Colorful characters, revered championships, staged fights ... the rink shares plenty with the squared circle. So here at Puck Daddy, we've decided to preview the 2010-11 NHL season with the help of old-school wrestling icons, images and lingo. It's a slobber-knocker, Mean Gene...
Last Season (49-28-5, 103 points; 1st in Northwest, 3rd in the Conference)
A second straight 100-plus point season with another Northwest Division title ended with yet another six-game series loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Semifinal.
Aside from that disappointing ending, there were a few bright spots.
Henrik Sedin(notes) won his first Art Ross Trophy after compiling 112 points and took home his first Hart Trophy beating out Sidney Crosby(notes) and Alex Ovechkin(notes). Henrik's brother Daniel put up a career-high 85 points despite missing 19 games due to injury. Ryan Kesler(notes) (75 points), Mason Raymond(notes) (25 goals), Mikael Samuelsson(notes) (30 goals), and Alex Burrows (35 goals, 67 points) also set career highs in various stat categories.
Seeing the development throughout his lineup, GM Mike Gillis understood how close his team was to winning a Stanley Cup and went out and upgraded Vancouver's defense over the summer. He also took the pressure off of goaltender Roberto Luongo(notes) as both decided that the captain's responsibilities should lay with someone else on the roster.
After missing most of the first half of last season recovering from shoulder surgeries, 35-year-old Pavol Demitra(notes) returned to play 28 games in what was possibly his final year in the NHL. In mid-July, he would sign with Lokomotiv of the KHL.
Veteran defenseman and team leader Willie Mitchell(notes) played in just 48 games last season after suffering a concussion after a hit from Evgeni Malkin(notes) of the Pittsburgh Penguins in January. Eight months after the hit and having passed medical tests, Mitchell inked a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Kings after passing up a one-year offer from the Canucks.
Former backup goaltender Andrew Raycroft(notes) moved on to a two-way deal with the Dallas Stars, and the butt of many jokes, Mr. Kyle Wellwood(notes), was not offered a contract during the summer and accepted a training camp tryout from the Phoenix Coyotes.
Solidifying a defense that lost Mitchell, GM Mike Gillis went out and acquired Ballard and signed Dan Hamhuis(notes) during free agency. The depth on the blueline is strong and Hamhuis and Ballard are as durable as they come.
Winger Raffi Torres(notes) took a large paycut and was brought in on a cheap ($1 million) one-year deal and could provide a big payoff (double digit goals in four of the past five seasons) should he be able to stay healthy.
Only one team, the Washington Capitals, scored more goals than Vancouver last season. The Canucks' 268 goals and (3.28 goals per game) were second in the NHL and highlighted a deadly arsenal up front. Six players recorded 20 or more goals, with Alex Burrows (35) and Mikael Samuelsson (30) both hitting 30. The Sedin twins each registered 29 tallies.
Secondary scoring is where the Canucks will need some help. Outside of the top six last year, only Kyle Wellwood and Steve Bernier scored more than 10 times. With both now gone, depth scoring responsibilities will be up to newly added Torres and Manny Malhotra, Jannik Hansen(notes), and youngsters Cody Hodgson(notes) and Sergei Shirokov(notes), should they make the team out of training camp.
Wrestler(s) That Best Symbolize the Team
Shawn Michaels circa 1996. The up-and-coming young talent needed extra time in an Iron Man match to defeat Bret Hart for his first WWE/(F) Championship. It's about that time for the Vancouver Canucks. All the pieces are in place for their first Stanley Cup championship. They've got the look, they've got the moves, but can they superkick themselves through the Western Conference first?
Losing Willie Mitchell is a big loss to both the Canucks' locker room and blueline, but the additions of Ballard and Hamhuis should help the transition. Vancouver ranked tied for 11th last season with 218 goals allowed, the first time they were out of the top 10 since 2006.
The Canucks will also miss oft-injured Sami Salo(notes), who tore his Achilles tendon playing floorball in Sweden over the summer.
The move to abdicate the throne of Vancouver captain is expected to take some of the pressure off of Roberto Luongo as he looks to once again put up high numbers in the regular season and attempt to overcome a not-so-successful postseason history. A boosted defense in front of him should force Luongo to try not to do everything himself and rely on his blueliners.
Cory Schneider(notes) has been patiently waiting for his opportunity to get an extended look at the NHL level and this season is appear he'll get that chance. Having played a combined 10 games over the past two seasons, it's expected Schneider should see anywhere between 20-25 starts to help keep Luongo fresh for the playoffs.
Match We'd Pay To Watch
Daniel and Henrik Sedin versus Tomax and Xamot from G.I.Joe battle for the title of "World's Most Dominating Twins."
Cody Hodgson has overcome a nagging lower back injury and made his Canucks debut on Sunday night as he competes for a spot on the roster. Playing just 13 games in Brampton last season, Hodgson will need to do some impressing if he's to win over Gillis and Alain Vigneault to make the team. The likely plan will be to have Hodgson start in Manitoba, regain his confidence and form, and then bring his talent to the NHL. Hodgson is just 20 years old and Vancouver is already stacked, so there's no need to rush him up if they don't have to.
Hampered by injuries over the last three seasons, Kevin Bieksa's(notes) time is about up in Vancouver, especially after the Ballard and Hamuis additions. The subject of trade rumors over the summer, Bieksa enters the final year of his deal and is prime trade bait before the March deadline. Just 29-years old, Bieksa has shown the ability to produce, scoring 28 goals and 125 points in 281 games with the Canucks. If he can stay healthy, he'll be a valuable chip for Mike Gillis to deal at some point this season. Of course, another injury could derail all that.
It was a tale of two specialty units for the Canucks. The power play (20.9 percent, 6th) was near the top of the league for most the season with production coming from almost everyone as 15 players scored with the extra man for Vancouver last year.
The shorthanded unit wasn't so successful. Citing a lax unit, Gillis brought in Ballard and Hamhuis to toughen things up that saw the Canucks penalty kill 18th (81.6 percent). Malhotra should also help improve the kill.
High expectations in Vancouver means pressure on head coach Alain Vigneault. After two disappointing second round losses in a row to the Chicago Blackhawks, the urge to get over that hump is growing. The Canucks are loaded up and down the lineup and a renewed blueline should benefit what's been a strong defensive team under Vigneault.
GM Mike Gillis came aboard two years after Vigneault arrived in Vancouver. Many times those kind of situations don't work out as GMs like to have their own guy behind the bench, but Vigneault's teams have been successful since 2006. Ensuring future success, Gillis has since inked the Sedins, Roberto Luongo, Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Alex Edler, and his two summer signings, Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis, to contracts through multiple year deals.
2010-11 Preseason Report Card:
Special Teams: B+
Main Event or Dark Match? (Prediction)
It's a "Stanley Cup or bust" kind of year for the Canucks. Three out of the past four seasons they haven't been able to get out of the second round. In fact, the last time Vancouver advanced past the Conference Semifinals was 1993-94 when they went to the Stanley Cup Final.
Now with a loaded arsenal, an improve defense and a goaltender with a potentially heavy monkey off his back, there are no excuses anymore in Vancouver.
Vancouver Canucks' Entrance Music to the 2010-11 Season
The screeching guitar followed by the pounding drumbeat continuing with the loud riff means only one thing: Bret Hart, the "Excellence of Execution", is on his way to the ring. If all goes well for the Canucks, we can picture the Sedin twins coming on stage during a Cup celebration party next June in leather jackets and jean shorts, a Bret Hart signature.