The Vancouver Canucks made moves after barely missing the playoffs two seasons ago. A new goaltender and focus and the team went from postseason also-rans to Northwest Division Champions. They ran into a very good and hot Anaheim team and ended up watching the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs from home, but they learned a lot about their own team and what else they needed to do in order to take the next step. However, the Canucks remained very quiet during the offseason and watched as a lot of the teams around them made moves to improve.
Where does that leave the Canucks now? With the improving teams around them in the conference combined with the teams that are still better on paper, have the Canucks made headway by staying still, or are they sitting idle and watching the rest of the conference either catch up or pass them by completely? If the Canucks want to make a bigger dent in the Western Conference pecking order, will they have enough weapons and pieces in place to do so or are they lacking?
2006 Record (W-L-OTL-PTS): 49-26-7-105; Northwest Division Champs
2006 Postseason (if applicable): Lost in Western Conf. Semis (4-1 to Anaheim)
Coach Name (record w/team): Alain Vigneault; 49-26-7 (.653)
Key Additions: D Aaron Miller (Los Angeles)
Key Subtractions: C Bryan Smolinski (Montreal); D Brent Sopel (Detroit)
Offense: This team was offensively in the middle of the pack, but they were near the bottom out of all the teams. In fact, of the 16 teams in the playoffs in the postseason last year, they ranked 15th in scored goals (only New Jersey scored fewer goals).
This team is also pretty balanced on offense, but there is a bit of a gap on offense between their top players and some of the roleplayers. The Canucks will need for them to narrow that gap a bit for them to continue to keep up with the rest of the league. The team relies on the top guys, especially the Sedin twins.
They have finally gotten to the level that they were expected to perform at for the past couple of years and they will continue to have the team leaning on them. Daniel is the scorer; he tallied 84 points and 36 of them were goals. Daniel is also a little more balanced than his brother Henrik. Henrik is more of a playmaker; 71 assists and only 10 goals.
Henrik sets them up, and Daniel puts the puck in the net. Meanwhile, besides the two twins, the Canucks still have Markus Naslund on the team. He did not produce as much as he usually did and he’s shown a steady decline over the past two seasons but he is still a dangerous player when not adequately attended to. After those guys, they get some production from a number of other guys: players like Brendan Morrison, Taylor Pratt, and Trevor Linden need to produce on a semi-consistent basis for teams to stop applying constant pressure to the top line.
If they cannot produce, this team will have a hard-time scoring goals. Although the defense is solid and their goaltending is superb, they will still have games where they need to put up goals in bunches and if they cannot do it, it will be difficult to consistently win. On the back line, the Canucks get production from Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo. They expect bigger things from Bieksa especially.
Defense: Kevin Bieksa was nothing more than a guy who would have been the fifth or sixth defender for a team before last season; yet his performance for the Canucks last season brought him to the forefront of the Canuck defensive rotation. The question is whether or not he can be consistent for the Canucks this year or if last season was just an abnormality.
Meanwhile, Willie Mitchell was the team’s top defender; he was brought in for his leadership and veteran spirit, yet he was key for them as a solid defender. With Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo, the Canucks have a very solid top-four on the blue line. They will shuffle a few options on their roster as the third pairing. The unit will have to prove that they were more than a one-year wonder.
Goaltending: Roberto Luongo was everything that the Canucks thought he would be and so much more. There was not a single person in the NHL who was not aware of his impact on the Canucks. Suddenly, the Canucks were winning games that they were losing just a season before. He was keeping them in close games and stealing games when their offense was struggling. His glove is as quick as there is in the NHL, while he is a great lateral goaltender.
With Luongo in goal, the Canucks do not have to worry about too much of a drop off. This season should be more of the same, although Luongo will be hard-pressed to carry this team on his back without any improved offensive help.
Coaching: Alain Vigneault came into the Canucks situation after watching Marc Crawford lose his job for a poor finish two seasons ago. However, Vigneault did not want to repeat the same performance. Although it is a bit easier when your goaltender is all-world and playing like Roberto Luongo did last year, there still cannot be enough said about the job the head coach did in turning this team around.
Not only did they get into the playoffs this year, they won their division title and made it to the second round of the playoffs. Vigneault is looking for more consistent production this year from the veterans on the team; he wants them to be more aggressive, especially offensively. He will need to get them going in order for the Canucks to have a shot at getting the necessary offense.
Points/Conference Standing: 90 – 100 pts; middle of Western Conference; (4th – 10th)
Team MVP: Roberto Luongo
Prediction Notes: It’s a bit disheartening to see that the Canucks did not make any big moves to try and get better after last season’s success. The team almost seems to be willing to go to war with the same faces. However, when you’ve got Roberto Luongo playing like he did, it’s hard to convince the Vancouver Canucks that their strategy is a bad one. However, their offense still lacks punch and the Colorado Avalanche and the Edmonton Oilers have made strides to catch up and close the gap. It will be a struggle between Colorado and Vancouver all season, but the Canucks have more than enough defense and goaltending to get into the postseason.