11/12 NW Preview: Vancouver Canucks



10/11 finish: 117 points, First overall

Playoffs: Game 7 heartbreak

Key Players: Sedins X2, Kesler, Malhotra, Hamhuis, Luongo

Additions: Sturm, Weise, Bitz, Ebbett,

Subtractions: Ehrhoff, Glass, Torres

Cap Position: About $1.3 Left

Projected finish: top three in the conference

Last season was a play of three acts for the Canucks. The first act, the regular season, was mostly comedy in which the Canucks ran roughshod over their opponents and their fanbse further cemented themselves the least favored in the league. The second, the playoffs, was more tragedy where despite being heavy favorites the club once again failed to grab the ultimate prize, falling in seven games to the upstart Boston Bruins. And finally, there was the game seven riots; a farce if there ever was one.

Aside from the dour way things ended, 2010-11 was mostly a banner year for the Canucks org. They were top-10 in just about every category imaginable. The faintly inhuman seeming Sedin twins leveraged their enduring psychic bond as well as the sweetest starting position in the league to win the second of back-to-back art ross trophies. Vancouver won the most games, had the most potent powerplay and high goal differential in the NHL. They won the President’s trophy running away, besting second place Washington by 10 points.

The club sensibly made minimal changes in the offseason as a result. Up front, Marco Sturm was a low-cost, medium-reward addition, another of a long-line of riverboat gambles and reclamation projects that have skated in the Canucks top-six since the Sedins began running the show. He’s a capable player when healthy, albeit as fragile as a teenaged girls ego. They also kept trade deadline addition Chris Higgins, who seems to have lost all ability to put the puck the in the net but excels at just about every other aspect of the game. he’ll make a fine replacement for Torres on the hard minutes Malhotra line.

The Canucks lost Chrisitan Ehrhoff from the back-end as well, purloined by the Buffalo Sabres and their new and rather generous billionaire owner. A 50-point player of circumstance rather than ability, Gillis made the right move in not driving a dump truck full of money up to the ex-Sharks door. If any team is destined to regret a signing this summer, it’s the Buffalo Sabres and their $40 million worth of Christian Ehrhoff.

There are some reasons to expect a bit of step back by the Canucks this year. Aside from the fact that one should always bet the under when a team or player crests a wave like Vancouver did last season, Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond are starting things out on IR. That’s exactly two thirds of the Canucks "second line" who absolutey dominated the proceedings in terms of possession last season. Anyone who caught the game last night versus Pittsbugh can probably guess that the current stop-gaps of Cody Hodgson/MIkael Samuelsson in Kesler’s stead are poor facsimiles at best.

Even when he comes back, it’s entirely probable that Kesler won’t once again score at 40+ goal pace, even if Malhotra continues to share the defensive load. A 20-25 goal scorer up until 2010, expect a return to form and regression from a career high shooting percentage of 15.8%.

None of this is to say the Canucks won’t once again dominate the NW, which figures to be the weakest in the league again. With the Flames spinning their wheels and the rest of the division just trying to find a way out the basement, the Canucks are the prohibitive favorites to run away with the NW crown. Absent a plague of injuries or some poor percentages, Vancouver will continue to treat the Flames at al as their punching bags.

Or like Marchand treats a Sedin, if you will.