Less then one week from the drop of the puck and we're all on pins and needles wondering, "Do the British give a shit?"
OK, we know they won't. A cute effort though. Seriously.
Back on this side of the planet, a few more pregames is all that separates us from the real deal. So let's get focused here and take our best guesses as to what type of experiment the Canucks will bestow on us fans this year. Will they score perhaps more then twice a game? Will Luongo rock again? Will Markus Naslund find his mojo? Does Trevor Linden have anything left in his tank? Is Brad Isbister still relevant? How many bras with Cowan demand? And most importantly of all...will Fin be wearing a different uniform this year too?
Kick back and crack one: this is your 2007-08 Vancouver Canucks.
- Ryan Shannon, winger: Yes, we have a Cup veteran!
- Jim Sharrow, winger: Traded from Atlanta straight up for failed third twin experiment Jesse Schultz.
- Brad Isbister, winger: More on Bradford forthcoming...
- Byron Ritchie, center: Crash and banger from Calgary. It would be nice if he makes them regret that decision.
- Curtis Sanford, goalie: The mother of all bench warmers. Perhaps future Sodoku master champion?
- Aaron Miller, defenseman: Already injured, so he's clearly read the Sami Salo manual of self preservation.
- Jason King, winger: Perhaps he can line up with Bertuzzi and May and talk happily about 2003?
- Jesse Schultz, winger: Enjoy Hotlanta baby.
- Jan Bulis, winger: Give Mika Noronen our best if you see him.
- Rory Fitzpatrick, defenseman: Rory, you will always rock no matter where you go. Viva Fitzy!
- Lee Goren, winger: You'll be missed sorely; I'll remember that one cool goal you had.
- Josh Green, winger: A good plugger, a victim of numbers. Sorry bud.
- Tommi Santala, winger: I never understood this one at all.
- Bryan Smolinski, center: I'll enjoy watching you miss wide open nets for the Habs now. Do you know what "nice shot douchebag" is in French by chance?
- Brent Sopel, defenseman: A word for Chicago management - keep crackers away from your prized #1 D man ok? They're a silent killer.
Last year was a massive experiment in chemistry. The preseason saw no one knew each other, no one knew how the hell they were going to score but we all slept well knowing Lidstrom wouldn't be scoring from the red line anymore.
Then the Canucks went and confused all of us by winning. By breaking franchise records. By taking the NW title. By squeaking by the Stars in round one. Raise your hand if you saw that happening.
So the question now is how are they going to top that? Or worse yet can they take a massive, Flyer-esque swan dive into the shitter?
As I noted in my season preview for the Pensblog, my two cents is it comes down to three specific things:
1. Luongo and his D do their thing: There's a reason that the Vancouver had the #1 PK in the league last year: Luongo, a runner up to the Hart and Vezina, had a hell of a defensive core in front of him. If you watched their PK at all, you saw the defense collapse low around Luongo, allowing him to see the shooting lanes and gobble up anything that came near his 6'3'' frame. He's tough enough to score on already, but having Mitchell, Ohlund, Salo, Bieksa, Krajicek and now Miller on your tail makes it that much harder.
2. Naslund has 10 shots of espresso a day: If you're built from the back outward, it's your forward ranks that'll obviously suffer. If the Sedins & Pyatt falter, they'll badly need some help from the second line if nothing else and that's where sir Markus enters. In the last year of his three-year, $18 million dollar contract, this team needs the "old" Naslund back. He had a mini-resurgence in the post season, but they need him to be an 82 game threat with his patented "wicked-wrist-shot-from-the-top-of-the-circle" thing that we've all grown to love. A lot of Nazzy's success will obviously come from his linemates, so Morrison will ideally need a rebound year too (note: take stock in coffee/espresso stands around GM Place).
3. A pulse from the bottom six: When Nonis struck out on the big name players, he quietly stocked the shelves with the likes of the aforementioned Isbister, Byron Ritchie and Ryan Shannon while also locking up younger prospects like Jaffray and Simek. They all will join a large group of kids like Bliznak, Balej, Grabner, Raymond, Hansan and fan-favorite Rypien who will all look to break out this year and make the big squad permanently. Somewhere in this mix some chemistry needs to pop up so Vigneault can effectively roll four lines; as the Ducks showed the league last season, you're almost unstoppable when you have four lines that play the puck hard and can score. Hell, Canuck fans would be OK with just that last part.
The reality is the NW got a lot tougher this offseason and Nonis took an interesting route in quietly building the rank and file as opposed to, you know, getting a bonafide goal scorer. As a result, conventional wisdom suggests the Avs and Oilers of the world will jump up at their expense. That could definitely happen, but I think this team has a lot more then what it appears on paper. A Jack Adams coach, a formidable defensive core (when healthy), some depth on the third and fourth lines and the best goalie in the league (under 30!). Teams are going to have to wonder how in the hell they'll score goals against this group. Sure, scoring will remain a huge question mark but nothing's to suggest this team won't find a way with this corps they have (surely losing Chouinard and Bulis won't hurt the process). If Vigneault can get these guys playing as a unit again and add a liberal mix of Anaheim-style grind, this team can do even better this year then last.
So brace yourself, there will probably be a lot more 2-1 games in our immediate future and, as such, it's silly to guess where this team will land in the end. But they're definitely strong enough to be one of the chosen eight teams in the west come springtime, so sit back and enjoy the madness of the NHL regular season.
In the meantime, let's get ready for Jeremy fucking Roenick and the Sharks.
Go Canucks go