At press time, the Vancouver Canucks are sitting undefeated in the preseason and creating a huge buzz around hockey circles. Is this the team that can finally win it all?
Many hockey experts are predicting the Canucks will have a huge season, with most predicting they will finish first in the Northwest Division and third overall in the Western Conference. Why are the experts so high on this year's roster?
The first hurdle GM Mike Gillis had was to re-sign the major pieces of the roster while leaving cap room to fill out the roster. Job well done, as both Daniel and Henrik Sedin signed for five years, while team captain and star goaltender Roberto Luongo inked a 12-year extension.
Add the recent three-year extension for head coach Alain Vigneault, and the team is set till 2013.
Like most championship teams, the Canucks have built from the goalie out with Luongo, along with backup Andrew Raycroft and highly touted youngster Cory Schneider.
A deep defensive corps includes eight players who can play regular NHL minutes on any given night with the addition of Christian Ehrhoff, currently injured Mathieu Schneider, and the wild card Brad Lukowich, who not only brings a stable defensive style but also brings two Stanley Cup rings from Dallas and Tampa Bay.
Rounding out the D are Willie Mitchell, Sami Salo, Kevin Bieksa, Shane O'Brien, and Alex Edler—although Bieksa and Schneider are the biggest assets that might be traded for another star forward once D-man Schneider comes back from injury.
Speaking of the forwards, the signing of the Sedins was just the start for the new look roster with the addition of free agent Mikael Samuelsson to skate with the twins, which gives the second line the addition of Alex Burrows to join Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond.
The third line should have rookie sensation Cody Hodgson with Kyle Wellwood and Steve Bernier, while the fourth line looks strong with Darcy Hordichuk, Rick Rypien, and Ryan Johnson.
Other forwards who could be penciled in would be currently injured Pavol Demitra, Jannik Hansen, and the surprise of the preseason, Sergei Shirokov.
A few observations going into this season:
1. Stroke of luck that Mats Sundin didn't sign the original two-year, $20 million deal. If he had, they wouldn't have been able to re-sign the Sedins and keep the core from last year.
2. From the goaltender out, this team looks good. When Luongo is on his game, winning is much easier. However, with the increasing offense, the pressure has been relieved slightly for Luongo to have to carry this team every game.
3. With the number of NHL-ready players that are both on the Canucks and on the farm in Manitoba, for the first time in a number of years it looks like the organization has enough depth that if a couple of injuries hit, the team will be able to overcome the situation.
Will the Canucks win the Stanley Cup this season? Possibly. However, if they keep the current core intact and build their talent on the farm and through the draft, I predict the Canucks will surely be lifting Lord Stanley's Cup at least once before the current contract for coach Alain Vigneault expires in the 2012-2013 NHL season.