A bipolar Canucks season preview: reasons for optimism and pessimism in 2013

We try to keep a pretty even keel here at Pass it to Bulis. The Canucks’ fanbase tends to swing wildly from one extreme to the other, from hope, faith, and happiness to outright despair, despondency, and hopelessness. We aim for somewhere in the middle. If we seem overly positive at times, it’s generally because there’s a lot to be positive about: the Canucks have finished in first place during the regular season twice in a row, have won the Northwest Division four times in a row, and we have seen the Sedin twins win back-to-back Art Ross trophies.

On the other hand, there’s plenty of things to be gloomy about: the Canucks haven’t won a single Stanley Cup in their existence, for instance, which is the kind of thing that leads to perpetual cynicism. The Canucks are also going to be trading away the best goaltender in franchise history in the near-future, which has led to a few tears.

So, heading into the 2012-13 season, there are both reasons for optimism and causes for concern. It is time for PITB to eschew rationality and embrace both extremes in this bipolar season preview.

FORWARDS

The pessimist in me says:

The Canucks are in massive trouble and will be hard-pressed to score any goals at all this season. Ryan Kesler is the linchpin in the Canucks system, taking on an equal balance of offensive and defensive duties, while the checking line gets buried in the defensive zone and the Sedin line gets almost exclusively offensive zone starts. With Kesler out of the lineup, that’s going to get skewed.

The Sedins will have to pick up some defensive zone starts and the checking line will either have to pick up some offensive zone starts or the second line will need to get sheltered like crazy. That means the Sedins offensive dominance will wane and it’s unlikely that the checking line is going to pick up the slack. It also means that the Canucks will be weaker in the defensive zone. At this point, with David Booth also out of the lineup, the Canucks will be relying on a completely unproven second line to provide secondary scoring, led by…Mason Raymond.

Yeah, that’s not good.

It gets worse. Without a dangerous second line, teams will be able to key in exclusively on the Sedins to shut them down. And the Canucks aren’t likely to get scoring from elsewhere in the lineup. The third line will be defensively responsible, but will have Maxim Lapierre in the middle, who has a career-high of 28 points and that was the only time he scored more than 20 in a season.

The optimist in me says:

Have you seen the Canucks goal totals the last few seasons? They have been top-five in NHL goalscoring for three straight seasons and they’re a safe bet to do it again. Missing Kesler and Booth? Great! That will give Zack Kassian the opportunity to start with the second line instead of getting buried on the fourth line. It will also give Andrew Ebbett the chance to prove once again that he can score in the NHL. He has put up major points in the AHL, but has only been given the opportunity to play in the top six in the NHL once before, when he put up 32 points in just 48 games with the Anaheim Ducks in 2008-09.

As for Mason Raymond, he won’t be coming off a devastating injury like he was last year and will have something to prove after the Canucks took him to salary arbitration to cut back his salary. The second line is going to be different, but it’s also going to be quick and will give defences all they can handle to keep them contained off the rush.

Teams have been trying to shut down the Sedins for years now. Even when Kesler was at his best, teams still put out their top defensive pairings and checking lines out against the Sedins, and they continued to score. Daniel Sedin scored 30 goals last season despite missing 10 games. Henrik led the league in assists for the third straight season. They may not score 100 points in a season again, but they’ll still score a point-per-game and lead the Canucks on the powerplay.

Meanwhile, Lapierre on the third line will take some of the defensive burden from Malhotra, allowing Vigneault to give both the first and the second line plenty of offensive zone starts.

By the time Kesler and Booth get back from their injuries, they’ll be joining a team that’s already in an offensive groove and will only improve with their addition.

DEFENCE

The pessimist in me says:

The loss of Sami Salo and Aaron Rome is going to wreak havoc on the Canucks defence this season. It may not seem like much, but Salo was one of the Canucks’ few right-side defencemen and Rome was versatile enough to play on the right as well. To replace Salo, the Canucks went out and signed Jason Garrison, who supposedly played on the right-side in Florida. Unfortunately, when he got to Vancouver, he informed everyone that he doesn’t like playing on the right-side and prefers the left.

Cue Alex Edler playing on the right-side. Cue disaster. You’ve immediately crippled the most offensively talented blueliner in the linup.

Meanwhile, to replace the steady Rome, the Canucks acquired Cam Barker and Jim Vandermeer. The best thing you can say about Vandermeer is that he’s better than Barker. The worst thing you can say about Vandermeer is that he cost Jordan Schroeder a spot on the roster because he can also play on the wing. He’s simultaneously the Canucks’ 9th defenceman and their 13th forward.

The best that Canucks fans can hope for is that Barker never has to actually suit up for the Canucks, which would require one of two things: no injuries on the blueline or Vigneault to keep Keith Ballard in the lineup. Neither of those two things is going to happen.

The optimist in me says:

Remember when Dan Hamhuis joined the Canucks and immediately settled down the erratic Kevin Bieksa? Now imagine Jason Garrison doing the same for Alex Edler. Garrison is highly touted for his shot and will be a massive weapon on the powerplay, but his real calling card is his steady defence. That steadiness will help Edler immensely.

That gives the Canucks a solid top-four on defence, with both pairings able to contribute at both ends of the ice. Keith Ballard will be on the bottom pairing, but he’ll be matched with Chris Tanev, with whom he has had the most success with the Canucks. Like Hamhuis and Garrison, Tanev is steady and reliable in his own zone and will help steady Ballard and help him get back to his old form.

Meanwhile, the Canucks have the physically imposing Andrew Alberts in reserve and the offensively capable Kevin Connauton on the farm. If Barker is as bad as advertised, Vigneault will exile him to Chicago in a hurry. If he isn’t, then the Canucks got a capable defenceman on the cheap.

Under Vigneault, the Canucks have been one of the stingiest teams in the league; that’s not going to change any time soon.

GOALTENDING

The pessimist in me says:

What a mess. It seemed like Roberto Luongo would get traded months ago. Instead, he’s still with the team and has to be considered a distraction. There are so many ways this can go wrong: Luongo outplays Cory Schneider, destroying both the team’s confidence in Schneider and his own confidence that he’s a number one guy. Schneider outplays Luongo, destroying Luongo’s trade value and making him bitter on the bench, poisoning the locker room.

Heck, what if Luongo gets traded and Schneider gets hurt? With Eddie Lack still out with an injury, who else will the Canucks have in reserve? Joe Cannata? Will they have to move Dan Cloutier from coaching duties to playing duties? Will they have to resort to signing Marty Turco?

Even if Schneider doesn’t get hurt, he has yet to prove that he’s a legitimate starter in the NHL. He may have put up good stats last season as a backup, but being a number one goaltender is a completely different situation. For all that Luongo gets flack for his performance in the playoffs, Schneider has a grand total of one NHL playoff win. The Canucks are relying on an unproven goaltender right as their window is closing.

The Canucks goaltending situation is just a disaster waiting to happen.

The optimist in me says:

The Canucks have the best goaltending situation in the league. In a condensed 48-game season, it is ideal to have a tandem of two of the best goaltenders in the NHL. The risk for fatigue is high, so being able to rotate both goaltenders will keep them fresh and at their best all season long.

Both have shown their professionalism in handling the situation, with Luongo indicating that he has no problem staying with the Canucks this season. Far from a distraction, the two goaltenders will be able to push each other to succeed.

There is always the concern of injuries, but that’s the same for every team in the league. If Luongo gets traded this season, the Canucks will either get another goaltender back in the trade or will find a backup elsewhere.

If he does get traded, the Canucks will get the benefit of whatever players come back as well as the capspace to make more moves. Meanwhile, Schneider has given every indication that he’s ready to take over the Canucks’ net. He was third in the NHL last season in goals against average and second in save percentage. He wasn’t just good, he was incredible.

RESULTS

The pessimist in me says:

With the injuries on offence, the uncertainties on defence, and the complete chaos in net, the Canucks are going to be a mess. In a 48-game season, any losing streak could cost the Canucks big-time. Before the Canucks won four straight Northwest Division titles, they finished last in the Northwest, missing the playoffs and getting a top-10 pick in the draft. It’s going to happen again.

The optimist in me says:

While some of the other teams in the Northwest Division have improved, none of them have improved enough to actually be a threat to the Canucks. The bulk of the Canucks schedule will be against their own division, which they’ll be winning, and will be on their way to a third straight Presidents’ Trophy.

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5 comments

  1. Timmy Wong
    January 18, 2013

    What about Chris Levesque? He suited up for the Canucks in the past; he could do it again.

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  2. Anonymous
    January 19, 2013

    I’ve learned from this that I’m a pessimist when it comes to the Canucks because I found myself agreeing more with the pessimistic points than the optimistic.

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  3. BBoone
    January 19, 2013

    Teams focusing on our first line usually take penalties. The power play rates to be better allowing a more defense first approach until Kesler and Booth return . Our goalkeeping and defense combo is the best in the NHL In the meantime Kassian will get more consistent minutes to develop his ” power forward” skill set. He needs to be aggressive going to goal and hard on the forecheck . This requires he be given some slack when he will invariably be late getting back . I don’t recall Howe or Neely being benched after just missing a crease goal chance or taking a little extra time destroying a defenseman . It is crucial AV facilitate Kassians confidence in the next couple of months.

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  4. Snepsts
    January 19, 2013

    Yes, the power play is key and should not be overlooked. Shut-down hockey + a killer power play is going to be the key to another cup run. I think Kassian and Ray-Ray will step up, although that’s mere intuition. There are always the dark horses of Jannik “Hands” Hansen and Huggy Higgins too.

    Um, and karma. You know how the Canucks are the most hated team in the league right now? Well, wouldn’t this just be the perfect “fake” season to win a “fake” cup? Can you imagine how angry that would make all the detractors? It pretty much has to happen…it is a tailor-made, fairy-tale troll.

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  5. akidd
    January 19, 2013

    i don’t think the regular season will be a problem. there might be a slow start but the rested vets have had a chance to heal and rested experience combined with very solid goaltending and defense should win the day, in the north west anyway. 5 games against the flames remember. if they can’t win the NW then they have a very poor team indeed and there’s no point in getting worked up about things in the first place.

    it’s the playoffs that pose the difficulty. so many good, rock-solid teams in the west like the kings and blues. those teams are physical and relentless. hitchcock likes to load up his whole team behind the puck for support. there will be zero space and the physical battles will be exhausting(see the LA kings feeding frenzy gif.)

    kassian is an welcome addition of muscle but for the canucks to have playoff success it will definitely require the re-emergence of 10/11 kesler(which is a lot to ask for a guy coming off multiple major surgeries). or schneider will just have to stop them all… which he just might do.

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