Vancouver Canucks season preview

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Photo Courtesy of WayneRacine (Flickr)

Last season was one of mixed opinions for Canucks fans such as myself. New General Manager Jim Benning and President Trevor Linden revamped the team, trading Ryan Kesler for Nick Bonino, a first round pick that ended up being Jared McCann, and much-maligned defenceman Luca Sbisa. They also traded away Jason Garrison at the draft for a second round pick, which they flipped for Linden Vey. Forsling for Clendenning was an interesting trade, and acquiring Sven Baertschi from Calgary may turn out to be a great move.

It’s hard to see where the team has improved over the offseason.

The Canucks finished second in the division last year with 101 points. It looked like Benning and Linden were geniuses, and built up a lot of good will with fans after most pundits picked them to miss the playoffs. Unfortunately this was short-lived, as the team lost in the first round to a vastly inferior Calgary Flames side, including blowing a 3–0 lead in game six to be eliminated.

With a new season, though, comes new expectations and fresh optimism. Let’s take a look at each facet of the Canucks team and see whether they have improved or gotten worse.

Forwards

The forwards and the entire team once again will be led by the Sedin twins. They had another strong season last year, with Daniel finishing with 76 points and Henrik with 73. The reason for the points-increase for the twins was the addition of Radim Vrbata to their line. His 31 goals boosted a Canucks offense that looked anemic at most points during the Tortorella regime. The team will have to make a decision at the trade deadline though, as Vrbata is on the last year of his contract. Do they trade him away and perhaps get a pick and prospect from a contending team? Or keep hold of him for the potential playoff push and lose him for nothing in free agency?

The trade for Brandon Sutter is extremely hard to justify any way you look at it. He’s never scored more than 50 points in the NHL, despite playing on an offensively gifted Pittsburgh Penguins team for the past three seasons. A better choice for second line centre would have been Bo Horvat. He has a lot more upside than Sutter, plus played very well down the stretch run and in the playoffs. Trading away Zack Kassian and giving up a fifth round pick for Brandon Prust is highly conflicting, considering Benning’s messages about making the team younger.

Miller at his age is now an average starting goaltender in the NHL.

Forwards such as Chris Higgins will still have a place, but will have to battle youngsters such as Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann, and Sven Baertschi for playing time now. As well, the loss of Shawn Matthias and Brad Richardson in free agency may severely hurt the scoring depth if none of the aforementioned players can step up and contribute.

Defence

The most noticeable loss from a fan’s perspective was Kevin Bieksa getting traded to the Anaheim Ducks. From the team’s perspective, it’s not that big of a loss. Kevin Bieksa and Luca Sbisa were a terrible defensive pairing last season. Replacing Bieksa with free agent Matt Bartkowski and getting a second round draft pick from the trade was good business, but having Luca Sbisa for three more years still scares me. The untimely turnovers and terrible defensive coverages were the only “highlights” of his first season in Vancouver, and the Canucks stand to give up a significant amount of goals when he’s on the ice.

On a positive note, Alex Edler and Chris Tanev are looking like a solid pairing that can go up against the opposing team’s top line. Tanev in particular, while not great at putting up points, is a great shutdown defenceman and has great underlying advanced stats, such as his 55.4   Fenwick for percentage, a statistic that measures the percentage of scoring chances a player is on for. Frank Corrado will hopefully be given more of a shot, and with Yannick Weber and potentially Jordan Subban at some point, the defence looks like it will be able to produce at the same level as last year at the very least.

Goaltending

By far the biggest question mark heading into the season will be in net. The trade of Eddie Lack angered many in the fanbase, including myself. Not only was he proving himself to be an excellent goalie, his personality was perfect for this market. Lack’s fate was sealed though, when, after a poor game four, coach Willie Desjardins decided to start a not full fit Ryan Miller for the next two games.

Miller at his age is now an average starting goaltender in the NHL, making six million dollars a year. Without Lack, there is no safety net if he falters or gets injured like last year. While the Canucks believe in Jacob Markstrom, I frankly don’t. True, he has been an outstanding goalie in the AHL, but in the NHL his numbers are not so great, and his three goals on four shots performance against San Jose last season is still fresh in my mind.

. . .

“Change is coming” has been this regime’s mantra, and indeed there have been big changes to the team, but they haven’t been positive. From the resigning to Luca Sbisa, to the trades of Eddie Lack and for Brandon Sutter, it’s hard to see where the team has improved over the offseason. With LA, Edmonton, Calgary, and Dallas all getting better, the Canucks will be in tough to have a good of a season as last year. I’ll be surprised if they make the playoffs this coming season.