched throughout games, or are healthy scratches throughout the season. For minutes played this season, Linden’s 7 goals trumps Naslund’s pathetic 25. For dollars spent? Linden’s a bargain.

The Canucks are a disaster. Coaching and Management’s failure to commit to building a real team squanders the opportunity of having a REAL goaltender for the first time in more than a decade. Here’s a stat that says it all: in eight seasons, the Canucks have won only two playoff series.

Vancouver may have the best goalie in the game, until the burden of having to carry the team completely destroys him psychologically anyway, but the truth is that the Canucks have never been further from being a cup contender. And the prospects for remedying this aren’t good.

The rumour is that Burke is interested in returning to Vancouver (if Toronto doesn’t scoop him up first) … if he does, he’s got a lot of house-cleaning to do. He might want to start by burning the locker room to rid us all of the stench that was the 2007-2008 season.

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