Canucks and Beyond

The Elephant in GM Place

09/21/2007 at 4:13pm EDT

imageLast night I had a chance to interview Andy and Matt—two of the bloggers behind the very popular Battle of Alberta. (The recording of that conversation should be available early next week). But one thing they brought up has stuck in my mind, and it’s something I’ve avoided thinking about too much: that the Colorado Avalanche might not actually suck this year. Depressing.

And I suppose that’s a snotty understatement; the truth is, the Avalanche seriously improved themselves this summer, as did others, which is sort of the point of this post.

The already-tight NW division has gotten tougher since last season, and I wonder if Vancouver might be affected by this more than any other team.

One thing that the BoA guys pointed out was that they can’t see how the Canucks did anything notable to improve themselves since the end of last season. I think that’s a widely-held perception (including by those of us who are fans of this team) and while it’s true, I suppose it also depends how you define “better.”

GM Dave Nonis did stay busy throughout the summer getting some smart things done; extending contracts of key players and adding some depth players like Sanford, Ritchie and Isbister. These were important matters to address and their value will become more apparent over time. (Well, we’ll hope for the best in the case of the new players, but certainly those contract extensions were the right thing to do for the long term).

But even those ‘improvements’ aren’t nearly enough for a fan to hang his hat on and say “this team is better”—because better means winning hockey games, and I’m not yet convinced that the Canucks are in any better of a position to do that now than they were last year. Certainly the Canucks did well last season, but those were a whole lot of very tight wins. The result could easily be drastically different if the opposition can exploit the team’s biggest weakness: scoring.

Lack of goal scoring is the elephant in the room. You know it, I know it, and the players must know it. The team, however, hasn’t addressed it.

I think there is every indication that Nonis did intend to deal with this matter, having kept around $3 million available (note: the salary level is currently about $46 million, according to NHLnumbers.com) plus extra padding for trade deadline time. But for whatever reason, no deals came to fruition.

Odds are, that money is going to be spent on scoring somewhere down the line; though how usefully it will paid out remains to be seen. However, at this point it’s safe to say that the team is relying on two major things going into the 2007-08 season: that proven past players have a resurgence this year (*we’re looking at you, Naslund and Morrison); and that the team’s “defense-first” system is tighter than ever.

Judging by last night’s pre-season game against the Oilers, the plan is sort of working (...sort of). Defense appears to be a big factor, with just 10 shots allowed on the Canucks net all game; and the Canucks themselves are firing a lot of pucks on the opposition, as well.

But unless someone like Michael Grabner magically becomes the scoring superstar of the team this season, I think everyone else out there is going to have to keep working on their aim.

And if the rest of them could avoid the infirmary, that would be nice, too.

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