Last season the Vancouver Canucks dominated the regular season. As a team, they scored the most goals, allowed the least and they tallied 117 points and won the President’s Trophy. Their ensuing run to the Stanley Cup Finals was captivating and entertaining.
These moments would have become an indelible part of Canucks lore had they won the final game of the season, and not the Boston Bruins. The Canucks faithful however, are still holding out hope that those memories will play into a two year narrative that ultimately concludes with that elusive Stanley Cup victory in 2012.
The ever questioned Roberto Luongo will get yet another chance to quiet his critics. The issue with Luongo is that his best is never good enough – the expectations are so extreme and the reproach so harsh that any minor misstep is analyzed incessantly.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin are also no strangers to criticism, despite establishing themselves as two of the league’s most entertaining and productive players over the past three seasons. Instead of praising the talent of the Swedish twins, they’re routinely ridiculed for lacking toughness and a killer instinct.
That’s not to say the three are completely above all criticism. The Sedins combined for 5 points in the Finals and in Vancouver’s four losses to the Bruins, Luongo gave up 18 goals to go along with an unimpressive .766 save percentage.
For the Canucks to contend again this season, Luongo and the Sedins must lift themselves above their detractors and deliver in the biggest moments, even if the expectations are unrealistic.
Along with Luongo and the Sedins, the core of the team that came so painfully close returns; the only notable loss was defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, who was signed away by the Sabres.
Reigning Selke trophy winner Ryan Kesler is currently sidelined after undergoing off season hip surgery and Mason Raymond, who broke a vertebra in his back in game six of the Finals, is out indefinitely.
Cody Hodgson was celebrated as a future Canucks star following his impressive 92 points in 53 games season with Brampton in 2008-2009 as well as his dominance (16 points in 6 games) at the World Juniors that same year. The injuries to Kesler and Raymond will give the twenty-one year old Hodgson an opportunity to get substantial ice time and prove he can provide the spark that was desperately missed in the Finals.
Marco Sturm was the only significant offensive addition. Sturm has scored 20 plus goals eight times but last season he struggled through an injury plagued campaign, participating in only 35 games.
On the blue line, promising young defenceman Chris Tanev will step in for Ehrhoff. Tanev impressed when he was called into action last season. Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa form a reliable first pairing and Alex Edler and Sami Salo can contribute five on five, on the penalty kill, and on the power play, while the much maligned Keith Ballard will be given another chance to show he can be consistent after a roller coaster first season with the team.
This year, regular season success will not be enough for the Canucks. Anything but a Stanley Cup triumph will be considered a failure. It certainly won’t be easy, but if they can draw from the experience of losing and make the necessary adjustments, I don’t see any reason why Vancouver can’t challenge for the title again this season.