BT's 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: The Vancouver Canucks

xx yySenior Writer ISeptember 3, 2008

Preface: Before going on in this prediction, I'd like to state something that I haven't yet gotten to in the Minnesota, Edmonton, or Colorado previews.

The division standings at the bottom of the previews don't have points for a reason—I'm refraining from deciding how good or bad a team does with a solid numeric value, because none of us know.

It's fun to sepculate position within the division, but to be honest, all five teams in one division could make the playoffs, making a "how many points are they going to get" aspect, redundant.

Just because I rank a team fourth or fifth, doesn't mean that I'm assuming they won't be competitive—some of the most competitive teams are the ones that suffer through the worst seasons.

Anyway, back to the task at hand...

Can anyone imagine the Vancouver Canucks any differently?

For a very long time, the "Mother Canuckers" have had the same system of leadership heading up their team. Now, management has decided that it's time for a change.

The players designated as the "leaders" last season couldn't return the 'Nucks to the promise land, so why not try to get younger, and develop leadership from within?

Well, I don't know how well that'll go, but good on the Canucks for trying.

Roster Additions: Kyle Wellwood-F (F.A.), Steve Bernier-F (Trade/Sign), Pavol Demitra-F (F.A.), Nolan Baumgartner-D (F.A.)

Roster Subtractions:
Brad Isbister-F (F.A.), Aaron Miller-D (F.A.), Markus Naslund-F (F.A.), Brenden Morrison-F (F.A.), Trevor Linden-F ( Retirement), Luc Bourdon-D (Deceased)

How did 2007/08 go? 39-33-10, 88 points, 11th in Conference, last in Northwest division

2008/09 Goal:
Top Ten in Conference, Make the playoffs

Let's break'er down...

For the Vancouver Canucks, last season was just a repeat of all the troubles that have dogged this franchise since the lockout ended.

Since 2000/01, the Canucks had made the playoffs every single season. Then the lockout hit. Following the lockout, the Canucks have only seen post season action once in the past three seasons, and they’ve become one of the more dogged franchises in the NHL, and the 2008/09 season may be just as troublesome.

Well, at least we’ve got Roberto…

One of the premier netminders in the NHL will be back on the West Coast for a third straight year.

After appearing in 149 games over the past two seasons, Roberto Luongo will be back between the pipes for the Vancouver Canucks, looking to lead the team back to the post season as he did in his first season on the west coast.

Luongo has proven over the course of his career that he can be the real deal. Since he started out with the Florida Panthers, Luongo has never had a season in which he’s sported a save percentage below .914, while his goals against average (2.60) is surprisingly low for a goalie who’s played behind a steady stream of unstable defenses in his career.

His career-best 47 wins in 2006/07 were enough to propel the Canucks to a division championship and a first round victory over the Dallas Stars, but unless Luongo can be even better than that 47-win season, the playoffs are going to be a difficult task for the Canucks.

And if he gets hurt? Well it’s unfair to say the Canucks have no chance, but to say that Curtis Sanford and Cory Schneider give them a chance at anything put John Tavares may be a stretch too.

A Defense depleted and defeated…

As hard as it is to fathom on a hockey level, the loss of Luc Bourdon is going to hurt the Canucks.

In Bourdon they had it all: a mobile defenseman who could skate, play the body, and could contribute to a consistent stream of offense. Now that they’ve lost such a promising young star to a horrific accident, the Canucks are back at square one.

To begin the journey ahead however, Kevin Bieksa is going to have to be healthy. After signing a 3-year, $11.5 million contract following the 2006/07 season, Bieksa had loft expectations. He was rocketing up Vancouver’s depth chart and he was looking forward to improving upon his 42-point total—his highest at any level of hockey.

The season however, started miserably for Bieksa as he was a -6 in his first three games. By November 1st though, his season would get even worse, as Bieksa’s calf was lacerated in a skirmish along the boards during a game against Nashville. The injury would force him to miss the next 47 games, and following his return, Bieksa was terribly inconsistent going -2 one night, and netting two or three assists another.

When you factor in Mattias Ohlund, Vancouver’s top defenseman, was either hurt or suspended for 29 games, while Lukas Krajicek also missed most of the second half of the season with a shoulder ailment, it’s not surprising that Vanouver struggled as it was buoyed by a bandaged and beleaguered defense.

Then we've got the unknown that is Lawrence Nycholat. Although he doesn't seem to be destined for anything more than depth purposes in Vancouver, Nycholat has still proven that he can score at the AHL level, posting nearly 273 points in 483 AHL games. Nycholat is 29 however, and his scoring days are behind him. However, if he can bring a bit of a defensive presence to Vancouver, he may be able to climb the ranks slightly.

The two bright spots on the back end last season however, would be the play of both Willie Mitchell and Alexander Edler. Although Mitchell is nothing spectacular when it comes to defensemen, he came as advertised and provided Vancouver with a healthy, defensive-minded body on the blueline—something the team sorely needed. Edler on the other hand, put his 6’3, 220 lbs. body to good use, providing the team with a 20-point presence and strong defensive play.

Although it’s not out of the question for Edler to improve (expect 25-30 points) and Mitchell to stay the course of his career, it’ll be the rest of the defensemen patrolling the blueline that determine the Canucks future. Will Karjicek’s shoulder hold up? How effective can Mattias Ohlund his surgically repaired knee be? Is Kevin Bieksa going to prove to be a bust, or was his injury last season just simply bad timing?

I can’t answer those questions, but I’m not expecting the Canucks’ D to jump out of the gate. And if they get hurt again, you can’t rely on just Edler, Mitchell, and Salo the entire season—Roberto Luongo or not.

Is it too late to bring back Anson Carter?

Hi my name is Pavol and it’s nice Demitra.

That’s the classic line from Jay Onrait on TSN (or Canada’s ESPN) Sportscentre during morning highlight packages.

If the Canucks expect to compete though, that phrase will have to become a daily occurrence.

For the first time since 1995/96, the Vancouver Canucks will be without Markus Naslund, and although his scoring had started to slip towards the end of last season (7 points in his last 22 games), it’ll still be strange watching the Canucks without Naslund or Trevor Linden, the longtime Canuck who retired following last season.

With that however, the reigns of the team are left to the Sedin twins. Since being drafted, Henrik has become the playmaking centre man (61 and 71 assists), while Daniel has become the freewheeling goal scorer (36 and 29 the past two seasons), and anyone who has played with them (Anson Carter) has made seemed to be the long lost Sedin.

After the Sedin’s though, there’s a long list of players that are unproven, or have fallen off the map.

In the case of Pavol Demitra however, the Canucks are just looking for the production he lost in his move to Minnesota. For his entire career, Demitra has been good for roughly 20 goals, but the Canucks will need some of his old St. Louis success to shine through, as the ‘Nuckers were only able to outscore seven teams in the NHL last season. Chances are he finds a bit of it and is able to put up 65ish points, but at nearly 34, Demitra’s most productive seasons may be behind him, Sedin’s or not.

But with those unproven secondary scorers, or sometimes fallen stars, we can find the likes of Kyle Wellwood: the play-making, injury-prone, former-Leaf hopes to have found a place where he can play and be healthy, and possibly (although I highly doubt this) remind Leaf fans of Steve Sullivan.

There’s also Ryan Kesler who could crack the 20-goal barrier once again, and Steve Bernier, a player who’s hoping to find consistency in scoring (and a team) who could provide some youthful exuberance to a fairly average group of forwards.

Unless the third and fourth lines explode for the Canucks this season and start potting 20 goals a player, then this team is in for a long year offensively.

So what does it all mean?

The Canucks are great in net, could be good on defense, and need a lot of help up front.

Although the defense could be a tad fragile with three key cogs coming off of surgery or major slumps/injury, there should be some quality games played in front of Roberto Luongo.

That’s as far as that goes however. Luongo can allow two or three goals per game all he wants, but if the Canucks can’t score goals for him, then that may be all she wrote on another season.

Last in Northwest

Unfortunately, there isn't a Community Leader available for Vancouver, so this is another one of those "audition through comment" teams.

Tomorrow, we finish up the Northwest division with the Calgary Flames.

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. You can get in contact with Bryan through his profile, and you can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.


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