The 2014-15 Canucks: a super-optimistic season preview

It was hardly a banner year for the 2013-14 Canucks, and that’s saying something, because we’ve grown accustomed to banners in this city. Two Presidents’ Trophy banners. Five Northwest Division title banners. The last year the Canucks didn’t win something, even if only in their sandbox, was 2007-08. And wouldn’t you know it, that was also the last time the Canucks failed to make the playoffs. Is there a correlation? I dare suggest there is. The secret, my friends, is banners. Is it any wonder that the Canucks’ first losing season in six coincided with the year they decided to consolidate their five Northwest Division banners into one? You take down the banners, my friends, and the banners will take you down.

2013-14 was a dismal campaign, and it came at a cost. The official slogan, “We Are All Canucks”, was struck, in favour of “Change is Coming”. And the change did come. President and General Manager Mike Gillis was dismissed, as was coach John Tortorella. In their stead came Trevor Linden (president), Jim Benning (GM), and Willie Desjardins (coach).

On the ice, there were personnel changes as well. Of the 33 players that played a game for the Canucks last season, 13 are no longer in the organization, with leading goal-scorer Ryan Kesler the most notable departure.

But how will these changes affect the team’s performance? Splendidly, I say. This season is going to rule.

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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.

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The Canucks’ 2013 schedule: upsides, downsides, and five notable dates

While the NHL lockout ended last Sunday morning, it actually didn’t officially end until late Saturday night, when the NHLPA ratified the CBA, the memorandum of understanding was signed, the rosters were unfrozen, and the 2013 NHL schedule was released. Also, someone waved a green flag. We are, ladies and gentlemen, officially back in business.

Let’s talk about the schedule. You might recall that, before the 2012 half of 2012-13 was hacked away by idiocy and the league had to rewrite the whole bloody thing, the Canucks were fairly happy with this year’s schedule. You’ll be pleased to know that the revamped calendar will likely satisfy them as well.

As usual, Vancouver will be one of the most-traveled teams. According to On the Forecheck, the Canucks will rack up 29,117 travel miles in the 48-game season. Only the Minnesota Wild (31,345) and the Dallas Stars (29,482) will cover more ground.

But, while the Canucks will spend a lot of time in the air, they still managed to catch a serious break in the densely-packed schedule: they are one of only 6 teams with 7 or fewer back-t0-backs.

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Since the Canucks only played the Bruins once this season, my normal approach of evaluating the season series between the two clubs is useless here. In the tiny sample size of one game, the season series isn’t much fun to analyze, but I’m going to do it anyway.

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The Sharks post-season story bears a strong similarity to that of the Canucks, simply reversed. While the Canucks went up 3-0 in the first round, only to have their opposition with 3-straight and push them to 7 games, the Sharks did the same in the second round. Against the Predators, the Canucks won the first, third, fourth, and sixth games of the series. Against the Kings, the Sharks had the exact same pattern of wins and losses. It’s uncanny.

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Round about the time the Canucks were up 3-0 in their series against the Blackhawks, fans got a bit cocky and started pondering who the Canucks would face in the second round. It was a little bit premature. But, sure enough, the Canucks eked out the victory and will take on the Nashville Predators. There are a plethora of stories here: two Vezina candidates will face each other for a goalie duel (sadly without pistols or sabres). A favorite for the Hart trophy (Daniel Sedin) will face a favorite for the Norris (Shea Weber). The favorite for the Selke (Kesler) will face…Mike Fisher, I guess? Meanwhile, former Canuck Shane O’Brien and former Predator Dan Hamhuis will enrage their former fanbases by being better than they remembered.

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Everyone in Vancouver remembers well how our last two playoff series went against the Chicago Blackhawks: ashes, sackcloth, gnashing of teeth. I also recall some wailing and saw a few torn garments on the streets. It was, like the Chicago Blackhawks, bad.

But neither the Blackhawks nor the Canucks are the same team as they were in those match-ups. I went over some of the changes to the Blackhawks lineup on Monday, but the Canucks have also experienced a fair degree of turnover. The bottom-six was completely remodeled: gone are Kyle Wellwood, Pavol Demitra, Steve Bernier, and Ryan Johnson. In are Raffi Torres, Cody Hodgson, Victor Oreskovich, and Maxim Lapierre. Unfortunately, this isn’t as big an upgrade as it would be if Manny Malhotra hadn’t had his season ended by a malicious puck.

On defense, Mike Gillis pulled off the extremely rare double cannonball, making two big splashes. He acquired Keith Ballard in a trade with Florida and Dan Hamhuis in free agency. Then the most unlikely event in the history of the world occurred: Sami Salo got injured. With the injury, Kevin Bieksa miraculously did not need to be traded. A combination of seemingly convenient injuries throughout the season allowed the Canucks the luxury of entering the playoffs with a top-six defensive corps making 22.3 million dollars per season while still employing other hockey players.

While the core of both teams has remained the same, the surrounding flesh of the hockey apple has changed significantly. So how did these two new teams match up in the regular season. And are the Canucks a Golden Delicious or a Granny Smith?

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For the third year in a row, the Vancouver Canucks will be facing the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup playoffs. After two ignominious defeats in the second round, this year the Canucks will get the chance to exorcise their playoff demons in round one. The match-up is one the media, fans, and players have been eagerly anticipating, but it’s not exactly a pure re-match.

The Blackhawks of 2010-11 are not the Blackhawks of 2009-10. Last season, the Blackhawks were just plain better than the Canucks. In the off-season, however, due to some mismanagement of the cap by Dale Tallon, the Hawks said farewell to much of their vaunted depth. Gone are Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Brent Sopel, Colin Fraser, Adam Burish, John Madden and Canuck nemesis Dustin Byfuglien. Gone, too, are both goaltenders from last season. Playoff hero Antti Niemi signed with the San Jose Sharks while Cristobal Huet was sent to Switzerland to eat chocolate, wear pocket watches, and design knives.

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