[As we approach the start of the NHL regular season, members of the Canucks blogosphere give their two cents about your Vancouver Canucks and address the issues, questions and expectations of the team in their 40th year anniversary.]
For far too long, the Canucks have been pretty thin up the middle. When talking about their lineup, it seemed like they’ve always had a decent no. 1 center but lacking a big, physical one. As for depth? Forget about it… unless you want to fondly remember the days of Marc Chouinard and Tommi Santala.
Mike Gillis started addressing the Canucks’ depth at center when he signed Mats Sundin midway through the 2008/2009 season. Say what you want about how much Gillis paid for half a season and couple of playoff rounds of Mats, but he filled a need. He also played the role of mentor for Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler, and both acknowledge that they learned a lot from him.
Now, Henrik is a Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner, and Kesler is a Selke Trophy nominee. Add free agent signee Manny Malhotra this summer and the Canucks have depth at center like we’ve never seen before.
J.J.: Many teams have a pretty good one-two punch up the middle; very few teams have a very good one-two-three punch like the Canucks do. In Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Manny Malhotra, you have a group that can play 18-plus minutes per game – Henrik and Kesler usually play more – and play in any situation. Combined, they recorded 220 points (68 G – 152 A) last season; only Pittsburgh’s three-headed monster combined for more (235 points – 100 G – 135 A). Henrik and Kesler won the 9th and 11th most faceoffs in the league, respectively, and Manny won 62.5% of the ones he took. Plus, the Canucks still have Cody Hodgson coming up.
Chris:The Canucks depth up the middle is as good or better to most other NHL teams. But with Morrison not part of that equation, the teams depth beyond the top 3 is somewhat hurting. Bolduc will fill the role on the 4th line to start the season, but doesn’t yet have the pedigree to step up. Rypien is obviously not the second coming of Jeff “Brabarrian” Cowan and after him you’re looking at Joel Perrault who’s not anywhere near ready to perform consistently at the elite NHL level. So what does this all mean? Depth is only as deep as the injury bug is distant.
Cam from Canucks Army: It’s a top 5 group at center. Upgrading from Wellwood to Malhotra was a massive improvement. With the exception of Pittsburgh, its hard to find a more well-balanced group of top 3 centers.
Mike from Nucks Misconduct: It’s definitely a first for the fans. Gone are the days when we longed for a single competent center (remember the early parts of the decade?) much less a few of them. Now no other team can claim the MVP on their top line, a twice-nominated Selke center on the second and the best face-off player on a team which, collectively, was one of the best faceoff teams in over a decade (http://www.behindthenethockey.com/2010/3/30/1383251/best-faceoff-teams-since-1997-98) on the third. Not too shabby. The jury is out on Bolduc, but you’re talking about 5-7 minutes a game for the fourth line anyway (and without Hordichuk, it’s immediately better).
By comparison, look around the rest of the Northwest. Excluding Morrison, three of the four centers for the Flames are injured. Over in Edmonton Horcoff is good, but Gagner and Cogliani are still pretty green; Cogliano’s point totals have decreased the past two seasons too. Even greener are the Avs centers (Stastny, Duchene and O’Reilly). The Wild certainly aren’t bad (Koivu, Cullen, Brodziak, Madden and Bouchard) but I still feels Vancouver’s crop is better and are playing with more talented players, certainly on the top two lines.
Kesler is the key. AV can roll Kesler’s line out for the tough minutes leaving the Sedins to often feast on the weaker lines and pairings of the opposition. The fact Kesler (and his linemates) still produce offensively with those types of zone starts is a testament to their skill.