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NHL 2012-13 Campaign Preview: Vancouver Canucks

Harrison Mooney
Puck Daddy

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Yes, indeed, despite the promise of impending labor Armageddon and a prolonged work-stoppage, your friends at Puck Daddy are previewing the 2012-13 NHL season (whenever the heck it starts). Why? Because this is the most important election in the history of all-time ever, and you need to know the candidates — like the Vancouver Canucks.

It's a testament to the skill of the Canucks that you can say a season in which they won the Presidents' Trophy was also a season of underachievement, but it was.

Fresh off an appearance in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, expectations were sky-high in Vancouver, and despite the team winning the regular-season, these expectations went severely unmet.

The five-game postseason probably had something to do with that. Sure, there was no stopping the juggernaut that was the Los Angeles Kings, but that's little consolation for a franchise that was one season removed from being a juggernaut themselves.

But the Canucks' problems went beyond running into a team of destiny. The Sedins became somewhat stale, and by virtue of that, their entire offense did too, especially on the powerplay. Ryan Kesler wasn't the same player. Sami Salo aged out of the top four, and Alex Edler looked lost without him. Alain Vigneault retreated back to a defensive shell and the team lost some of their identity.

A year removed, the Canucks are hoping they've addressed all of these problems. If they have, it could be a fun year in Vancouver. If they haven't, they could be caught by several of the Western Conference's other improving teams. Then fans might not even get a third Presidents' Trophy to belittle.

Are the Canucks still an elite team?

"We've got Swedish twins, but it's not as hot as it sounds…  trust us"

The biggest departure from the Canucks' roster is defenceman Sami Salo and his booming slapshot, a signature of this club for years. He'll be missed, though not as direly as some might think. He began to slow down around January last season, and by the year's end, the coaching staff was reluctant to use him in the top four. While the team tried to re-sign Salo for depth, they definitely didn't want to pay him like a top-four defenceman any longer, and when Tampa Bay did, he was gone.

In his place comes Jason Garrison, fresh off a mammoth season with the Florida Panthers. If last year is any indication, he should be able to replace Salo, no problem.

Also gone: Samme Pahlsson, who returned to Sweden, and Alain Vigneault favourite Aaron Rome, who signed in Dallas.

Not arriving: Shane Doan, whom the Canucks pursued hard, but left the team at the altar when he chose to give his rose to the Phoenix Coyotes instead.

At forward… The Sedins and Alex Burrows will continue to shoulder the offensive burden for the Canucks, which is just fine with them — they're good at it. They regressed a little last season and became a touch predictable at times, but they remain among the top 10 offensive players in the NHL, and they've been given a long offseason to cook up a new playbook. They should be fun to watch.

Behind them, Ryan Kesler leads a convoy of talented, two-way players: Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen, necklace of dead ducks wearer David Booth, Maxim Lapierre, Mason Raymond and, if he can take the next step this season, Zack Kassian.

On defense … The Canucks' top four consists of shutdown pairing Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa, and will likely also consists of the newly-formed pair of Garrison and Alex Edler.

Edler's no good on the right, so it will be up to Garrison to make the shift to his off-side. He played there intermittently with the Panthers last season to relative success, but in order for him to have success, he'll have to do it on a near-permanent basis this time around. If he can, Edler could blossom into the Norris-calibre defenceman many feel he could become.

If he can't, it could be a nightmare in Vancouver. Edler will struggle without a steady partner, as he often does, and Garrison will land in the same position as Keith Ballard: relegated to the third pairing and egregiously overpaid to be there.

Speaking of Ballard, he and promising prospect Chris Tanev make up duo three, but Tanev's poise, puck-moving ability  and right-handedness could see him work his way into the top four, especially if Garrison disappoints.

In goal … The Canucks are downright stacked. They're so stacked it's sort of a problem. They currently employ a tandem of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, and Mike Gillis insists that THEY ARE TOTALLY FINE WITH THAT.

But he's still shopping Luongo hard, and if Gillis can find a taker at his lofty asking price, Schneider will ascend to number one status and Swedish prospect Eddie Lack will graduate from the AHL as his backup.

Based on Salt n Pepa's "Push it", may I present to you the finest Kevin Bieksa tribute video you will ever see: "Bieksa real good".

While there was some speculation that one or both might not return to the team as a result of the Canucks' short postseason, both GM Mike Gillis and coach Alain Vigneault signed extensions in the offseason and will have the opportunity to re-earn some of trust lost by the early exit.

During the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, Ryan Kesler basically worked himself until his groin exploded (we've all been there, amirite?). But after undergoing offseason surgery to correct the issue, he returned early and played through pain for much of the year. That was unnecessary and it cost the team. Kesler may not be the Canucks' top scorer but he's their most complete player and the heart of the team.

Kesler has had two more surgeries this offseason and the only good that might come out of the lockout from a Canucks' perspective is that he can't come back too early if there's no hockey. If Kesler can refind his "A" game, the Canucks will rediscover theirs as well.

Zack Kassian arrived in Vancouver amidst controversy and outrage. Fans liked Cody Hodgson, and after bad experiences with previous power forwards acquired from Buffalo (Taylor Pyatt, Steve Bernier), the idea of trading Hodgson for another one seemed unattractive.

But Kassian has the ability to be an elite power winger. He's spent the offseason trimming down and attempting to reach the Canucks' fitness standards, and if he can begin to show something in his sophomore season, or if he can bring some much-needed toughness to the lineup, Canuck fans will forgive him for existing in a hurry.

Expectations for Jason Garrison are sky-high. The White Rock will be counted on to give the Canucks a booming shot from the powerplay and round out the top four. But Garrison will likely be playing on his off-side, and whats more, he only has one season as an offensive weapon under his belt. That has to be a concern. If it turns out to be a one-off, he'll become a lightning rod for criticism in a hurry.

[MALE NARRATOR]

"Chris Higgins says his abs are 100% real.

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But how can we be sure? He missed a great deal of the 2011-12 campaign with a mysterious illness that the team called a "staph infection." A likely story.

Here's a likelier story. There was no staph infection. Higgins was simply getting abdominal implants because he's exceptionally vain."

"You know who's not exceptionally vain and whose hot and shiny abs are totally real? Eddie Lack."

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"Feast your eyes, ladies. And spread the word."

"Paid for and narrated by Eddie Lack."

The Canucks remain one of the league's best teams and they should be right in the mix for their third Presidents' Trophy. But at this point, the regular season couldn't be more inconsequential. Just as it was last year, their entire season will be defined by the shorter season that comes after it. If it's too short, the entire campaign is a wash.

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