August 13 2013 09:26AM
Our stroll through Edmonton's new division continues today with a look at the Vancouver Canucks.
As with yesterday’s look at the Anaheim Ducks, I’ve included one basic statistic at each position on the depth charts below. For forwards, I’ve used points from last season projected over an 82-game schedule, for defencemen time on ice per game in 2012-13, and for goalies their 2012-13 save percentage. Players in italics did not play a significant number of games in the NHL in 2012-13; red indicates numbers come from the AHL or Europe while green indicates a previous NHL season.
And again, the same caveat: these depth charts are my best approximation of each team and the line combinations are not intended to be chisled on stone tablets.
It’s surprising how quickly the Oilers seem to have closed the gap with Vancouver up front. With an aging core and salary concerns cutting into their depth, the Canucks don’t look especially formidable on paper.
Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin form the nucleus of a strong top line, while Alex Burrows is a strong complementary player, but it isn’t a group that particularly overshadows the Oilers’ young trio. Ryan Kesler, if healthy, is a superb second line centre; he left a major hole in Vancouver’s lineup last season but now he’s back. Vancouver has less raw offensive talent on the wings of their second line than Edmonton, but with two strong two-way players and Kesler, that’s probably a better line overall.
The bottom six doesn’t look much different. The Oilers have Boyd Gordon and question marks at centre; the Canucks have a good fourth-line guy and question marks. Nothing is particularly inspiring about Vancouver’s third and fourth line wingers – if Chris Higgins bounces back and Zack Kassian steps forward they’ll be in good shape (particularly if Kassian can move into the top-six), but on the whole there are at least as many questions as there are with Edmonton’s group.
Given Edmonton’s blend of youth and the Canucks’ shoddy depth, it seems reasonable to project this as a close matchup.
Defence and Goaltending
Defence, on the other hand, isn’t close. Look at it this way: Jeff Petry was the Oilers’ number one defenceman last year, and while he may well be eclipsed by Justin Schultz this year he’s the incumbent. Where would he slot on Vancouver’s depth chart? To me, it looks like he’d be battling with Kevin Bieksa and Chris Tanev for the number four slot. The Canucks don’t have an overpowering number one defenceman, but they have a lot of very good players and a nice mix of skillsets on the back end.
Depth-wise, the Oilers can feel good on their blue line, but given the mismatch at the top end that’s little comfort.
Goaltending is an interesting position for the Canucks. Roberto Luongo is a superb goaltender, but he’s had a troubled relationship with the team. If he comes in and plays the way he can, than Vancouver looks good – Eriksson and Lack can fight for the number two role with little chance of hurting the team.
After years as one of the West’s dominant teams, cracks are starting to show in Vancouver, particularly up front. A team that once boasted high-end talent and exceptional depth at all positions still has the former but can seemingly no longer afford the latter. It’s a team that can still contend in the here and now, but could use some re-tooling up front. Barring a Luongo collapse, however, they should be near the top of the Pacific Division.
This is a team the Oilers can only catch if there’s a significant meltdown.
Recently around the Nation Network
And here's some news directly relevant to that depth chart above: the Canucks are having a lot of trouble getting Chris Tanev under contract, and now his agent is talking about the KHL. It sounds more to me like an agent deciding he has pretty much zero leverage and had better find something to push with, but Canucks Army's Patrick Johnston suggests it won't be a huge deal if Tanev decides to leave:
So he may go, he may not. Is he replaceable? Probably? Would it be a loss? Yes, it most certainly would. Solid NHLers on cheap contracts are very valuable, and his role on the team's back-end can't be overlooked. But it wouldn't be a disaster.
Click the link above to read more, or check out some of my recent stuff: