The last two seasons have ended in great frustration for the Canucks and their fans. Two straight first-round playoff losses is not considered acceptable for a team with as much talent (and as high a payroll) as Vancouver. The early exits cost Alain Vigneault his job, but a coaching change was probably not the only move needed to return the Canucks to the late rounds of the playoffs. So did Vancouver General Manager Mike Gillis (who managed to hold on to his job while his coach was losing his) do what was needed to return the Canucks to the upper echelon of the league? Unfortunately for Canucks fans, if anything, the team seems to have moved backward.
The Schneider Shocker
Much has been written about the decision to trade Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils on draft day for a first round pick that turned into touted prospect Bo Horvat. Only time will tell how good or bad this trade is for the organization, but it is hard to spin the deal as helpful for Vancouver in the coming season. They lost the man they anointed as the starter in net for a player that is unlikely to have a large impact right away. Yes, Roberto Luongo is still a very good goaltender, but he lost the job to Schneider for a reason, and it wasn’t because Schneider was making more money.
To say nothing of the Luongo soap opera that played out over the summer, with the goalie going into hiding for a while before declaring he would be in camp on time and ready to play. But the uncertainty and emotional highs and lows experienced by Luongo cannot be good for someone known to have a less-than-steady psyche in the past.
On top of losing Schneider (who is killing it in preseason), the move leaves Vancouver without an experienced backup goalie, with untested Eddie Lack likely to fill the role, at least until some one with more experience (who commands a low salary) is signed.
The number of goals scored by Vancouver has steadily declined since 2009-10, from 272 to 262 to 249 to a pro rated 217 in the lockout shortened 2013 season. There is little reason to expect a significant reversal of that trend.
The Sedins will continue to be a strong presence in the offensive end, but their production has been slipping along with Canucks team as a whole. It is premature to write the twins off as a productive force in the league, but they don’t seem to dominate games the way they did in the Presidents’ Trophy years. The Canucks need to increase the production from other spots in the lineup, but who is likely to fill this need?
If Alexandre Burrows joins Ryan Kesler on the second line, can he be expected to put up the same kind of numbers he did with the Sedins? History tells us he won’t. Will Zack Kassian emerge as a force on the first line? We saw a glimpse of success at the beginning of last season, but it is a lot to ask for him to suddenly become a strong first line contributor. More likely he will try to clear space for the Sedins and knock in some goals from in front of the net. Kesler has been injured frequently due to his all out style and defensive responsibilities, and more offense would possibly come at the expense of his checking prowess. And David Booth? After rehabilitating his high ankle sprain in the offseason, he missed the latest preseason game with a groin strain.
— Kelcey Brade TSN (@KelceyBradeTSN) September 21, 2013
Christopher Higgens and Jannik Hansen are good third line contributors, but a center is needed to fill out this group. Jordan Schroeder and Brad Richardson are possibilities for this role. It would be surprising to see offensive improvement from these players at this stage in their careers.
There are plenty of young players looking to make an impact, but none that seem ready to make a major contribution this year. It is nice to see the Canucks developing some young prospects, but it is unrealistic to count on them for help in 2013-14.
The Canucks defense looks solid if not spectacular for the upcoming season. The core group of Jason Garrison, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa and Alex Edler represents a quality Top 4. Youngsters like Chris Tanev and Frank Corrado are on the rise. Yannick Weber and Andrew Alberts fill out the depth portion of the group.
This is a solid group, but consistency is the key. Edler has looked awful at times, and Bieksa is hit or miss. Hamhuis is more consistent and the Canucks hope Garrison will emerge as a bigger force in his second season in Vancouver.
Is the Window Closed?
The Canucks are certainly not destined for the cellar, but the new Pacific Division will be more of a challenge than the late, not-so-great Northwest Division. The salary cap can be blamed for preventing any new Top 6 forwards from being added to the mix, but the fact remains that the Canucks did not do anything in the off season to improve. Replacing Vigneault with John Tortorella might add a little spark to the franchise, but Torts can’t put the puck in the net, or keep it out.
There are still some reasons to be optimistic, it is hard to imagine a leap forward for the Canucks in 2013-14. if Luongo, Kesler and the Sedins return to previous form, the team could again contend for the Cup. But absent major rejuvenation of these key players, another first round exit looms as a realistic possibility.