6 Bold Predictions for the 2011-12 Season
Hockey fans the world over are still hotly debating the real explanation for the Vancouver Canucks' shocking collapse in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
Is Luongo tough enough mentally? Do the Sedins have what it takes to lead a team to the promised land? We know the Canucks were pretty banged up, but just how much of a role did injuries ultimately play in the series?
Anyway, with the 2010-11 season in the rear-view mirror, it's time to make some bold predictions for the Canucks' 2012 campaign.
1. Ryan Kesler Will Lead the Team in Scoring
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Ryan Kesler would have been a shoo-in for the Conn Smythe if it weren't for a certain Boston Bruins' goaltender. How's that for a bold statement? But I digress.
Fresh off his first ever Selke Trophy win in 2011, Kesler showed that he is a true leader of this Canucks team and well worth the $5 million contract he signed last summer, scoring 41 goals and adding 32 assists. He was the main reason Vancouver was able to fend off the Nashville Predators in the semifinals this past season, putting up 11 points in the six-game series.
Still a relatively young man who's set to turn 27 this August, it's safe to say Ryan Kesler has not yet reached his peak physically (or statistically). Depending on how the Sedins recover from their disappearance in the Stanley Cup Finals, Kesler will be at least in the top three in team scoring—if not higher.
2. Minnesota Will Make a Legitimate Push for the Division
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Say what you want about the playoff performances of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi of late; what's indisputable is that with these two offseason pickups, the Minnesota Wild have definitely become a much better team, literally overnight, despite the loss of defenceman Brett Burns.
There's no doubt in my mind that the Canucks will raise yet another Northwest Division banner next October, but after three years of middling play, I believe the Wild will return to the postseason this year.
Calgary and Colorado have done very little to show that they're ready to win anytime soon. With Edmonton still a year or two away from playoff contention, Minnesota is the logical choice for the team to give Vancouver a run for their money this upcoming season.
3. Marco Sturm Will Establish Himself as a Bona Fide 2nd Line Winger
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There's no question that in signing Marco Sturm to a one-year, $2.25 million contract, GM Mike Gillis has taken a calculated risk. Throughout the course of his career, Sturm has put up respectable numbers (a career-high 27 goals and 56 points in 2007-08), but has been dogged by well-documented injury problems.
There is definitely potential for Sturm to be a bust, but if the winger can stay healthy, I think playing on a line with Ryan Kesler will rejuvenate his scoring touch.
I could be wrong, and trust me, I've been wrong before, but I think Mike Gillis is far too savvy a general manager to spend that kind of money on a player he didn't have total confidence in.
4. Cody Hodgson Will Make the Team in September
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Ever since being picked 10th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry draft, Vancouver Canucks fans have wondered if and when Cody Hodgson would finally become a mainstay on the big club. He won the CHL Player of the Year award and was a major contributor on Team Canada's gold medal-winning world junior team in 2009. However, he has yet to turn his success in juniors into success in the NHL.
He played in eight games with the Canucks in 2010-11, scoring one goal and one assist, while never looking entirely out of place. He's also been hampered by back problems and a broken orbital bone last December, leading many fans to wonder whether he would ever play in the NHL.
Cody had a decent postseason with Vancouver. Depending on his performance in the upcoming training camp, I think it's a strong possibility he'll be staying with the team come October 6 when Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins pay a visit to Vancouver.
5. Luongo Will Stay Put
Roberto Luongo is not amused.
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Ideally this one should go without saying (and not at all be viewed as a "bold statement"), but I've read far too many opinion pieces of late that suggest the Vancouver Canucks should trade their franchise netminder to let this one slide.
When Roberto Luongo was traded to the Canucks on June 23, 2006, he immediately became a superstar in Vancouver—finally a savior to the Canucks' many, many years of woe between the pipes. (Seriously, how many pre-Kirk McLean Vancouver goaltenders can the average fan name?) In his first season with Vancouver he racked up a franchise-record 47 wins, five shutouts and a trip to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
Luongo's play in the playoffs has been marred as his biggest flaw—consecutive collapses against Chicago in 2009 and 2010 (not to mention that close-call seven-gamer against the Hawks this year), and his bizarre mixture of spectacular and abysmal play in this year's Stanley Cup Final.
Now, while I'll readily admit that his mental toughness in the playoffs leaves much to be desired, Roberto Luongo was far from the only reason the Canucks failed to hoist the cup this past June. Among other things, injuries to Hamhuis, Kesler and Henrik helped cause the drastic decline of the Canucks' power play and total offensive production in the final.
Luongo is a major cog in the Canucks machine. While Cory Schneider finally made his Jennings-winning turn this past season, this is Luongo's ship, and it's not time to abandon it.
6. There Will Be a Rematch of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final
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Just like the Vancouver Canucks, the New York Rangers are a team that seemingly has had all the right pieces in place for a number of years but has failed to succeed in the postseason.
They've got a franchise goaltender in King Henrik Lundqvist, a solid young defensive core, and finally a world-class center in Brad Richards to play with Marian Gaborik. The Rangers finally look poised to do some damage in the playoffs—and make it past the second round for the first time since 1997.
On the Canucks' side of things, they are still arguably the class of the Western Conference, despite losing the key contributors in Christian Ehrhoff and Raffi Torres, who both skipped town for greener ($$$) pastures this offseason.
If all goes according to plan, Vancouver will be making their second consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Final next June, and I'm going to predict their date will be with the big bad New York Rangers.