It takes 16 wins to capture the Stanley Cup in the NHL playoffs.
On the surface, it looks like the Canucks are going backwards, but in truth, once play resumes, there's every reason to expect that Vancouver will be in the hunt to contend for the silver chalice once again.
According to sportsbook bodog.ca, the Canucks are currently ranked third on the list of 2013 Stanley Cup Favourites at 10/1, behind only Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers. Here's a look at the reasons why they should be considered favorites.
The Canucks have been the class of the regular season for the last two years, finishing with 117 points in 2010-11 and 111 in 2011-12. Those were the two best seasons in Vancouver's franchise history and were good enough for the team's only two Presidents' Trophies for the most points in the NHL.
With most of the Canucks' core intact, there's every reason to believe that Vancouver will continue to play at the highest level once the NHL lockout is resolved.
Much has been made of the fact that Roberto Luongo lost his starter's job to Cory Schneider in last year's playoffs, but that's not a bad thing. Luongo has been the best goalie in Canucks franchise history—it's just amazing that someone who might be even better has followed so closely in his wake.
Schneider's performances to date seem to indicate that he's ready to be a top-notch NHL starter, but we won't know for sure until we see him handle a full schedule. For now, Luongo's still in the fold and could lighten the load for a time or if Schneider falters. He will probably be traded eventually and should bring in some quality assets that will make a strong Canucks team even stronger.
As if the Luongo/Schneider tandem wasn't stellar enough, prospect Eddie Lack is shining in the early season for the AHL Chicago Wolves. The Wolves are 2-0 to start the season, and Lack already has one shutout to his name. Once Luongo is moved, the 24-year-old Swede is more than ready to assume the backup spot for the Canucks.
The NHL lockout has been a bit of a blessing for the Canucks, who can use this non-hockey time to rehabilitate one of their most important players, Ryan Kesler.
In early October, Elliott Pap of Postmedia News reported that Kesler is now looking at a return date as far away as January, following offseason surgery on his shoulder in May and his wrist in July.
After coming back too soon from 2011 hip surgery, Kesler and his agent are adamant that they want to ensure he makes a full recovery before returning to the ice. The fact that he's not missing games—and is still collecting his salary as an injured player—makes it that much easier to avoid the temptation of coming back before his body is ready.
If the lockout does get settled and Kesler comes back in January, he should just be rounding into form and have lots of gas left in the tank when the playoffs begin.
Brad Ziemer of the Vancouver Sun reports that defensemen Jason Garrison and Alex Edler are also currently rehabbing with the team, having suffered injuries before September 15 while preparing for the season. Ziemer says Garrison's groin injury is not believed to be serious, while Edler's bulging disc is his back is not expected to require surgery.
As long as all hands are on deck for the start of the postseason, the Canucks should be a playoff force to be reckoned with.
The Canucks fell in the first round of the playoffs this year, but they lost to the Los Angeles Kings, who turned out to be an unstoppable juggernaut. The Kings went on to roll over the St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes and New Jersey Devils on their way to their franchise's first ever Stanley Cup.
As such, Vancouver continued an odd trend of losing to the eventual champions with unlikely frequency, no matter what the round.
In 2011, it fell to Boston in the final, but in 2010, it lost to Cup-winners Chicago in the second round, and in 2007, it was beaten by the champion Anaheim Ducks. In the past six years, the only times it didn't lose to the champions were in 2008, when it missed the playoffs, and in 2009, when it lost to Chicago for the first time—the Hawks went on to lose to Detroit in the Conference Final.
It's an unusual pattern, but it emphasizes that while the Canucks haven't gone all the way yet, they only lose to teams that are firing on all cylinders. 2013 could be the year it all comes together.
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