Vancouver Canucks' 5 Biggest Questions in 2013 Training Camp
The players and coaches are now in town, working to construct an opening-night lineup that will set the tone for a successful sprint through 48 games. Some issues linger from the lockout, and new ones have cropped up in a hurry.
Here's a look at the top five questions facing the Canucks as they plow through their preparations for 2013.
Honorable Mention: How Will the Fans React?
The lockout created a lot of animosity on the part of NHL fans towards the league and its players. Will the fans forgive and forget, or will it take awhile to win them back?
The Canucks organization has turned its publicity machine up to the highest setting, offering new multimedia on its website and opening its training camps to the public. They're promising a "Jerseys Off Our Backs" giveaway on opening night, along with sale prices on merchandise and concessions.
The fans' response to the Canucks' efforts will be nationally televised on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, January 19. Will viewers see business as usual, or will the bitterness of the lockout leave a lingering aftertaste?
5. Can Garrison, Barker and Vandermeer Make a Difference?
With Sami Salo and Aaron Rome gone from the Canucks' blue line, fans are eager to see if free agent signing Jason Garrison is worth his $27.6 million contract. Garrison was an offensive force last year for the Florida Panthers with 16 goals, nine of which came on the power play.
If all goes according to plan, Garrison should make fans forget about Salo's booming slap shot from the point. Though he was treated for a groin problem during the lockout, it's hoped Garrison won't come anywhere near matching Salo's best-known stat: days lost to injury.
The Canucks added a little spice to their training camp when they announced the signings of free agent defensemen Cam Barker and Jim Vandermeer (per Brad Ziemer of the Vancouver Sun). Both are big bodies, but both had tough 2011-12 seasons—Barker with the Edmonton Oilers and Vandermeer with the San Jose Sharks.
With the compressed schedule, expect to see Barker and Vandermeer subbing in to add toughness, or stepping up as injury replacements.
4. How's Everyone Feeling?
The only body missing from the Canucks' training camp is the injured Ryan Kesler. The center had shoulder and wrist surgery in the offseason and is not expected back anytime soon.
UPDATE: Alain Vigneault announced at his Tuesday press conference that Booth's groin strain will likely keep him out for 4-6 weeks (via Twitter @vancanucks).
For the moment, everyone else appears to be reasonably healthy. Alex Edler and Jason Garrison were both able to rehab their injuries during the lockout and are participating fully in training camp.
3. What Tricks Does Coach Vigneault Have Up His Sleeve?
When Head Coach Alain Vigneault got to Vancouver last week, he indicated to Ben Kuzma of The Province that his first plan of attack will be to stick with what's worked best over the past couple of seasons. But that may not last long:
With the limited amount of (camp) time we have, it's a safe bet to say we're going to start with combinations — whether defensive pairings or forwards — that have worked in the past. If it doesn't, we'll make the adjustments and people have to trust we'll make the right decisions.
On Monday, Vigneault conceded to Ed Willes of The Province that injuries could dictate the team's on-ice style at times:
I foresee us, depending on who’s healthy, playing to our strengths....We like the fact we play a fast-paced game. Hopefully, on most nights we’ll have the talent level that permits us to do that. If we don’t, we’ll have to adjust and find the best way we can to win that game.
The short season will likely keep players and coaches alike pushing to stay one step ahead of their rivals.
2. Who's the Second Line Center?
In December, Ryan Kesler's agent Kurt Overhardt told Ben Kuzma of The Province that his client could be several months away from returning to the ice after his summer surgeries.
That opens the second line center spot for auditions. Andrew Ebbett and Jordan Schroeder are currently in the spotlight.
30-year-old Ebbett has 163 games of NHL experience under his belt, and scored five goals during his 18-game stint with the Canucks in 2011-12. Alain Vigneault told Brad Ziemer of the Vancouver Sun that coach Scott Arniel believes Ebbett has been his most reliable offensive center with the Chicago Wolves so far this year.
22-year-old Schroeder has youth and pedigree on his side. The Canucks' 2009 first round draft choice has been brought along slowly in hopes that when he takes the step up to the big leagues, he'll be ready to make the most of it.
On January 14, Ebbett and Schroeder took turns centering a second line with Zack Kassian and Mason Raymond on the wings. With only a few days to show their stuff, which farmhand will get the call on opening night?
1. Is Luongo Really Staying?
The trade embargo lifted on January 12, and Roberto Luongo is still a Vancouver Canuck.
The tradewinds continue to swirl, but Luongo is back in town and there's a very real possibility that Canuck fans will see both goalies in action as the team plays back-to-back games on the season's first weekend.
Luongo told Jason Botchford of The Province that he's willing to stay in Vancouver for as long as it takes general manager Mike Gillis to complete a deal:
I told him (Gillis) I was ready to go as long as it took, whether that’s a couple days, next week, two weeks, or at the end of the season, it’s totally fine with me. I’m open to a lot of possibilities. I think me and Mike right now are on the same page about certain things and until there’s an answer for me I’ll just wait patiently.
The 2010 Olympic gold medalist also reminded us that he has a pretty good track record as a backup goalie:
I’m just going to show up, have fun, enjoy the game, and you know whatever happens, happens. I’m not going to stress myself about a trade or how many games I’m going to play. I’m just going to enjoy it. Last time I did that (in the 2010 Winter Games) I think things worked out pretty well for me.
For his part, Cory Schneider remains unflappable and is preparing for the season as the team's No. 1 stopper. He told Ben Kuzma of The Province that he's ready to handle the back-to-back games on his own:
That’s fine with me. I feel better when I get right back into it the next night and just not think about it. I hope the first one goes well and with the second one, maybe I can build off the first one. I’m going to have to get used to a lot of three-in-four-nights and back-to-backs.
At worst, the Canucks are starting the season with two very good goalies. The radio call-in shows will be sure to feature plenty more heated discussion for as long as Roberto Luongo remains a Vancouver Canuck.
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