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Numbers Game: Canucks Crave Goals

Scott Cullen
7/24/2008 5:16:22 PM
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A popgun offence was a major issue for the Vancouver Canucks in 2007-2008, so they went out and brought in some help to provide secondary scoring.

Numbers Game looks at Vancouver's additions to the forward ranks.

The Canucks Get: RW Steve Bernier, LW Pavol Demitra and C Kyle Wellwood

Bernier, 23, has loads of offensive potential, but has much room to improve after putting up career-highs of 16 goals and 32 points last season.

On one hand, Bernier uses his ample size (6-foot-2, 225 pounds) well on the forecheck, often banging bodies in the corners and he has nifty hands for a big guy, so it's easy to see why teams still see 30-goal potential in the 2003 first-round pick.

On the other hand, Bernier may be better served by trimming down and improving his conditioning so that he can handle a bigger role.  In San Jose and Buffalo last year, Bernier only played 13:20 per game, so it's fair to think that, with improved conditioning, he could establish himself as a legitimate top six forward.

Without any other improvement, and just an increase in ice time to 16-17 minutes per game, Bernier should be good for 20 goals and 40 points, which would have been enough to finish fourth on the Canucks in 2007-2008.  If he happens to generate some chemistry with new linemates and improves his conditioning, Bernier could be ready for a breakthrough campaign.

The price for Bernier, $2.5-million for one season, is more than the Canucks would like to pay, but they had little choice but to match St. Louis' offer sheet after dealing with the Sabres to land the promising power forward.

Buffalo could afford to let Bernier go because they were much deeper up front than on the blueline and, after acquiring picks from the Canucks, had the right package of picks to land Craig Rivet to bolster their own blueline.

33-year-old Pavol Demitra is undeniably talented, though he's among the more consistently injured scorers in the game, having missed 53 games over the last four seasons.

Furthermore, Demitra's 15 goals last season represented his lowest total since the fledgling days at the start of his career when he had seven goals in 31 games with the Senators in 1995-1996. 

This decline may be attributed, to some degree, by playing in Minnesota, but it's not like the Canucks -- who scored ten fewer goals than the Wild last season -- suddenly represent a free-wheeling style that will turn Demitra's game around.

Demitra does have the high-end skill to play first-line minutes and the Canucks can reasonably expect 60 or so points out of him, which would more than make up for the departure of Markus Naslund (who scored 55 points in 82 games last season) at a cheaper rate.

There's good and bad involved in taking Demitra, but a two-year, $8-million deal is a reasonable price to pay for a team in need of an offensive injection. 

Minnesota can hardly afford to lose Demitra's offence, and their off-season additions don't appear to add up to what they're losing, so the Canucks get the added bonus of taking a quality player away from a divisional opponent.

When it comes to Kyle Wellwood, there is a certain leap of faith required as he is coming off a terrible 2007-2008 season, during which he had 21 points and a minus-12 rating in 59 games.

While those numbers make Wellwood seem like a marginal NHLer his 42 points in 48 games the year before had him poised for a career as a top-six forward.

It can be disconcerting to hear a 25-year-old acknowledge that his work ethic hasn't been the best and that has contributed to the time that he's missed, as Wellwood did after the Canucks scooped him off waivers, but there's a self-awareness required that should provide a sense motivation for Wellwood to bounce back.

He's not strong enough and doesn't have great speed for a smaller player, but Wellwood has the smarts and puck skills to, at the very least, be an asset on the power play.  More than half of his 108 career points have come with the man advantage and that alone could make him worth a shot.

In theory, Wellwood should have been a fit for the rebuilding Leafs, but it appears that the Leafs are effectively more interested in rolling the dice with a prospect like Mikhail Grabovski.

The Canucks were 23rd in the league in scoring last season and they've lost Brendan Morrison and Markus Naslund to free agency.  Since the Sedins were the only other Canucks to average better than half-a-point per game, it's natural for Vancouver to make a concerted effort to address the offensive side of the ledger.

An additional deal for one more scoring forward may need to take place, but the Canucks are at least moving in the right direction with these additions.

Scott Cullen can be reached at scullen@tsn.ca



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