Camp has started and the exhibition season has begun, and now the Canucks can begin in earnest to put the ghosts of the Tortorella era behind them. The question becomes, how will the team return to past glory, and consequently, to a Stanley Cup contender? Obviously the remaining players have to board and salvage the ship set adrift under a misguided regime. But without significant contributions from the newest acquisitions, Vancouver will be lost among the forest of teams that the road to the playoffs runs through.
First, The Veterans
Almost to a man, every member of the Canucks had an awful year last season. The final stats look like a testament to inefficiency. Daniel and Henrik Sedin had their lowest point totals in 10 years. Burrows had a disastrous season plagued by injuries and scored as many goals as Tom Sestito. The departed Ryan Kesler had 25 goals but was a -15 on a team that was playing a defensive scheme. And Alex Edler looked like he was playing 82 games in handcuffs, and finished with a league worst -39, an accomplishment that would be hard to achieve even if you were trying to do it on purpose.
Critics will say that it is a reflection of the declining talents of a team whose opportunity to compete has come and gone, and that Vancouver is doomed to finish near the bottom of the league for the foreseeable future.
I disagree, I think those gruesome stats speak volumes of the mismatch between the player’s strengths and the coaching philosophy. The team didn’t just wake up last September to find the cosmos had aligned in such a way as to force them to be awful all at once.
Clearly the veterans have to rebound, and I believe they will. I suspect most will benefit from the major overhaul the team has undergone and will leave the unpleasant memories of last year behind them.
The New Editions
The Canucks didn’t pursue change half-heartedly, and once the new leaders were in place the commitment to starting anew began in full force. There are 6 new players on the roster from last year, with the additional possibility of a rookie making the team once training camp is over. That’s a third of the roster. Even for a team undergoing a complete rebuild, that would be a lot. 1-2 new faces on a team would be roughly what most fans could expect as a new season begins.
But these additions are where the Canucks will find the new lifeblood to vault the team back into respectability. If you believe, as I do, that the returning players will resemble the gang we are used to seeing, then the Canucks will be half way there. Vancouver’s fate this season will then rely on the contributions of these 6 players to get them the rest of the way and bring an air of confidence to the Rogers Arena faithful.
And it’s not just misguided hope, these players were brought in because they do in fact have talent and have all the potential to impact the team, it wasn’t just for the sake of having new faces for the media to talk to. Although there wasn’t an obvious superstar added in the mold of a Stamkos or a Giroux, they were brought in because they have skills and they fit the design of the team Desjardins and Benning want to build.
Radim comes to the team as the most obviously skilled player, as evidenced by his 35 goal season in 2012 and 20 goals last year. People seem to feel that 30 goals is a reasonable output, which is generating excitement among fans due to the fact that he’s slotted in to play with the Sedins.
I’ve mentioned faith in a Sedin rebirth, but the boost Vrbata can provide on the top line as well as on the powerplay will be vital to a Canuck playoff return. The fact he is decent defensively is a bonus, as the team needs him to provide the tremendous hands, vision and finesse he’s known for.
Joining the Canucks through the Kesler trade, Bonino will likely be the 2nd line center, probably between Kassian and Burrows. He had 22 goals and 27 assists for Anaheim last year, but will be seeing a lot more action this season, and that has the organization smiling. He’s big and can play at both ends of the ice, and Canucks staff feel there is a lot more to come from him.
His biggest challenge will be fighting off comparisons to Kesler all season, which is unfair. There is no comparison, Bonino wants to be here.
He has the reputation of being a smart player, who can grind it out and score clutch goals. He may not have the speed of Kesler, but he doesn’t move as though dragging a plow either. Overall, between skill and attitude, he should fit in nicely on the Canucks.
Vey showed a lot of promise playing with Toffoli and Pearson in L.A., and the Kings did not want to get rid of him. In addition, he played under Desjardins in Medicine Hat and won the WHL scoring title only a few years ago. Here is someone with nothing but upside who can provide scoring from the 3rd line center position he is expected to occupy, and will be critical in the Canucks plan to emerge as a true 4 line team.
His character will also be a factor as the team changes it’s culture. Vey is a quality person who is committed as much to family off the ice as he is to hockey on the ice. He has been a shining example of support and encouragement to his brother and nephew during their struggles, as seen here in a story appearing in the Province.
There seems to be a lot of intangibles that he brings with him to the rink, and the Canucks will be happy to have it develop within their organization.
“The past years I really didn’t come to camp in the best shape and as soon as I got traded here, Willie said, ‘This is your opportunity and make sure you’re in best possible situation to succeed and that starts with your fitness.’ I spent a lot of time work on that.”
Sbisa is an exciting addition when you look at the big picture. The reason being, defencemen tend to take a while to fully develop and this one was a first round pick at 19th overall in 2008. He is a talented all around d-man who’s mobile and has offensive ability, and is also nasty to play against.
He’s progressed steadily throughout his career and would likely still be in Anaheim if not for some bad luck. After coming back from an injury, the Anaheim defence was playing so well they didn’t have room for him in the lineup. He will most certainly be a top 4 defenceman and is perfectly capable of providing stability and offence not just in 5 on 5 situations, but on the powerplay as well.
Regarded as a Brad Marchand with more character, Dorsett will be a great addition of grit on the 4th line. He played a key role in the Rangers run to the Cup final last year, and was available because New York had cap issues.
A 4th line has always been a problem for the Canucks, so this kind of player gives Vancouver something it has sorely lacked for many seasons. He also has a great relationship with Desjardins, having played for him in junior in Medicine Hat.
He will likely skate with a variation of Sestito/Richardson/Matthias as linemates, but whomever it turns out to be, Dorsett’s play will have a big impact on the Canucks plan of being a true 4 line team.
This was the most surprising, but also exciting. I was stunned the Canucks both pursued and were able to land Miller. I will expand on the upside of adding him to the team in an upcoming article, but Canuck fans should be thrilled. He is a top 10 goalie and will give the Canucks a terrific tandem in the net. Miller has the ability to be a difference maker and his prowess in the crease will be a huge piece of the Canuck puzzle.
We’ve seen a lot of turnover in Vancouver this year, and analysts around the league have applauded the moves the Canucks have made to turn things around in the off-season. They were not content to hide within the sanctuary that often envelops a team when they go through drastic alterations.
But with that much change, they will need production from all their new players immediately to complete the long journey back from last year’s dismal finish. They are capable and the blueprint is sound, so now we wait to see latest model of the Canuck machine hit the ice.
Darrin Hayes is a regular contributor for the Vancouver Canucks on TheHockeyWriters.com. Follow Darrin on Twitter @HayesTHW or on Facebook via TheHockeyWriters fan page.