If you are looking to point your finger at one reason in particular why the 08-09 edition of the Express will miss the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, you won't be able to do it.
At the end of the day, it truly is a multitude of factors that all worked together to determine the final outcome of the Express not playing beyond this Saturday in Langley.
Certainly injuries played a major role in Burnaby's struggles this season. Once the dust settles on this season, the Express number of manned games lost due to injuries this season will be pushing 250.
On the other side of that equation, the Express have had 66 games played this season by affiliate players from either Junior B or Major Midget.
The injury bug really hit hard in early October with at times up to 7 regulars out of the lineup at one particular time due to injuries. And it never really stopped.
You can't look at the Express roster of players present or past this season who haven't spent time on the sidelines injured.
Due to all the injuries, that pushed the players that did play well beyond their limits. Some players were put into roles into which they couldn't succeed just based on the necessity of needing healthy bodies just to fill the roster. That led to fatigued hockey players and more injuries. Once that snow ball got rolling, it hasn't stopped. And won't do so until 10PM Saturday night when the season comes to an end.
It wasn't uncommon for the Express to not be able to dress a full roster of healthy 18 bodies. Let alone 18 healthy bodies of BCHL calibre players. I could probably count one one hand the number of times coach Dave Mclellan was able to dress 4 full lines and 3 sets of defencemen of BCHL calibre players.
Brodie Reid couldn't avoid being hit by the injury bug this season either. He was expected to carry the offensive load like he did in his first season with the Express when he finished 2nd in the league with 52 goals. He was expected to team up with Max Grassi to be one of the top 1-2 offensive punches this season. Hip and wrist injuries hampered Reid's season early. Once he returned, from his injuries, it was clear that Reid's shot wasn't what it was from a year ago. Plus, the Grassi and Reid combo wasn't clicking the way it was expected and Reid was shipped to Penticton. Ironically, Reid and Grassi became teammates again months later when Grassi was shipped by Burnaby to Merritt then quickly dealt to the Vees.
Burnaby's record within the division sunk the Express season within the first 3 months of the campaign. When the schedule was announced that the Express, Chiefs, Eagles and Kings would all be playing one another a combined total of 36 times in the 60 game schedule this season. It set up what had the potential to be one of the most competitive races in the BCHL from game 1 to game 60.
Every team knew they had to have at least a .500 record within the division to have a shot at cracking the top 3 spots in the division and a playoff spot. This season Burnaby has a 10-19-1-3 record through 33 division games this season. Plus, the Express at one point lost 7 straight games vs. Surrey the team they were chasing for a playoff spot this season. You can look at Burnaby's division record alone as to why the Express are so many points back of the pack.
No team could afford to have such a dismal divisional record and expect to make the playoffs.
The next 3 factors are all in a way connected to why the Express missed the playoffs. That's goaltending, and special teams.
We'll start with goaltending. The Express went into this season with a pair of rookie goaltenders to open the season. Mike Chan and Richie Virtanen were expected to carry the load this season. It turned out to be a mistake. Neither proved they were capable of carrying the team's expectations this season. Both have goals against averages in the high 3's and a save percentage below 90. Both were prone to giving up soft goals throughout the season.
This season the goaltending just wasn't up to the standards necessary for a team to be successful in the BCHL. A far cry from the previous 3 seasons when goaltending was the least of the Express worries with the likes of Bryce Luker, Matthew Gordon and Kevin Jebson protecting the Express crease.
This is how it ties into special teams. Every team knows that a teams best penalty killer has to be their goaltender. This season that didn't happen and Burnaby's penalty killing has been right near the bottom of the rankings for most of the season.
Another connection, Burnaby's poor goaltending has with their struggles this season. And that is the fact that they have had a pop tart offence this season.
The Express struggled all season long coming up with a big goal when they needed it. They have just 163 goals for this season. That's an average of less than 3 goals for per game. There is only 1 team in the BCHL playoffs that has an average of less than 3 goals for per game. Where would Burnaby be this season either if they weren't allowing that one soft goal per night or got that one big goal they needed? They would either win more one goal games or at least send more games to overtime and pick up more points.
This season Burnaby won just 7 of 18 games decided by one goal. That doesn't include games where the opposition sealed the game with an empty net goal to open up a two goal advantage.
There's one other factor that played a prominent role in the Express struggles. But doesn't get enough recognition. That is the fact not enough returning players didn't take their games to a level necessary to fill the void left by the graduating players of prevous season.
Prior to the start of the 07-08 season the big question was, who is going to fill the offensive void left by the quartet of Kyle Turris, Tyer McNeely, Jovan Matic and Chris Rengert? They combined for well over 300 points of offence in 06-07. Well the question was answered definitively by the trio of Carlo Finucci, Cody Campbell and Brodie Reid. Carlo Finucci emerged out of the shadows of his predecessors to become a BCHL scoring champion. And Reid and Campbell finished tied for 5th in league scoring with 87 points.
Now i'm not saying the players had to all emerge into members of the BCHL elite. But they had to step into their shoes and carry the offensive load left behind with the departures of Finucci and Campbell. I already spoke about the disappointing season Brodie Reid had.
You look at the contributions of the returning players on this years roster, Reid Edmondson 35 points, Tim Holloway 33 points, Jacob Verheyden 26 points. Plain and simple just not good enough. Now i'm not sure if they are truly capable of being able to carry the offensive load for a team over the course of a 60 game season. But the fact that no one really took over the offensive reigns left behind of players past is another strong contributor to Burnaby's struggles this season. But that should change next season. I expect Garrick Perry, John Digness, Dylan Herold and Simon Denis to truly develop into Burnaby's prominent core next season. The offensive contributions of next years roster should be much more significant than that of its predecessors.
Like I said off the top, it wasn't just one reason in particular as to why Burnaby has had such a disappointing season. But I hope this provides a better insight of how the numerous factors all worked together to help contribute to Burnaby missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.