That's how we feel

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

It is what it is.

Todd Bertuzzi's words after facing vengeful Colorado Avalanche fans on Oct. 27, 2005 for the first time since his 2004 criminal assault of Steve Moore are the fitting epitaph for 2005-2006, arguably the most disappointing season in Vancouver Canucks' history.

The ninth-place finish and 42-40 record (including four overtime and four shootout losses) is hardly the bleakest. That dishonour is shared by 1997-98 and 1998-99 when Canucks were the West's worst. But this was supposed to be the year Vancouver's Canucks would reign supreme in Canada's Game with a high-flying style compatible with National Hockey League's post-lockout, offence-friendly rule changes.

Two dozen years after Canucks' first unsuccessful trip to the Stanley Cup and a dozen years after their second, it was supposed to be a doozy.

Instead fans malign Bertuzzi.

"Bad News Bert" was forgiven with ovations at training camp, but trouble brewed in the dressing room.

Number 44 visited the penalty box frequently for holding an opponent's stick and was often paroled because of the Canucks' lacklustre penalty killing unit. Bertuzzi scored only twice each in February and March and three times in April.

The Twins and their Brother from Another Mother saved the Canucks from absolute mediocrity. Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Anson Carter led the way while Bertuzzi, Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison were either ineffective or not playing together.

General manager Dave Nonis masterfully signed free agent journeyman Carter to a one-year, million-dollar contract and is obligated to reward him and the Sedins. Carter, a part-time indie hip-hop and movie mogul in the making, offered a badly needed dose of character in what was largely a dressing room riddled with cliched excuses.

"I certainly hope [to return]," said Carter, the team's top scorer with 33 goals. "The economics of things; you never know with the salary cap and what can happen with who's coming back and who's not coming back."

Nonis' only off-season defensive acquisition was Steve McCarthy. The costly injuries to Ed Jovanovski and Sami Salo made the rookie GM desperate enough to give away draft picks at the deadline for Sean Brown, Keith Carney and Eric Weinrich.

Goaltender Alex Auld (33-26, 2.94 goals against average) acquitted himself adequately under the circumstances. The 25-year-old rookie was thrust into the No. 1 spot after injury prone Dan Cloutier's season was ended with knee- ligament surgery.

So begins a summer of uncertainty as Nonis is faced with a multitude of personnel decisions he must make.

It would be easy to dress the players full-time in the popular blue, green and white retro uniforms and devise a fancy new ad campaign to rekindle hope this fall. But discerning fans know it'll take much more than cosmetic changes to position this team once again as a Stanley Cup contender.


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