Like the Lightning, although to a much lesser extent, the Canucks are heading in a new direction, and it couldn’t be more definite than letting long-time captain Markus Naslund walk. The Canucks were hoping to make a splash this year, and offered Mats Sundin an eye-popping $20m offer over 2 years. Sundin ended up not signing (obviously), but that didn’t deter new GM Mike Gillis from bringing in his own crop of players. Management made bold promises over the summer, and while the Canucks are off to a hot start, it’ll be interesting to see where this team finishes. Some believe Dave Nonis was fired because he wasn’t ownership’s man, but with such drastic changes in the front office, the team still has his thumbprints all over it.
Scoring has been a problem for quite some time for the Canucks. After a injury-riddled and disappointing season, Gillis and Alain Vigneault publicly promised a more exciting brand of hockey – in other words, more offense. But with the departures of Brendan Morrison and Naslund, on paper it doesn’t seem like Gillis has solved anything. Even with the addition of Pavol Demitra and to a lesser extent Kyle Wellwood, the offense doesn’t seem to be more dangerous than last year’s – which means that once again the offensive load will rest on the shoulders of Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The Swedish twins are one of the best duos in the league, but the Canucks’ exhaustive search for a right winger to play with them after Anson Carter‘s departure prompted them to deal for Steve Bernier – a big bodied winger with room to grow, but definitely still rough around the edges. While the top two lines hasn’t changed any, and remains a weakness in the Canucks’ overall lineup, the Canucks may boast the best bottom six group in the league. They’re highlighted by Ryan Kesler, who is fast developing into the league’s premier two-way players, and Alex Burrows, arguably the league’s most hated agitator. Joined by new recruits Ryan Johnson and Darcy Hordichuk, the Canucks have great speed, grit, and character on the checking lines. The Canucks did lead the league in misconducts last year, but the knock against them was that they were still soft, and bringing in Hordichuk helped in that regard. Asides from the Sedins, the Canucks are deceptively fast, with none other than the fleet-footed Mason Raymond leading the way. The former Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog left school after just two seasons, including an outstanding sophomore season in which his 46 points was 15 higher than team’s second top scorer. Raymond was a surprise pick in the second round in 2005, but has managed to quiet critics and 25 goals this year isn’t completely out of the question.
When healthy, the Canucks six-man group, although it doesn’t boast any all-stars, is as deep as any. Mattias Ohlund once again leads the way with his consistent play, while a healthy Willie Mitchell and Kevin Bieksa provides one of the better shut-down tandems in the league. When healthy, and it’s not often enough, Sami Salo possesses one of the best point shots in the league. The most intriguing of the bunch, however, is Alexander Edler. The Swedish youngster was plucked up by the Canucks in the third round of the 2004 draft, amidst strong rumours that drafting machine Detroit was going to pick him soon. Edler was a revelation on an injury-riddled Canucks blueline, and management is hoping he continues to improve. Edler has been hailed as the Canucks’ next Ohlund, perhaps with better mobility and puck skills than Ohlund when he was at his age. With Rob Davison, Shane O’Brien, and Lawrence Nycholat, the Canucks have plenty of depth.
A lot has been made about Roberto Luongo, but the truth is there isn’t anymore that anyone can say about him that the whole world doesn’t know – he is the best goalie in the West. While he can give Martin Brodeur a good run for his money, the big elusive prize has eluded Luongo thus far. The new captain is the franchise’s best goalie in its history and with him in net the Canucks will always remain competitive.
Because Gillis handcuffed himself by putting his offer to Sundin on the table for much of the summer, and because of offer sheets to David Backes, the Canucks didn’t spend all their money. This isn’t anything to worry about, however, as it just means that the Canucks won’t have to worry about keeping under the cap come trade deadline day. The money could come real handy this summer as well, when the Sedins become unrestricted free agents, and rumour is that they’re both seeking $7m/year. Gillis’ legacy as the Canucks GM will be determined this summer when he will be forced to negotiate with the Sedins, and depending on the outcome, it could completely change the outlook of this team. The same problems that plagued the Canucks last year are once again problems this year, and while they are off to a hot start, there’s no denying that scoring 11 goals over the first 2 games is a bit of an anomaly.
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Steve Bernier
Mason Raymond – Pavol Demitra – Taylor Pyatt
Alex Burrows – Ryan Kesler – Jannik Hansen
Darcy Hordichuk – Ryan Johnson – Rick Rypien
Mattias Ohlund – Alex Edler
Willie Mitchell – Kevin Bieksa
Shane O’Brien – Sami Salo
Roberto Luongo – Curtis Sanford
Predicted finish: 4th Northwest, 10th West