2011-2012 Season Preview: Vancouver Canucks

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Welcome back friends.

Last season a mission was started but never completed. You ready for the 2012 redemption tour?

Of course you are.

2010-11 Recap
Last summer Mike Gillis laid the roadwork that eventually landed him the GM of the Year accolades. He was aggressive at the draft, moving the team's first pick along with Steve Bernier and Michael Grabner for Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich. He remained aggressive on July 1st by inking both Dan Hamhuis and Manny Malhotra to multi-year deals. He took in another reclamation project in Raffi Torres, spent wisely on plug-and-play guys like Bolduc, Desbiens and Tambellini and eventually traded deadweight in SOB and Hordichuk. Gillis also dropped the axe on the coaching ranks, showing Ryan Walter the door in favor of Newell Brown and Ian Clarke in favor of Roland Melanson.

With Henrik Sedin being named the 13th captain in team history to start off the 2010-11 campaign, the Canucks started with their normal lukewarm October before a strong November and a dominant December (in which they strung together a season-high 8 game winning streak that lasted into the early weeks of January). By mid-winter they had all but locked up their division. They used the spring to put some finishing touches on the best season in franchise history: topping 100 points by March 14, officially clinching the Northwest on March 16, locking down the top seed in the West on March 29 and winning their first Presidents’ Trophy on March 31. By season's end they picked up the Jennings Award (Luongo/Schneider) in addition to Daniel Sedin securing the Art Ross, the first time in NHL history brothers have claimed the scoring title in back-to-back seasons. They also finished with the most goals scored, fewest goals against, the best power play, the third best penalty kill and the best face-off percentage in the league which is all the more incredible considering injuries thwarted them from using their top six defensemen until the first round of the playoffs.

The post season would provide even more memorable (sometimes gut-wrenching) moments: from a barnburner series against Chicago in the opening round to solving a Vezina-nominated goalie in Nashville and finally to an all-out battle against the second best team in the West San Jose. But the Finals against the Boston - the only original six team Vancouver has never played in the postseason - proved to be too much and, though it went the full seven games, the Bruins were the better team and brought home the Stanley Cup.

In other words everything went right...except the ending. Such is life.

Losing at home and choking on the riots afterwards provided a rather sizable "tough pill" to swallow, but nevertheless pinned the expectations for 2012 and set the tone for Mike Gillis heading into the summer. Gillis was quiet this time around, signaling he feels the team is ready, the pieces are there and the lessons have been learned.

Now they have to follow what Pittsburgh did just a few years ago: reach the pinnacle of the sport after losing it the previous year and take the Cup home.

All of which leads us to the new cast of characters from training camp:

 

Who's In
Matt Climie (waived), Andrew Ebbett, Todd Fedoruk (released), Marco Sturm, Byron Bitz (injured), Mike Duco (AHL), Mark Mancari, Owen Nolan (released), Steven Pinizzotto, Alexander Sulzer, Steve Begin (released), Niko Dimitrakos (released), Manny Legace (released), Anders Eriksson (released), Victor Oreskovich (waived), Dale Weise

 

Who's Out
Alex Bolduc, Guillaume Desbiens, Christian Ehrhoff, Tanner Glass, Rick Rypien, Lee Sweatt, Sergei Shirokov, Jeff Tambellini, Raffi Torres

 

Most Intriguing Stories
Cody Hodgson - In 2008 Stamkos was taken first overall and nine spots behind him was Hodgson. So the wait has been long and a bit overly dramatic, but as long as Kesler is sidelined, the kid will get his short to prove he's a top ten pick and deserving of a roster spot.

Chris Tanev - The 21-year-old came out of no where last season and became a fan favorite through his steady play and cool demeanor. He bulked up a bit this summer and is an obvious choice for increased TOI if injuries rumble through the ranks. Tanev has all the makings of a diamond in the rough.

Keith Ballard - If you google "Keith Ballard and Aaron Rome" you actually risk breaking in the internet. Tanev's linemate was the whipping boy last year for inconsistency and had his own suite in AV's doghouse. Now with Ehrhoff gone Ballard gets his chance, but can he develop into the reliable $4.2 million rearguard that cost the team Michael Grabner?

Cory Schneider - The Ginger Jesus is ready for another go, likely spelling Luongo for another 20-25 games. But if Luongo gets injured can he handle a full NHL schedule? No matter what happens will this be the last season we see him in a Vancouver uniform? And will he go back to blogging?!

 

...And Now A Word From Our Sponsors

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Never gets old.

 

Pithy Questions & Blunt Answers

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> How will missing Kesler and Raymond impact the overall performance?
Kesler introduced himself to the 40+ goal scoring community last season and, though he struggled, Raymond is only one season removed from a 50+ point campaign. The duo have played together solidly for two seasons and made Vigneault's life easier since he could swap in anyone from Samuelsson to Higgins to complete the line. Hodgson looks to be the Kesler substitute for now, but how long AV will let the rookie eat up those minutes remains to be seen. Sturm seems to be the best suited for stepping in for Raymond, but whether his mortal frame is ready to handle increased responsibilities is another matter (he was averaging about two minutes less per game than Raymond last season). The biggest impact will of course be felt on the Sedins/Burrows line who have to shoulder the offensive load potentially without a strong second line. Couple in losing Ehrhoff's production from the blueline and it's a safe bet that probably won't be blowing anyone out in the near future.

But winning games is a team effort right? That leads me to...

 

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> If I say the words "Roberto Luongo" you say...
Hey no cursing! This is a family blog after all. You ass.

There's no easy answer here. Some will remember he posted his best numbers in a Canuck uni last regular season (2.11 GAA, .928 SV%) and came up strong though most of the playoffs. Others will remember how Chicago and Boston ran him out of the crease and Nashville tallied some flukey ones as well. Still more will never get past his contract, the occasional embellishment or the hairline which just won't quit. Take your pick of course, but regardless of what we clank around about on a keyboard, he's still one of the best goalies in the game and Vancouver's road back to the Finals will again be on his shoulders. Like it or not.

 

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> Will the Marco Sturm experiment work out?
Sturm feels like the Ballard deal last year: an insurance move least the other summer plans didn't work out. We knew Gillis was hunting for a top six winger and Sturm became the low-risk/high-reward insurance policy. Sturm himself has said he expects to be a 20-goal scorer again, but durability will dog him no matter what. He'll start the season (we think) alongside Hodgson and Samuelsson and will see plenty of PP chances to boot. Keep in mind his defensive work as noted by Caps fans in his few games last season:

Sturm's defensive sensibilities can't be understated, and with a full healthy season (and a steady-ish spot in the lineup) might have been balanced out with some more offense. He was also a good depth forward, able to skate with the high-flying guys while still protecting his own zone enough for third-line duty.

The GM is looking for a few special moments from a guy whose prime is in the rear view; in that respect, it's only fitting that he's skating with a guy like Samuelsson.

 

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> What do the Sedins do for their collective Art Ross encores?
What more do you want from the best duo in hockey? Show up at your door with free donuts? Fix your taxes? Kill Justin Bieber? They need to stay healthy and continue their dominance alongside Burrows. If I would bother nitpicking, it would be that Hank needs to shoot more (his goals and shooting percentage tanked last season after strong increases the two seasons before then). But I also wouldn't look at how the Cup Finals ended as some indication they they need to do something different. We know their style, we know when/how they're effective and it's a safe bet this season will be more of the same. Will both be in the Art Ross discussion again? Probably. Do you really care? Probably not. It's natural they'll regress but we'll take one more post season win and let someone else pose for the pictures in Vegas.

OK OK, they should kill Bieber too.

 

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> Is Edler ready to be the man on the blueline?
It's been a couple seasons since Vancouver had an unquestioned #1 defenseman in the mold of a Jovanovski, Ohlund or a Mitchell. You could argue Bieksa or Hamhuis are right there too, but the guy management is betting has to be Edler. E-Train has had his own battles with injuries and there were plenty of times last year you could sense the confidence wasn't there. But if Edler can step up to replace Ehrhoff on the PP and take another step in his overall maturation, he could truly be his stamp on the organization. In previous seasons we've hoped Edler could bring it all together and put the league on notice he's an All-Star-caliber player. That time is now.

 

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> Screw projections and forecasts. Can they make it back to the Finals again and win?
Anyone who doubts this team is smoking the good stuff. Clearly some teams in the West look better on paper (Chicago, Los Angeles) and some bubble teams should make a push for the 6-8 spots (St. Louis, maybe Columbus). But Vancouver is still largely employing the same guys that ran away with the regular season last year and made a Cup appearance to boot. Their goaltending and defense shouldn't suffer, leaving only the existing injuries and some new faces up front to create some lingering doubt that goals may not come as easily. Toss in the fact they play in the weakest division in the league and the postseason certainly feels like a lock. Lastly mix in the residual anger of being so close only to fall apart at the worst moment and it paints a picture of a team looking for something to prove to themselves. A lot of hell can happen between now and June, but the Canucks have all the drive and motivation they need to build on their few mistakes from 2011.

 

Our Least Frustrating Guess At The Depth Chart (subject to change before the end of this sentence)

Burrows - H. Sedin - D. Sedin

Sturm - Hodgson - Higgins

Samuelsson - Malhotra - Hansen

Volpatti - Lapierre - Weise

 

Bieksa - Hamhuis

Edler - Ballard

Salo - Tanev

 

Luongo

Schneider

 

What To Expect From Nucks Misconduct
Who are you kidding? You only show up for the animated gifs, fights and CC meltdowns.

You've probably noticed we've tried to give you a few reasons to swing by every day. The Stanchion's morning post is where you can start your day off and Kent's afternoon coffee will pick up news later in the day. Both should be your places to chat with others, share links and LOLcats, laugh at Calgary, etc. Sean's previews are back for all of your "Chris Tanev will score the game winner" predictions. Cam's noon numbers provides a quick stat to munch on, Missy has graciously stepped up to take gamethreads and the game recaps will be a committee effort for a bit. Semi returns as our bouncer so do your best not to anger him. Plenty to read and chat about.

Don't forget our ticket partnership with TiqIQ so feel free to scope out ticket prices and maybe land a good deal to an upcoming game. We also have the NM Store which will have two new designs very soon (including a much-requested Bieksa shirt). A reminder: a portion of the proceeds from each shirt purchase go to the Canucks for Kids Fund.

Lastly, for the benefit of our new users and lurkers, those fanposts and fanshot sections on the right hand side of the page? Those are all yours. See a link or a video worth sharing? Toss it up and let us know about it. Or if you want to sound off on anything Canucks or hockey related, feel free to write up your own fanpost. you can learn more about these features by checking out the PPP guides to fanposts and fanshots. If your content is really good we'll frontpage the hell out of it. If it's REALLY good we send you free booze and balloons.

 

Your Obligatory Arrested Development Reference

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Who To Follow On Twitter
Most of us spend too much time on Twitter to begin with, but we'd be all sad panda if we didn't pass along some of the better hockey twits out there that we enjoy. So the following utterly unsorted list are NM's winners for 2012. Some names you'll notice, others maybe not but all are worth adding to your list to be sure you get the most of your 140 characters this hockey season.

If you're interested be sure to check out the NM social media directory for accounts for all of the must-read Vancouver sources in addition to many of our regulars.

@Kent_Wilson
@ReynoldsSBN
@nettrashcan
@gutsmctavish24
@bruce_arthur
@TSNBobMcKenzie
@DarrenDreger
@sportsnetmurph
@DownGoesBrown
@BizNasty2point0
@TSNDaveHodge
@SocialAssassin2
@taj1944
@BotchonCanucks
@mc79hockey
@alixiswright37
@HeadtotheNet
@ViewFromMySeats
@tedgruber
@angus_j
@DrivingPlay
@BroadSTHockey
@behindthenet
@ryanwhitney6
@DamoSpin Just kidding
@NCFcanuck
@PabloP74
@choderama
@mattthemascot
@Demitra_Van
@kesrows
@ArtemChubarov

 

NM 2011-2012 Predictions

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Kent Basky: It's the big question, right?  Last year many had the Canucks penciled in at the start of the year as the team to beat, then were shocked when it actually happened.  We all know what went down after that, no need to revisit it all.  Despite heading into the season with essentially the same squad, albeit with changes to address issues that came up during the playoffs and injuries, many now are dismissing the Canucks outright.  Good.  Write them off. 

It's going to make them hate us all even more.  Some of the Canucks faithful, myself included at times have gotten bent out of shape over other fan bases' view of us.  To all of you I say: Let it go.  Embrace it.  Who gives a rat's ass what they think?  Pick your battles, and leave the jealous, bitter whining of those around us to echo amongst themselves.  The Canucks are out for retribution.  Every game.  Every shift.  It's all focused towards finishing what they started nearly 365 days ago.  This season will see them reach that goal.

 

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Nucksandpucks: I am expecting that the Canucks will again finish at or near the top of the Western Conference. Another President’s Trophy is certainly a possibility, but I do not think it will happen this year – the last time a team won the trophy in back-to-back years in 1998-99, when the Dallas Stars pulled off the feat. I suspect that fans will be antsy and quick to criticize during the regular season, meaning that any mini-slumps or rough patches will be dissected and critiqued at excessive length. This is the price of sky-high expectations, and I am sure the team will have the maturity and professionalism to weather such storms. I expect another strong year from the Sedins, though the lack of top-end forward depth to start the season (with the absence of Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond) may dampen their point totals at the start of the season. I think Cody Hodgson will fit in nicely, picking up 30-40 points in his first full NHL season and finally getting a legitimate shot from AV. Luongo and Schneider will both have excellent years again, though I am sure fans will jump on Luongo every time he makes a mistake. I will save my playoff predictions for April. Until then, it will be 82 games of hockey that only kinda, sorta matters – after last season, expectations for this team are firmly hinged on their playoff success or failure.

 

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Semi Colon: What do you get when you cross a team coming off a long playoff run, a team with a notoriously slow October, and a team with key players either out with injuries or just coming back from injuries? If you were hoping for a clever joke there, there isn't one - the answer is Vancouver, and the result is probably not going to be fun. Although I kind of hope Vancouver ends up like Mr. Burns and all of these setbacks get stuck trying to get through the door while the Canucks rocket off to an unorthodox blazing start. But let's be honest here: That's not going to happen. Luckily for us the Northwest is still pretty terrible so a slow start should not matter too much. Hopefully. *Cross fingers*

But without Kesler for a month or more (and who knows how long he takes to get back into form), with no guarantees Malhotra, Hamhuis and Samuelsson are back to 100%, and with Knees MacGee Sturm rocking around somewhere between line 2 and the pressbox, I don't think the 2011-2012 Canucks will reach the same dizzying heights as the 2010-11 vintage.  

Season Predictions: Canucks finish 3rd in the conference behind San Jose and Chicago. Marco Sturm doesn't blow a knee. Barry Rozner makes tons of friends in Vancouver and brings them all food. Kesler comes back and has a chip on his shoulder so big that Mark Messier wouldn't even be able to eat it. Canucks make the playoffs and win some games.

 

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Cam Charron: The Vancouver Canucks have lost some scoring due to injury and inevitable regression, but this remains a formidable defensive opponent made up of a tremendous defensive unit and a top three puck-stopper in the league right now. More than that, the Canucks have, when healthy, three lines that are generally good at restricting puck movement and likely the best defensive forward in the game of hockey right now in Manny Malhotra.

I'd say that, given the weak division and the competition in other parts of the conference, that the Canucks will finish again with the number one seed in the West. The playoffs are a complete random draw, so I'm going to hold off on making bold predictions until April.

 

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The Stanchion: I am the eternal pessimist so it's hard for me to think the Canucks will have as much success this season as they did last year. Even last year when the Canucks were up 2-0 and 3-2, part of me knew how it was going to end. Oh to be 12 year old me who truly believed in this team fully again. Alas, it is not to be, so I predict the Canucks will feel the effects of the Stanley Cup Final hangover and end up 3rd in the West. The weak Northwest division should mean a relatively easy ride for the Canucks to that 3rd spot, but I see the Sharks and Hawks taking top spot (Sharks taking number one). With Kesler probably needing time to find his stride, and with Marco Sturm ruining our second line, I just don't see a repeat of last year.

For the playoffs, I assume the usual flame out in the 2nd round against the Blackhawks. Why? Because I am a pessimist. I think too many teams closed the gap on the Canucks, so the window is even smaller for the Canucks this year. Even last year it took a game 7 overtime in round 1 to get the run going, so my faith in the hockey gods being what it is, I think a lucky bounce kills us this year. A reverse stanchion if you will. I assume Toews will get the goal and the claim he planned the lucky bounce all along and then he will demand first night rights to any newly wed wives in Vancouver.

 

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Missy: I'll make this short and sweet, since I'm swamped with work and school right now.  The twins will still be on fire, and Alexandre Burrows will continue to piss everyone off.  Ryan Kesler will make a triumphant return in November, while Mason Raymond takes a little longer.  Roberto Luongo will struggle in October as always, but then set a new NHL record for longest shutout streak in November-December-January, finally earning him the Vezina.  Alexander Edler will find his form and win his first Norris.  The Canucks will slaughter the league again, winning a 2nd-straight President's Trophy.  We will face the Wild in the first round, and the Ducks in the 2nd.  In the conference finals, Manny Malhotra will once again outdangle Pavel Datsyuk and score the series winner.  In the Stanley Cup Finals against the Penguins, Cody Hodgson will get the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury and score Vancouver's first ever Stanley Cup winning goal.

 

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Yankee Canuck: We're so fucked. Wait, I thought it was a question about media coverage. Nevermind.

The Canucks will be just fine and you can thank the fact Colorado has no goalie, Minny has no defense, Calgary has no soul and Edmonton has no clue. The Sedins will continue their mysterious ways, Kesler will return with a vengeance, Luongo will shake off a bad October with a dominant winter and I have sneaking suspicion MG makes a splash with a trade or deadline deal. So the third seed is Vancouver's unless they piss it away. After that I make it a policy to make no guesses on the post season but I'll admit I would be shocked if Vancouver doesn't find themselves on NBC again. Wink wink.

 

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Zandberg: I don't have the preseason Canucks anxiety that I usually get at this time of year. Most of that has to do with the long playoff run and the pain afterward. It's a long wait to get back into the playoff dance for another chance. However I think that after watching a few regular season games the excitement will come back. How can it not? Mike Gillis and Co. have left the main core intact and upgraded the pieces around it, mostly.


I'm not anticipating too much of a slow start out of the gate. With Mason Raymond and especially Ryan Kesler out, it provides an energized Cody Hodgson a beautiful chance to prove himself in a top 6 role. There's enough internal competition for the second line winger position. To start, Hodgson will probably be flanked by Mikael Samuelsson and Chris Higgins, which is decent company. I like the Jannik Hansen-Manny Malhotra-Marco Sturm third line. I am liking the revamping of the 4th line, which looks to be made up of Andrew Ebbett-Maxim Lapierre-Dale Weise. It looks like Alain Vigneault is finally going to roll his 4 lines a little more, but you never know with him. At least all 4 lines can attack and several of the players can move up and down the roster. Versatility, baby. Love it.
The D is the D. I'm not worried about it one bit. Kevin Bieksa-Dan Hamhuis can be the top shut down pairing in the NHL. No Christian Ehrhoff? No problem. I am anticipating a huge season for Alexander Edler and further mind-blowing composure from Chris Tanev. Not worried one iota about the goaltending. The Luongo haters will hate. I am not one of them.

Have you ever seen a Canucks team this deep? Prediction: Best in the West again, probably with a few less wins than last season. A Stanley Cup victory is the expectation, and you know by now that Mike Gillis will do anything to get this team there.

 

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Last But Not Least...

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We miss you Reid. Come back soon.

 

Drop the puck. Let's do this thing.

Coconuts? GO!

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