In one glorious day in late-August the Canucks' blue-line went from patchy to solid, and fans who feared that the defence corps would be Vancouver's Achilles heel in 09/10 began to breathe much easier.
By adding Mathieu Schneider, Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich to a blue-line that already features Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Willie Mitchell and (65% of the time) Sami Salo, GM Mike Gillis went a long way to effectively addressing the Canucks' most pressing needs. Oh yeah, we also have Shane O'Brien.
Suddenly the Canucks went from praying that Aaron Rome could settle into full-time NHL employment and that Sami Salo would miraculously survive a season without serious injury (hey, Martin Havlat finally pulled it off last season with Chicago, so miracles can happen) to salivating at the prospect of Top 6 that is good enough to exclude O'Brien, Rome and Lawrence Nycholat instead of banking on them to step up. Nothing against those guys - or Evan Oberg for that matter - but counting on surprising breakout performances is kinda like going all-in in poker with 2-7 and hoping for the best. Sure it could work out, but more often that not you'll be screwed.
So, as the preseason concludes its final week, what will the Canucks blue-line look like to start the season? Does O'Brien crack the Top 6? Does Alain Vigneault reward Oberg for a strong preseason with a roster spot? What happens with Lukowich? Does a veteran d-man get sacrificed, either through trade or banishment to the minors, to clear salary cap space?
Here is who I see in the Canucks' defensive corps come opening night: Bieksa, Edler, Mitchell, Salo, Ehrhoff, Schnider (assuming he's good to go). Yeah, kinda obvious selections I know - but can you really see the two prize acquisitions not in the line-up or anyone unseating one the four Canucks blue-line vets? I have a tough time imagining it.
Assuming that this is the case, the Canucks will presumably carry one extra d-man. I would give the edge to O'Brien, but give Oberg an outside shot at taking this spot. Would Vigneault carry eight defensemen? That's a possibility, but will it do Oberg any good to sit in the press-box when he could be getting quality minutes in Manitoba?
Obviously the play of bubble players will dictate the answer to many of these questions. Oberg could force the coaching staff's hand with a strong week. But then what happens to O'Brien? And what about Lukowich? Would a strong push by the veteran this week land him a roster spot as a depth guy? Anyone else who you think could still crack the roster?
Clearly I am raising more questions than I am answering. However, unlike a month ago, I am excited to be asking questions. Mike Gillis has given his coaching staff a whole whack of blue-line options and suddenly an area that looked to be a potential weak spot has become a potential strength for this club. And hey, it's good to have depth - 'cause I'm putting the over/under on games for which both Salo and Schneider are injured at 15.