Despite winning the Presidents' Trophy for the second consecutive year in 2011-12, the Vancouver Canucks did not see banner performances from many of their players. After Cody Hodgson was traded, Jannik Hansen and Cory Schneider were the only remaining Canucks to show continued progress in his development.
Except for the last few games of the Stanley Cup Final, the bounces went the Canucks' way in 2010-11. They topped the league standings and reached Game 7 of the finals, and many players put up the best stats of their careers. Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler and the goaltending tandem of Luongo and Schneider were all rewarded with league trophies for their efforts.
Whether it was the grueling grind of the emotional playoff run or simply the law of averages, things didn't come so easily for Vancouver last year.
Looking at the roster from top to bottom, fans are hoping that almost every player is able to bring more than last year when the new campaign begins—whenever that may be.
There's no doubt that Schneider will be asked to take another step forward in his presumed new role as No. 1 goaltender.
Here are five other Canucks that need to make serious strides in order for the team to be successful. A couple are working to bounce back from injury, a couple are striving to live up to the expectations attached to their big contracts and one is hoping to simply continue his NHL development.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments—who do the Canucks need to show significant improvement when the puck drops for the 2012-13 season?
Injuries have slowed Ryan Kesler since he put up 75 and 73 points respectively in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
He injured his hip during the Canucks' 2011 playoff series against San Jose. Summer surgery delayed his return for the 2011-12 season. When he did return, he was not the same player.
This year, Kesler is recovering from shoulder surgery with a timetable that won't put him back on the ice until December, according to his agent. If there's any silver lining to the idea of a fall NHL lockout, it's that Kesler would get adequate time to recover, with no pressure to come back too soon.
NHL.com's Dan Rosen muses on whether or not Kesler can return as the impact player he was before the injuries. He quotes NHL Network analyst Craig Button, who thinks it's key for Kesler not to rush:
With medical procedures and advancements the players can all come back, but you have to evaluate the player in the manner with which he plays. You're better off with Ryan to hold him back and get him back a week later rather than a week sooner because he doesn't know any other way to play.
I have no question if he's healthy he can get back to that elite level. But he needs his body to be at a level commensurate with his heart.
Kesler's two-way talent and gritty style provides a counterpoint to the Sedins' skill game. He's a key part of any success the Canucks will have in 2012-13.
Mason Raymond was the Canucks' other second-liner who was significantly hobbled during the 2011 playoff run.
It's hard to forget the gruesome image of Raymond being drilled into the boards by Johnny Boychuk during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Raymond fractured a vertebrae on the play. Monte Stewart of The Globe and Mail explains that he was unable to train in any way for much of the summer while his back healed.
Like Kesler, when Raymond returned, he was not the same player he'd been. His speed was still there, but Raymond put up just 20 points in 55 games with the Canucks in 2011-12.
As a result of his step backwards, Raymond agreed to take a pay cut for the upcoming season. Elliott Pap of the Vancouver Sun quotes Raymond's enthusiasm to get back to his old level of play:
It's no excuse, but going through what I went through breaking some vertebrae, along with other stuff, isn't easy. But it's in the past and I'm happy to be back and healthy. I'm feeling great. It feels good to be able to get into the gym and get my body to a place where I feel it needs to be for me to be successful. I have a lot to prove. I'm excited to get going and to get the season started.
If Kesler and Raymond can re-capture their old magic on the Canucks' second line, the Canucks should once again be able to wield a balanced offensive attack against their opponents.
After the Canucks' second-round playoff loss to Chicago in 2009-10, Mike Gillis took big steps to shore up his defense. He signed free-agent defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who has been a strong, reliable presence on the blueline for the past two years. And he traded Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner and a first-round draft choice to Florida for Keith Ballard.
Bernier and Grabner have become impact players, though not for Florida. Bernier ultimately found a home on New Jersey's stellar fourth line during their run to the Finals this spring, while Grabner landed with the New York Islanders and received a Calder Trophy nomination for his 34-goal season in 2010-11.
First-rounder Quinton Howden has just completed his last year of junior with the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Meanwhile, Keith Ballard has been Alain Vigneault's $4.2 million whipping boy for the past two seasons. Despite his top-four salary, Ballard has found himself a frequent healthy scratch for the Canucks and played in just 10 of the Canucks' 25 playoff games in 2010-11.
With the departures of Vancouver blueliners Sami Salo and Aaron Rome this summer, there should be a bit more room on the blue line. Ballard has three more years remaining on his big contract and ranks fourth on the Canucks' pay scale among defensemen. If Ballard can find a way to play up to his salary level this year, it would help to give the Canucks a much more balanced approach on their blue line.
After David Booth was traded from Florida to the Vancouver last year, he showed Canucks fans some good speed and soft hands—at times. He also showed maddening inconsistency and a lack of willingness to use his linemates effectively.
Booth finished the 2011-12 season with 16 goals and 29 points. That's about the same points-per-game as the previous year in Florida, but nowhere near his best output, when he scored 60 points in 2009-10.
Booth is 27 and has three more years on a contract with an average cap hit of $4.25 million. He should be entering the prime of his career and has a chance to build on his accolade as 2011-12's "Most Exciting Player" if he can improve his production next season.
Jim Jamieson of The Province published a story about Chris Tanev on August 13. The free-agent signing has exceeded all expectations in terms of his defensive play, but because he was a late bloomer, there are elements of his game that still need work.
To be a well-rounded blueliner, Tanev knows he needs to improve his shot.
“Repetition is the main thing and I’m getting strong, so I’ve got more weight behind my shot,” Tanev said. “It’s better than it was when the season ended, that’s for sure.”
With Salo and Rome gone, the Canucks hope to use Tanev as a top-six defenseman this season, and he knows this is his change to prove he belongs at the NHL level.
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