The Vancouver Canucks begin the 2013-14 season today and I can’t recall another Canucks season with so many question marks. Nobody really knows what to expect from this group, now three seasons removed from their near-dream season in 2010-11 when they almost won the Stanley Cup.
10. Is the core of the Canucks on its last legs?
For years we heard about “the window” for this edition of the Canucks. The window of course referred to the window of opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. That window was emphatically slammed shut at the hands of the San Jose Sharks in the form of a 4-0 series sweep last spring. This year, the Canucks are nobody’s pick to win it all and that isn’t likely to change unless they get some pleasant surprises along the way.
9. Will Roberto Luongo’s heart be in it?
You knew it wouldn’t be long until we asked a question about Roberto Luongo. He is a very divisive figure in this city and after the roller coaster of emotions he has been through, I think it’s a fair question to ask if his heart will be in it. If the answer is no, then perhaps a good follow up question is will it matter? If Luongo can regain the form that made him undoubtedly one of the top five goalies in the NHL, it will go a long way to helping make the 2013-14 season a successful one.
8. Are the Sedins still elite players?
The increasing age and diminishing production of Roberto Luongo has overshadowed the fact that Henrik and Daniel Sedin are in much the same boat. They’re only one year younger than Luongo and their production has dropped steadily since the 2010-11 season. This year the twins will be also asked to kill penalties which might hurt their point totals, but could make them more complete players. The move to make them kill penalties has been highly criticized but if the Sedins are truly elite players among the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews then they should be up to the task. We will see.
7. Can Zack Kassian take the next step?
This is a big year for Zack Kassian. Kassian came out on fire last season scoring 6 points in the first 8 games, but only put up 5 points in the remaining 31 games. The plan is to play Kassian with the Sedins more this year, and if he can produce consistently (physically and offensively) then that will allow Alex Burrows to provide a second wave of attack on the second line.
6. Will any of the newcomers emerge as difference makers?
The Canucks didn’t make a big splash in free agency or through the trade route (save for the Cory Schneider trade of course), so the newcomers are not well known to the casual hockey fan. Mike Santorelli, Brad Richardson, Jannick Weber, Zac Dalpe and Ryan Stanton aren’t household names, even in their own household. Santorelli, Richardson and Dalpe will be counted on to solidify the third hand fourth line and are unproven. Youngsters Jordan Schroeder and Eddie Lack will likely play their first full season in Vancouver and will need to prove that they belong.
5. How will the team respond to John Tortorella’s coaching style?
The Canucks looked a little out of sorts in the preseason and they have spoken openly about adjusting to John Tortorella’s system. Torts wants the Canucks to be a harder team to play against and time will tell if he can coax the best out of this group.
4. What can we expect out of David Booth?
We know we can expect David Booth to go hunting with his crossbow in the offseason and be outspoken on Twitter, but what about on the ice? Booth’s biggest problem has being able to stay healthy. Because of the injuries and the off-ice news about him, I think many have forgotten just how good Booth can be. Booth has scored 31 goals in this league before and showed a lot of promise during his first abbreviated season in Vancouver. Booth scored at a 23 goal pace (16 goals in 56 games) during his injury interrupted season in 2011-12. If he can be a 25 goal scorer, he turns the Canucks into a 3 line team.
3. How potent is the Canucks power play?
When the Canucks were challenging for the Stanley Cup, it was usually on the back of their league best power play. The power play lost its way midway through the 2011-12 season and hasn’t looked right since. This year the power play gets a new architect (assistant coach Glen Gulutzan) and will start with the booming shot of Jason Garrison and a healthy Ryan Kesler. The Sedins should be reliable with the man advantage (assuming they don’t try to foolishly play Daniel Sedin on the point again) while Alex Edler looks for a bounce-back season.
2. Who is Ryan Kesler?
If Ryan Kesler can stay healthy, who is he? Is he the 40 goal, Selke Trophy winning force that we saw when the Canucks went to the Stanley Cup Final? Or, is he simply an effective two-way centre that scores 25 goals and isn’t among the game’s elite? Nobody really knows for sure, but I believe the answer is somewhere in the middle. The emergence of Ryan Kesler as an elite player happened at the same time the Canucks became an elite team and that is no coincidence. Kesler is one of their most important players and he needs to remain healthy for this team to win.
1. Will the doubters eat their words?
The quote of the summer came from Ryan Kesler:
I know there’s a ton of pressure from inside the organization and you (media) guys and the city on me to play my best, and it starts today. I know this year I’m thinking it’s going to be a career year and a great year not just for me, but for the whole team. We’re going to prove a lot of people wrong. All those doubters out there. We’re going to make them eat their words.
That is what fans love about Kesler. He is clearly a motivated player and is the team’s emotional leader. Declaring that he wants to make the doubters eat their words is music to my ears. This isn’t a complacent team like they have been the last two years, but they’re also not as good on paper either. Can they still hang with the Blackhawks, Kings and Bruins? Or will they be clawing with the Ducks, Oilers and Coyotes for a playoff spot? We will soon find out.