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On being a contender

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As luck would have it, the long summer months for MSM hockey guys has produced two similar pieces on who will be a contender in the Northwest and why.

First up, Ed Willes fills us in on the trouble with Pavol:

Demitra, at best, is a complementary offensive player. He turns 34 in November. Over his last four NHL seasons he's recorded 58, 62, 64 and 54 points and he's six years removed from his most productive campaign with the Blues. This doesn't mean he isn't a useful player. But, as of this writing, the Canucks' offseason rebuilding plan is based on Demitra and Steve Bernier. And the notion that Mats Sundin would spurn offers from Montreal, Toronto and New York to play with this revamped powerhouse is absurd.

Alanah has a good piece up now on Pavol V Markus in case you wanted to check out the numbers, but short of some blind faith fans out there, I don't know who would say Demitra is the savior of this team. He and Bernier are big pieces (that in and of itself should be debated) and that's it. No one is looking at the Demitra signing as the key moment from Gillis that we have been waiting for. That's not a problem really, 'tis merely a fact. And since no one knows what Sundin has cooking in his head it's ill-advised to speculate what his true priorities are (though it's a safe bet we can remove money from the selection).

And I definitely disagree with Willes at the end of his short piece:

Sundin remains the key to any hopes the Canucks might entertain. With him in the lineup, and that remains a longshot, they are legitimate contenders. Without him, they'll struggle to make the playoffs.

This is more drive-by analysis. I have said before I think Sundin should play somewhere else; the money doesn't make sense to me nor does his management-envisioned super role. It seems too ripe for disappointment. That said, if he ends up here, that's great as he's a big piece that is certainly missing but to suggest the only thing keeping the Vancouver Canucks from suddenly becoming the LA Kings is Mats Sundin is absurd and it's exactly those sort of lofty expectations that I would assume would make him definitely not want to be here.

The real dirty secret is that the "trouble" with Pavol is the same "trouble" that the Sedins, Bernier, Pyatt, Wellwood, Johnson, Kesler, Burrows, Pettinger and Hordichuk will have and that Sundin would inherit if he selected Vancouver: Alain Vigneault. If there is one consistent facet of Vigneault's coaching history it's that he has never successfully coached a team that has produced strong offensive numbers. Back in 2006-07, this team wasn't considered a contender and they had less of a potent offense then, yet Vigneault figured out a defensive system that made the Canucks particularly hard to best and they won the NW title. A year later that same system - greatly helped by injuries on defense - failed and the Canucks ended up in the division cellar. Vigneault certainly deserves a chance to show (as promised) he can coach offensively and up-tempo, but the history isn't promising and the jury will be out until results are shown. As Alain goes, so does this team: if Vigneault can find that offensive groove, then Sundin or no Sundin, the Canucks will be competitive and a better offense plus Luongo will keep them in the hunt. If he can't and it becomes yet another year of the same old song and defensive dance, Sundin won't solve anything and you're looking, at best, at another potential first round exit. Sorry to say.

Willes wasn't the only one tossing around the idea of being a contender. Eric Francis put together a piece on how the Flames are shaping up into the same mold as their successful 2003-04 campaign. Here is Conroy's take on the team:

"We're not in the offensive mode like we were with Juice (Kristian Huselius) and Tangs (Alex Tanguay), but we're kind of like getting back to the team of '04 with grit," said the veteran Flames centre. We'll make it really uncomfortable to play against. Do you really want those guys like (Todd) Bertuzzi and Iggy coming at you and those young guys flying at you, too? I'm starting to see a lot more similarities."

Francis continues:
Ever since the Calgary Flames went to the Stanley Cup final four years ago, one of the most popular exercises in town has been drawing comparisons between that team and the current squad. As Conroy essentially points out, the common ingredients missing the last three campaigns revolve around grit, tenacity and intimidation.

I'm not a Calgary expert by a looong shot but I'll give it a go. Conroy's assertion that Iginla and Bertuzzi are going to be uncomfortable to play against I don't think will be shared by Souray, Mitchell, Johnsson, Pronger, Boyle/Blake, Lidstrom or any other top name on defense in the West. It certainly sounds formidable, but as we have all seen since his Florida days, Bert is not "that guy" anymore. Call it karma if you must but injuries have taken a toll on him. Bertuzzi is now no where near as offensively gifted as Iginla; his best asset for the Flames will be his occasional great pass and/or parking his frame in front of the goalie. So why would Iginla and Bertuzzi be any better then Iginla/Tanguay or, for that matter, Bertuzzi/Perry or Bertuzzi/Holmstrom? Keeping expectations in check on Bertuzzi would be smart (something Vancouver fans should do in the event of a Sundin landing) because it's not 2004 anymore and it could be argued on the numbers alone he is better suited for third line duties now. Calgary should be worried about who's going to skate with Iginla and who's going to provide secondary scoring if Cammalleri and Bertuzzi don't produce as expected. That's all the more crucial since the numbers for Kipper are not getting any better year to year.

Despite all this, with the Wild and Avs treading water and who knows what to make of Vancouver, you (re: me) theoretically could make a case that the NW is open for a retooled Edmonton and Calgary to be in a fight at the top. The Flames were already unpleasant to play against before Bert showed up there; he could certainly could add to that, but his history suggests he's more apt to add very little if not detract outright from it. And looking at the rest of Calgary's summer moves, there's little reason to think they are back to being legitimate contenders just yet.

Just my two cents. But as a Canuck blog, believe me, I know false hope when I see it.