Canucks Season Preview Series: Lesser Load, Higher Expectations

[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.]

Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks

It was an eventful 12 months for Roberto Luongo.

In October, he passed Kirk McLean and became the Canucks’ franchise leader in shutouts. In December, he passed Richard Brodeur and became the winningest goaltender in Canucks franchise history. In February, he represented Team Canada and backstopped them to a Gold Medal at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. In May, he passed “The King” for second place in Canucks playoff wins, but only a week after that, was shelled for 5 goals by the Chicago Blackhawks en route to another second round playoff exit.

Since then, Luongo’s relinquished the Canucks captaincy. (There are rumors the Canucks will announce their new captain this morning.) The Canucks also replaced goaltending consultant, Ian Clark, with full-time goaltender coach, Rollie Melanson. They handed the backup duties to bluechip prospect, Cory Schneider, with the intention of giving the redhead from Marblehead, Massachusetts somewhere around 20-25 starts and giving Luongo a lighter workload in the regular season.

There is a method to the Canucks’ madness this offseason.

They want Luongo to concentrate on stopping the puck instead of fielding questions from the media (or at least more questions than he has to).

“I don’t know yet, we’ll see how it goes,” Luongo says of the possibility of not talking after game-day skates this season, something he began doing late in the second round of last season’s playoffs.

“I don’t mind doing the media, that’s not the problem. But sometimes you are answering questions on game day that you really don’t want to be answering.”

Luongo acknowledges that having to be less accountable to the media on a daily basis will be one of the big benefits of surrendering the ‘C.’

“I think it’s just something less on my plate that I have to deal with,” he says. “Playing goal is already a big enough task as it is. It’s not like being a player. You always have to be focused and you can’t have lapses or stuff like that. If it’s one thing less to have to worry about, it can’t help but bring more focus on what you are supposed to be doing in the first place. I think that’s the main thing more than anything else.”

The Canucks want Luongo to be fresher entering what is expected to be a long Stanley Cup run. Since the lockout, none of the goaltenders for the Stanley Cup winning teams played in more than 62 games in the regular season; last season, Luongo had already played 73 games (between the NHL regular season and 2010 Winter Olympic Games) before the playoffs even started.

It’s fair to say that expectations – of Luongo and the Canucks – are at an all-time high. With a lesser workload, can Luongo meet these expectations?

Richard: The load on Luongo is going to have an impact on his play this season. So is a better blue line. I don’t think the blue line and Luongo are as much a dichotomy as people make them out to be and I think a more responsible and solid blue line coupled with a normal (without captaincy) Luongo is going to have mutual benefit. Lu gives them the peace of mind to gamble from time to time, and the blue line reduce some of the pressure on Luongo to steal games night in and night out.

J.J.: Of all the changes the Canucks made this season, my biggest concerns were with the ones related to Roberto. He’s an incredibly proud man, and to be honest, I wondered at first if his ego could handle giving up the captaincy; so far, it looks (sounds) like he’s accepted this for the better of the team.

I also wonder about Rollie Melanson’s appointment. It sounds like he’s asking Lu to make some changes in his technique. Can you teach an old dog new tricks? We sure hope so.

That said, I’m confident that Lu will answer his critics this season. Last season, he was playing well until the Canucks left for their 14-game road trip. He showed he can win with the weight of an entire country on his shoulders. As long as the defense doesn’t get decimated again, he should benefit from the better play in front of him.

Chris: Luongo wants nothing more than to win. I think that’s perfectly clear. But he also feels that the only way to do so is play 80 games over the course of the regular season. Now before you go and castigate me by pointing out he’s never been anywhere near that number, especially with the past couple of seasons due to injury, Louie is type of player who’d view that time off as rest and therefore qualify him to play every game thereafter. It’s therefore more important that the team set a plan in place to limit his gameplay regardless of what he may want to otherwise do.

As for the other changes, I think it’s a mixed bag. I expect Lou to re-discover that focus he brought with him during his first season in Canucks blue & green now that the C will be placed on the chest of a different player, though this will be tempered slightly as he gets used to direction from Rollie Melanson. I’m not too worried about Lou being extremely concerned with Rollie, and I figure that should he have any problems that he’ll go and prove he can still play by leaving it all on the ice.

J.J. Guerrero

Founder and Executive Editor of Canucks Hockey Blog. Proud Canadian, hardcore Canucks fan. I would like nothing more than watching the Canucks win the Stanley Cup. Against the Leafs.

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