Rant Sports NHL 30 in 30: Vancouver Canucks

Anne-Marie Sorvin – US PRESSWIRE

2011-2012 Season Recap

When it compares to losing the Stanley Cup Finals in Game 7 on home ice, last season’s first round exit was not quite as heartbreaking for Vancouver Canucks fans, but that’s not to say it sat well with them either.

After their regular season dominance continued with their second straight Presidents’ Trophy, the Canucks drew the Los Angeles Kings on their meteoric rise and found themselves on the outside looking in after just five games.

The Canucks’ season started off rather pedestrian-like, posting a 5-5-1 record in October, leading to the “Stanley Cup hangover” columns en masse. Likely in response to the slow start, the Canucks traded veteran forwards Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm to the Florida Panthers in exchange for David Booth. The

But the team turned it around in November, riding netminder Cory Schneider to five straight victories at the end of the month.

In December, embattled goaltender Roberto Luongo ripped off five straight victories of his own, quieting (for a time) the goalie controversy that had been brewing in Vancouver.

In January, the Canucks traveled to Boston to take on the Bruins in a rematch of the previous season’s Stanley Cup finals. The Bruins came in winning nine of their last ten games and resorted to the physical play that won them the Cup the season before. But the Canucks fought through it and won the game 4-3 on a Cody Hodgson snipe from the top of the circle.

That win seemed to set a new tone for the Canucks’ season, with them going 16-3-6 over the months of January and February. But at the end of February, Canucks general manager Mike Gillis decided to gear up for another long playoff run by adding some defensive-minded and gritty players. At the trade deadline, Gillis traded Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Zack Kassian. Gillis also traded for Sami Pahlsson, one of the better defensive forwards in the NHL the past few years.

The reaction to trading Hodgson was mixed. Some praised the move, saying Kassian’s physical presence is what the team needed and that Hodgson was more trouble than he was worth given his disputes with coach Alain Vigneault. Others said that Hodgson was the future of the franchise, even with Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler in front of him on the depth chart.

Whatever the reaction, the Canucks pushed ahead with their new identity. Despite down years from Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler, the Canucks were poised to win their second straight Presidents’ Trophy due to the strong play of both Luongo and Schneider, who backstopped the Canucks to allowing only 198 goals, good for fourth best in the league.

The unfortunate part of this all? The Canucks’ regular season success bought them a matchup with the Kings who had been playoff hockey for the better part of two months. After losing the first two games, Vigneault pulled Luongo, and had Schneider start Game 3, reigniting the goalie controversy. Despite Schneider’s strong play, the Canucks lost Game 3. Winning Game 4 couldn’t spark a comeback for the Canucks, who dropped Game 5 and the series.

Immediately the “when is Luongo getting traded” debates began raging across the NHL. Despite some rumors swirling of him returning to the Panthers, or heading to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Luongo is still a Canuck for the time being.

Offseason Additions

The Canucks have had a relatively quiet offseason after their early exit in the playoffs. They have mainly locked up their current players, including Schneider (three years, $12 million) and Alex Burrows (four years, $18 million).

The one major free agent signing the Canucks made this offseason was former Florida defenseman Jason Garrison who signed a six year, $27.6 million contract on July 1. Garrison had a career year with the Panthers last season, scoring an impressive 16 goals, nine of which came on the powerplay.

Garrison will add another weapon to the Canucks’ already potent powerplay, but his contract is eerily similar to the one the Sabres signed Ville Leino to last offseason. Garrison came out of nowhere last season and may not be able to replicate his success.

Offseason Subtractions

The addition of Garrison became important when two Canucks defenseman signed elsewhere on July 1. Sami Salo, a mainstay on the Vancouver blue line for years signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Aaron Rome, known mostly for his vicious hit on Nathan Horton during the Stanley Cup and his subsequent suspension, changed his address to Texas, signing with the Dallas Stars.

Also, Pahlsson did not re-up with the Canucks and signed with MODO of the Swedish Elite League.

2012-2013 X-Factor

The Sedins have a decided impact on the team of course, but the Canucks are not the same when Ryan Kesler struggles.

Before last season, Kesler had made a case as one of the best all-around players in the game. After winning the Selke Trophy in 2010-2011 while adding 41 goals and dominating in the faceoff circle, it seemed like there was nothing Kesler couldn’t do on the ice.

But after going under the knife after the Stanley Cup disappointment for a hip ailment, Kesler never looked like the Kesler of the previous two seasons. After missing the first few games, Kesler only scored 22 goals and 49 points in 77 games. That’s simply not what the fans expect out of their “second line” center.

If Kesler struggles again, the Canucks will be hard pressed to compete for the Western Conference crown and the Presidents’ Trophy for a third consecutive year because their dynamic attack becomes more stagnant, with only the Sedins with any real offensive push.

Kesler needs to find his game from two seasons ago, and if he does, the Canucks will certainly be in the thick of things again in the Western Conference.

2012-2013 Breakout Player

The Canucks, unlike many teams in the league, will likely not have any rookies on their opening night roster. That will give the veterans more time to make a name for themselves, and that includes Jannik Hansen. The Dane is one of the speediest skaters in the NHL and has shown a knack for getting to the net, especially when paired with a productive Kesler.

With the Sedins attracting the defensive attention from opposing teams, Hansen needs to take his offensive game to the next level to help soften that blow. Hansen had a solid season last year, putting up 39 points in 82 games, but the Canucks would like more out of him.

Look for Hansen to get more time on the second line this season with Booth and Kesler, especially if Mason Raymond continues to struggle as he did last season.

2012-2013 Season Outlook

There is still one major question that remains as we await the start of the Canucks’ season: Where will Luongo be?

Whether he is with Vancouver or not, he will make an impact on the Canucks’ season. The package coming back for him could be a boon to the strained farm system of the Canucks, or could net an impact player immediately. If Cory Schneider plays as well as he has the past couple years in relief of Luongo, the Canucks could be in a great position.

Also, look for the Sedins to have a bounce back year as well, as both Henrik and Daniel had less productive years than one would expect from them. This likely hinges on the play of Kesler however, who, when playing well, takes some attention off of the top line and opens some ice for the twins.

Alex Edler is another key cog in the success of the Canucks. Taking the place of Christian Ehrhoff last season, Edler impressed, scoring 49 points from the blue line. If his success continues, the Canucks’ powerplay will continue to be one of the best in the league.

If Kesler bounces back and Schneider handles his (likely) new role well, the Canucks will certainly fight for a top-three spot in the Western Conference and could contend for the Presidents’ Trophy as well. With most of the team intact, the Canucks have to be on the short list of many peoples’ Stanley Cup favorites.

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