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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: Canucks, featured, horrible logic, Pessimism, Season Preview, spotlight