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How the Mighty Have Fallen: Reflecting on the Canucks' Decline and Finding Reason for Optimism for the Future

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Three years ago the Canucks lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Two years ago they won their second consecutive President's Trophy. After a disastrous past season, it is clear this team's fortunes have declined rapidly. What can we expect going forward and what are the reasons for optimism next season and beyond?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It's easy to forget, but just two seasons ago the Canucks won their second consecutive President's Trophy and seemed well place for another deep playoff run, one that would hopefully redeem 2011's loss to the Bruins. Instead, the Canucks (sans Daniel Sedin for the first three games) ran into a red-hot Kings team in the opening round, getting pushed aside in five games as the Kings steamrolled to their first Stanley Cup. Since then, the Canucks have essentially been in a permanent state of existential crisis that they may finally be moving past of with this summer's launch of the Benning-Linden-Desjardins era. The hiring and (thankfully) firing of John Tortorella is perhaps the greatest exemplar of this mad scramble for a new Canucks identity.

So, since that wonderful 2010-11 season, how has the Canucks roster changed? And should we have reason for optimism for the 2014-15 season and beyond? We've recently seen some good posts here on Nucks Misconduct on this very topic (see Zandberg's cautiously optimistic take from a week ago and vancitydan's great post from yesterday) as well as elsewhere in the Canucks blogosphere (Daniel Wagner's look at the Canucks centre depth was a good read). I'll admit that I've been pretty pessimistic about the Canucks' fortunes in the coming years, but I'm starting to come around to their moves. Personally, I was hoping for an aggressive push to get the top draft pick and a crack at Sam Reinhart as well as recouping some prospects in trades for Alex Edler and Ryan Kesler (I was assuming we could land a slightly better return for KesLord). But with the additions of Nick Bonino, Ryan Miller, and Linden Vey, as well as the continued padding of our prospect pool with solid players there are certainly reasons for Canucks fans to embrace cautious optimism and hope for a brighter future. In the meantime, perhaps, as Dmitri Filipovic proposed on Canucks Army this week, we can learn to be okay with mediocrity for a few seasons.

Whatever the current state of affairs for this team, there can be no question it has fallen mightily since its Cup Final loss three years ago. Unfortunately, the Canucks are a far weaker team now than they were then, or even two years ago-though I, as I said, I believe that the moves of the past two off-seasons give us more hope about the future than we have had in some time. In the 2011 playoffs, the Canucks depth chart looked something like this (I don't remember exact lines or D pairings):

Forwards:

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alex Burrows

Chris Higgins - Ryan Kesler - Mason Raymond

Raffi Torres - Cody Hodgson - Jannik Hansen

Tanner Glass - Maxim Lapierre - Victor Oreskovich

Also in the mix: Manny Malhotra, Mikael Samuelsson, Jeff Tambellini, Alexandre Bolduc

Defense

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa

Alexander Edler - Christian Ehrhoff

Sami Salo - Aaron Rome

Also in the mix: Chris Tanev, Keith Ballard, Andrew Alberts

Goalies

Roberto Luongo

Cory Schneider

If you look at the Canucks depth chart today, it is far less inspiring - particularly when you consider the aging and declining production of players like the Sedins, Bieksa, and Edler. Here is a rough list of key departures and arrivals (not including draft picks) since the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011:

Departed since 2011

Forwards: Glass, Hodgson, Kesler, Lapierre, Malhotra, Oreskovich, Raymond, Samuelsson, Torres

Defense: Alberts, Ballard, Ehrhoff, Rome, Salo

Goalies: Luongo, Schneider

Acquired and on depth chart for 2014-15

Forwards: Nick Bonino, Derek Dorsett, Zack Kassian, Shawn Matthias, Brad Richardson, Tom Sestito, Linden Vey, Radim Vrbata

Defense: Luca Sbisa, Ryan Stanton, Yannick Weber

Goalies: Jacob Markstrom, Ryan Miller

Looking at these arrivals and departures, it's not hard to see that the Canucks have taken some major steps back in terms of roster personnel. That 2010-11 was incredibly balanced, had two great scoring lines and a killer powerplay, and excellent goaltending. The Canucks of 2014-15 will likely be improved from the past season's nightmare, but it will take some key players stepping up (Bonino, Kassian, and Vey in particular) and a strong season from Ryan Miller for the Canucks to take a big competitive step forward.

Of course, a wildcard in this discussion is the development and progression of our top prospects. Youngsters like Hunter Shinkaruk, Bo Horvat, and Nicklas Jensen may well step in and seize a roster spot, and if they can become solid contributors to the lineup it will strengthen the Canucks that much more (plus others, such as Jake Virtanen, Brendan Gaunce, Jared McCann, and Cole Cassels, who probably all need more time to develop, may end up becoming useful players in a few years' time). Mike Gillis' made some shrewd trades, but his drafting record was poor. However, depending on how Horvat and Shinkaruk pan out, he may gifted the Canucks some key players in his final draft.

Given how much the Canucks have nosedived since their glorious 2010-11 season, we can only hoped that they have bottomed out and are ready to start climbing and building again. Given the hope of young players in the prospect pipeline, solidified management and coaching thanks to the new Linden-Benning-Desjardins trifecta,  and the belief that, surely, the Canucks cannot be worse than they were last season, perhaps it is time for me to fully embrace cautious optimism for the Canucks this season and beyond.