This week, we'll take a glance at the six Canadian teams and what the 2010-11 NHL season should entail. On Monday, it was the Oilers. Tuesday it's the Canucks, followed by the Flames, Senators, Canadiens and finishing with the Maple Leafs on Saturday.
Ilya Kovalchuk may have garnered more headlines for the controversial contract he signed with the New Jersey Devils this summer, but it's difficult to argue that Dan Hamhuis was the most highly sought after free agent around the league.
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After all, the 27-year-old Hamhuis saw his rights traded twice before the July 1 free-agent frenzy began. First, the Nashville Predators dealt the rights to Hamhuis to the Stanley Cup-finalist Philadelphia Flyers, but when it became apparent that Hamhuis wanted to sign elsewhere, the Flyers shipped his rights to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"It was quite an experience," Hamhuis said. "The Flyers just weren't the right fit because they already have top-four defencemen. Pittsburgh was a better situation for me, but then they decided to go in another direction [by signing Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek]."
The Canucks lassoed Hamhuis, a native of Smithers, B.C., with a six-year, $27-million US tender. This development fulfilled speculation that Hamhuis wanted to return home to play in a Canadian market.
"My first choice was to stay in Nashville," said Hamhuis, who played his first six seasons with the Predators. "I liked my time there. I liked the city and the team. But it was apparent early on that there wasn't going to be a deal there."
Hamhuis wanted a situation in which he would receive an opportunity to increase his workload, especially offensively. He played a career-low 21 minutes and 15 seconds last season and his offensive production had dropped off since he scored seven goals and 38 points in 2005-06.
So with the Canucks, Hamhuis will not only be counted on for his defensive and penalty-killing skills, but will get an opportunity to strut his stuff offensively.
"You want an opportunity to grow as a player and I think I will get that opportunity in Vancouver," Hamhuis said.
The thoughtful Hamhuis admits that playing in hockey-mad Vancouver will be an eye-opening experience compared to Nashville, where the country-music scene is king. But as long as the Canuck fans see Hamhuis for what he is at this point in his career - a second-pairing defenceman - and give him time to grow, he could become a popular player at the Rogers Arena.
Off-season development - Roberto Luongo stepped down as captain in the summer and a new goaltending coach in Roland Melanson was hired. Even though Luongo was in goal in Vancouver when Canada won Olympic gold, there were concerns his play dropped off. His save percentage (.913) and goals-against average (2.57) were his worst in a Canucks sweater.
Key player - Defenceman Alexander Edler has performed on the point in pre-season on the Canucks first power-play unit alongside Christian Ehrhoff. The latter had a banner first season with the Canucks last year. He scored 14 times, including six goals in man-advantage situations. Ehrhoff will receive considerably more attention this season; therefore Edler has to step up.
Telling stat - Vancouver owned the third period last season. Only the Washington Capitals scored more times at 112 in the final 20 minutes of regulation time than the Canucks' 101. They also won 32 of 33 games they were leading after two periods and were the victors a league-high 11 times when trailing after 40 minutes.
Prognosis - The Canucks will miss Willie Mitchell. He is one of the league's top shutdown defencemen. They did move among the elite eight teams in the league last season, but have they improved enough to beat out Western Conference powerhouses like the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings? Only if Luongo can play well enough to be considered the top netminder in the NHL.
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