This one will take some time for the Vancouver Canucks faithful to swallow.
A Presidents' Trophy. The best goals-for and goals-against in the league. Back-to-back Art Ross Trophy winners (and quite possibly Hart Trophy winners).
A 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Finals.
And when the dust settles on this Vancouver Canucks season, how will it be judged? Will the remarkable regular season run, with so many accolades and statistical leads, be celebrated by the fandom? Or will they simply remember the seemingly cursed Cup Finals, where a suddenly limp offense failed to capture a single game on the road, nor the decisive Game 7 at home?
When you take the emotion out of it, an easier way to view it is this: the difference between the Canucks playoff run and their regular season romp demonstrates just how tight this league is.
Consider this: Vancouver's Presidents' Trophy finish was by a margin of 10 points over the second-best team in the league. That's five wins, something that probably had a lot to do with playing in the weakest division in the league. The Columbus Blue Jackets were the conference's third-worst team at 81 points while the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers both finished below 68.
There's no doubt that Vancouver was the top team in the league this season. From top to bottom, they had the greatest amount of depth throughout the lineup and when they were on, they could run over teams. The difference, though, is that every playoff series is a war against a strong team. Bounces, injuries, attrition, all of this factors into the conclusion.
Against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Canucks were one overtime goal away from first-round disappointment. Don't think that the Nashville Predators didn't put a hell of a scare in the Canucks, and if it wasn't for one crazy penalty-filled five-minute meltdown by the San Jose Sharks, that series might have wound up different.
The lesson here isn't that Roberto Luongo is a choker or that the Sedins are soft or that Alain Vigneault is a bad coach incapable of finishing the job. Roberto Luongo is just one guy and a huge part of why the Canucks made it to the Stanley Cup Final. The Sedins were matched up against Boston's shutdown pair and had their effectiveness limited -- just like many other top scorers do in the playoffs. Alain Vigneault had to be doing something right to get his team this far.
No, the objective post-mortem on this Canucks squad is a little more simple and a little less diabolical. Vancouver's blueline was worn down from injuries. A less-than-100 percent Manny Malhotra hurt in many facets of the defensive game which directly contributes to the transition towards offense, and the cumulative physicality from the prior three series took their toll on Vancouver's ability to fight through Boston's tight defense.
For Canucks fans, the toughest part to swallow will be when they consider the possibility of a repeat Final appearance next year. with Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, and Christian Ehrhoff set for unrestricted free agency -- and a salary-cap albatross in Keith Ballard -- Vancouver's biggest strength may turn into one of their weaknesses over night. For the forward group, much of the bottom two lines will be overhauled due to free agency. Vancouver may look at the Pittsburgh Penguins for inspiration, but the team that lost the Cup Final before winning it all was a far younger team at a different stage of developmet.
The turnover will come out of salary cap necessity and expiring contracts, and it's difficult to project next year's squad to be as dominant as this year's. Of course, the Stanley Cup playoffs prove time and again that the best regular season team hardly wins it all.