With 15 games left in the regular season and the nightmare record road trip behind them, one thing is still not clear. Are the Canucks contenders or pretenders? It’s a question that doesn’t elicit a unanimous response. I think that we as Canucks fans underrate this edition of the Canucks (just as we overrated the Naslund-Bertuzzi era Canucks).
Looking at the numbers, you would have to say that the Canucks are contenders. Lets review. They currently have the fourth best record in the NHL, tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins. If they go 10-5 in their remaining 15 games, they will tie the Canucks record for points in a single season. Vancouver is currently second in goals per game, behind only Washington. They have the second leading scorer in the entire league in Henrik Sedin. Henrik needs only 20 points in the last 15 games to tie Pavel Bure’s team record for points in a season. Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Mikael Samuelsson, Mason Raymond and Christian Ehrhoff are all on pace for career years. Pavol Demitra has had an injury filled season, but lead Team Slovakia in scoring during the Olympics and was named to the tournament all star team.
This has not been a banner year for Canucks defencemen. Christian Ehrhoff has provided more than anyone expected, but Alex Edler, Willie Mitchell, Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa have had seasons marred by injuries and inconsistent play. Andrew Alberts was brought in at the deadline and it looks pretty clear that they gave up too much (a 3rd round draft pick) to get him.
The reality is that the Canucks right now are a very good team who can make some noise in the playoffs. They have balanced scoring, a good defense (when healthy) and a superstar goaltender. At this point, we still should consider them more pretender than contender, because we’re still waiting for a couple of missing pieces of the puzzle. To me, their forwards have been good enough. To win a cup, they will need a healthy defense, playing up to their potential (most notably Willie Mitchell, Sami Salo, Kevin Bieksa and Alex Edler). They may be able to get by a round or two with a banged up blue line, but they will need Salo to stay healthy and Mitchell to get healthy.
The wild card in all of this is of course Roberto Luongo. He has put up good (not great) numbers this season, sub-par by his standards. He’s still a world class goaltender, and is capable of more. He is their best player, and only spectacular play by him will give the Canucks a chance to win it all this spring.