Please welcome our newest writer Matt Fisher! You can follow Matt on Twitter at @vancouvermatt
While the goaltending soap opera surrounding the Vancouver Canucks received the lion’s share of the press during the off-season, it’s fair to say the Canucks’ fortunes in 2013-14 rest less on Roberto Luongo’s shoulders, than on their second-line centre, Ryan Kesler.
The oft-injured Selke trophy winner from Livonia, Michigan, is the real key to whether the Canucks will raise a banner at the end of the 2013-14 season – and whether that banner is a divisional one or better.
Without a healthy Kesler doing what he’s capable of doing – and that would be shutting down the opponent’s top line each night, while contributing a goal every second game like he did in 2010-11 – the Canucks’ chances of even making it into the playoffs are fair-to-middling at best.
Critics of Kesler are quick to dismiss his career year of 2010-11, when he racked up an astonishing 41 goals and 73 points in the regular season, only to ramp it up in the playoffs, netting 19 points in 25 games. He also single-handedly carried the team on his back in the Nashville series, and was on a short-list to win the Conn Smythe until injuring his hip against San Jose in the Conference Finals. We all know what happened after that… although some of us would prefer to forget.
But this season is different, say the die-hard fans of Kesler. Because for the first time in three seasons, Kesler arrived at training camp 100% healthy and in fabulous shape.
Following hip surgery after the 2010-11 season, then shoulder surgery after 2011-12, his goal production dropped from 41 to 22, then to 13 in the lockout-shortened season last Spring. Now that he’s healthy and has enjoyed a complete training camp, under a coach whom he knows and admires from the 2010 Olympics, the difference for Kes is night-and-day coming out of the blocks.
Can he do it? Of course, he can. He’s a stud, and he’s arguably the most complete player on the Canucks’ roster (hence the Selke in his trophy case, right beside his Olympic silver medal). But his excruciating history of untimely injuries means there’s a giant asterisk beside his name, as all Fantasy Pool Players know full well.
He’s a risk, and a big one. Much like the Canucks’ season itself this year.
But while he may not be as injury-prone as the Fragile Finn, Sami Salo, he’s a close second, in the minds and memories of Canucks fans.
There is a glut of veterans on the 2013-14 edition of the Canucks – the Sedins, Burrows, Higgins, Hamhuis, Bieksa, Garrison, and Lu, to name a few – but there is no time, nor patience, for a rebuilding year. The time to win is now, and that window is closing quickly.
If Kesler can stay healthy, and return to anything close to the form he displayed just three seasons ago, the Canucks may very well steamroll to yet another division title. But it’s a big “if”. We’ll find out the answer to that very quickly.