Season Preview: Vancouver Canucks

Realignment was not kind to the Vancouver Canucks, removing them from the relative comfort of the old North West Division and thrusting them in to the ultra competitive Pacific.

The end result was that the 2011 Finalists missed the post season for the first time in five years, costing Head Coach John Tortorella and GM Mike Gillis their jobs.

With new drivers at the wheel, can Vancouver’s ageing stars rally for one last Cup run?

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Up Front

The situation in Vancouver last season is perhaps best encapsulated by the dramatic decline in output from the Sedin twins – who had their worst season since 2004, tumbling from top level scorers to 50 pointers (or 47 in Daniels case) under Tortorella.

The former New York Rangers coach was a far cry from previous boss Alain Vigneault, and the Canucks offence dipped dramatically after a change in style (‘everyone blocks shots’), while a spate of injuries only worsened things.

Crafty winger Alex Burrows had just 5 goals and 15 points, whilst also missing 33 games, and only the now departed Ryan Kesler broke the 20 goal barrier.

Under new coach Willie Desjardin, Vancouver fans will be hoping the clubs offensive punch returns. Despite adding Derek Dorsett to a line up that already houses Zack Kassian and Tom Sestito, the Canucks were always at their best when they allowed their finesse players to play their natural game.

Adding veteran Radim Vrbata should help in this regards, with the 33-year old coming off a 20 goal, 50 point effort in Arizona. Chris Higgins and Nick Bonino, who arrived from Anaheim as part of the Kesler trade, are both capable of scoring 40+ points, while Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk continue to look for a way to break in to the line up.

The grit Dorsett and co offer among the bottom six also means Vancouver can still go toe to toe with pretty much anyone if things require a less subtle touch, but it’s hard not to feel Kassian is not capable of a little more with the puck on his stick.

At The Back

It seems almost inconceivable Alex Edler will be as bad as he was last season again this year. The 28-year old missed 19 games and looked woefully out of form for much of the season. Whether it was the shift in style the team under went, or simply a bad season, the Canucks need him to be better.

Along with the Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa, the Swede forms the heart of the clubs defence – which is still a very effective unit when ‘on song’.

Luca Sbisa arrives from Anaheim to add greater depth, with Chris Tanev, Yannick Weber and Ryan Stanton all looking to cement their place in the line up. Even with Jason Garrison moving on, after being bought out this summer, having extra bodies on the blue line will be most welcome for a club who were bitten hard by injuries last term.

Between The Pipes

Veteran star Ryan Miller was one of the marquee free agents available this summer, and new Vancouver GM Jim Benning was all too happy to sign the former Buffalo and St Louis stopper to a 3-year, $18m deal.

Still one of the games top goaltenders, Miller will share time with Eddie Lack, who shouldered a huge amount of the workload down the stretch last year. If Lack can re-capture the form he had ‘pre-deadline’ (i.e. when he was still sharing a crease with Roberto Luongo) then Vancouver has two outstanding goaltenders to lean on this season.

Jacob Markstrom, acquired from Florida as part of the Luongo deal, was assigned to the AHL. With time to rebuild his confidence and iron out his technique, the young Swede may still develop in to an NHL #1 in the future, giving Vancouver good depth in the position heading in to the new campaign and beyond.

Behind The Bench

If Willie Desjardin makes Vancouver an exciting team to watch again, he’ll pretty much be on to a winner regardless of whether they actually make the play-offs.

John Tortorella’s style won few admirers last season, and a return to the more free wheeling days will both excite fans and increase the clubs chances of success.

Biggest Addition – Ryan Miller

After the goaltending turmoil of the past 18 months, Miller now steps in to be the clubs bona fide #1.

This marriage between club and player seems much better suited than his short stay in St Louis, and the long time Sabres stopper will provide Vancouver with a solid base to build from over the next three seasons.

Biggest Loss – Ryan Kesler

Losing a player of Kesler’s calibre would be a blow to any side, no matter how good they are.

Despite the many rumours circulating around the trade deadline, it wasn’t until the summer Vancouver eventually traded him – and despite a solid return, it’s hard not to believe the loss of a Selke candidate like Kesler won’t at least some form of ‘set back’ for the club.

Key Man – Henrik Sedin

If Vancouver is to recover from last seasons nightmare, they need their Captain (and his brother) to find form again.

Still capable of tearing teams apart with his deft passing and incredible vision, how well Sedin rebounds this season will go a long way towards how well the organisation as a whole rebounds.

This Seasons Chances…

With a fresh pair of eyes to guide the team, a top level netminder (sans any controversy) and a healthy roster, Vancouver should be able to compete for a play-off spot again.

With San Jose in some sort of internal turmoil, that may mean a top 3 spot in the Division – but battling for a wild card spot seems the most likely scenario for the Canucks.

If they remain healthy, they’ve got a fair chance – but in an incredible tough Conference, it’s going to be a heck of a battle!

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About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on October 7, 2014, in Hockey, NHL, Season Previews 2014, Vancouver Canucks and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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