The OilersNation Research Department™ has been hard at work getting ready for the new season. As 2008-2009 draws upon us, we have made unreasonable demands on Professor Jonathan Willis and Dr Wanye Gretz. “Hey Jerkwads,” we said “We want a Northwest Division Preview, and we want it stat. And we want it to be thorough, and we want it now.” We present to you today the first of our Northwest Division Preview. We’ll be posting two parts for each team every weekend in the lead-up to the season. Enjoy!
—DJ Spyn Cycle
The Vancouver Canucks have taken significant steps back since the firing of Dave Nonis and now appear unlikely to sign former Maple Leafs’ captain Mats Sundin. In all likelihood, a lack of firepower up front will mean that Roberto Luongo is counted on too much, and that the team will miss the playoffs for a second straight year.
Hiring Mike Gillis—a man who once denied the Mighty Oil the right to overpay Nylander for a 17-year deal—can only be described as short-sighted. Watching Steve Tambellini depart for the Oilers can only be considered salt in the wound. Waiting for Mats Sundin to decide if it’s worth his time to come to Lotus Land to make $10 million a year—with no playoff games guaranteed!—is depressing. Oh and there’s the rain.
What a time to be in VanCity.
In: F – Pavol Demitra, F – Steve Bernier, F – Kyle Wellwood, F – Darcy Hordichuk, F – Ryan Johnson, F – Jason Krog, D – Rob Davison, D – Nolan Baumgartner, GM – Mike Gillis
Out: F – Markus Naslund, F – Brendan Morrison, F – Trevor Linden, F – Brad Isbister, F – Byron Ritchie, F – Greg Classen, F – Brad Moran, D – Aaron Miller, D – Mike Weaver, GM – Dave Nonis
Player agent Mike Gillis was hired to replace Dave Nonis as General Manager in the off-season. Gillis was harshly critical of the team that Dave Nonis left him, and promised radical changes to both the team and the mindset in the front office. He’s done both in his short tenure, although whether the changes are an improvement remains debatable. In addition to axing Alain Vigneault’s assistant coaches and watching Steve Tambellini leave to a division rival, Gillis has brought in a capologist from Phoenix and ex-player Scott Mellanby as a right-hand man. He’s also taken some knocks from rival GMs; first, Minnesota asked the league to look into tampering after reports that Pavol Demitra (who later joined the team) was being given a guided tour of Vancouver while still under contract to Minnesota. Later, Gillis launched an offer sheet at Blues forward David Backes. St Louis not only matched, but retaliated by making the same RFA offer to recently acquired Canucks forward Steve Bernier.
Alain Vigneault returns with a new extension through 2009–10. Gillis blamed Nonis and had kind words for the coaching staff after taking charge of the team, and has also involved Vigneault in off-season planning. Even so, Vigneault’s on a short leash. A capable coach with one Jack Adams trophy, Vigneault’s teams in Vancouver and Montreal have played a defence-first style.
Five forwards in, five forwards out. Did the Canucks upgrade? Probably not.
Here’s who they have, as well as departed players, ranked by quality of competition. Note that bolded players are additions to the team, while italicized players are those who’ve left in the off-season (it’s important to note that for new players the quality of competition placement may not be exact). Minimum ten games played (all numbers taken from Behindthenet.ca)
Ryan Kesler: 1.39 PTS/60, 2.08 GFON/60, 2.08 GAON/60
Alex Burrows: 1.51 PTS/60, 2.20 GFON/60, 1.82 GAON/60
Brad Isbister: 1.08 PTS/60, 1.51 GFON/60, 1.94 GAON/60
Taylor Pyatt: 1.84 PTS/60, 2.69 GFON/60, 1.90 GAON/60
Matt Pettinger: 0.73 PTS/60, 1.61 GFON/60, 2.33 GAON/60
Steve Bernier: 1.66 PTS/60, 2.45 GFON/60, 2.38 GAON/60
Henrik Sedin: 2.16 PTS/60, 2.80 GFON/60, 2.53 GAON/60
Daniel Sedin: 2.09 PTS/60, 2.52 GFON/60, 2.25 GAON/60
Ryan Johnson: 0.97 PTS/60, 1.56 GFON/60, 1.94 GAON/60
Pavol Demitra: 2.34 PTS/60, 3.32 GFON/60, 2.54 GAON/60
Markus Naslund: 1.79 PTS/60, 2.62 GFON/60, 2.62 GAON/60
Byron Ritchie: 0.76 PTS/60, 1.33 GFON/60, 2.37 GAON/60
Brendan Morrison: 1.62 PTS/60, 2.21 GFON/60, 2.21 GAON/60
Kyle Wellwood: 0.97 PTS/60, 1.62 GFON/60, 2.59 GAON/60
Trevor Linden: 1.14 PTS/60, 1.82 GFON/60, 1.82 GAON/60
Ryan Shannon: 1.48 PTS/60, 2.22 GFON/60, 2.71 GAON/60
Jeff Cowan: 0.16 PTS/60, 0.80 GFON/60, 1.59 GAON/60
Rick Rypien: 0.77 PTS/60, 0.77 GFON/60, 3.08 GAON/60
Mason Raymond: 1.91 PTS/60, 2.42 GFON/60, 1.91 GAON/60
Mike Brown: 0.51 PTS/60, 1.02 GFON/60, 2.05 GAON/60
Jason Jaffray: 1.57 PTS/60, 1.88 GFON/60, 0.63 GAON/60
Darcy Hordichuk: 0.78 PTS/60, 1.30 GFON/60, 1.56 GAON/60
PTS/60 – average number of points recorded for every 60 minutes of even-strength ice-time.
GFON/60 – average number of goals scored for every 60 minutes that the player is on the ice.
GAON/60 – average number of goals scored against for every 60 minutes that the player is on the ice.
It seems plain that Vancouver needs to send out their first line and the Ryan Kesler line out against opponents of any quality; the 2nd and 4th lines are simply going to get killed otherwise. I imagine that Vigneault will use his players as follows:
Sedin – Sedin – Bernier
Raymond – Wellwood – Demitra
Burrows – Kesler – Pyatt
Pettinger – Johnson – Hansen
I’ve been a fan of the Sedins as players for a long time; they do a good job keeping the puck in the right end of the rink, and I suspect that Steve Bernier will put up the best numbers of his young career playing with them. Bernier also has some experience playing tougher competition and should fit better on the top line than either Pyatt or Naslund. Also on the plus side, the Kesler line features three players who excel in a checking role, and will help the Canucks to neutralize first-line opponents.
I haven’t been a fan of the Sedins… well, ever. Something about their matching little faces, near identical career point totals, and the fact that they continue to assert that “they don’t even hang out off the ice.” Why would you? You have been playing on the same team since you were four years old or something. Ew, Sedin Twins.
The biggest weakness on the team is the second line, particularly at centre. While Kyle Wellwood is a low-cost risk, there’s no reason to believe that he can effectively anchor a decent second line. Mason Raymond looks like he could be a player, but the soon-to-be 23-year-old hasn’t yet gone through an entire NHL season and at this point probably needs some decent linemates to help keep his head above water. Pavol Demitra looks at first brush like an upgrade over Markus Naslund, but will be hard pressed to keep the second line afloat by himself.
Like Colorado, Vancouver lacks depth up front, and the Sedin twins are going to have to carry too much of the offence yet again, because the third line won’t be able to chip in much and the second line has about a 90 per cent of sputtering offensively. If Pavol Demitra—who’s missed an average of 16 games a season since the lockout—gets hurt, the situation looks even worse.
Canucks Defence, Goaltending, Special Teams and Overall Outlook.
—Jonathan Willis is the owner of Copper & Blue, a blog dedicated to all things Oil, and a frequent contributor to OilersNation.com.