Join TSN.ca in a 30 Teams In 30 Days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Today, we examine the 2011-12 campaign for the Vancouver Canucks. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. And use the Your Call feature to give us your take!
It's hard to look at the season the Vancouver Canucks just had and label it a failure. Until you get to the final two games of the Stanley Cup Final.
To that point, everything had gone as perfectly as you could script a dream season. The Canucks ran away with the regular season crown. A Sedin led the league in scoring again. Ryan Kesler became arguably the best two-way player in the game. Roberto Luongo tied for the league lead in wins. Better yet, they held a 3-2 series lead over the Boston Bruins.
And then it all fell apart.
They were dismantled early in Game 6 in Boston. Back at home, in the deciding game of the NHL season, they were dominated by Tim Thomas. And just like that, the dream season turned into a nightmare. And that doesn't even include the rioting. Ugly all around if you bleed Canucks blue.
After that demoralizing end, it's gotta be Cup-or-nothing this year, right?
Here's a look at what's in store for this season.
Prospect Report: Forward Cody Hodgson is a young player to keep an eye on. The one-time OHL Player of the Year and top pick from 2008 has yet to make a serious bid to secure a spot with the big club. This year might be his best chance. With Mason Raymond recovering from a major back injury, a good camp could slot Hodgson into a top-six forward position on opening night - at which his skill set seems to be best suited.
Nicklas Jensen was their lone first-round pick in 2011, selected 29th overall. The 18-year-old had 29 goals and 29 assists with Oshawa (OHL) last year. He tied for the team lead in goals (7) during the 2011 playoffs.
Breakout Player to Watch: The Canucks seemingly have one player achieve breakout status year after year. Whether it's Raymond, Kesler or Alex Burrows, the players continually emerge at the right time.
If he's able to remain healthy, Alex Edler could be that player this season. The 25-year-old defenceman has been a steady contributor, last season he had 33 points in 51 games played and was a plus-13 rating, but if he could find another gear has the possibility of being one of the main guys to lead the Canucks deep into the playoffs once again.
Marquee Match-Up: Jan. 7 at Bruins - A rematch of last season's Cup final. They unraveled early and often in Beantown: Three losses, outscored 17-3 and Roberto Luongo was yanked twice. The only time he wasn't pulled, he gave up eight goals.
Other Dates To Watch: Nov. 6 at Chicago. The rivalry continues, so cue up the 'Chelsea Dagger'. Actually, if you're the Canucks - don't.
Reason To Get Excited: The Canucks will entertain on a nightly basis and will likely pile up wins, points and personal accolades along the way. But nothing will matter until the playoffs start. They've accomplished everything an NHL franchise can - except capture the Stanley Cup. Hands down, they're Canada's best shot at a championship.
Home Hardware: What weren't they nominated for last year? On top of capturing the President's Trophy as the league's top team, Daniel Sedin won the Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring leader, (just a year after Henrik did it). Daniel was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy. Ryan Kesler captured the Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward (while piling up a career-high 41 goals), Alain Vigneault was a finalist for coach of the year and Luongo was a finalist for the Vezina trophy. Expect at least a few of these usual suspects on the awards ballots at the end of next year too.
On The Hot Seat: Roberto Luongo. Not that the Sedins or Kesler aren't under the gun either, but much of the blame for Vancouver's post-season failures lie in Luongo's inability to steal a game on his own, especially when the Canucks needed it. With chants for Cory Schneider getting louder, it could be his final chance to erase the perceived reputation as a goalie who can't handle the playoff pressure. His final chance in Vancouver, anyways. Anything can happen.
The Canucks made a big splash on the trade front acquiring Keith Ballard from Florida last summer, inheriting a contract that pays the veteran blueliner $4.2 million a season for four more years. And for that salary, he wasn't much of a difference maker in the lineup. Ballard was a healthy scratch in the early going and was almost an afterthought through most of the playoffs.
With a new season on the horizon, Ballard will have a clean sheet to build on with Vigneault.
It's Your! Call: Can the Canucks break through and win the Stanley Cup?
They were one win away from capturing hockey's ultimate prize, so it's a hard sell to say that the Canucks have to find a way to get over the hump.
And that's not saying that they don't need to improve. Boston was simply the better team and outplayed their Western Conference counterparts.
Instead of sweeping wholesale changes that some fans may have wanted, general manager Mike Gillis kept his core intact, losing only Christian Erhoff. He's hoping that a lengthy playoff run and the motivation provided by that stinging final series loss will be the right tonic for another go.
A healthy roster might also have made the difference. Kesler (hip), Henrik Sedin (back), Kevin Bieksa (MCL bruise), Alex Edler (two broken fingers) and Chris Higgins (foot) all gutted it out to the end, while the team lost regular contributors Raymond (back), Mikael Samuelsson (leg), and Dan Hamhuis (abdominal tear) along the way.
And of course, Luongo will not get a chance to answer his critics until the postseason, when the games matter most. And much of the blame and little of the praise will be put upon him in losses or wins.