Canucks and Beyond

This Year's Canucks -- with $10 Million to Spare

09/22/2008 at 7:34pm EDT

While season previews are the fashionable thing this time of year, I’ve always thought them to be sort of useless. Nothing ever goes as expected. (The SJ Sharks come to mind—I haven’t been paying much attention, but I bet at least 4 out of 10 “experts” have them in the Stanley Cup Finals, if not outright predicting they’ll win the Cup this year. Correct? Experts are predictable. Teams aren’t.)

Anyway, in the case of the Canucks this season it’s particularly hard to preview a team that still has $10 million sitting on the table waiting for someone to pick it up.

So the team is still a work in progress, but a brief look at some of the players already in the fold seems reasonable. And right off the top, there’s some surprisingly good news: it seems none of them have managed to injure themselves yet.

Things are looking up. :)


*photo from Spawty, hat tip to John Bollwitt

Random observations on some of this year’s Canucks:

Roberto Luongo - This year he’ll be back to form, playing his best hockey. That’s not to say he was really off form last year, just that his god-like-goalie reputation was affected by two issues: the devastated defense in front of him, and the personal life issue that understandably made it more difficult to focus his attention. Goalie’s are tough but still somewhat delicate. Everyone is deferential to them for a reason—no one wants to upset the fine line they balance between brilliance and disaster.

This season Luongo gets to start fresh, and hopefully with more balance in both his on-ice and personal environments.

Pavol Demitra - He’s the Sami Salo of offense. Don’t expect to see him every game, but he’s dependable for around 55, I figure, and probably worth the money even considering that. But is that enough to keep a beleaguered offense in business? If Alain Vigneault is truly going to become the offensive-styled coach Mike Gillis promises, Demitra will make a difference. But if the Canucks pursue their wannabe-Jacques-Lemaire stylings of the past, then even Demitra can only do so much.

Incidentally, it’s too bad that Minnesota has no choice but to make Marian Gaborik nearly the highest paid player in the NHL for his next contract. If there was any breathing room at all, you have to figure Gillis would sell his soul to add Gabby to Demitra’s talent on an offense-minded team. (I know, I know… that’s probably called “Stating the Obvious 101”)

Kevin Bieksa - Like Luongo, Bieksa will be pretending last season didn’t happen, remembering back to a time when the world was wonderful; in his case, 2006-07. And like Luongo, he’ll exceed his finest form of the past, and play better than before his gruesome, career-threatening injury of last season. I have high hopes.

Ryan Johnson & Kyle Wellwood - You could argue that Johnson replaces aspects of Brendan Morrison’s game, and Wellwood is meant to produce substantial points. Well, you could argue that, but you’d be dreaming. Nonetheless, I suspect that is Mike Gillis’s dream at the moment. (Although Alain Vigneault seemed to float a Wellwood- reality-check this past weekend. And Waiting for Stanley made the same point with disturbing photos...)

Willie Mitchell - He’s expected to be named captain any day, but I’ve also never had the impression that AV likes him much. Will it work out? Will it even happen? Contrary to popular belief, there are other options.

But it’s fair to say Mitchell is ideal for the job. In addition to what he brings to the ice, he’s someone capable of acting as an intermediary between Vigneault and the team, which might be a good idea.

Taylor Pyatt - Mr. Makeover has been given more than enough time to grow up, maintain a work ethic and be a consistent force. And there’s no arguing he’s not talented enough to do so.

But will he ever come through? Who knows… but I’m told he’s so “dreamy” that thousands of hockey fans don’t really care.

Alex Edler and Lukas Krajicek - Nothing to complain about there. Better than expected, every day of their careers. The scouting staff (i.e. Thomas Gradin) deserves great credit for grabbing Edler as the 91st pick of 2004, and Dave Nonis should get more credit than he does for stealing Krajicek from Florida in that Luongo deal.

(Randomly, this reminds me: Why do people keep hiring Mike Keenan? One of life’s great mysteries.)

Mattias Ohlund - Were last year’s injury issues an anomaly or a sign of things to come, a downward slide for the career Canuck? Having just turned 32 he’s entering the prime of his career as a defenseman, and he’s been so consistently healthy and solid throughout his career (well, except for that gruesome eye incident; the guy has permanent partial loss of his vision, and he’s still one of the best in the game), I’m betting he returns to form this season.

Sami Salo - Like with Demitra, it’s important to anticipate that he will get injured. Like freakin’ clockwork. But he’ll be so good for 60 games a year that—as Canucks fans have always done—we’ll simply just accept this minor imperfection of his and hope that he doesn’t injure himself too badly at any given time.

Anything over 60 games with Salo on the ice is gravy. Don’t bitch about it, just accept it.

Steve Bernier— I’m no expert on Bernier, but this is what I get in my head when forced to think about him: he’s Mr. Potential. i.e. Potential scorer. Potential star. Potential top liner. Potential triplet?

Similar to Wellwood, Berrnier is like a skating question mark. Mike Gillis decided to take a chance on him though, and given the price and available options, it’s hard to fault the GM’s decision. But the question remains: Is Bernier a diamond-in-the-rough or a guy headed for a career in Germany sometime soon? This season is his chance to answer that question.

Mason Raymond - Raymond has always been an under-the-radar guy, and while he’s oddly infamous to sitcom addicts, I doubt you could find 10 hardcore hockey fans of teams not named “Vancouver-something” who have ever heard of him. But that’s their loss. For some reason, players like Raymond inspire an odd-optimism in me about this collection of orca-clothed misfits.

We can be mildly optimistic, I suppose. At least Mark Messier hasn’t come out of retirement to “save” us, or some such nightmare.

On the other hand, it’s hard to be too excited about having the NHL’s single best collection of 3rd and 4th liners ever put together. And I definitely don’t buy the argument that this Canucks team is better than the team last year that didn’t make the playoffs.

But even if Gillis can’t add the missing piece of the puzzle, maybe the rest of the NW Division could help out. After all, the Canucks kidnapped Demitra from the Wild. And as for the Avs… there’s a chance they’re cursed.

So do the Canucks have a shot at a respectable performance this year? I’d feel a whole lot better about them if we knew where that $10 million was going to end up.

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