Northwest Division Preview: Vancouver Canucks Part I

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.

Off-season changes

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

Front Office

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

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.

Next time:
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

  • Hippy

    The most interesting part in watching the Canucks early will be seeing what style they come out and play.

    There is a recent Gillis comment that hit the wire where he was talking about Demitra returning to a PPG player with the reason being that he had been stuck in a defensive system.

    It made me wonder if Gillis was;

    a) aware of what style his team played
    b) aware of what coach he had behind the bench
    c) aware that his teams offense has likely regressed (certainly hasn't got better)which will make a more offensive system difficult to succeed with or;
    d) planning to completely shift the style of play the Canucks will use this year regardless of his roster make up.

    I know he mentioned changing styles when he was first hired but he also mentioned that the Canucks would not go for any quick fixes, which he promptly followed up with the crazy 20 mil offer to Sundin.

    Maybe the guy would have been better off going into politics where saying one thing and doing the opposite is quickly forgotten, he certainly seems confused or over his head as a GM.

  • Hippy

    Remember a few years ago in the Crawford, bertuzzi, nasland era, when this team was supposed to compete for the cup!!!! hahaha, I glad thats over. I'm glad they hired Gillis cuz so far, so far he seems to be brian burke smart!!!!! Oh wait, was that tampering.

    Q: what will they call playoff hockey in Vancouver this year?

    A: A flight to EDMONTON!!!!!

  • Hippy

    Obviously they are planning to win a lot of 2-1, 1-0 games on the back of Luongo.

    Glad I'm not shelling out any ducats to watch this team…zzzzzz

    Am interested to see what you say about their defense.

  • Hippy

    Ryan Shannon is no longer with the team. He was traded to the Ottawa Senators for defenseman Lawrence Nicholat.

    Yep. This has been canned for a little bit.

    Colorado lacks depth up front

    Wait until next week, but yes. Lots of good talent in the top two lines, but with Svatos/Smyth/Hejduk all having injury concerns, they have surprisingly little depth if someone goes down.

  • Hippy

    This team is vaguely reminiscent of those Oiler clubs of the Marchant-Grier-Moreau era. The Oil had that outstanding checking line, a pretty darn good first line in Weight-Guerin-Smyth, and then out would come the Black Hole of Calcutta Line. Usually some combination like Yoyo Beranek with Alex "Lost in Space" Selivanov and Fat Balloon. And we'd be dead, right there. Maybe we'd slip into the playoffs but a good team like, say, Dallas with a smart coach like, say, Ken Hitchcock would exploit those "soft minutes" to the hilt. And that would be that.

    Which is a terrible waste of a good checking line. Make no mistake, Vancouver has got one of those. Looking at the projected combo above, Kesler, Burrows and Pyatt were 1-2-4 in QualComp last season (the departed Invisibister was #3). Burrows and Kesler both ranked among the top ten in the NHL Penalties Drawn, with both drawing about 2 penalties for each one taken (Burrows +20, Kesler +17). Burrows is a miserable little shit but, but looking at numbers like a team-leading +11 with a QualComp of +0.07 and a QualTeam of -0.15, you have to give the guy credit (however grudgingly).

    Kesler and Burrows are almost certain to play together, but Vigneault has a few choices for RW. The above suggestion of Pyatt seems a natural fit — if Vigneault sees fit to demote him from the Sedin line — and if so adds another plus player with some scoring touch. The three guys combined for a respectable 49 goals last year.

    Another option might be to put Demitra up with Kesler-Burrows as a more legitimate "second" line. One that could take on the real tough minutes and hold their own or probably outscore. Whereas any "second" line featuring Kyle Wellwood is not bloody likely to do either.

  • Hippy

    This team is vaguely reminiscent of those Oiler clubs of the Marchant-Grier-Moreau era. The Oil had that outstanding checking line, a pretty darn good first line in Weight-Guerin-Smyth, and then out would come the Black Hole of Calcutta Line. Usually some combination like Yoyo Beranek with Alex “Lost in Space” Selivanov and Fat Balloon. And we’d be dead, right there. Maybe we’d slip into the playoffs but a good team like, say, Dallas with a smart coach like, say, Ken Hitchcock would exploit those “soft minutes” to the hilt. And that would be that.

    Which is a terrible waste of a good checking line.

    That brought back a flood of painful memories. Thanks, Bruce.

    Oh, and obviously I'm completely in agreement with your point.