Not much has gone right for the Canucks so far this training camp. David Booth’s return lasted two practices, Zack Kassian is probably going to miss a big chunk of time due to suspension, and the team has lost all three games they’ve played, and badly at that (although, on the bright side, these games are considered tune-ups, so getting completely and thoroughly tuned is sort of the point, right?).
But there is solace. The preseason is over.
Sure, there are still three games remaining in the Canucks’ exhibition schedule — visits by and to new divisional rivals San Jose and Phoenix, respectively, as well as the first meeting with the New York Rangers since they and the Canucks swapped coaches in the summer — but I’d argue that, this weekend, the season officially started.
For the first time since last spring, the weekend had all the trappings of hockey season, and I’m not talking about Saturday night’s hockey game (though I guess a hockey game is a notable trapping of hockey season). I’m talking mostly about the stuff before and after the 60 minutes of shinny: the brief delay of the telecast due to a Maple Leafs’ shootout that took just shy of forever; and, after we learned Zack Kassian had broken Sam Gagner’s jaw with a reckless stick swing, the bickering with Oilers fans over intent, criminality, which is nuts to me, and which club and fanbase are the worst in the NHL.
Yeah. Hockey season is upon us.
John Tortorella seems to be well aware that a page has turned, and Monday night’s lineup in Phoenix looks a lot like what we’re likely to see come opening night. On the back-end, Kevin Bieksa will skate with Jason Garrison, a plausible pair, and Alex Edler has been teamed with the Chris Tanev, ever sensible (except when it comes to how he wears his hair).
Finding a running mate for Edler is priority number one on the Canucks’ blueline. Since the defection of Christian Ehrhoff two years ago, Edler’s been something of a lone wolf, and it’s no surprise that a guy nicknamed the eagle doesn’t make a particularly good wolf. A steady partner that could settle him down a little bit would work wonders for Vancouver’s prospects.
And speaking of prospects, up front, Brad Richardson and Jannik Hansen are once again skating on what looks like the likely third-line duo, this time with 18-year-old winger Hunter Shinkaruk, whom Tortorella won’t admit yet that he likes quite a bit. (Gotta play it cool. Gotta stay ice cold.)
Does Tortorella like Shinkaruk enough to keep him around? I think he might, even despite him downplaying the decision to skate Shinkaruk with the veteran-laden lineup, claiming it could have been anybody.
“Don’t read too much into him being there,” Tortorella told the Vancouver Sun. “Gaunce has played well, Bo and all those guys. We wanted to put another left winger in there and we picked him.
“I’ll tell you, no one has thrown a knockout punch here as far as our kids.”
But I don’t buy it. While that last line may be true, it looks, to these eyes, like Tortorella sees him as the likeliest haymaker-thrower in the bunch, and after seeing and liking Shinkaruk in a skill role, he needs to know that Shinkaruk has the versatility to handle being bounced around the lineup in his rookie season. You can’t promote a kid that can only play in one role.
Finally, Kesler and Burrows are back together on line two, and this is the pairing to watch. Tortorella seems into it, but if Zack Kassian can’t hold down the job alongside the Sedins, either because he’s not right for it yet or because he’s been suspended for quite some time (which is growing more and more likely as his hearing approaches), then Burrows might be back on the top line by the end of the week. If that happens, then who is Ryan Kesler’s stable running mate? David Booth? That seems likeliest, but it requires a little luck in the health department, and Booth can’t seem to catch a break — just strains and sprains.
In the end, there are still a ton of questions surrounding this team, and now that hockey season is here, the Canucks need to hurry up and find some answers.