The Vancouver Canucks have won the President's Trophy as the best team in the regular season the past two years. While that is an impressive feat, it hasn't brought a Stanley Cup title to the West Coast.
The Canucks have been one of the Western Conference's elite teams during the 2000s, but still lack a Stanley Cup in their trophy room. Since 2004, the Canucks have made the playoffs six times—winning six Northwest Division titles and finishing no lower than third in the conference.
During the early years of this dominant streak, the Canucks had trouble getting past the second round, due to inconsistent postseason goal tending, lack of toughness and not having enough skill to get past powerhouses such as the Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings.
Then, 2010-11 came. The Canucks won the President's Trophy with a league-leading 117 points. They had a league-leading 262 goals and gave up a league-low 185 goals. Daniel Sedin took home the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer with 104 points. Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider shared the William J. Jennings Trophy for giving up the fewest goals.
Despite a tremendous regular season, the Canucks were outmuscled and outworked by the feisty Boston Bruins. Canucks goaltender Luongo was inconsistent during the playoffs, finishing with a 2.56 goals against average and a .914%, according to THN.com. Luongo gave up 24 goals in a seven-game series defeat to the Bruins.
The Canucks didn't dominate as much in 2011-12, but were still able to wrap up another President's Trophy, leading the league with 111 points. Canucks fans were optimistic about a shot at redemption, but that dream fell early following a shocking five-game defeat to the eventual cup champion Los Angeles Kings, in the opening round.
In a shortened 48-game season, the Canucks still have the pieces to make another run at the cup. However, there are still some obstacles they need to overcome in hopes of getting back to the finals.
Here are five potential weaknesses that could prevent a chance at hoisting the Stanley Cup in June.
This has been a major problem for the Canucks the past few seasons.
In 2009 and 2010, the Canucks were dropped by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of the playoffs. The main reason was that the Canucks didn't have the toughness to stand up to Dave Bolland and Andrew Ladd and could not keep Dustin Byfuglien out of Robert Luongo's crease.
As a result, Bolland shut down Henrik and Daniel Sedin in both series, while Byfuglien made life horrible for the Canucks defense and goaltender.
The Canucks got lucky after the Blackhawks were forced to deal away Byfuglien and Ladd following their 2010 Cup victory and were able to get past them in the opening round of the 2011 playoffs.
However, the Canucks ran into the big, bad Bruins—who bullied the Canucks en route to the championship. Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand got into the heads of the Sedin twins, while Zdeno Chara pushed around the Canucks like a bulldozer. The Bruins clearly intimidated the Canucks, as they lacked a power forward and size to keep up with Boston.
In 2011-12, the latest Canuck killer was Dustin Brown. He recorded four goals and one assist in the series—and bashed Canuck players all over the place. The Canucks once again had no answer, as their forwards were too undersized to intimidate the Kings.
The Canucks still lack a true enforcer and still lack size to make other teams think twice about hitting their superstars. If the Canucks don't get bigger, meaner and scarier, then teams should have no problem pushing them around and making them nervous.
The man pictured above usually solves these problems. However, Canucks second-line center Ryan Kesler is currently sidelined while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, and his return is still unknown.
It's a huge blow to the Canucks, as Kesler scored 20-plus goals five consecutive seasons. Second-line winger David Booth is also sidelined with a groin injury and is expected to miss up to six weeks. The Canucks are stuck with an inconsistent Mason Raymond, young and inexperienced Zack Kassian and unproven Andrew Ebbett to make up the second line.
Secondary scoring has been no problem for the Canucks in recent years, but they will need to eat up some of the minutes in order to take off some of the pressure from Alex Burrows and the Sedin Twins. Although Mike Gillis has proven he will make the big move when necessary, salary cap problems and a lack of trade chips could prevent that from happening this season.
The main reason the Canucks were an early out in last year's postseason was the fact that the first line had to do most of the scoring, while the bottom three lines were unproductive in the scoring department.
If Booth and Kesler are out longterm, and guys like Jannik Hansen, Kassian and Raymond can't produce much help on the offensive side, then the Canucks will have trouble beating teams like the Blackhawks and Kings, who have plenty of depth on offense.
Health has been a major issue for the Canucks. As you read in the last slide, the Canucks are missing two of their three pieces on the second line. Last year, Daniel Sedin missed the last 10 games of the regular season and first three games of the postseason, and the Canucks offense saw a decline in production.
Keith Ballard, who ate up valuable minutes, played all but 47 games before sustaining a season-ending concussion.
In 2010-11, the Canucks had plenty of injuries. Forward Alex Burrows missed the first 10 games recovering from shoulder surgery, while defensemen Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa combined to miss 51 games.
Checking center Manny Malhotra missed the first three playoff series recovering from an eye injury. Alex Edler missed 31 games after back surgery. It wasn't until the final game of the regular season that the Canucks top 6 defensemen all dressed in the same game.
It's not easy for any team to overcome that many injuries. The Canucks have been able to do so in recent years but desperately need to enter the postseason completely healthy to sustain momentum and confidence. If a key player goes down, then other players will have to step up. Having a healthy roster is vital to winning a championship.
This has been the main road block. The Vancouver Canucks simply can't seem to overcome the postseason pressure. Playing in a hockey-crazy market like Vancouver with an impatient fanbase and a media who dogs its own players certainly doesn't make matters better.
Roberto Luongo has been one of the most consistent regular-season goalies, recording 30-plus wins seven consecutive seasons, but his postseason play has been widely criticized. Although his regular-season save percentage is .919 compared to .917 in the postseason, his play has been incredibly inconsistent.
He gave up 24 goals in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Bruins back in 2011. While the defense certainly wasn't doing it's part, no NHL goaltender can afford to post those stats. It's unacceptable.
While Alex Burrows and the Sedin Twins don't lose their touch in the postseason, the secondary scoring seems to completely vanish. The second and third lines did little to nothing in the playoffs against the Kings last year offensively.
The Canucks have fielded so many talented teams the past decade, winning six out of the last eight Northwest Division titles. Making it past the second round once is mind-boggling. It's simple: This team chokes in the postseason. They had a chance to prove us wrong in 2011, but they crumbled after winning the first two games.
If the Canucks want to win the cup, they're going to have to take their regular-season domination play and turn it into postseason success
Easier said than done, of course.
The Vancouver Canucks own two of the league's most interesting goaltenders:
Roberto Luongo is a stud in the regular season who has been criticized for crumbling under postseason pressure, and Corey Schneider is a rising star. He's only played in four career postseason games and has been above-average in those.
Luongo reportedly requested a trade following the Canucks' early postseason exit in 2012, opening the door for Schneider to step into the spotlight. Luongo was heavily involved in trade rumors throughout the summer and has been the center of attention ever since the lockout ended.
The main problem is that: Which goalie should the Canucks keep?
It seems like half of the Canucks fan prefer Luongo, while the other half believe Schneider is proven and ready. Luongo's heavy contract makes such a trade difficult, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are rumored to be a possible destination, according to Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun.
The reason a trade hasn't occurred is believed to be because GM Mike Gillis' asking price is too high. Gillis has to decide which goalie he wants, and it's a tough call. If he doesn't get top value for Luongo, he may be forced to hold onto him, which would leave a complicated question:
Who should be the Canucks' starting goaltender?
If Luongo is indeed traded, the pressure is on Schneider to play better than Luongo did during his tenure in Vancouver. If he fails to do that, then I can't imagine how crazy Canucks Nation will go.
The Canucks—like any NHL team—have their strengths and weaknesses. No team is perfect, and that includes the Canucks.
The Canucks have the pieces to win the Stanley Cup—a dangerous offense, depth on defense and two quality goaltenders. However, that doesn't mean they are guaranteed a championship. They have problems they need to overcome and potential hazards they need to avoid. This team is very talented and very well-coached.
A shortened season makes things harder to predict, but the Canucks should have no problem entering the postseason with home-ice advantage.
Once again, it's Stanley Cup or bust in Vancouver.