Editor’s note: this is, as the title suggests, an unreasonably pessimistic Canucks season preview, and it will be followed by an unreasonably optimistic Canucks season preview tomorrow.

 

The 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks came just about as close to winning it all as a team can, falling one win short of lifting the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. And, while we’d like to say that a new season means a fresh start, it’s not entirely true. This isn’t a context-free season; rather, this year is about what happened last year, and whether the Canucks can get back to finish the job they started.

Can they? Are the 2011-12 Vancouver Canucks capable of a return to the Stanley Cup Final?

No. Hate to say it, but the 2011-12 Vancouver Canucks are going to suck, for a multitude of reasons.

OFFENSE

The 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks scored a league-high 258 goals, good for a per game average of 3.15. They were led by Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler, who scored 41 apiece. This number is simply unattainable this year, what with the loss of Christian Ehrhoff, what is certain to be a diminished powerplay as a result, and Ryan Kesler beginning the season on the injured reserve.

Last season, Kesler’s second line was a one-man show, as he carried the load while wingers such as Jannik Hansen, Jeff Tambellini, Mason Raymond, Mikael Samuelsson, Sergei Shirokov and Chris Higgins rotated in and out with little in the way of lasting success. This season, the second line will be a no-man show. The Canucks will open the season without Kesler, as well as Mason Raymond, his most regular running mate. In his place are rookie Cody Hodgson and veteran Marco Sturm, who is coming off two major knee surgeries and will struggle to maintain NHL pace throughout the long, gruelling season.

Kesler is likely to return to the lineup before the season’s first month is up, but if you think he’ll be completely unaffected by offseason hip surgery, just ask Keith Ballard how that goes. Kesler will struggle. He’ll still be a somewhat productive player, but the 41-goal-scorer of yesteryear is unlikely.

Without Kesler firing on all cylinders, the Canucks become a one-line team, and we all saw what happened in the Stanley Cup Final when teams are able focus all of their defensive effort on shutting down the Sedins.

DEFENSE

Christian Ehrhoff may have been a defensive liability, but he was still the engine of the Canucks offense. Without him, the pairing of Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa becomes the Canucks’ top duo. This is a tandem that registered 45 points combined last season; they simply don’t have the offensive instincts of Ehrhoff, who scored 50 on his own.

Alex Edler, too, will suffer, especally since the Canucks are hinging his success on the uncertain health of Sami Salo. Edler and Salo will be paired to begin the season, but the fragile Fin’s injury troubles have to be a concern. If he’s hurt, the Canuck defense falls into disarray. Will Alain Vigneault break up the pairing of Keith Ballard and Chris Tanev to give Edler a serviceable partner? It seems reasonable, but the thought of the inconsistent Keith Ballard or the inexperienced Chris Tanev getting top four minutes on a Stanley Cup contender should be a concern to Canuck fans.

Will Aaron Rome or Andrew Alberts step in instead? Rome’s no offensive engine, and while Alberts has slightly better instincts, he misses a great many shifts in the penalty box.

In short, an injury to Sami Salo turns the Canucks into a one defense-pairing team, and when that pairing is neither Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith nor Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the team is unlikely to rise above the second tier.

GOALTENDING

In goal, the Canucks have the reigning Jennings Trophy tandem in Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, and Canuck fans have plenty of reason to be optimistic about this. Unfortunately, Luongo is unsteady and Schneider is unproven.

Sure, Schneider matched Luongo’s stats over 24 appearances (and one phantom appearance to ensure his Jennings eligibility), but he has yet to prove he can sustain those numbers as a number one guy, and the Canucks might need him to be this guy if Luongo falls apart yet again.

While many are optimistic about a return to form for Luongo, the short break between last June’s Stanley Cup Final and puck drop on the 2011-12 season has to be a concern, especially for a goaltender with a history of deteriorating due to emotional exhaustion. Coupled with this is the equally draining fact that Luongo is under more pressure than any other player in the NHL. While he has won a few big games, sustained pressure tends to eat away at him.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Canucks’ powerplay is certain to suffer during the early stages of the season, as Alex Edler and Mikael Samuelsson struggle to develop some chemistry as the point men, and Alex Burrows struggles to replace Ryan Kesler’s major contributions in front of the net and along the half-wall.

Edler and Samuelsson are concerning. While both are extremely patient, heady players with great shots, neither is overly opportunistic or active, meaning that the roaming element Christian Ehrhoff brought to the powerplay will be missed. We’ve seen in the past how the Canuck powerplay tends to struggle with it’s overloaded with passive passers, and this will be no different.

Worse, Ryan Kesler brought an element of aggressiveness and brutishness to that first unit that Alex Burrows can’t help to match. While Kesler was an immovable object in front of the net, Burrows never stops moving, darting back and forth across the crease, exhausting defenders with his constant movement. It’s not what this powerplay needs, and it will stifle the crisp puck movement on which the unit thrived last season.

Additionally, Burrows isn’t a sniper, and that removes a major element from the Canucks’ powerplay. Oftentimes, Kesler would switch up the formation by moving to the half-wall, where he could snipe the puck from the top of the circle. Burrows simply isn’t a threat to do the same.

With the point men and the net presence both oeprating at a subpar level, the onus will fall on the Sedins and the Sedins alone to power this unit. While they’re capable, it will be much more difficult when defenses realize they can focus solely on the twins to kill the penalty. Last week, the Edmonton Oilers attempted to frustrate the Canuck powerplay with a four-man diamond rather than a four-man box, which stationed a player close enough to Henrik and Daniel to shut down passing lanes and pressure them immediately. Without additional weapons to rely on, it worked. Expect to see this more often.

Eventually, Kesler will return to the formation, but as I already established, it’s unreasonable to expect him to perform at the same high level as last season. He’ll be a marginal upgrade on Burrows at best.

COACHING/MANAGEMENT

Mike Gillis continues to ride the wave of fantastic talent drafted by Brian Burke and Dave Nonis, and he’s shown no ability to improve the team beyond what he’s been given. He had the opportunity to disprove this claim this offseason, when it became readily apparent the team was in need of a power winger.

Instead, he showed he was much too passive to get the pieces the Canucks truly needed, passing on a number of potential top-six options and instead picking up Marco Sturm in the discount bin. Worse, he didn’t even get Sturm at a discount, handing the broken-down German $2.25 million, an overpayment that shows a distinct lack of confidence in his ability to sell a free agent on this organization.

Alain Vigneault, meanwhile, enters his sixth season as the man behind the Canucks’ bench, and with the considerable problems facing this roster, he’ll be in tough to convince a team that’s heard it all before to stick to the system. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he had lost the room by Christmas. Mike Gillis has already brought in an NHL coach in Craig MacTavish as a buffer in case this happens. Tell me you’ve noticed.

OUTLOOK

The Vancouver Canucks enter 2011-12 with the weight of some considerable expectations, and they simply won’t be able to meet them. Not with a group that showed last June they didn’t have what it takes, and have only regressed since then.

Worse, the Canucks are playing in a considerably poor Northwest Division, a factor that will work not for them but against them. While teams in other divisions, such as the highly competitive Pacific and Central, will be forced to bring their A game on a nightly basis, this Canuck team will get far too used to breezing through divisional games to be much of a challenge when going up against the elite teams in the Western Conference.

A second Presidents’ Trophy is out of the question, as is a repeat as Western Conference champions. Rather, the Canucks will tread water, finishing with the eighth-best record in the conference but taking the third seed by virtue of winning their division. They’ll be out in the first round.

 

Editor’s note: in case you missed the editor’s note at the top, let me again remind you that this is intended as an unreasonably pessimistic Canucks season preview, and it will be followed by an unreasonably optimistic Canucks season preview tomorrow.

Tags: , , , , ,

26 comments

  1. Randy
    October 5, 2011

    Hate to say it, cuz I’m a huge Canucks fan, and I’d love nothing more than a Pittsburgh-tastic return to the finals.. but you’re bang on here. No way this team beats Chicago or LA as is.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  2. Josh
    October 5, 2011

    Ha! At least they’ll make the playoffs =)

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  3. chicken hawk
    October 5, 2011

    Well well I see that you agree
    With how I said that things will be:*

    Can I just pick fifteen Canucks?
    You’ll shortly see that this team sucks!
    The Sedin cycle’s understood:
    They will not score the way they could.

    The second line will prove a bust;
    The bottom six they’ll have to trust,
    To match those goals that lu lets in:
    They will lose more than they will win.

    Given Salo’s injury prone,
    Bieksa will soon be on his own.
    The other D are all suspect:
    Four goals against they can expect.

    Fifteen Canucks and I will rule
    This PITB Hockey Pool!

    Chicken Hawk

    *The Official PITB Anti-Fantasy Hockey Pool

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  4. runsonice
    October 5, 2011

    Pessimistic and scary all at the same time. I’m sitting in my car in the closed garage, but I promise to wait until tomorrow’s story before starting the engine…

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  5. FerenczyRAM
    October 5, 2011

    Why are you so godddamned unreasonable?!? Haters gotta hate…. ;-)

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  6. J21
    October 5, 2011

    Heh, while a few areas were a stretch, the scary part is there’s a lot of truth here, and the piece does its job in presenting a pretty realistic worst-case scenario, to be sure.

    The Canucks, on paper at least, actually have regressed. Now, as this blog has pointed out, the loss of good players doesn’t necessarily mean the team will be worse by the precise value of the lost player, given the one-puck-and-60-minutes-to-go-around reality. But with the loss of Ehrhoff and the temporary losses of Raymond and Kesler, no question the roster is worse than at the start of last year. Happily, though, the fallacy here comes from the idea that “they didn’t have what it takes” last year. Obviously the PITB guys don’t believe this, but a lot of simpler-minded people do, buying into the post hoc fallacy that since they lost, it was the only possible outcome. Obviously nonsense, given how close they did come, and especially given the huge impact that injuries had.

    So while I think the pessimism played her for satire does present some genuine concerns, the idea is this: if the Canucks were good enough to win the Cup last year — and in any field of study except sportsfanmanship, this answer is empirically “yes” — then they had something of a buffer to give up. They’ve given up some of it. Let’s hope it wasn’t too much.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • Harrison Mooney
      October 5, 2011

      Trust me, the fact that each of these points rings a little true was intentional. What’s unreasonable is assuming all these things will go wrong at once.

      VN:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
      • Timmy Wong
        October 5, 2011

        I wouldn’t say it’s unreasonable. What if game 1 Salo goes down on a shot and is done?

        Also, one inadvertent headshot means that player is gone for 5-8 games. While this may not mean the Sedins, it may mean a speedy player who’s playing on the edge (ie. Lappy, Burr, Juice).

        Absolute worst-case scenario, yes. That’s why we have tomorrow’s PITB :)

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
        • Noodle
          October 5, 2011

          I’ve been a Canuck fan for too long. The pessimism of this article taps into the feelings I usually have had about this team, up until last year.
          I do think we’ll be offensively challenged to an extent early on. And there sure is a chance that Kesler struggles when he gets back. There are some concerns about our D.

          But I want this team to win now. Not in 10 years. I want THIS team to win. So I will hope and believe in the best possible outcome: the cup. We’re due.

          VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
          Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
          • Noodle
            October 5, 2011

            Just in case it wasn’t clear, I know that the article is exaggerated and overly pessimistic on purpose…but boy do some of the points ring true.

            VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
            Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  7. Wagman
    October 5, 2011

    You said it was “unreasonably pessimistic”. Unfortunately it sounds like the typical attitude of too many Canucks fans (Luongo can’t handle the pressure, the Sedins shouldn’t be first liners, there’s no depth, etc.) Can’t wait for the “unreasonably optimistic”… I’m all for crushing last season with a 111 points to take the Presidents’ and then Stanley in a stunning 16 games. Hopefully it starts with the Penguins Thursday!

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  8. Jezz
    October 5, 2011

    [pessimism] Mason Raymond’s injury is way more of a big deal than anyone’s considered. He had the team’s highest Corsi number last season – ahead of Kesler and the twins – and was fourth in offensive-zone finishes, behind the forwards on the first line. What this means is he’s a crucial element in Vancouver’s ability to get the puck up-ice quickly and keep it there. Even when he does return, his pace will surely be diminished, so we probably won’t see the same kind of hockey that was so exciting last year: ie, constant breakouts and neutral-zone possession takeovers, leaving the opposition worn down and ready to be steamrolled in the third period.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  9. peanutflower
    October 5, 2011

    I haven’t read this yet. I got to the “NO” part. I’m going to read it, and I’m sure it’s satiric (right?), but I have to say that one or two or three players don’t make a team — don’t discount the team chemistry. Plenty of NHL teams with “superstars” who don’t win anything or even come close. Now I’ll read it.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  10. peanutflower
    October 5, 2011

    okay, wait, this wasn’t satiric. I’m waiting for the overly optimistic one.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  11. Anony
    October 5, 2011

    I would say that a very fair interpretation of the events. You presented facts not bias…. much appreciated.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  12. invisibleairwaves
    October 5, 2011

    Kevin Bieksa’s fantastic 2010-2011 season could turn out to be a one-year aberration rather than a long-term improvement, and the already cap-strained Canucks will be stuck with a useless $4.6M contract that doesn’t expire until 2016. And oh yeah, he has an NTC, so Gillis might not even be able to trade him to a cap-floor team at the deadline.

    Henrik Sedin has not missed a game in the post-lockout era. At age 31, there’s a big chance this ironman streak could come to an end. Losing the team’s top line center and one of the best passers in the game for an extended period of time could throw the team into disarray.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • Harrison Mooney
      October 5, 2011

      You appear to have a firm grasp on how this works.

      VN:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
      • invisibleairwaves
        October 5, 2011

        If there’s one thing I can do well, it’s unreasonable pessimism.

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
        • invisibleairwaves
          October 5, 2011

          Except I’ll probably be really bad at it later on.

          VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
          Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • Marc
      October 5, 2011

      Id much rather have Bieksa for the amount of time we have him than Erhoff into the next decade. But good for him. He won the Pegulottery.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
      • invisibleairwaves
        October 6, 2011

        I’d take 2010-2011 Bieksa over 2010-2011 Ehrhoff, no question. But that’s only because he wasn’t a defensive liability. If he becomes one, as he has in the past, then it starts looking like Gillis made the wrong choice because unlike Ehrhoff, Bieksa doesn’t have the offensive production to make up for defensive gaffes. I actually don’t think he’ll regress, but as long as we’re indulging in excessive pessimism, it’s worth remembering that we were ready to run him out of town a year ago.

        VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
        Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • J21
      October 6, 2011

      I actually had the very same two fears (in real life, not unreasonable life). Bieksa’s career to date has had about a 3:1 ratio of poor seasons to good ones, and it’s not at all unrealistic that he will regress to the mean this year. (No doubt having Hamhuis paired with them helps make this less likely, though).

      And both Sedins are due for injuries, let’s face it, especially with the amount of abuse they take.

      VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  13. beninvictoria
    October 5, 2011

    oh man, we are screwed

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  14. tj
    October 6, 2011

    I went to bed unable to read this post; I woke up and still can’t read this post. I’ll read the optimism one first, ’cause that’s how my brain works: Piglet, then Eeyore.

    Someone gave me a ticket to tonight’s game, so I’ll remain blissfully ignorant of the holes until afterward…

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  15. cambo
    October 6, 2011

    Finally an honest article with lack of arse kissing. Canucks out in first round. Looks good to me.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  16. Nth of the 49th
    October 6, 2011

    After 40 years of being a Canuck fan I wouldn’t call this article pessimistic I’d call it realistic.
    Somehow last year hurt more than 94 and 82 was so unexpected the ride there was good enough.

    I just have an overall disappointment with the game. From the behavior of the players, the inconsistent officiating and absurd behavior of a lot of the media. This moronic need by the NHL and NHLPA to change the game instead of the gear (biggest cause of concussion problems IMO) is also driving me away.

    VA:F [1.9.16_1159]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)