6:00 PM ET Update: Grabner, Rahimi, Gendur and Labrie have been cut from the roster. Hansen, Krog and Hodgson are still in the running to make the squad opening night.
And now? It feels a lot like 2006 all over again. Everyone has written the Canucks off before training camp started, everyone is curious how they are going to score and from the GM box to the press box we have enough new faces to fill a freshman dorm. A newish GM, pet projects in
Chouinard Wellwood and Pyatt Bernier, a new goal scoring threat in Bulis Demitra, a Sedin line wishing its DNA was split three ways in the womb to make line juggling easier. Etc etc etc.
Linden what? Naslund who? The Canucks lost a handful of the core, aging warriors and have replaced them with an eclectic group of lads, including:
1. Steve Bernier - A large guy with "raw potential" who has been criticized at previous stops for poor conditioning and skating ability. Vigneault has done wonders with these types of projects before (namely Pyatt) so can he make Bernier the power winger this team has been lacking since Todd Bertuzzi'ed Moore?
2. Pavol Demitra - A quick set-up man with a great shot and a willingness to play both ends of the ice. Also, somewhat Eric Lindros-like with his history of concussions and someone who can be knocked off his game physically. And, of ya, he left Lemaire's system to come play in Vigneault's. Try not to snicker.
3. Kyle Wellwood - A Wellwood supporter would see a great playmaker who just needs to keep his conditioning and motivation up to achieve that premier level again. However, those with human eyeballs and decent to medicore vision would and have seen a guy whose skating needs work, whose conditioning is borderline John Kruk-ish, isn't a physical force whatsoever and, oh ya, has more a bit of an injury problem (both on and off the ice). Is he capable of becoming the Wellwood of old or is he basically Steve Kariya on a Mounds Bar bender?
4. Ryan Johnson - A speedy guy who can forecheck and will be immensely valuable on the penalty kill, Johnson is also a guy who won't score much and, like Byron Ritchie before him, will likely be used on the fourth line or when the team inevitably gets itself in penalty trouble.
5. Darcy Hordichuk - He's an upgrade to Cowan. Period. Darcy Tucker is a dead man walking already. If this guy can score a goal here and there, he was worth it.
Then of course there's the fiasco with Mats Sundin. Who cares, moving on...
Some random thoughts:
1. The Sedins are still pretty good - Following the lockout, their numbers have been solid and, in the past two seasons, they have finished in the top 30 in point production in the league. We know they fell off the planet in the stretch run last year and they are certainly not the most physical, but only 18 players have scored more then them in the past two seasons, including outpacing Richards, Marleau and Gaborik (and, for what it's worth, Sundin) in the same stretch.
2. The "Czech TV Eyes" line - Before Vigneault started passing Naslund around last year like a five dollar whore, the Canucks started with a second line of Naslund/Morrison/Cooke. Collectively that's 96 points and it's a stretch to say Matt Cooke should be in the top six to begin with. This year, it looks increasingly like Raymond/Demitra/Pyatt, a line that scored 112 points last year despite injuries to both Raymond and Demitra. With Vigneault no line is certain (other then keeping the Sedins together) and comparing players simply on points is foolhardy but we do know that the 8th version of Naslund/Morrison wasn't going to work either. If you can accept Pyatt is an upgrade to Cooke, Demitra and Morrison are more or less a wash and Raymond's upside as an eager rookie is better then Naslund's declining stats and increasing moodiness, then you can accept the Sedins have a better shot at second line support then last year despite what people like Ed Willes thinks (christ they'll always need a better second line Ed).
3. More kids then Neverland Ranch - More so then last year, the Canucks have a steady reserve of young guys who can (and most likely will) pop up and the time and can make an impact. We've seen it before (Hansen in 2006-07, Jaffray in 2007-08), but this year they have those two along with Grabner, Hodgson, Brown, Rypien and Krog who can maybe jump up if the team needs a spark. They also have bubble guys like Wellwood and Pettinger too who may need that stint in Manitoba to find their game. I think this could be the first year in a long time where we may see some more then one call up make a definitive impact on the team.
4. Lighting won't strike twice - It stands to reason that Vancouver shouldn't repeat their record last year of an NHL-worst 164 man games lost to injury. A healthy core won't just help Luongo but the forwards too since guys like Salo, Ohlund, Bieksa, Edler and maybe even Krajicek can definitely help chip in some goals. But no way the injury track should repeat itself again. The Gods can't hate this team that much. They just can't. Go lash out at Atlanta for a year. Or, better yet, Detroit.
To my humble eyes, any success this year resides on the above points and in addition to three more or less 'X' factors (in order of importance):
1. The coach - Talk about the best of times and worst of times for a single coach. One year removed from the Jack Adams, his new boss let him twist in the breeze for a month before deciding to keep him on board. The lone caveat: make this team entertaining to watch; loosely translated, unleash the beast. Open the ice and generate some offense, something Vigneault is remarkably piss poor at doing. Personally, if this team implodes early, it'll be Gillis's fault for keeping Vigneault around. I'd be more apt to blame Vigneault for starting 0-20, but I don't think it's fair to blame a coach who instinctively coaches defense first and his boss demands the exact opposite. Screw Sundin, this move alone could be the rookie GM's biggest mistake right out of the gate.
There's no chance Vigneault is going to be able to coach 180 degrees differently so the best case scenario is another season of one-goal games that favor Vancouver. Otherwise the axe will fall on Vigneault, fair or not.
2. The health of the forwards - As stated, I don't fear the defense being decimated again, but I do fear the forwards dropping like flies. Demitra alone concerns me the most and Bernier plays a game that greatly lends itself to a substantial injury. Ditto Kesler and, to a lesser extent, Pyatt. Vancouver has been lucky with the Sedins over the years, but imagine losing one of them? Their forward ranks are thin and, unless they catch lighting in a bottle with one of the Manitoba guys or Gillis makes a move, they simply can't lose one of the top six for a prolonged period of time. Speaking of trades...
3. The GM - The jury is out on Sir Gillis and, sadly, the Sundin offer will overshadow his better moves in the Backes RFA offer or Bernier. But getting spurred by Sundin means Gillis still has cash to spend and a team that'll need him to, sooner rather then later, make a big move. Some Nycholat-like moves sprinkled in here and there is fine, but he'll need his definitive move. Burke moved Bure, Nonis moved Bertuzzi. Gillis? Who knows, but history would suggest a last name starting with B may be a good start (sorry Bieksa).
From what I've read and seen, it seems Vancouver fans are a bit despondent again to say the least. I find it's best not to dwell on why this team loves to repeat the same mistakes again and again, seemingly always one small step away from their perennial leap off the same cliff, so don't bother. The weight of trying to dissect and interpret such an immense universal truth will render you melancholic enough to find value in Morrissey albums and we simply can't have that.
Rather, remember that the last time everyone counted this team out they emphatically proved them wrong. They have a goalie who doesn't quit, a deep defense ready to forget last year and an entirely new offensive core. Some call this rebuilding, I prefer the Nonisian term of reloading. As with any gun, either you hit the mark or Bugs Bunny puts a carrot in the barrel and it blows up in your face. Which one will it be? Who knows, but it'll be fun to watch the carnage.
Now drop the fucking puck and let's get this thing going.
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