Vancouver Canucks: 6 Questions Heading into the 2011-12 NHL Season
There are no certainties in sports, but that's what makes them so entertaining. Every year new questions arise, and the only way to find the answer to them is to sit back, grab a cold beverage and see how the season unfolds.
After a heartbreaking Game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup Finals last season, there are perhaps more questions than ever in Vancouver as fans prepare for for the 2011-12 NHL season.
Can the Canucks repeat last year's regular season performance? Will Cory Schneider be traded before the end of the season? Those are just some of the things percolating on the minds of Canucks fans.
Here are six questions being asked about the Canucks heading into the upcoming season.
Can the Canucks Repeat Last Year's Regular Season Performance?
The Canucks had an amazing regular season last year, racking up 54 wins, 117 points and winning the President's Trophy by a 10 point-margin.
Seeing how the team is virtually the same as last year, it's quite possible that they could do it again. However, those numbers are extremely hard to replicate so don't get your hopes up; and if you factor in the injuries to Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond to start the season, it begins to look less likely that Vancouver has another President's Trophy coming their way.
But does that really matter? Does anyone in Vancouver really care about the President's Trophy anymore? Probably not.
Whether the Canucks finish first in the league or not, they'll almost certainly be tops in the lowly Northwest Division and should contend for first place in the Western Conference. That's more than good enough to get them into the playoffs, which is all Canucks fans really care about at this point.
Vancouver will likely fall short of last season's regular season point totals, but few will even notice as long as they can top last year's playoff performance.
How Will Kesler's Injury Affect the Canuck's Start to the Season?
With Ryan Kesler on the shelf for what could be as long as a month to start the season, some are asking if it will have a major affect on on how the Canucks start the season.
The answer to that question is probably very little.
The Canucks are notoriously slow starters anyways, and whether they have Kesler in their line-up or not, that's probably going to be the case again this season.
Also, Alex Burrows, another key offensive player for the Canucks, was injured to start the year last season, and it seemed to have very little affect on the team as as they went on to have the best season in franchise history.
The Canucks are a deep team, and while an injury to a top player like Kesler might seriously hurt another squad, the Canucks should be able to cope until he gets back.
Can Cody Hodgson Stick with the Canucks?
As many expected, it appears Cody Hodgson will start the season as the Canucks' second line center; but when Kesler finally returns from injury will they send him down or keep their top prospect with the Canucks?
A lot of it depends on Hodgson's performance. If he's lighting it up for the first month, the Canucks will definitely have a hard time sending him back to the AHL.
But where would he play?
There's certainly no room at center. Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler anchor the first two lines, and Manny Malhotra is a mainstay on the third line. The fourth line is out of the question, because they're better off giving him first line minutes in the AHL than five minutes a game with the Canucks.
He could play at wing, but there's a log jam there as well. Chris Higgins, Mikael Samuelsson, Marco Sturm and Jannik Hansen will all be vying for spots on the second and third lines, and when Mason Raymond comes back from injury things are going to get even more complicated.
As it stands now, unless Hodgson's play through the first month of the season is such that there's no way the Canucks can justify sending him down to the minors, he'll likely finish the season in the AHL.
Will Cory Schneider Be Traded Before the End of the Season?
Everyone know's it's going to happen eventually.
With Roberto Luongo's contract not set to expire for the next 10 years Cory Schneider's time in Vancouver has an expiration date, and it's likely not too far away.
If the Canucks wait until the offseason they risk him signing an offer sheet from another team, forcing them to either match the offer to retain his rights or let him go and receive compensation, which could be less than they'd be offered in a trade.
Trading Schneider during the season is probably the best move, as some teams will likely be desperate at some point for a goalie, whether it be because of an injury or a starter that's simply not living up to expectations. Come trade deadline day, Cory Schneider may the hottest commodity on the market.
All the above points make a pretty solid argument for trading him this season, and when you factor in Eddie Lack, who looks more than ready to step into the back-up role for the Canucks, it's highly probably that Schneider gets traded before this season is over.
Can Luongo Win the Proverbial Big Game?
Roberto Luongo just can't seem to get the critics off his back.
After finally besting the Chicago Blackhawks in a seven-game series (albeit if after a few shaky goaltending performances), Luongo went on to have a fabulous playoff run, and it looked like he was finally ready to lead the Canucks to hockey's ultimate victory.
Then along came Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Luongo had dismal performances in Games 3 and 4. Although he recovered in Game 5, he was unable to clinch the series in Games 6 and 7, and once again shouldered the blame for the Canucks' failure.
However, wasn't Game 7 against Chicago a big game? Luongo looked great in that one, so what happened to him the finals? It's impossible to say for sure, but it seems to be a mental thing with "Bobby Lu." Sometimes he can handle the pressure, and sometimes he can't.
So can Luongo win the "big game?" Of course he can. He's done it before and he certainly has the skills to do it again. Will he though? That's a much harder question to answer.
Is This the Year the Canucks Finally Win the Stanley Cup?
After all the regular season success, and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, most Canucks fans thought last year was their year. It almost was, but unfortunately, not quite.
With virtually the same team as last season, and some valuable playoff experience, fans in Vancouver are wondering if this is finally the year the Canucks win the Stanley Cup.
It certainly could be, but it won't be easy.
Over the last 10 seasons, only one Stanley Cup runner-up has made it back to the finals, while three didn't even make the playoffs. Making it to the Finals once is extremely tough, and making it there twice in a row is a near Herculean feat.
Still, the Canucks will enter this season as the favourites to win it all again, so another trip the Finals certainly isn't out of the question.
And winning the Stanley Cup?
They have all the tools a team needs to take home hockey's most prestigious trophy. If they put if all together, and have a little luck along the way, there's no reason why they can't.