As the Vancouver Canucks start skating again this season they do so with the shortest amount of rest in team history. What better time to make some bold predictions that will probably be embarrassing later, when they don't pan out?
How will the short off season affect this season?
How will Roberto Luongo bounce back?
These, and many other questions swirl around the defending Western Conference Champions.
Will all of these bold, and not so bold, predictions come true? Maybe.
If they do, you can bet there will be a self-congratulatory article to follow. If not, we won't speak of this again.
So, here are 10 bold Vancouver Canucks predictions for 2011-2012.
What are yours?
Jannik Hansen has slowly been rising in the Canucks ranks. The Canucks re-signed Hansen to a three-year $4 million contract this off season, barely avoiding arbitration.
He skates hard, has some good speed, and has shown he can score timely goals. It would not be a surprise to see him get some time, to start the year at least, on the second line with Ryan Kesler.
Mason Raymond is out indefinitely and Hansen is one of the players who could benefit. It also would not be a shock if he ended up spending some time on the Sedins line, especially if the Canucks try moving Alex Burrows to the Kesler line.
These moves will give Hansen more opportunities to score.
What makes this a bold prediction? The fact that he has only hit the 40-point mark twice in his career, first with the Portland WinterHawks and then again with the Manitoba Moose.
Despite that, Hansen has shown that he has offensive ability and should see a somewhat increased role with the Canucks this year. He will hit 50 points.
This may not be too bold, but do not expect the Vancouver Canucks to start the season on fire. They have had a short off season and have several key players nursing injuries.
Alex Edler is still recovering from broken fingers, Ryan Kesler may not start the season and neither will Mason Raymond. With the short turnaround this year, the rest of the team may not be as rested as they normally are.
On top of all that, their recent history suggests they start slow. The past three Octobers the Canucks have a combined record of 16-15-2, which is hardly setting the world on fire.
Expect that kind of start again this year, which will keep Vancouver talk radio going strong as the panic will begin.
Raymond had a disappointing year in 2010-2011. There was a great deal expected out of the young winger following his 53 points the prior season. Last year he dropped down to 39 points and scored 10 fewer goals.
He looked like his confidence was gone and was weak on the puck.
Furthermore, he was non-existent in the playoffs and suffered a serious back injury in the Finals against the Boston Bruins.
He is unlikely to start the season, and if and when he does return he won’t be able to regain the form of two years ago.
If Raymond comes back it seems like a stretch that he will see big minutes with the Kesler line, and most likely will be a third or fourth liner.
Because of that, don’t expect more than 25 points out of Mason Raymond this season.
There has been a lot of waiting, and a fair amount of hand-wringing, in Vancouver the past couple of seasons as the fans and media have waited for former first round pick Cody Hodgson to pan out.
It has yet to happen.
This hasn’t all been his fault. First off, he is a centre on a team loaded at that spot, and he has suffered some freakish injuries, including taking a puck to the face in practice.
Last year he got a cup of coffee with the Canucks, appearing in only eight games in the regular season and 12 playoff games. He was not a factor in any of those games and it seems likely he won’t this year.
Not to say he won’t get his chance, though. With Kesler likely to miss the start of the season the Canucks will be short a centre, and Hodgson will get his shot.
The problem is that you have to question whether or not he is the prospect Vancouver hoped he was when they drafted him. He put up good goal-scoring numbers in Juniors, but with 52 games in Manitoba last year he only scored 17 times and added 13 assists. That should be a concern.
So far he has not been impressive enough to crack a stacked Canucks lineup, and won’t again this season.
After a great season as Roberto Luongo’s back up last year, it seemed like a done deal that Schneider would get moved. He remains the Canucks best trading chip.
That didn’t happen and there weren’t really any rumors that he was on the block.
General Manager Mike Gillis has said that they like having the Luongo-Schneider combination and plan on sticking to that again this year. It seems that Schneider is in for another year of being the back up.
Last year he appeared in 25 games and had an impressive 16-4-2 record for the Canucks. Will he see even more playing time this year?
There has been speculation that Schneider will still get moved at the trade deadline, especially if the Canucks are still searching for a top-six forward. And while that is a possibility, don’t count on it.
Having two top-line goaltenders is a great thing, especially when one of them is an enigma like Roberto Luongo is.
Gillis will keep Schneider around this year as an insurance policy, just in case Luongo falters after another up and down playoffs.
In many ways Ryan Kesler is the heart and soul of the Canucks. Sure, the Sedins are the leading scorers, but Kesler is the gritty, win-at-all-cost type that frankly the team needs more of.
Last year he suffered a pretty bad hip injury in the conference finals against the Sharks and had offseason surgery that he is still recovering from. He may not be ready to start the season.
Kesler has vowed that he will be ready at the start of the year, and knowing his tenacity he just might be. Even if he does return opening night he won’t be at 100% and it will take time for Kesler to get his skates under him.
So look for a slow start, which will translate into fewer points for the Canucks star this year.
The good news? Kesler should be healthy and clicking when the playoffs roll around this spring.
Vancouver feels pretty confident about their blue line these days. So much so that they let Christian Erhoff walk this off season.
Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa should return as Vancouver’s top pairing. After that it becomes a little less clear.
Alex Edler has one spot in the second pairing locked down. Who will he play with?
The Canucks will look at Sami Salo and Keith Ballard in that spot at first. However, don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, Chris Tanev has landed as Edler’s partner.
Tanev was impressive last year in various fill-in roles. At only 22 years old, he appeared in 29 games with Vancouver last year plus five playoff games. When inserted into the biggest spotlight in hockey, Tanev was cool and collected and played great.
He appears to have tremendous upside and will turn out to be a great find for the Canucks.
It seems like we are here after every season with Roberto Luongo. The Canucks have lost in the playoffs and there is a growing segment of Canucks fandom that lays the whole failure at the goalie's feet.
Just a season ago, after losing to Chicago in the playoffs, there were people convinced that Luongo had to go. He was too shaky, couldn’t be relied on, was overrated and a head case.
Vancouver can be a tough town for goalies—just ask Dan Cloutier—and Luongo has taken his lumps from the fans and the press.
Last year, it would have made sense if it affected his play. It didn’t.
He turned in a career year and was nominated for the Vezina Trophy.
There is no reason to believe he will slip much this year. Luongo has shown he has the ability to shake off the playoff failures and come back strong.
He may not have another career year but he will be a top five goaltender again in 2011-2012.
Alex Burrows has always been a pest and all last year the Canucks mantra last season was that they were no longer going to participate in post-whistle shenanigans. They were just going to play their game.
That unraveled during the Stanley Cup Finals as Boston was able to knock them off their game.
Burrows started it off with his now infamous bite in Game 1.
This year we will hear more about how disciplined the Canucks are going to play. This year Burrows will stick with it.
When he does he is a great player. He is a sniper, can kill penalties and plays with a lot of energy. When he doesn’t, he goes over the line and becomes a lightning rod to the opponents.
This season Burrows will learn from the biting incident and play a clean season, score lots of goals, and have another great year.
Getting back to the Finals is going to be tough for Vancouver even though they are still loaded with talent and play in a friendly division.
Their Western Conference rivals have improved, and with the Finals hangover slowing them down a bit the Canucks will not repeat as Western Conference Champions.
They will have another tremendous year, however. They will win the Northwest Division handily and that will give them at least a third seed and home ice.
The Canucks will fall just short this year and will have to reload again in 2012.
Who will they lose to?
You’ll just have to stay tuned.