10 Bold Predictions for the 2011-2012 Season
VANCOUVER-- After coming within one win of hoisting their first ever Stanley Cup, the Canucks have worked to overcome the disappointment this offseason. However, what could have been has quickly shifted to the question: What you have gotten for me lately?
In this ten page slideshow, I wish to unveil some of the things you could expect out of training camp.
First of all, let's talk about the Canucks start to the regular season.
The team in Vancouver is battling the injury bug before puck drop on opening night. Let's walk through some of the events that have happened over the summer:
1) Defenseman Dan Hamhuis suffered a sports hernia injury and several soft tissue tears in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals trying to hip check Boston Bruins hulking forward Milan Lucic. Hamhuis underwent a procedure to repair the damage on June 23. Hamhuis said, "Since then, we have been attacking the rehab pretty hard and making sure everything is good to go for the season." He hopes to be 100% going into training camp.
2) Canucks second line center, Ryan Kesler, is out for all of October and parts of November recovering from an off-season hip surgery to repair the damage suffered in the second round of playoffs against the San Jose Sharks. This injury will give the Canucks a lot of fits trying to fill the void, and getting off with some consistency to start the regular season. More will be covered on this in the later parts.
3) Speedy winger Mason Raymond, who was driven into the boards by Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk, will be out until December or January. He suffered multiple fractures in his vertebrae on the hit in Game 6 if the Finals.
These injuries will pile up quickly when the pre-season and regular season gets underway. The Canucks must weather the storm before the key contributors return to the lineup.
With a healthy lineup, the Sedin and Kesler one-two-punch will be a lot to handle given the added depth they have acquired in the off-season.
Although many of the Canucks fans have often wondered about the decision for rookie general manager Mike Gillis to draft Brampton Battalion forward Cody Hodgson at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft in the nation's capital Ottawa, but the 21-year-old prospect is ready to prove his worth in the upcoming season.
Hodgson will be counted on by the Vancouver Canucks to provide instant offense and time on the power-play. Essentially, Hodgson is filling a vacant position left by Frank J. Selke Award winner Ryan Kesler heading into the start of the season.
Some critics question the skating ability of Cody Hodgson, which is often described as "choppy and short." However, having worked on skating specifically with experts Dave Gagner and Gary Roberts in the last two summers should give the young player a better scouting report.
In the Phoenix Coyotes game back in February 2, Canucks followers saw a glimpse of what this kid can bring to the Canucks present and future offensive attack.
Hodgson not only provides smart, heads-up plays to generate offensive output, but he is also a dependable leader to take care of his own zone. If head coach Alain Vigneault gives him an opportunity at training camp to show the coaching staff his all-round ability, more than likely fans will see Hodgson sticking with the Canucks for a full 82-game season.
Here, the prediction is for Cody Hodgson to have a breakout campaign, scoring 20 goals, 34 assists for 54 points.
One of the biggest news in the 2011 Free Agency season was that of Christian Ehrhoff leaving the Stanley Cup Finalists Canucks to join the Buffalo Sabres and their new owner Terry Pegula.
What the casual fan does not realize about the Vancouver Canucks defense core is that special element carefully knit together last season. Every defenseman provided the team with a different edge, and Christian Ehrhoff was a key piece to the Canucks offense and quarterback on the first power-play unit.
The area that sets Ehrhoff apart from all the other eight regular defensemen last season what his ability to make the smart outlet pass to the forwards, not to mention the courage to send rockets flying from the point on goal. Ehrhoff fired the puck better than any player on the Canucks in his three years on the team, and he will be missed by no one other than the Sedins. The Sedin line relied on the five-man unit to find the open man to get the puck on net and past the goalie, but they lost one of their most dependable guys in that department.
Surely, the team will now try to give Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa and veteran Sami Salo more opportunities to fill that void, but it will never be the same.
Ehrhoff has the quickest release from the point. It has the ability to fool net-minders and defenders who try to block his shot.
Even though Ehrhoff is definitely not worth the $10 million he is about to receive in the 2011-2012 season, his puck-distributing ability is priceless.
On the left: Higgins. On the right: Lapierre.
Prior to the NHL trade deadline last spring some hockey insiders did not expect the Canucks front office to do much to improve the team. Most saw no glaring holes to fill on the eventual President's Trophy recipients as the league's top team in the NHL regular season.
Mike Gillis sought opportunities to give the core of this team more breathing room by injecting two former Canadiens forwards Christopher Higgins and Maxim Lapierre.
Christopher Higgins was once a promising young forward coming into the NHL with high hopes in the eyes of Montreal to one-day become a 40-goal scorer. He has the speed and the offensive instincts to find opened areas and a pretty decent shot. However, in the hockey fever town of Montreal, those dreams quickly faded away. Higgins was traded by the Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey to New York Rangers for a package that included Scott Gomez.
Higgins fit in well last season on a line with Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond. Expect Higgins' role to develop further with training camp and pre-season this September to gel with his prospective line-mates.
On the other hand, the Vancouver Canucks went out to acquire an upgrade on the fourth line center position at the trade deadline. The answer that coach Alain Vigneault gave to his general manager was to go out and acquire a junior player he has coached before in Maxim Lapierre. Because of the past history Vigneault has had with Lapierre in the QMJHL, Mike Gillis agreed to bring in a super-pest who would never have entered his scouting radar.
Maxim Lapierre brings assets that were overshadowed by the Alex Burrows biting incident in the Stanley Cup Finals with a handful of Bruins players. Apart from the offering of fingers, Lapierre brings an element that coaches love from their role players.
Lapierre is described as a hardworking player who skates very well, and plays a hard-nosed fore-checking and back-checking game. One of the knocks the Canadiens TV and radio analysts had on Lapierre was his lack of finishing ability. Canucks fans saw some of that in the playoffs when Lapierre took over games with his grit and speed, but couldn't finish.
Despite that problem, Lapierre is a good face-off man, a good penalty-killer, and a player not afraid to get his nose dirty with the opposition. If he plays the way that Alain Vigneault asks of him, he could potentially overtake Manny Malhotra as the third checking line center on the Canucks depth chart.
To wrap things up, Higgins and Lapierre are both brought back by Mike Gillis this off-season, and bigger and better things can be expected of these two forwards.
The time has come for Alex Edler.
The mysterious young Swede coming out of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft is making his name in Vancouver. In 2004, the Canucks scouting staff were so excited about Edler that they traded their own third round pick in 2005 in exchange for the 91st overall pick in the third round from the Dallas Stars to select Edler. Thomas Gradin, Canucks head scout in Sweden, saw something special in the Swedish defenseman.
Today, Alex Edler is probably the Canucks most valuable asset on the blue line beside Smithers, BC native Dan Hamhuis, and Ontario native Kevin Bieksa.
Every season, the play of Alex Edler has improved. He went from a sixth or seventh defenseman on the Canucks back in 2006-2007 to a regular player. Then, he broke the Canucks' fastest shot record, passing fellow-defense partner Sami Salo at the skills competition.
During the playoffs, Alex Edler can be remembered for his dazzling physical play, crushing the opposing forwards. Edler, however, rarely runs out of positions, and he plays in all situations.
This season, if there was a blessing in disguise, it might just be the departure of Christian Ehrhoff to give Alex Edler the focal point to be voted as a Norris Trophy finalist for the Most Valuable Defenseman in the NHL.
Marco Sturm joins the Canucks on a one-year contract.
The Vancouver Canucks front office probably saw a glaring need physically competing with the rough and tumble Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals in June. They decided to focus their attention squarely on size, grit and physicality in July to ensure that area of the game can match up to the meaner teams in the NHL.
Marco Sturm brings a physical presence around the net offensively, and he has the ability to finish, proven by eight previous 20-goal campaigns in his NHL career. Look for the Dingolfing, Germany native to give the Canucks some help offensively this season.
Andrew Ebbett might be a forgotten man these days, since he has disappeared the last couple of years between the NHL and the minor-league AHL affiliates. Ebbett is a crafty, smallish forward who has some hockey sense and ability to play on a team's top-9. Canucks fans had some familiarity with Ryan Shannon, who also came out of the Anaheim Ducks organization. Andrew Ebbett brings the same game. If training camp goes well, Ebbett could turn some heads and make the team to start the year.
Alexander Sulzer is one of the quiet names who changed addresses in July. The Canucks added a dependable defenseman who plays with a physical edge coming from the Nashville Predators defense grooming academy. Year after year, the Predators draft defensemen out of the entry draft and develop them into NHL regulars. Sulzer was looked upon as a player ready for the NHL action, but they could not afford to keep him in Nashville. Canucks may see him regularly if he outplays Aaron Rome, Chris Tanev, and Andrew Albert in training camp.
The role players Mark Mancari, Byron Bitz and rumoured Brad Winchester certainly bring the bottom-six some presences. All three forwards are expected to be hard on the fore-check and will dish out some hard hits when opportunities present themselves. Some or all of the parts may become new members of the Canucks energy fourth line.
Daniel Sedin with the Art Ross and Ted Lindsay Award in 2011.
Who better to depend on than your identical twin brother when you wish to find a person to help you score big points?
The answer is simple for Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, natives are enjoying life as NHL iconic figures for the last couple of years. Henrik Sedin won the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy in 2010, while Daniel counters his older brother's performance by taking home the Art Ross and Ted Lindsay, voted by his peers as the league's most valuable player.
The Swedish sensations are hoping to translate their recent success into Stanley Cup rings in the near future. There is hardly any doubt that both of these players will once again be sitting at or near the top of the NHL scoring race all season long.
Expect Daniel and Henrik to range between 115-125 points and another dominant playoff run.
Every good team in the NHL has to have quality supporting cast to surround their high-flying offensive stars. The Canucks have decided in the 2010 summer that their depth guy will come in the form of Indian-Canadian Manny Malhotra.
Manny Malhotra is one of the NHL elite face-off specialists, boasting a winning percentage of 60%. In comparison to most of the better face-off personnel in the NHL, that number is usually around 52%.
An area that Malhotra brought to the Canucks on the penalty kill was puck possession off the draw. It allowed the team to kill off valuable seconds to start off the two-minute shorthanded plays.
With the addition of Maxim Lapierre for a full season and the return of Jannik Hansen, Mason Raymond, Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler, the team has oozing amount of talent to kill off penalties.
Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider will be counted on as the last line of defense. The goaltending will be discussed in further detail in the next part.
Schneider and Luongo takes one with the Jennings Trophy.
In October of 2010, the Vancouver Canucks promoted blue-chip goalie prospect Cory Schneider of Boston College to the team as their regular back-up goalie.
The red-head from Marblehead, Massachusetts was the AHL goaltender of the year the previous season, and represented the Manitoba Moose in the AHL All-Star festivities.
Cory Schneider was originally drafted in 2004 NHL Entry Draft 26th overall behind three other highly-touted goalies in Al Montoya (NYR), Devan Dubnyk (EDM), and Marek Schwartz (STL). One could make a case that Schneider has been the best goalie up-to-date, but they are all just coming into the NHL picture.
Roberto Luongo was fortunate last season to get some quality rest when the coach decided to start the back-up Schneider in some pre-determined dates. Goaltender coach Rollie Melanson worked full-time with his goalies all season, and Luongo saw his numbers improve from a year ago.
In the June awards ceremony, Luongo and Schneider shared the William Jennings Trophy for the least goals-against in an 82-game regular season schedule. A lot of that had to do with the team in front of them and the guys performing well between the pipes when called upon.
This season, it is reasonable to expect Luongo to struggle out of the gates in October, and see Cory Schneider come in to relieve him on some occasions. Luongo is a well-known slow-starter, and he will eventually light it up in November with a long shut-out streak. Here, it is predicted that the Canucks goalies will once again win the Jennings and also the Vezina Trophy for Top Goalie in the NHL.
Vancouver Canucks came within one victory from lifting Lord Stanley's mug over their heads this year. The team certainly was disappointed, and the fans showed their disappointment by setting Downtown Vancouver up in flames. The future has always looked bleak for a team that has never won a championship in its 40-year history. So much for the 40th year celebrations eh?
In 2011-2012 season, the Canucks will once again compete for the Stanley Cup. This time, with the growth to youthful exuberant Cody Hodgson, Chris Tanev, and Cory Schneider, hopefully the Canucks will have what it takes to rise over the top.
Players who could become a candidate to win the Conn Smythe include:
The road to complete the quest to win the Stanley Cup begins on Oct.6, 2011 against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins to Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
Go Canucks Go!!!
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