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Thinking about the 2011-2012 Canucks

The Canucks’ failure to win the Stanley Cup yesterday feels very familiar to this long time Canucks fan. They’re a team that rarely fails to disappoint.

I’m sorry to say that my affection for the team significantly declined during the playoffs. It’s easy to see, among the team’s floppers, passengers and drama queens, why the Canucks were vilified around the league.

That said, one of the great things about supporting a sports team is that hope springs eternal. Every failure or shortfall is temporary, for the new season is only a few months away. This also holds true for the World Cup and Olympics, though the downtime is longer.

But the season is over, and NHL draft day is seven eight days away. This seems like an excellent time to assess the team’s performance, and think about what the roster might look like in October.

Forwards

I’d expect the team to bid farewell to Raffi Torres and Maxim LaPierre. Assuming that Malhotra and Hodgson are the team’s third and fourth-line centres next season, there’s no room for LaPierre, though he did exceed expectations in the playoffs.

I hope that Vancouver can re-sign Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins, both of whom acquitted themselves well as speedy, versatile forwards. I also liked the energy and size that Oreskovich brought to the roster as a fourth-liner.

The Canucks are a team built on speed and skill. As was desperately evident in the Boston series, they lack grit. The Sedins can be intimidated into impotence, and didn’t have much protection from the other forwards. The team could benefit from one or two hulking forwards that strike fear into the opposition. When they’re not scoring goals, the team’s top nine forwards just aren’t scary enough.

After Hodgson, the team’s top forward prospects seem to be Jordan Schroeder (at 5’9″ and 175 lbs, also not scary) and Billy Sweatt. They seem like long shots to make the team this fall.

Defense

The Canucks’ defense was stellar all season, and through most of the playoffs. The group’s performance declined after losing Dan Hamhuis, and to a lesser degree Aaron Rome.

Financially, the team is likely going to have to rid themselves of one of Bieksa, Erhoff and Ballard. The first two are unrestricted free agents, and the third is very unpopular with the head coach. NHL teams have historically overpaid for free agent offensive defensemen, so I hope they keep Bieksa and Ballard, and let Erhoff go to somebody with deep pockets.

It’s time for Sami Salo to go on permanent injured reserve. He’s had an admirable career, but he looked old and slow in these playoffs.

Chris Tanev was a revelation through the regular season and the playoffs, and deserves a regular roster spot next year. I hope that Ballard will be given a solid shot next season, either to showcase him for a trade or to solidify his role on the team. Rome is a Vigneault favourite, so I’d expect that he’ll be back.

There are a number of promising defensive prospects in the Canucks’ system–Kevin Connauton, Billy’s brother Lee Sweatt, Peter Andersson and so forth. None, as I understand it, are sure-things, but there will be some spirited competition in training camp for the final roster spot among them.

Goaltending

The current NHL thinking is that you only need an average goalie to win a Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, you can still lose to an extraordinary one. In terms of comparing the play of various players on Boston and Vancouver, Luongo was outplayed by the largest margin. He simply wasn’t good enough. The rest of the team is also culpable, but they were let down again and again by their goaltender.

Luongo’s emotional fragility really worries me. I don’t see him getting over that any time soon.

It’d never happen, but I’d like to see the team trade Luongo and take a chance on young Cory Schneider. I doubt they could actually find a team willing to take on Luongo’s albatross of a contract.

Instead, the team’s really obligated to move Schneider and let him be the starting goalie that he seems ready to become. I wouldn’t be surprised if that deal happened at the draft next week.

Coaching

I like Alain Vigneault a lot. Until the playoffs, I thought he’d done an excellent job of the tactical details of his work, and apparently managed the egos in the dressing room. However, particularly during the Boston series, he was out-coached by his opposite number. For example, he failed to address the team’s floundering powerplay.

More importantly, the team’s intensity routinely flagged. This, I think, is a symptom of them not listening to their coaching staff. NHL coaches have a shelf life, and Vigneault may be reaching the end of his.

Management

Until Luongo’s playoff implosion, General Manager Mike Gillis looked like a genius. All those goals took the shine off his decision to give Luongo a 12-year contract. Other than that, though, Gillis’s work has been excellent. I quite enjoyed this long profile of Gillis in The Globe and Mail last month.

This year’s playoff run must have been an absurd windfall for the team. They hosted 14 of a potential 16 home games. In game one, it’s estimated the team made $6.9 million in revenue for the four home games. The figure rises to $3.69 million per game in ticket revenue alone in the Stanley Cup finals. And remember, they don’t pay the players in the post-season.

Next Fall’s Roster

The team will no doubt make some moves in the off-season, but what might their roster look like in early October?

Sedin-Sedin-Burrows
(Raymond)-Kesler-Higgins
Somebody gritty like Joel Ward-Malhotra-Hansen
Glass-Hodgson-Oreskovich

Hamhuis-Bieksa
Edler-Rome
Tanev-Ballard

Luongo
A cheap backup goalie

UPDATE: I was looking at the wrong column in Cap Geek, so it turns out that Samuelsson, Raymond and Rome are under contract for another year. I’ve adjusted this post accordingly.

5 Responses to “Thinking about the 2011-2012 Canucks”

  1. Duane Storey

    I like Schnieder. Maybe he isn’t as “good” as Luongo when Luongo is at the top of his game, but he seems confident in net and hasn’t displayed the fragility that Luongo has often shown, especially series like this last one. Even by the stats I believe that Cory was a hair better based on GAA than Luongo this season.

  2. Bob

    i thought salo was pretty solid and i’d welcome him back for cheap, if he’ll do it, and samuelsson and raymond are both under contract for one more year… i think?? i’d be really surprised if they sign glass.

  3. Phillip Jeffrey

    Full disclosure: I’m a diehard Leafs fan and don’t follow the Canucks. However I read your post and after doing some reading about Luongo found this Fox Sports Radio post that may interest you. http://goo.gl/7xgtJ

    Also, I don’t know if a “hunking forward” is needed. The style of Vancouver is more appropriate for the West. You made it to the Finals on speed and skill and were the much more talented team than Boston and expected to win. You just faced a super-hot goalie.

  4. anonymous

    Luongo is amazing, you can’t doubt that. Maybe in that boston series he wasn’t playing like himself. can you blame him for having pressure? he wasn’t the reason we lost, he’s the reason we got that far. you gotta appreciate his hard work. and sure maybe Thomas played a lot better but do you hear people cheering “THOMAS”? No, you here people cheering “LUUUUU!” i think he will learn from that and be the best goaltender ever.

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