The 2014-15 NHL season is just around the corner, and fans all around the world are on the edge of their seats.
Canucks fans may come back to an almost unrecognizable team. Vancouver heads into the season with a new President, General Manager, Head Coach, Assistant Coach, a handful of new players, and hope for the season. After the tumultuous year the Canucks had last year, there is a source of optimism that cannot be ignored: a fresh slate. In the tough Western Conference, it may take more than just a fresh slate to make the playoffs, but the Canucks have the pieces to make the postseason.
The Canucks finished as the lowest scoring team in the Western Conference last year, but that is due to change. The Sedins had one of their career worst seasons last year, but are armed with new linemate and former 35-goal scorer Radim Vrbata, and even got addition by subtraction with the firing of John Tortorella. The Sedins are poised to have a rebound year and prove that age hasn’t caught up to them yet.
The newly acquired Nick Bonino, who was part of the Ryan Kesler trade, is likely going to center the second line, and the most Canucks fans can hope is that he provides legitimate top-6 scoring. Kesler may be the better player, but Bonino’s play style and his great passing ability and vision may elevate many other forwards’ games. His clutch ability will also be appreciated by the Canucks team that lost 11OT games last year.
The wingers seem up in the air, with Alex Burrows in a similar situation as the Sedins, coming off a down year but ready to prove his worth to the team. With Ryan Kesler gone, Burrows’ defensive role is going to have to be even more prominent, but the Canucks hope he can contribute offensively after last year’s 49 game, 5-goal campaign. Zack Kassian seems to be a second away from bursting into his potential, but it’s just a question of when. Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen will hopefully continue to be the versatile wingers that can play on any line, in any situation, giving the Canucks some versatility, while Derek Dorsett, Brad Richardson, and Shawn Matthias provide good bottom-6 depth.
Another large source of optimism for the Canucks and their fans is that the influx of youth seems to be slowly becoming a reality. Bo Horvat and Frank Corrado have a shot at making the opening day lineup, while Linden Vey has already locked up his spot. Where the youngsters will play, if they make the team, is up in the air, but it’s a positive sign nonetheless.
Following a similar trend, most of the Canucks’ defensemen had down years, primarily Alex Edler and his NHL worst -39. Edler is running out of time to blossom into the top-2 defenseman we saw shades of a few years ago, and this is as fresh of a start as it gets. Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, and Chris Tanev continue to be the staples of the Canucks backend, while Ryan Stanton will hope to continue his success as a bottom pairing defenseman. Newcomer Lucas Sbisa came over in the Ryan Kesler deal as well, and will hope to forget about his underachieving play and prove why he was drafted 19th overall in 2008.
In between the pipes, the Canucks are without Roberto Luongo on opening day for the first time since 2005. They signed Ryan Miller to a 3-year/$18 million deal this offseason, who will share time in net with Eddie Lack. Goaltending has never really been the issue for the Canucks, though it has been one the most discussed positions in the last few years. A bigger question is how the Ryan Miller signing will benefit the development of goalies such as Lack, Joacim Eriksson, Jacob Markstrom, and Joe Cannata. Will there be another goalie controversy in Vancouver in a couple years?
Just because the days when the Canucks were counted as perennial Cup contenders seem to be gone, there is a good chance this club could sneak into the playoffs as one of the bottoms seeds in the West. And any hockey fan knows that once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen.