All eyes on Lu after surprise Schneider turn
Brad Richardson, Mike Santorelli, Yannick Weber.
Keith Ballard, Cam Barker, Maxim Lapierre, Mason Raymond, Derek Roy, Cory Schneider.
Last year: Simply put, last season was disappointing, dominated by a goaltending controversy, and one that ultimately cost Alain Vigneault his job after a disastrous and brief playoff run.
Yes, the Canucks won their division last season, but for a team used to regular season success and only one year removed from back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies, it was of little comfort.
Hindsight is 20-20, but the polemic surrounding Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider should not have been allowed to continue into the 2013 season and the Canucks suffered from it.
Schneider was Vigneault’s preferred hand for a majority of the shortened schedule, but the pair split duty in the playoffs where the team went out again with a whimper in the first round, swept by the San Jose Sharks.
For a team and a fan base expecting to compete for a Stanley Cup, last season just wasn’t acceptable for the Canucks.
This Year: The tale of two goaltenders was finally resolved in the offseason, but not the way that most expected. Cory Schneider - and not Roberto Luongo - exited the stage in a draft day trade with the Devils that saw the Canucks acquire the No. 9 overall pick (and select Bo Horvat).
But here’s the rub: the reinstallation of Luongo as the undisputed no. 1 goalie does not automatically solve the problem and remedy the situation. A lot of damage was done to the relationship between the team and Luongo over the course of the past two seasons.
While Luongo won’t be looking over his shoulder at new backup goalie Eddie Lack to take away playing time, the 34-year-old netminder expected to be elsewhere. Mentally, he was prepared to have moved on from this chapter in his career and start fresh in a different city. Yet, here he is back in Vancouver and fences will need to be mended and trust rebuilt.
From The Insider
Check out TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie's take on the Vancouver Canucks.
Of course, this also means that Luongo will be playing with a major chip on his shoulder in a year where he’s once again eyeing a starting spot on Canada’s Olympic team. An angry, motivated Luongo could be a very frightening proposition for opposing teams this season.
If we thought the media circus surrounding the Canucks was entertaining before, it could reach new levels of craziness this season. No, there will no longer be the goaltending controversy that dominated the narrative for the past two seasons, but John Tortorella’s notoriously contentious relationship with the media will more than make up for that.
The question is, of course, whether or not Tortorella is the right man for the job. Having survived in New York as long as he did, the media spotlight in Vancouver won’t be a problem, but is he the man who can take the same aging core of players that Vigneault couldn’t and finally reach the ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup as their window continues to get smaller? The only new faces on the Canucks roster this season will be complementary pieces, so it’s going to be up to the same players who were swept last season to erase that nightmare of a playoff run and get back to what’s made the Canucks one of the best teams in recent years.
The Long and the Short – How will a full 82-game slate affect the Canucks' performance after a shortened season?
The importance of this season for the Canucks cannot be stressed enough.
After five straight division titles and Stanley Cup expectations, the realization that a team’s window to compete isn’t open forever is dawning on the Canucks and their fans. With the Sedins on the precipice of free agency and key contributors like Kevin Bieksa and Alex Burrows already over 30, this may be the Canucks’ last kick at the Stanley Cup can with this group.
John Tortorella is no stranger to dealing with clubs that have high expectations. His attitude will and must be “win now” because the future for the Canucks is cloudy right now.
The magnitude of this campaign will be felt in the front office, too. Following back-to-back first-round exits, Alain Vigneault took the fall. He’s not around anymore and another underwhelming season could, and likely will, deflect the heat Mike Gillis’ way.
On the Books – What off-season moves did the Canucks make to get themselves back in cap shape?
With the signing of Chris Tanev in late August, the Canucks have locked up all of their restricted free agents and have a little over $2 million in remaining cap space.
While a majority of its core is locked up long term, the Canucks will need to address the issue of the Sedins ideally as quickly as possible. The 2014 class of potential free agents is a deep one and it's a safe bet that the Canucks don’t want the brothers to be a part of it.
New contracts will also need to be handed out to Zack Kassian, Dale Wiese, Schroeder, Tanev, Lack and Weber, all of whom are restricted free agents at season’s end.
Aside from the twins, Jannik Hansen and Andrew Alberts are also set to become unrestricted free agents.
Long Division – A look at the intriguing possibilities ahead for the Canucks after realignment.
The thorns in the Canucks’ side in the past two playoff runs are now divisional rivals, as Vancouver will welcome the Kings and the Sharks to the new Pacific Division, along with the Phoenix Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks. The Canucks’ fellow Canadian teams from the old Northwest Division, the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers, make up the rest of the division.
With the Jets moving back into the Western Conference, the Canucks will host their first intra-conference game against Winnipeg since February 21, 1996.
Fantasy - Scott Cullen's Player to Watch
Zack Kassian, RW - A 22-year-old power forward, Kassian has shown flashes of what he might be able to do offensively, scoring 11 goals and 21 points (with 102 penalty minutes) in 83 career games, but hasn't yet been able to sustain any production for a significant period of time.
The ideal situation for both the Canucks and Kassian would be for him to play consistently enough to hold down the right wing spot on the top line with the Sedins, allowing Alex Burrows to play with Ryan Kesler, giving the Canucks better depth throughout the lineup, but a lot of that depends on whether Kassian can earn the trust of new head coach John Tortorella, at least enough to warrant a regular spot alongside elite linemates.
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Pressing Question: Is this season the Canucks' last chance at the Cup with its current core?
The Canucks still haven’t gotten over the heartbreak of losing the 2011 Stanley Cup finals and likely still won’t for some time. Getting achingly close to winning it all weighs so very heavily on players and fans alike and only fuels the desire to get back to the mountaintop to right that wrong.
For this Vancouver team, the opportunity to finally win the big one is fleeting and this upcoming season might be the last realistic chance to do so with this team, if it already hasn’t passed.
And if it doesn’t happen, this might be the right time to call time on these Vancouver Canucks. With uncertainty with the twins, an aging core and a relatively shallow prospect pool, the time to turn the page could be approaching quickly.
So if the team fails in 2014 to finally reach the promised land, is this the time to blow up the Vancouver Canucks?
- Vancouver Canucks Preview by Mike Beauvais, TSN.ca