Vancouver Canucks season preview
2007-08 result: 39-33-10, 11th in Western Conference
Key arrivals: D Nolan Baumgartner, D Rob Davison, F Steve Bernier, F Pavol Demitra, F Darcy Hordichuk, F Ryan Johnson, F Kyle Wellwood, GM Mike Gillis
Key departures: D Luc Bourdon, F Trevor Linden, F Brendan Morrison, F Markus Naslund
Offence: Change, change, change. Linden, Morrison and Naslund combined played more than 33 seasons for Vancouver, so the Canucks find themselves in a period of transition, looking for offence to support twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who each finished in the top 20 in league scoring last season. The Canucks are depending an awful lot on intangibles by investing in Steve Bernier, Pavol Demitra and Kyle Wellwood, a trio that doesn't exactly play with grit when healthy — and they're too often not healthy. The biggest intangible of all is keeping cap room for Mats Sundin. Ryan Kesler will be asked to step up in terms of production and leadership, as will Taylor Pyatt, and the Canucks are hoping Jannik Hansen and Mason Raymond can continue their progress. B.C. native and perennial minor-league scorer Jason Krog will get a chance to get back in the NHL in a non-checking role, which is a better fit for him. Canucks fans will likely appreciate the ethos of Ryan Johnson and Darcy Hordichuk.
Defence: The Canucks have a deep group of strong second-tier defencemen, with no true elite leader. The corps missed, on average, 21 games per defenceman last season, and suffered a terrible blow when young Luc Bourdon was killed in an accident this the spring. Aside from Kevin Bieksa's breakout season two years ago, the top defenceman in Vancouver usually maxes at fewer than 35 points. Bieksa was playing poorly before his injury last season and needs to contain his edge — he accumulated a total of 44 penalty minutes in a pair of games last year. Sami Salo is dependable but seemingly can't be pencilled in for more than 65 games at this point, and Matthias Ohlund will look for a positive plus/minus rating for the first time in four seasons. Alex Edler was the brightest story last season, playing solidly and providing an infusion of needed youth. The Canucks tried to ensure they won't be caught out if the injury bug strikes again, adding solid depth guys Baumgartner and Davison.
Goaltending: We know they're voted by separate blocs, but we're still shaking our heads that Alain Vigneault was named coach of the year in 2006-07 and Roberto Luongo wasn't the top goalie, as the two went hand in hand. Luongo had a slight dropoff last season during a physically demanding year plus the emotional rollercoaster of becoming a new parent. He is the engine — anything but top form and the team is in trouble. Backup Curtis Sanford started just nine games last year. Prospect Cory Schneider looks great, but having him sit on the bench might not make much sense. Either way, unlike the situation with Kiprusoff and Calgary, Luongo needs to play 70ish games because Vancouver just has to make the playoffs for this season to be a success, given expectations.
Coaching: New GM Mike Gillis didn't hire Vigneault, but was satisfied after a series of meetings with keeping the coach. The team's style of play reflects its strengths and the coach juggles his forward lines more than most of his contemporaries. Vancouver's special teams, a priority for Vigneault and new assistants Rick Bowness and Ryan Walter, finished in the middle of the pack last season. Vigneault is only 15 months removed from his Jack Adams win but it's an unforgiving business. If a Canadian-based coach is to be let go before the end of the season, he is probably the top candidate.
Outlook: After a couple of seasons of pretending they were close to contending if all the right breaks fell their way, the Canucks are taking a more honest approach this season. Honesty may be painful for Canucks fans, however. Luongo is awesome and the defence is sound, but with goals likely at a premium, it's just too fine a margin for success. Vancouver will likely miss the post-season for the second consecutive year.