Oct 082010

[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.]

Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

Look around the league and you’ll read more than a few pundits predict and pick the Vancouver Canucks as one of their Stanley Cup favorites. TSN, ESPN and The Hockey News have all weighed in and like their chances. Even a video game simulation by EA Sports NHL 11 picked the Canucks to win it all. (The same video game simulation correctly picked the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup last year.)

Listen to Mike Gillis and Alain Vigneault and you’ll hear them publicly call the Canucks one of the top 4 or 5 teams in the NHL – if that’s note a vote of confidence in the group of players they’ve assembled this season, I don’t know what is.

Talk to Canucks fans and they’ll tell you they feel that this is the year the trophy named after Lord Stanley of Preston will finally make its way down Georgia St. to the park named after him.

Needless to say, expectations in Vancouver are at an all-time high.

And so they should be.

The core of the group that has reached the second round of the playoffs is largely intact. Except Henrik Sedin is now a Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner and Ryan Kesler is a two-time Selke Trophy nominee. And they added Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres, Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard to replace Kyle Wellwood, Steve Bernier, Willie Mitchell and Shane O’Brien.

Mike Gillis took the team that was the second-highest scoring team in the NHL last season and added some missing pieces. The bottom-six is bigger and the defense is deeper. There’s more playoff experience in the lineup. Sure there has been consecutive playoff disappointments, but this probably means they should be hungrier as well.

Stanley Cup or bust – this expectation is fair, isn’t it?

Cam from Canucks Army: Yes, this expectation is fair. They have plenty of depth, they have the reigning league MVP and scoring leader, and bolstered their defense to address problems they saw last year. With this group of players, their window to win is open now and they have to seize the opportunity they have in front of them. If the Canucks don’t make it past the 2nd round again, fans will rightly call this year a failure. Fans are getting tired of failure in this market. With an improved team over last year, it is reasonable to expect a trip to the Conference Finals this year.

J.J.: After failing to make the playoffs in 2007/2008 primarily because they couldn’t score, the Canucks added Mats Sundin, Pavol Demitra, Steve Bernier and Kyle Wellwood to provide some secondary scoring. After consecutive postseasons in which they suffered significant injuries in the back end, the Canucks added Hamhuis and Ballard. After getting outworked and beaten by guys like Byfuglien, Bolland, Brouwer and Ladd, the Canucks signed Malhotra and Torres and toughened up.

My point is, the Canucks have done a good job of evaluating his team, identifying its needs and addressing them; this year is no different. Going into this season, they don’t have many – any? – discernible weaknesses. On paper, they are one of the NHL’s best teams and I’ll be disappointed if they don’t make it past the second round. Again.

Richard: In each of the last three years, the Canucks have fielded a better team than the one they fielded the year before. That hasn’t changed this year. Gillis has assembled the best team this city has ever seen. It is so solid in every facet of the game it’s hard not to think that this is the year.

Chris: If expectations were fair, there would be a 16 way tie for the Stanley Cup on a regular basis. I’m confident that this Canucks team is closer than ones in recent memory, but I’m never one to set expectations that high. I’ve watched the Canucks far too long to ever do so.

Oct 082010

[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.

Oct 082010

[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.]

Alain Vigneault, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

Alain Vigneault enters this season as the fifth-longest tenured coach in the NHL. His 328 games with the Canucks ranks just behind Lindy Ruff (984 games coached with Buffalo), Barry Trotz (902 games with Nashville), Randy Carlyle (410 games with Anaheim) and Mike Babcock (410 games with Detroit).

In his first 4 seasons as Canucks coach, Vigneault has coached the team to a 182-114-32 record – a 0.604 points percentage – and three Northwest Division titles. He took them to the playoffs three times, and each time, they made it to the second round.

In 2006/2007, Vigneault’s first season with the Canucks, the team won games primarily by preventing goals than scoring them. They ranked in the bottom-third in the league in goals scored and powerplay percentage, and ranked in the top-10 in goals against and the penalty-kill. Their commitment to defense – and Roberto Luongo’s goaltending – got them to the second round of the playoffs before they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Anaheim Ducks.

In 2007/2008, the Canucks once again struggled to score goals. In fact, they finished with less goals than they did in the previous season, and in the process failed to make the postseason.

Vigneault faced a lot of questions during the summer that followed. There were rumblings among the fanbase – us included – that he couldn’t coach Brad Pitt and George Clooney to score. When the Canucks fired GM Dave Nonis and replaced him with Mike Gillis, most of us assumed that Vigneault was as good as gone as well.

As we know, Gillis kept Vigneault – he’s even extended his contract twice since – and the Canucks, built with players with speed and skill, are now one of the highest-scoring teams and most exciting teams in the NHL.

But for all of Vigneault’s success, he still has to take a team past the second round of the playoffs. In 3+ seasons as Habs coach, his team made the playoffs once and was eliminated from the second round. In his only season as coach of the AHL Manitoba Moose, they were eliminated in the second round. And now, in 4 seasons with the Canucks, he has yet to take them to the Conference Finals.

On paper, the Canucks will be icing, arguably, their best, most well-rounded roster in years. Perhaps ever. There’s little doubt they have the personnel to contend for the Stanley Cup; the question remains if the coach can maximize their potential and take them there.

J.J.: A couple of years ago, I wondered if AV had what it took to coach a more offensive system; I think it’s obvious now that he can. One thing I noticed last season is that the Canucks played great when they were able to dictate the game’s tempo. (Well, most teams are/should be.) For whatever reason, they weren’t able to do that against Chicago. If they want to get deeper into the playoffs, Vigneault – and his entire coaching staff – have to be able to make better adjustments during and in between games.

Katie: I’m the first to admit that I’m not the biggest AV fan, mostly because I’m not fond of his defensive-style coaching. I also believe it was Luongo that won him the Jack Adams (a few years ago); if Luongo hadn’t had the season he did, no way would AV won. Yes his team has made it to the playoffs almost every season AV has coached, but I still think it was the team that got themselves there, and will continue to do so. So does AV have what it takes to get the team past the second round? No, but our team does.

Cam from Canucks Army: There seemed to be some serious tactical errors in defense in their second round loss to Chicago. And their PK just killed them. So if AV can fix those problems, then he should succeed this year. Whoever controlled the PK and defense coaching last season (BOWNESS!) should have been fired. That’s the bigger problem.

Oct 072010

[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.]

Mikael Samuelsson and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

Shortly after the Vancouver Canucks were eliminated from the second round of last year’s playoffs, Mike Gillis said:

“Experience is a major factor,” he said. “We have very few guys that have gone far into the playoffs.

“You need experienced players who have been there, who don’t deviate from the game plan when the pressure is on, and who continue to be patient and play.”

This summer, Gillis retooled the Canucks’ roster. He upgraded the bottom-six and rebuilt the defense. But did he add the leadership and experience he wanted to?

J.J.: Of the four key additions to the Canucks’ roster, only two have gone deep into the playoffs: Manny Malhotra went to the Conference Finals with the San Jose Sharks last season, and Raffi Torres went to the Stanley Cup Finals with the Edmonton Oilers in 2006. The two key additions on defense, Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard don’t have significant playoff experience; Hamhuis has never played past the first round, while Ballard has yet to suit up in the postseason.

That said, most of the core has been together for a few years now and they’ve made the second round of the playoffs three of the last four seasons. Lack of leadership and playoff experience should no longer be an issue with this team. As a group, they’ve played enough playoff games now; I just hope that they’ve been able to learn from their losses.

Chris: Has MG brought in veteran leadership? Not sure. Ballard is a decent addition on the blueline, but that’s tempered by the loss of Mitchell. Hamhuis is definitely no rookie, but even in his five seasons in the NHL he still lacks the experience the wily vets usually have (let alone the playoff experience). You can add Malhotra and Torres to the conversation, but I’m not sold that Torres has figured out his own game well enough to provide leadership. All in all, we haven’t really seen much of a net increase.

Katie: With Malhotra I think he did a good job in terms of adding veteran leadership and playoff experience. In fact, I wouldn’t complain if Manny was given an ‘A’ to start the season. Torres also has some playoff experience with the Oilers.

Richard: Mike Gillis didn’t bring in a lot of playoff experience, but I think the team and its core already have enough collective experience. Samuelsson is the only one that has won a Stanley Cup, and I thought he did a good job of providing leadership in last year’s playoffs. Manny Malhotra is a great addition – he’ll mentor the prospects and assist the veterans.

Cam from Canucks Army: Uh, not exactly. There are a grand total of TWO Stanley Cup rings in the dressing room so that speaks for itself. However, the addition of Malhotra does add more veteran leadership. That said, I think both of those things are a bit overrated. Kesler, Henrik, Daniel, Luongo and Hamhuis have plenty of leadership so adding shouldnt have been a huge priority. As for playoff experience, the group in the room already knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. They have to battle their own demons of previous playoff failures and overcome them. To me that would be as strong a motivator as you could possibly have.

Mike from Nucks Misconduct: He did add a couple pieces, but I don’t think it is truly going to matter. Samuelsson is still the standard bearer in terms of playoff experience; the new guys don’t eclipse his 81 playoff appearances and 50 playoff points. Malhotra has two goals in 24 games, Hamhuis has nine points in 28 games, Torres has 15 points in 30 games and Ballard (thanks to being trapped in Florida) has none.

But I do think these guys bring qualities to the team that weren’t there before. Malhotra has been lauded for his strong work ethic from Columbus and San Jose, so hopefully that catches on with others and the same can be said of Torres (in Columbus not to mention his Cup run with Edmonton in 2006). Nashville runs a tight ship and hopefully Hamhuis will infuse part of that system into the backend.

Oct 072010

[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.]

Orland Kurtenbach, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: Vancouver Sun

At the Canucks Summer Summit – aka the State of the Franchise – the Canucks announced the start of a new tradition, the “Ring of Honour”.

The Ring of Honour initiative will launch this season and is intended to celebrate and salute Canuck heroes who have made a lasting impact on the franchise.

The plan is to honour 3 or 4 players every season, and give fans a chance to acknowledge their contributions to the Canucks community without retiring their jerseys. While the first “Ring of Honour Night” isn’t until October 26 when the Canucks will honour Orland Kutenbach, I imagine the concept is similar to what the Toronto Maple Leafs do.

Besides Kurtenbach, the Canucks are planning on honour three other former Canuck heroes. The team hasn’t announced their names yet, but we give our two cents on who we think are most deserving of this honour.

Cam from Canucks Army: I like this tradition. Retiring jerseys should be reserved for an incredibly special, elite group of players. But the franchise should still honour players that have left a special mark on the team and its fans. Kurtenbach is a perfect choice to start this tradition. Bure is another great selection. I’d also add Snepsts, Odjick, and McLean.

Richard: I think it’s a neat tradition so long as they don’t do too many a season. You start to run out of players otherwise. I think this year they’ll honour Captain Kirk, Roger Nielson and Pavel Bure.

Chris: So long as the Ring of Honour is done the right way – essentially any way different than the “7th man” – I have no problem with it. I think it serves an excellent purpose to recognize Canuck players who have contributed to the success of the team on or off the ice, while preserving the sanctity of a retired number. As for who I think the other three names will be, I asked the Magic Eight ball for help and came up with the following: Thomas Gradin, Harold Snepsts, and Pavel Bure. Yep, I’m that darn good.

J.J.: I think this is a great way to honour players. I agree with Cam that retiring jerseys should be reserved for special players, and I think it’s certainly fitting for guys like Stan Smyl, Trevor Linden and Markus Naslund. However, there are many others who meant a lot to this franchise and have contributed greatly to the Canucks community, but because they don’t necessarily deserve to get their jerseys retired, we don’t get the opportunity to thank them and celebrate their contributions. After Kurtenbach, I’d like to see Jim Robson, Harold Snepsts and Richard Brodeur honoured as well.

Oct 062010

[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.]

Alex Edler, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: Vancouver Sun

Remember how we lauded the Canucks depth on defense at the start of last season?

The Canucks started the 2009/2010 season with 8 NHL defensemen (Willie Mitchell, Salo, Edler, Ehrhoff, Bieksa, O’Brien, Rome and Mathieu Schneider); they finished the postseason. During the season, the Canucks traded Schneider and traded for Alberts, Mitchell suffered an injury in February, and Edler, Rome and Salo all suffered injuries in the playoffs. In fact, if the Canucks had somehow pushed the series to 7 games, it’s possible Evan Oberg and Nolan Baumgartner could have drawn in the lineup.

As such, Mike Gillis’ biggest priority this summer was to rebuild the Canucks defense. And boy, did he ever rebuild them.

At the draft, he sent Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner and the Canucks’ 1st round pick at the NHL Entry Draft for Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich. In the first few hours of free agency, he signed Dan Hamhuis to a 6-year/$27 million contract. He signed Lee Sweatt and Chris Tanev, and while both will start on the Moose (along with Kevin Connauton), both show some NHL promise. Yesterday, he traded Shane O’Brien for Ryan Parent; and if Parent clears waivers, should be assigned to the Moose.

Are the Canucks deeper on defense today than it was a year ago? Are they deep enough to withstand the rigours of a long season and an extended postseason?

J.J.: In terms of the number of NHL-caliber defensemen, I don’t think the Canucks are deeper in the back end. Like in 2008/2009, they’ll enter the season with 7 NHL defensemen on the roster and 1 more (Salo) on LTIR. They do have promising prospects in the system, but at this point, that’s all they are – prospects.

What they are, though, is more durable. Hamhuis has missed a total of 5 games in the last 5 seasons. Ballard missed 13 games in 2006/2007, but has otherwise played every game in his NHL career. Compare that with Salo, who’s missed an average of 19 games per season in the last 5 seasons, and Mitchell, whose concussion concerns are common knowledge now.

When healthy, the Canucks’ defense is as deep as any other teams’ in the league. However, a couple of injuries to key players and they can be back in the same position as they were last year.

Richard: Barring another Mathieu Schneider situation I think the Canucks’ defense is already deeper than last year’s. It was unfortunate to sometimes have to play Alberts in the top-four, but as bad as he looked in that role, he is a solid bottom-pairing blue liner. He may not be to handle the responsibility of being a top-four guy, but is pretty effective as a sixth or seventh d-man.

Chris: This is one area I’m not too worried about. The Canucks are starting the season with depth, and will only see that depth increase should Salo return over the course of the season. Although one could say that the team is in a similar position as last year with Salo being this year’s version of Mathieu Schneider, it’s hard to believe that Sami will have the same problems that Schneider did.

Mike from Nucks Misconduct: I don’t know if there’s such a thing as deep enough. The clear lack of a #1 defenseman is the bigger issue. If Vancouver had landed Mitchell along with Hamhuis and Ballard, no one would be complaining; we’d have a ridiculous top four. Now consider an injury to Hamhuis and things are going to get ugly very quickly. Ballard has played himself down to the third line, Bieksa remains an enigma, Edler is still adjusting to the limelight, Ehrhoff isn’t shutting anyone down and Salo is…oh nevermind. And where is the Lukowich-type back-up for this season? Rome is serviceable, but who else? Parent if he clears waivers? Oberg again?

The Canucks should be solid until a guy like Hamhuis, Edler or Ballard get injured (in that order of importance). Then they could be right back to where they were in the playoffs. So the bottom line: everyone stay away from Salo.

Oct 062010

[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.]

Alex Burrows, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

To say that the Canucks’ penalty-kill last postseason was woeful is a vast understatement. In the biggest and most important games of the year, the Canucks were shorthanded 54 times and allowed 17 powerplay goals against. Their 68.5% PK rate was easily the worst among the 16 teams that made the postseason.

In the regular season, the Canucks had an 81.6% PK rate, which ranked them 18th among all NHL teams. It’s a far cry from the 2006/2007 season – Luongo’s first season with the Canucks – when their PK led the league with an 86.5% PK rate.

Have the Canucks done enough to address this?

J.J.: Adding Manny Malhotra, Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard will help – especially Hamhuis and Ballard, both of whom led their respective teams in PK time on ice last season – but if the preseason is any indication the Canucks still have some work to do.

One of the few bright spots from the PK last season was Alex Burrows. He led the team – and the NHL – in shorthanded goals and points, but will start this season on LTIR. Nothing against Peter Schaeffer, but I doubt he provides a similar threat to score shorthanded.

Chris: Based on what we’ve seen from the pre-season, the jury is still out on this one. On paper, the Canucks have improved their PK but unfortunately for the team, the game is played on ice. If I were to have suggestions, a strong commitment to discipline will be the first step to avoiding the special teams demon that plagued the Canucks last year. The second would be a more aggressive PK that more quickly closes down shooting lanes while harassing the opposing special teams unit into making mistakes of their own.

Richard: No. That said, they have so many other things going for them I don’t think a bottom half PK will be the end of the world.

Oct 062010

[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.]

Markus Naslund Jersey Retirement, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: Vancouver Province

When Markus Naslund skated off GM Place for the last time in a Canucks jersey on April 5th, 2008, every single Canucks fan in the arena were standing and cheering and hooting and hollering. Only the ovation wasn’t for him; it was for Trevor Linden, who had also just played the last game if his NHL career.

This isn’t to say that Trevor didn’t deserve the send-off he received that night. Of course he deserved it. But on that same night, Markus, who to this day still holds the Canucks franchise highs in career goals, points, powerplay goals and game-winning goals, left the ice unceremoniously. On that same night, Markus, who captained the Canucks as long as Trevor did and whose teams made the postseason 6 times in 8 seasons, silently skated off before taking his game to Broadway.

On December 11th, 2010, the Canucks will right this wrong and retire Markus’ no. 19 jersey to the rafters. Will fans do the same and finally give him the appreciation he deserves this time around?

Richard: He better, otherwise there will be hell to pay. Naslund will get what he rightly deserves. I’m thrilled Gillis – the Canucks organization – made the decision to retire his jersey. It was the right thing to do.

Chris: I sincerely hope that Markus gets a hearty ovation. Although Trevor will always be held in higher regard, Markus Naslund was able to take the Canucks to the levels previously unheard of. He nearly led the league in scoring, won the Lester Pearson trophy by being chosen as MVP among his peers, and had a talent which could make or break the success of the team. True he never had an opportunity to take the team to the Stanley Cup Finals as Linden did, but Nazzy helped bring the team back from it’s dark era when “he who shall not be named” was running the team (after “he who shall not be named” ran Linden out of town).

Katie: Not much has angered me in recent years as the treatment towards Markus Naslund when he left the team. Naslund was treated like Grandma on the show “Dinosaurs”, being sent off to the tar pits (aka New York) once he was considered ‘useless’.

It’s my hope that, on December 11th, he will finally get the recognition he deserves from Vancouver after the way he was shipped off. Being overshadowed by Linden’s final game is understandable, but December 11th is his night and his night only. I would hope that the fans will remember what this man did for the franchise and give him a proper sending off.

Oct 062010

[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.]

Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

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.

Oct 052010

[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.]

Raffi Torres, Vancouver Canucks

At the Canucks’ training camp in Penticton, coach Alain Vigneault had this to say about Raffi Torres:

I’m not interested in what has happened to him in the past. He’s got a clean slate and he’s got to have the work ethic we’re looking for and so far that’s what I’ve seen.

For all intents and purposes, we’ll assume here that he’s talking about Raffi finishing the 2009/2010 season scoring 0 goals in his last 19 games (including every game he played with the Buffalo Sabres).

Between 2003 and 2007, Raffi was a 30-40-point scorer for the Edmonton Oilers and a key player in their unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006. He suffered through a couple of injury-plagued seasons after that, and then rebounded nicely a bit last season (or at least he rebounded nicely in the first 60 games of last season).

When healthy, he’s exactly the kind of fast, gritty, tough-to-play-against winger the Canucks wanted to add to their bottom-six.

“That is a big part of my game, being a guy who will finish hits and try to change the momentum of a game at some point,” Torres said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Whatever they need me to do, I’ll do. I’ll sit down with (coach) Alain Vigneault when I get there and I’m sure he will let me know what he expects out of me. But I think I know what I need to bring.”

We hope so.

Richard: Raffi brings size, and a lot less “suck” than Bernier. It’ll be interesting to see if he can return to form but at the very least he brings some much needed grit to the team. Secondary scoring from him would be nice, but as we saw last year, scoring won’t be one of the Canucks main concerns this campaign.

Chris: When I saw what the Canucks to paid to get Raffi on board, I was quite happy (although from what I saw on Twitter, I might have been the only one). In his NHL career, Raffi has averaged a point every two games while playing a rough and tumble style of game – and Vancouver got that for a clean million in a year. Now I’m sure many of his naysayers will point out that of those points he brings, he scored a whole whack load against the Canucks, but I’m thinking he understands the position he is in and will play well to ensure he gets a far better contract (albeit somewhere else) next season.

Katie: I hope Raffi starts his season strong and adds some grit to the bottom-six. Unlike a lot of Canucks fans, I think it was smart to add him to the team. Oh, and he can piss off other teams for once.

Cam from Canucks Army: Yes, of course he can. The problem with Torres is his lack of consistency. If he can get his legs quickly on the second line to start the year, he’ll have a great year. However, if Torres ends up slow, he’ll end up bouncing around the line-up to try to find him a spot. If that happens, he’ll lose his consistency and he might up having a lacklustre season.

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