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McKenzie: Canucks strong, but still have camp questions

Bob McKenzie
1/8/2013 12:00:02 AM
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TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie gets you set for the NHL season with a look at all seven Canadian teams. First up, the Vancouver Canucks.

The Vancouver Canucks, on paper, are by far Canada's top team and the best hope to contend for the Stanley Cup, but even coach Alain Vigneault's talented club has a long list of questions heading into training camp.
 
Some of those queries don't even involve Roberto Luongo.
 
For instance, who'll play on the right side with Daniel and Henrik Sedin? Alex Burrows is never a bad answer but Zack Kassian may get a chance there.
 
But maybe the most important question is when will Ryan Kesler be healthy and game ready? Coming off shoulder and wrist surgery, Kesler and his agent are suggesting there are no guarantees it's any time soon, although the Canucks seem to think there's no cause for long-term concern.
 
So the givens are Henrik Sedin at first line centre and Maxim Lapierre in the middle on the fourth line, but everything in between is punctuated with a question mark.
 
As long as Kesler can't go, there's a chance the Canucks could move a winger to play second-line pivot. Burrows is a candidate as is Chris Higgins.
 
Can Manny Malhotra still contribute to the centre-ice cause? If not, third-line centre is very much up in the air too.
 
Little Jordan Schroeder of the AHL Chicago Wolves will get an audition and if the Canucks deal Luongo, chances are there will be a centre coming back, so if the goalie trade with Toronto materializes, for example, perhaps we can pencil in Tyler Bozak as a second- or third-line centre.
 
Men in the middle concerns aside, it's also fair to ask if David Booth and Mason Raymond can stay healthy and bounce back with better numbers than they posted last season after coming off injuries. That's critical to any Canuck success.
 
The Canuck defence looks as solid as ever with Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Alexander Edler, newcomer Jason Garrison, Keith Ballard, Chris Tanev and Andrew Alberts as the top seven, but they will likely try to add a veteran presence to make it a solid eight though Kevin Connauton and Derek Joslin might do. They'll also be trying to sign impending free agent Edler to a long-term deal in the same $4.5 million-a-year range as their other blueliners. But defence appears to be virtually question free.
 
Some might well wonder if Cory Schneider is really ready to shoulder true No. 1 status without Luongo there as a safety net, but Schneider's time is now, and we're going to find out. Though if Luongo is traded, getting a veteran backup is still a likely possibility.
 
That seems an awful lot of questions for what's supposed to be Canada's best hope for a Cup contender, but the Canucks know their time is now, that their biological clock is ticking and while their window to win isn't necessarily closing after this season, it's not opening any wider either.
 
So expect a Stanley or Bust mentality in Vancouver this season.

Bob McKenzie

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