We are just under one month into the 2010-11 edition of the Vancouver Canucks. Despite pre-season Stanley Cup predictions, this season began with a bit of a whimper. The Canucks started off the season 2-3-2, beating only bottom feeders Florida and Carolina. It also featured a fan fueled goaltending freakout of Dan Cloutier proportions.
The Goalie Controversy Myth
The season also started off with two impressive outings by Cory Schneider and a less than impressive start for Roberto Luongo. This of course started the calls by uneducated fans to trade Luongo and to allow Schneider to become the new number one goalie. The fact that the team cherry picked two easy games for Schneider didn’t seem to be taken into consideration nor the fact that Luongo is a notorious slow starter.
Recently, I attended the Canucks-Avalanche game. When the Avalanche tied the game with about a minute left, a guy behind me blurted out: “Pssh! Ten million dollars!”. Nevermind the fact that he had been playing great and had no chance on the tying goal. He was later named the game’s first star.
The city is on pins and needles ready to jump all over Luongo. He is the biggest key to the team’s success, but lets not lose perspective here. At worst, he is still going to be a top 10 goalie. Also keep in mind that his $5.3 million cap number puts him eighth in the league among goaltenders.
Back on the bandwagon
Lately, all has seemed to be forgotten. The Canucks have won four straight, with Luongo playing well and the team regaining their scoring touch. Also, for the first time since perhaps the mid-90s, the Canucks appear to have three lines that can score. It’s been a while since a Canucks third liner netted a hat trick like Raffi Torres did on Tuesday night.
Is this a playoff team?
This team will be judged on what they do in the playoffs. I get the sense that most of the city is just waiting for April, May and hopefully June, and that is to be expected. Last year the Canucks showed they have an elite first line and a very good second line. This year, Mike Gillis appears to have fixed their third line. The fourth line? That’s another story.
When/if healthy, their defense is supposed to be better although I think it may be a bit overrated. Who knows if Sami Salo will be able to return, and if he does will he be a shell of his former self? It looks like he’s going to go almost an entire calendar year without playing, which will be difficult for a player coming off a serious injury at his age. Keith Ballard is being treated as a #5-6 defenseman by coach Alain Vigneault, presumably because he is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Will he get better? Presumably he will. The team also hasn’t shown that they will be able to put together a good shutdown pairing yet, so far trying to get by with Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa in that role. Hamhuis may be part of the answer, but having Bieksa in a shutdown role is madness.
In goal, Roberto Luongo should have what it takes. The whole city is nervous about him, as evidence by their complete overreaction to his early season struggles, but he is an elite goaltender. The key for him will be getting hot at the right time in the playoffs.
The Canucks fourth line simply isn’t good enough but luckily that is a relatively cheap/easy area to improve at the trade deadline. That will likely to be something that Mike Gillis will have to address down the road, perhaps with rental players.
Another option for the Canucks is to bring-in an impact rental player at the trade deadline to push them over the hump. In my mind, Cory Schneider is their best bet to bring in that player. If Schneider can continue his impressive play and get into about 20 games, he might become a hot commodity if a team thinks that he could be a starting goalie at his age and salary.