Last year, Henrik and Daniel Sedin skyrocketed to the elite. Will they stay there this season?
Key Additions: D Dan Hamhuis, C Manny Malhotra, D Keith Ballard, D Ryan Parent, RW Victor Oreskovich, LW Andrew Peters, LW Raffi Torres, LW Jeff Tambellini, C Joel Perrault.
Key Subtractions: RW Michael Grabner, RW Steve Bernier, D Shane O’Brien, LW Darcy Hordichuk, D Brad Lukowich, C Kyle Wellwood, LW Pavol Demitra, D Nathan McIver, D Willie Mitchell, G Andrew Raycroft.
The closer the season gets to starting, the more fans are jumping on the bandwagon of the Vancouver Canucks. Despite losing for the second consecutive year to the Chicago Blackhawks during the Western Conference semifinals, the Canucks and their fans truly believe that this will be the year.
An improved, more physical defense and the skyrocketing careers of the Sedin twins draw some conclusive proof that they have reason to be excited. Yet there are many more dimensions to this team that aren’t being drawn upon.
Last season, the biggest of losses became a revelation when the Canucks were without Daniel Sedin for an extended period. Only one Sedin on the roster spelled certain doom for the team, until Henrik went off the charts with an MVP performance. Traditionally the passer of the two, Henrik Sedin found the back of the net 29 times last year, a personal record.
But he still managed to dish the puck to several other scorers a total of 83 times, another personal best. When Daniel returned, he too was incredible. Despite only 63 games of active service, he managed 29 goals himself with an 85 point season.
To extrapolate on those numbers for a full season would indicate that both of the Sedins will combine for over 230 points this year, more than any other combination in the league, even Ovechkin/Backstrom and Malkin/Crosby. Simply put, if the twins continue their blistering pace, they’re unbeatable.
But a team can’t win with just two players, and Canucks center Ryan Kesler knows this well. Kesler is one of several physical and gritty young forwards on a team on the rise. His 75 points last year were up from 59 the year previous and he’s just starting to develop a nose for the net. He’s also got quite a mean streak, dishing out big checks and sticks on a nightly basis.
Alex Burrows and Mason Raymond are two other players in a similar category for the Canucks. If Burrows can rehab from shoulder surgery faster than expected, he’ll be back to fighting his way to the top of the NHL, something he does quite well. Raymond is another up-and-coming goal-scorer who found his place last year with the team, potting 25. One more season couldn’t hurt.
Speaking of one more season, that’s exactly what Mikael Samuelsson is playing. The soon-to-be 34-year-old had a career high in goals last year and seems to be at his most dynamic when playing on the power play near Daniel and Henrik. He’s a solid talent with a boatload of recent playoff experience and a Stanley Cup ring from Detroit.
The Canucks even acquired Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres to beef up the offense with some more skill players. Both have found their niches on the third and fourth line and, while they may not score, they are valuable special teams swing players.
Back on defense, where the Canucks always seem to excel, this team is significantly larger and more physical this year. Vancouver will roll at least five defensemen deep at all times, each of whom should see significant time and action during the regular season.
The Canucks paid a pretty penny to attain the services of Dan Hamhuis for the upcoming season, and it is money well spent. His game is in no way flashy and he’s not much for scoring, but Hamhuis is the kind of shutdown defenseman that the NHL simply doesn’t have enough of. Each year he plays with more discipline and focus, lowering his penalty totals last season as well.
Another new Canuck, Keith Ballard, remains a forceful defenseman who will drop the gloves if asked. He should provide better than adequate protection for top stars during scraps after the whistle, and if for nothing else, that’ll increase his value. Ballard has a certain edge to him that could prove to be static cling for the team.
Of course, Vancouver’s power-play units will likely include defenders Alexander Edler and Christian Ehrhoff in less restrained roles. Both were statistically superior to the rest of their defensive teammates last season and could capitalize on extended chaos by joining frenzies in front of the net. Ehrhoff’s 14 goals last year and Edler’s 37 assists were somewhat refreshing for a defense that doesn’t score very often.
Recently, there have been many questions surrounding Kevin Bieksa’s future in a Vancouver uniform. Though Bieksa is still a solid two-way player, he’s come up in trade talks as a way to alleviate the cap this season. He’ll make about the same amount of money as Sami Salo, who is currently out with injury. Upon Salo’s return, Bieksa might be playing “odd man out.”
If Goaltending wins championships, then Roberto Luongo is due. The new gold medalist returned to a 40-win season last year and quietly posted some of the most consistent numbers amongst all NHL goalies. He’s a wall when he’s on and still has the endurance to stop more pucks than most tenders. If it were totally acceptable, he’d likely start all 82 games.
Luongo will easily win his 300th career game and could record his 60th career shutout with another impressive year.
Even if back injuries play a factor in this season, center Cody Hodgson is ready to make the jump to prime time. In the OHL, Hodgson has been a beast who scores at will and makes the right play. He’s only played once in the AHL, during the 2008-09 playoffs, where he was still very good.
Vancouver fans indeed have reason to be excited. The Canucks have all the right tools and the makings of a Stanley Cup champion. Execution is now the key. First in the Northwest, First in the Western Conference.