2014/15 Season Preview – Vancouver Canucks
2013/14 Season Record – 12th in Western Conference, 5th in Pacific Division
2013/14 Season Recap
The Canucks might like to have last year’s campaign marked with an asterisk, so that future historians can remember it as the year of the utter failure of the John Tortorella experiment and Mike Gillis ensuring his own firing. I infrequently get things right (hello, picking the Sens to win the East!) but in a season preview this time last summer, I suggested that this could be the year the Canucks missed the playoffs, and so it came to pass.
Mike Gillis should have been sacked with, or instead of, Alain Vigneault. That, and the terrible attempt by Tortorella to impose a more defensive & combative system on a team ill-equipped to play that way, saw the Canucks, only a few years removed from a Cup Final, stumbling from one disaster to another on the ice; while the Front Office saw their goaltending debacle go through one final convolution as Roberto Luongo, finally, headed for Florida and one of the faces of the franchise (three players: two faces!), Ryan Kesler, sought the exit.
They missed the playoffs by a mile and ended up third-from-bottom in the West, above only Edmonton & Calgary. Make no mistake, this was a year to forget for Vancouver. Their fanbase, traditionally, doesn’t elicit much sympathy from the wider Hockey world, but it’s very hard not to feel for them as their team enters a very uncertain future.
|Henrik Sedin||Radim Vrbata|
|Chris Higgins||Nick Bonino||
|Shaun Matthias||Jannik Hansen|
|Tom Sestito||Brad Richardson||
Top Call-Up Options
- Ryan Miller
- Nick Bonino
- Luc Sbisa
- Linden Vey
- Radim Vrbata
- Ryan Kesler
- David Booth
- Jason Garrison
The Sedin twins remain, as ever, the linchpin of the team. It’s not much of a stretch to believe that Tortorella’s insistence on things like shot-blocking and more physicality contributed heavily to both of them suffering atypical injuries and having a precipitous falloff in production. Henrik saw his 679 game “Iron Man” streak end (after he was allowed to play on for weeks with an injured hand that was preventing him from taking faceoffs) and scored just 50 points, his lowest (non-shortened season) total since 2004. His brother Daniel also missed 9 games and, with 47 , amassed his lowest-ever NHL points total (for comparison, he scored 40 in 47 games in the post-lockout season). Some of this may be due to the passing of time (they’ll be 34 when the Season starts) but I’d expect a significant uptick from both this year.
Alex Burrows only played 49 games in an injury-plagued season, but also saw his own production collapse, waiting until March of 2014 (and 35 games) to register his first goal. He only amassed 15 points last year. He may be a pain in the backside, but he’s also a useful hockey player, and chances are he won’t be this poor again.
Radim Vrbata has been brought in at far too much money (2 years at $5 million per) but may find a new lease of life on the Sedin’s wing (which, word is, where he’ll start, which will probably bring little joy to Burrows). Nick Bonino, who came back in the Kesler trade, is a fine player and will center the second line.
The problem with the Canucks’ Forward corps starts after that, with a huge dropoff after the top-6.. Zack Kassian, Tom Sestito, Derek Dorsett.. hardly players suited to the high-tempo game that Vancouver used to excel at.
In Defense, the Canucks remain a team without a true, top-level 1st pairing blueliner, much like the Red Wings. Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and the comically overpaid Alex Edler will do the heavy lifting. All of these guys would be an excellent 2nd Pairing defenseman on a contending team. None of them are in the “Elite” conversation.
Luca Sbisa, another return from the Kesler trade, has yet to live up to his potential. Basically, if Luca Sbisa is on your 2nd pairing, then your team is in trouble. In good news, talented prospect Frank Corrado should make the step into the Big Team this year, but his ceiling is already apparent as, at best, a 2nd Pair guy. Vancouver were 14th in the league at 2.63 GA/G last year, and I’d expect them to end up around the same mark this time out.
Goaltending… ahhh! It wouldn’t be Vancouver if there wasn’t a Goalie controversy. Having lost both the excellent goalies from the 2011 Final (Luongo & Schneider) the ‘Nucks went and signed one of the bigger post-deadline failures in Ryan Miller. Miller, I believe, is still a fine goalie and may yet prove his critics wrong.. but for an outspoken temperamental player like that to enter the nightmare that is backstopping the Canucks in front of their media.. this could get scary and fast. Eddie Lack is a fine young player and should be able to share some of the burden, but if a hockey environment can break someone as basically-good-humoured as Luongo, then one fears for these guys.
In Vancouver, this conversation starts and ends with the Sedins. They are the face of the franchise, now. I expect them both to recover from poor (by their standards) seasons last year. If Vrbata (and it’s a big “If”) can rekindle their unique double-act, then the Nucks can get closer to their fearsome firepower of old. With an, at best, middling Defense, they need their top-guns to fire to have any chance of being competetive in the Pacific and, beyond that, the West.
I would, in all honesty, like to pick a return to competitivness for the Canucks this year, but I can’t. The Pacific, and the trio of Californian teams that dominate it, is a scary place to be after years of beating up on the old Northwestern Division. One assumes that the Kings, Sharks and Ducks will take the automatic qualifying spots and that will leave the Canucks and Yotes (assuming that neither the Oilers or Flames improve suddenly) battling for Wild Card slots against the Central, where (at least) five teams have a solid expectation of making the Postseason.
I fear that this will be another grim year for Vancouver and there will be more questions asked than answered: two ageing superstars without anyone else on the roster even close to their ability.. a prospect pool ranked at 27th by Hockey’s Future… the few actual top prospects still being years away from the NHL..
That said, they have installed the massively popular Trevor Linden as President and, in new GM Jim Benning and Coach Willie Desjardins, a pair of guys who seem certainly more inclined to play a style that better suits them. A bounceback is maybe improbable, but certainly not impossible. Mutual destruction in the Central may help them out, too.
Game 7 of the 2011 SCF seems like a long, long way away now, though, hey?
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