There's only one way for the Vancouver Canucks to improve on their seasons at this point, and that's winning the Stanley Cup. Fans of the franchise, and the players that are there, would trade all the best-in-conference and best-in-division banners for a championship.
They have the talent to get to the show, and have developed a knack for losing to the eventual champions over the last few seasons. I'm sure that's a reputation that they'd like to kick in the teeth, and time may be running out for this squad to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.
Here are five bold predictions for the Canucks and their upcoming shortened season.
I think this is one of the most interesting running story lines in the NHL right now.
The relationship between Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks has reached professional wrestling-level outlandishness, with both the team and the player going to the press saying that they were ready to move on.
The Canucks even put their money in and around their collective mouths by inking Cory Schneider to a new deal over the summer. The team currently is spending close to $10 million on their goaltenders, and that can't remain the case for long.
However, the market for Luongo wasn't quite what Vancouver was hoping for at the draft and over the summer. If they want to get close to full value for their netminder, they are going to have to start him in a few games to show that he can still play.
I know this is Luongo we are talking about here, but after the wheels fell over during the playoffs last season, I'd want to see a few games of action before I trade a haul of players for the guy.
So what happens if he goes on some kind of 11-game winning streak? Things could be very interesting in net for the Canucks this season.
With the cap coming down at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season, the Canucks will find themselves in a very tough spot as they have 10 players coming off the books.
Don't expect management to sit back and allow this to happen however, as some changes could be brewing in Vancouver. I anticipate a couple of the highly-touted blueliners in the system to get the call early this season to see if they are up to mettle.
As a result, the Canucks will have a surplus of capable, two-way defenders.
Keith Ballard and Alexander Edler could be on the outside looking in, as they are two of the only defensemen without movement clauses. Both could also fetch some solid depth players for the Canucks—especially if they want to continue to acquire a little more sandpaper.
Look for Chris Tanev to get a look early on, and to progress up the depth chart as he settles into his role on the team. We could also see Kevin Connauton and Peter Andersson get some playing time. If one or two of these youngsters can establish themselves as solid NHL players, then it will give the Canucks more options heading forward.
The Vancouver Canucks used one of their best blue chip assets in Cody Hodgson to bring in a physical, capable player in Zack Kassian.
He didn't exactly pile up the points in Vancouver, but then again, that isn't what he was brought in for. Kassian threw more hits in 17 games with the Canucks than he did in 27 games with the Buffalo Sabres, showing he knows exactly what he is there to do.
The 21-year old is 6'3'', and has already topped out over 200 pounds. He's a player that can be used in just about every situation, from a shutdown role on the fourth line to a physical, space-opener in the top-six.
Kassian has been used as such for the Chicago Wolves over the course of the lockout, and he seems to have found his scoring touch among the pros as well. In 28 games played in the AHL, he's posted 20 points while still providing grit and hits.
He can fight, He can score goals. He can throw the body. Hell, this just might be a real power forward! Fans in Vancouver should be excited to watch this guy evolve into an integral part of their hockey team over the next season or two.
I eventually needed to make a truly bold prediction, and this is it.
David Booth is an excellent shooter and I believe that, given the proper chance, he could be among the best goal scorers in Vancouver. The key to him being among the leaders here is finally having a healthy season.
That's impossible to predict, but why not now? The shortened season only means he has less of a chance to get hurt, meaning he'll have more opportunities to put up some good numbers. He was a 30-goal scorer in Florida, and has the talent to keep up that pace in Vancouver.
If he stays healthy he'll finish behind Daniel Sedin in goal-scoring, outpacing Alex Burrows and Ryan Kessler.
Sooner or later this team has to break through, right?
If they manage to toughen up a bit more via the inevitable Luongo trade, and if they have a few young players step up in noticeable ways, then this is a team that could again represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.
It won't be an easy road, as the West will be tighter than ever with the moves coming because of the falling salary cap. But this is a team that will be aware that its collective window could be closing a bit, especially with the tough incoming free-agency period after 2013-2014.
So the time is now for the Canucks. That won't be lost on this team, and they'll have what it takes to do some damage when the playoffs arrive.