Vancouver Canucks: 5 New Reasons Why They Are Primed for Another Cup Run
Even though they’re not leading the race for the President’s Trophy like they were at this time last year, they are only two points back from the Detroit Red Wings, and there are many reasons why this year’s version of the Canucks are even better suited for a deep playoff run.
At the very least, they are every bit as prepared to battle it out for Lord Stanley’s mug as they were last season, but with a few added elements and tweaks to their roster. Let’s explore these differences and examine the top five new reasons why they’ll be a serious Stanley Cup contender once again in the 2012 playoffs.
5. Better Fourth Line
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The fourth line may not be the most integral part of a championship caliber hockey team, but it’s an extremely underrated aspect of many prior champions.
After going through the majority of last season with a fourth line that didn’t accomplish much, the 2011-12 version of the grinding trio is much more reliable and can contribute in a number of areas.
Led by Maxim Lapierre, who is having his best season as a pro, the Canucks fourth line contributors have already put up double the amount of goals that everyone who played on the fourth line last season combined did, triple if you include Manny Malhotra’s statistics.
Not only that, but Lapierre provides an often unmatched energy level to the team and he’s a great penalty killer. Malhotra brings similar attributes to the table, which gives that line two great checking centers.
As for the wingers, the likes of Dale Weise, Byron Bitz, Andrew Ebbett and Aaron Volpatti (before his season-ending injury) are all upgrades over last season’s plethora of fillers such as Victor Oreskovich, Tanner Glass and Guillaume Desbiens.
This might just be the best fourth line in Canucks history and that’s only a bonus as the playoffs go on and team depth becomes increasingly important.
4. Depth D-Men Can Handle the Big Stage
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On paper, the Canucks might not have the same depth on defense as last season with Christian Ehrhoff now playing for the Buffalo Sabres. However, that may be deceiving because of the experience gained by the rest of their defense core in the 2011 playoff run.
Think of how much better Aaron Rome, Andrew Alberts, and especially Chris Tanev are for having played in games of such high importance last season. Thanks to coach Alain Vigneault and the way he rotated all three players into the lineup, an added level of confidence has surely been instilled in all of these depth defensemen who can no longer be considered fringe players.
The only exception to this rule on the Canucks is Keith Ballard, who found himself on the outside looking in more often than not as the playoffs carried on. However, Ballard has shown that he has moved past that this season and seems to be as confident as ever, at least judging by the way he handles the puck and the chances he is willing to take in order to move the puck up the ice effectively.
3. Both Goaltenders Can Be Counted on
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If last season was the coming out party for Cory Schneider to prove he was ready to be a full-time NHL goalie, this season is meant to showcase him as a star in the making for any team looking for an upgrade between the pipes.
Schneider has been so good for the Canucks. He has sparked what some have referred to as a goaltending controversy, even though Roberto Luongo has played equally well since early November.
Having two No. 1 goaltenders is a nice problem to have, and it gives the Canucks the luxury of rotating goaltenders in the playoffs if Coach Vigneault chooses to do so. After all, why play Schneider every fourth or fifth game during the regular season if you’re not going to do the same in the playoffs?
Even if you don’t agree with that logic, it’s hard to argue against the insurance policy that Schneider provides in case Luongo suffers from another playoff meltdown, which is likely the biggest reason why the Canucks probably won’t trade Schneider before the trade deadline.
Either way, Schneider’s emergence this season has made the Canucks even more prepared for the playoffs, even if he is sitting on the bench for the majority of the action.
2. Emergence of Alex Edler
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Last season, Kevin Bieksa reestablished himself as a top-pairing defenseman in the NHL. This season, not only has Alexander Edler done the same, but he’s also taken it one step further and become the first Canuck defenseman since Ed Jovanovski in 2003 to be named as an All-Star.
Edler is currently tied for second in scoring among NHL defensemen and if he stays healthy, will surely eclipse Christian Ehrhoff’s 50-point campaign last season. This has been a pleasant surprise for a player that had shown signs of becoming a great player. But he had never been consistent enough to establish himself as a top-pairing d-man until this season, which should be a huge factor for the Canucks in the playoffs.
1. David Booth and Cody Hodgson
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The best performances from the new Canucks this season have, without question, come from the 27-year-old David Booth and the 21-year-old Cody Hodgson.
Booth, who was acquired in a trade from the Florida Panthers very early in the season, started out slow but has come on strong since December and has been arguably the Canucks best forward since mid-January. In fact, if you take away the first 12 games of the season, in which he didn’t score a single goal, Booth would have 11 goals in just 25 games for the Canucks, which is exactly what the team needs out of a top-six winger playing alongside Ryan Kesler. At the very least, he brings more speed and potential to the table than the player he was traded for, Mikael Samuelsson.
Hodgson isn’t completely new to the Canucks, but this is his first full season with the big club after he contributed very sparingly in the regular season and playoffs last year. Needless to say, for anyone who has watched the Canucks play this season, the former No. 10 overall draft pick has had a great rookie season and may even challenge for the Calder trophy in June.
Furthermore, Hodgson’s versatility has given coach Vigneault a variety of options in terms of how he can use his forwards. So far this season, Hodgson has been used primarily as a center on the third line and a winger on the second line with Ryan Kesler and David Booth. This gives the Canucks plenty of depth as it allows for players like Mason Raymond and Chris Higgins to move down on the depth chart and give the Canucks an even more potent third line, in addition to their stellar second line.
The Canucks have been searching for this kind of depth up front for quite some time now, and thanks to Cody Hodgson and David Booth they seem to finally have what they need to make another deep playoff run in 2012.
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