September 29, 2009
NHL season previews often sell you an impressive bill of goods before you realize, at the end of the season, you're holding an empty box. Which makes using advertisements and infomercials the appropriate template for Puck Daddy's 2009-10 NHL Season Previews, presented each day throughout September.
Last Season's Ad Copy (See Also Canucks Eulogy): Third in the Western Conference and first in the Northwest Division (45-27-10, 100 points). Predicted to be in the basement before the 2008-09 season, the Vancouver Canucks played above their heads to reach the second round of the playoffs. Despite losing goaltender Roberto Luongo(notes) for two months (and winning just nine times in his absence), the Canucks went on fire as soon as he returned from injury, earning the NHL's best record after February.
Coming off a 100-point season, Vancouver is becoming the Stanley Cup favorite of many. They have the goaltending, the scoring, and depth, and the defense. After finding success with lowered expectations last year, how will the Canucks deal with being a possible contender? Luongo will want to make up for his lackluster performance in Game 6 against the Chicago Blackhawks where he let in seven goals and let his emotions show afterwards.
There will be much excitement in the Vancouver air this season with the Winter Olympics taking place in the city. The 21st Winter Olympiad will also force Vancouver to hit the road for a 14-game, month and a half road trip that will play a key role in the how the team heads into the latter part of the '09-10 season.
Latest Gadgets (Offseason Additions): With Mats Sundin(notes) on his annual "decision quest," General Manager Mike Gillis didn't waste any time in finding a suitable forward to replace the aging Swede. Mikael Samuelsson(notes) comes over from the Detroit Red Wings and will bring plenty of playoff experience with him. Samuelsson is expected to play the wing on the first power-play unit; and if head coach Alain Vigneault decides to play him with the Sedin twins on the top line, there's a good chance the 32-year old could threaten his career high of 45 points.
Replacing the departed Mattias Ohlund(notes) on the blue line will be veterans Mathieu Schneider(notes) and Brad Lukowich(notes) as well as Christian Ehrhoff(notes), who is a possible insurance policy should Willie Mitchell(notes) walk next summer during free agency.
Adding to their goaltending depth, Gillis signed former Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft(notes) to a one-year deal. Already having Cory Schneider(notes) signed through the 2010-11 season, the Raycroft signing could spell the end of Schneider's days in Vancouver -- at least that's the general consensus.
To The Recycle Bin (Offseason Subtractions): Mats Sundin can be considered a subtraction, but we never know what the big Swede will do. If he chooses to return to hockey, there may not be enough money available under the salary cap to re-sign with the Canucks.
The signing of the Sedin twins forced Mattias Ohlund to leave Vancouver for sunny Tampa Bay. The loss of Ohlund is a big blow to the seventh-ranked Canucks defense that will miss his 30 points a season and hope that Mathieu Schneider, Brad Lukowich, and Christian Ehrhoff can step in and fill those minutes.
A fond farewell was in order for Taylor Pyatt(notes) who tragically lost his fiancée in a car accident during the playoffs. With the Canucks looking to add more speed up front, Pyatt's 6-4, 230 lbs. frame wasn't in the team's plans.
The Pitchman (Top Offensive Player): Besides being identical twins, the Sedins are practically the same player; and year after year post almost identical numbers. After signing five-year deals over the summer, Daniel and Henrik can now concentrate on bringing Vancouver a Stanley Cup and continuing to lead the way offensively.
Last season, Henrik posted career highs in goals and points while Daniel reached a personal best of 51 assists. The twins are the drivers of the Canucks locomotive. How far they go will be an indicator of how well the team is doing. Whoever plays with the Sedin's will be a big benefactor of their chemistry, just ask Anson Carter(notes). If Mikael Samuelsson gets his number called to play on the top line, the "Tre Kronor" could be one of the leagues best.
Introducing .... (Potential Breakout Player): A Canadian League player of the year and World Junior Championship gold medal has given Cody Hodgson(notes) the pedigree to become a valuable piece of the Vancouver Canucks. How soon he makes an impact is currently up in the air. Hodgson has not had the best pre-season and the Vancouver brass need to make an important decision whether to keep him or send him back to Brampton of the Ontario Hockey League for another year of dominating.
Should Hodgson fall out of the Canucks '09-10 plans, Sergei Shirokov could be a surprise replacement. The 23-year old Russian fought for his opportunity to leave the Kontinental Hockey League and sign with Vancouver for less money than he was offered to stay at home. Shirokov wants to face the challenge of playing in the NHL and would not bolt back home should he be assigned to the Canucks AHL affiliate in Manitoba.
Operators Are Standing By (The Defensemen): A top-10 unit a season ago, the Canucks will have to incorporate the additions of Mathieu Schneider, Brad Lukowich, and Christian Ehrhoff into their defense corps all the while moving on without longtime defensive stalwart Mattias Ohlund. The top pairing of Willie Mitchell and Sami Salo(notes) will be relied on to shutdown opponent's top lines while the second unit of Kevin Bieksa(notes) and Alexander Edler(notes) will bring the offense. Ehrhoff and Schneider will add depth to a steady blue line that averaged 2.6 goals-against/game last season.
The Spokesmodel (The Goalies): There's no doubt that Roberto Luongo will handle the volume of the load for the next decade or so with the Canucks after signing a 12-year, $64 million extension. Coming off the first significant injury of his career, the pressure is on Luongo to rebound from last season's playoff exit and carry Vancouver to a Stanley Cup.
Andrew Raycroft and Cory Schneider will be expected to spell Luongo for the 5-10 games he typically sits a season. If Raycroft can find his game again, Schneider will quickly become expendable, especially now that he's been sent to Manitoba.
And Now, a Short Message From Roberto Luongo on the Weather:
The Inventor (The Coach): In four seasons, Alain Vigneault has won two division titles, a Jack Adams Trophy and after last season's 100-point campaign, he was rewarded with a new three-year extension. While he opened up his system allowing for more offense out of his blue line, Vigneault was unable to figure out how to improve the power-play that ranked 17th in the NHL last season.
Vigneault's biggest accomplishment with Vancouver has been the ability to develop some of the team's core players. Alexandre Burrows and Ryan Kesler(notes) have flourished under Vigneault, putting up career seasons in '08-09. Even Kyle Wellwood(notes), who's been the subject of fat jokes for the last few years, had a career high in goals (18) last season. If Vigneault can get the most of out rookies Cody Hodgson and Sergei Shirokov, then the Canucks could find themselves as a very dangerous team this year.
"These aren't the West coast Express Canucks anymore, but they may better and more well-balanced. They have a generational goaltender in Roberto Luongo and two, top-20 scorers in the Sedin's signed long-term. After being burned by Chicago's speed, they improved their mobility on the back end. They also acquired Mathieu Schneider, Mikael Samuelsson and Brad Lukowich to provide veteran, Stanley Cup-winning experience to a team that's never won one. Expectations are high in Vancouver and a trip to the second round of the playoffs will not be good enough."
"Vancouver is close to celebrating 40 years in the NHL, a time spent all over the spectrum from 'Andre Boudrias ain't so bad' to 'Damn you & your entire bloodline Brian Leetch.' The only way this season differs from the decades before it rests on the job-secure heads of Daniel, Henrik and Bobby Lu (that sounds like a terrible sitcom with an even worse theme song). These three need to do their job, particularly when the playoffs roll around. Helping them greatly would be Ryan Kesler & Alex Burrows'(notes) continued progression, some consistent support from Samuelsson, Bernier, Wellwood and Demitra and maybe a pleasant surprise from KHL-deserter Sergei Shirokov and/or Cody Hodgson. Ehrhoff and Schneider (whenever the fairy of good health pays him visit) join Bieksa, Edler and Salo on defense and give ice level fans all the heart-stopping thrills one should expect with errant 95 mph slap shots coming within a few inches of your face. In net, it's prayers for Luongo's groin because the possible alternative (Andrew 'Face palm' Raycroft) is too diabolically depressing to elaborate on and form into a coherent English sentence.
"Their core is stronger than last year, the Sundin sideshow is in the rear view and even their surly coach inked an extension. Unless the gods of hockey truly do hate this team, there's no reason why Vancouver can't be one of the top Western teams and a legit Cup contender."
Don Draper says...
"A month-and-a-half on the road means three things: Living out of your suitcase, missing your own bed and sampling the local talent. If you end up feeling melancholy over only two of these, you're ahead of the game."
2009-10 Preseason Report Card:
Special Teams: B- (Ranked in the bottom half on both the PP and PK, could use a definitive power-play QB.)
Management: A (Gillis has proven to be a smart GM who has build up the Canucks into contenders.)
Results May Vary (Biggest Issue Facing the Team): Twice he's taken the Canucks to the playoffs and twice Roberto Luongo hasn't been able to get over the second round hump. The consistent theme of a Stanley Cup champion is being able to depend on their goaltender, even if the team isn't playing well. Luongo has all the talent in the world and after years of watching the playoffs while with Florida, he's yet to strike fear in playoff opponents with Vancouver. Up 2-1 in their series with Chicago last season, the Canucks lost the final three games, including the infamous 7-5 shootout in Game 6, and found themselves coming up short in their pursuit of the Cup. One of these playoffs Luongo is going to take the Canucks on his back and carry them for a deep run. The question remains when that will happen.
Warranty Expires (Prediction): Expectations are high to expound on the 100-point campaign last season. The Sundin sideshow is in the rear-view mirror and GM Mike Gillies has quickly turned the Canucks into contenders with the help of Alain Vigneault. It'll be another battle with the Calgary Flames for the Northwest Division title, but if Vancouver can get solid goaltending from Roberto Luongo and balance scoring among their lines, a deep playoff run isn't out of the question. Should Team Canada win gold in Vancouver during the Olympics, the pressure on the Canucks to follow suit with a Stanley Cup could reach an all-time high.