After a week of going through the Northwest division, we've finally come to the end with the Vancouver Canucks.
What's even better is that we're now 10 teams through the previews, which is a full third of the league (Meaning my math skills didn't fall off between yesterday and today).
2008/09 Record: 45-27-10, 100 points, three in West, Lost to Chicago in Western Conference Semi Final in Six games
Additions: Andrew Raycroft—G (1 year/$500k), Mikael Samuelsson—F (3 years/$7.5 million), Aaron Rome—D (1 year/$550k), Lawrence Nycholat—D (FA)
Subtractions: Mattias Ohlund—D (FA), Jason LaBarbera—G (FA)
The Vancouver Canucks are fortunate in a lot of ways.
Not only do they have one of the best goalies in the NHL manning the pipes for them, but they were also able to re-sign the most-talked about free agents in the league this season, as well as owning the rights to one of the prospects that everyone is excited to see.
There is however, a lot of talk about the future of the Canucks. Even with all of these positives, the threat still remains that Roberto Luongo's contract runs out after this season, leaving them with the task of getting another promising rookie up to speed at the NHL level.
Looks like the Canucks are in store for an interesting season.
Luongo has to get off the injury "Schneid"…
Let's start backwards, shall we?
Cory Schneider is one of the most enticing young goalies in the game today for a number of reasons.
Although he was less-than advertised in his lone NHL action last season (He went 2-4-1 with a 3.38 goals-against and an .887 save percentage), Schneider certainly showed that the NHL was the last step in his progression as he dominated the AHL.
After winning the Baz Bastien trophy as the AHL's top goaltender for 2008/09, Schneider will be in heavy competition with NHL veteran and under-achiever Andrew Raycroft for the backup role to Luongo.
Although many will dispel Raycroft based on his play the past few years (Along with the fact Schneider went 28-10-1 with a .928 save percentage and 2.04 goals-against in the AHL last year), Raycroft does have experience at the NHL level and that alone should help push Schneider to be at his best if he's going to be in the running for an NHL placement.
However, many games either goalie plays in the big leagues this season depends on the status of Roberto Luongo.
Even with missing a chunk of the season due to a groin injury, Luongo continued to prove he was one of the best going 33-13-7 in 54 games last year.
When healthy, Luongo is one of the only goalies in the league capable of playing a competent 70+ games, which is his biggest advantage over division rival Miikka Kiprusoff.
It also may be detrimental to the development of Schneider to sit behind a games-eater like Luongo, but Mike Gillis and the team are giving him every opportunity to prove that he can play in Vancouver—whether it's one game, ten games, or a half-season's worth.
I guess Swedish Twins are good at everything…
Look. Every man reading this article knows the stereotypical view of Swedish Twins—but show me a man who’s been fortunate enough to experience that...uh...stereotypical view.
Exactly. No one.
Not quite the twins we're talking about, the Vancouver Canucks have been a franchise fortunate enough to experience the joys of twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
The Sedin's have been the perfect compliments to each other over their careers, as Daniel has found the goal-scoring touch (96 over the last three seasons), and Henrik has uncanny abilities with the puck (192 assists over that three season period).
On a strange note, while the Sedins were adamant about staying together during free agency, digging even further into the "twins" theme, they each scored 82 points in 82 games last season and signed identical contracts this offseason. Weird.
Here's hoping they marry a set of twins, then each have quadruplet babies. They can stock the NHL!!
Many expect Mikael Samuelsson to become this year's instalment of Anson Carter and join the "players who can line up alongside the Sedin's and experience a monumental season" club. While it's not unlikely for the countryman to do so, Canucks’ fans should be wary of placing too much trust in Samuelsson.
Over the past four seasons in Detroit, Samuelsson has received 2:40 of powerplay ice time or more per game and hasn't scored more than 40 points and 23 goals (Those totals coming all the way back in 2005/06) in a season. That's not to say that Samuelsson couldn't improve if he gets time alongside the Sedins (Especially because he likes to shoot the puck), but it may not be a ground-breaking improvement like everyone is assuming.
While Pavol Demitra exhibited some of his fragility during last season (Missing 13 games during the regular season and four during the playoffs), he still remains a sturdy, veteran scoring presence for the Canucks. Despite being long-removed from his 30-goal/70-point campaigns, Demitra should provide a solid 20-goal/50-point presence for the Canucks.
After garnering a lot of attention for his defensive work this past season, Ryan Kesler also exploded offensively with a 59-point season of his own. Just four goals away from 30, if Kesler can remain committed to the defensive aspect of the game and keep up with the strides he made offensively last season, he may turn into Vancouver's Pavel Datsyuk or Mike Richards—a premier defensive forward with the ability to score (Although not quite on the same level as those two offensively).
There are a few forwards who will provide mid-level scoring for the Canucks, and they may be even better with the re-allotment of Mats Sundin's vacated ice time. Steve Bernier, Kyle Wellwood, Mason Raymond, and Alex Burrows all fall into this category, but there are three youngsters up front who Canucks fans are just drooling all over.
The most noted name is that of Cody Hodgson who, after destroying the competition in the OHL (And being named the Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year), is expected to be ready for NHL competition. Along with having 30-goal potential at the NHL level, Hodgson also has the vision, ability and prowess to rack up lofty assist totals as well, making any linemates around him better.
With his passing ability, Hodgson is fortunate enough to be coming through the Canucks’ system with Michael Grabner, a right winger who loves to shoot the puck and could put up some big totals goal-wise at the NHL level alongside Hodgson.
We still aren't done though as recent signee Sergei Shirokov could turn some heads at the NHL level after signing the Canucks following a single season in the KHL.
Without even looking at the possible contributions of Jannik Hansen and Rick Rypien, there certainly are places that the offense can ooze from in 'Couver.
Oh-ver and out, the Canucks must look to move on now…
Although many shutdown men aren't known by name in the NHL, one name that always seems to come up in conversations is Willie Mitchell.
After playing his entire career with defense-first Minnesota, Mitchell has shone in his time in Vancouver. The stocky defenseman has missed 30 regular season games in his three years on the West, but he’s also a +46 in that time and a big proponent to Luongo's continued success.
With the absence of Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo becomes the veteran Canuck on the back end, and his offensive contributions become all the more important as well. If Salo can stay healthy for an entire season, the 34-year-old may be able to broach the low 30s in points, but both scoring and good health have evaded Salo the past few years.
The continued development of Alexander Edler will be important because he's not only a big part of the offense from the blueline (37 points last year), but he can offer the Canucks a solid fourth to round out their top four. Although Nycholat, Rome, Shane O'Brien and Nolan Baumgartner are all good low-pairing and reserve defensemen, moving them up any higher on the depth chart would have them out of place, much like Salo currently is.
Leading the defense will be Kevin Bieksa who, after a tough year in 2007/08, bounced back with a huge season in 2009. 43 points later Bieksa is proving that he never lost his offensive acumen after that slow start in '08 and is still the guy that can log big minutes and be that grinding presence on the back end the Canucks need.
UPDATE: With the addition of the veteran presences of Mathieu Schneider and Brad Lukowich, the Canucks have added a dimension to their defense lost when Mattias Ohlund left.
In filling up the leadership void, the Canucks also added a versatile puck-moving defenseman in Christian Erhoff, who could've easily topped 50 points last year if not for streak that saw him score just one point in 22 games.
Not to mention Schneider's ability offensively, not only is the top-four reshaped in Vancouver (Bieksa, Erhoff, Mitchell, Schneider), but the depth is improved by adding Brad Lukowich and moving down Sami Salo and Alexander Edler on the depth chart, while the 17th ranked power play gets a huge boost.
So what does it all mean…
The Canucks have all of the pieces needed to succeed: An All-Star goalie, two productive forwards surrounded by a core of players with the ability to step up in a big way, and a defensive core that is now complete with experience and scoring ability.
While the Canucks need some big performances from some young players, while their depth options need to step up, it's not like other Northwest opponents don't have questions surrounding their forwards.
If Roberto Luongo is healthy for an entire season then the edge goes to Vancouver in the battle with Calgary for Northwest supremacy.
1st in Northwest
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can go to his profile, or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out his archives for all of his previous work!