Welcome to Part II of the Vancouver Canucks preview. You can find Part I here. Enjoy! The OilersNation Research Department™ has been hard at work getting ready for the new season. As 2008-09 draws upon us, we have made unreasonable demands on Professor Jonathan Willis and Dr Wanye Gretz to give us a preview of Northwest Divison teams.
—DJ Spyn Cycle
Vancouver is relying on its defensive corps to help keep them in the playoff race. A nice mix of returning veterans and young talent do a good job of limiting chances against.
Willie Mitchell: 0.48 PTS/60, 2.08 GFON/60, 2.22 GAON/60
Sami Salo: 0.42 PTS/60, 1.80 GFON/60, 1.62 GAON/60
Alex Edler: 0.42 PTS/60, 2.53 GFON/60, 2.16 GAON/60
Rob Davison: 0.15 PTS/60, 1.33 GFON/60, 2.21 GAON/60
Mattias Ohlund: 0.83 PTS/60, 2.20 GFON/60, 2.20 GAON/60
Kevin Bieksa: 0.66 PTS/60, 1.87 GFON/60, 2.97 GAON/60
Mike Weaver: 0.09 PTS/60, 1.97 GFON/60, 1.61 GAON/60
Nathan McIver: 0.00 PTS/60, 0.35 GFON/60, 3.19 GAON/60
Aaron Miller: 0.67 PTS/60, 2.23 GFON/60, 2.45 GAON/60
Luc Bourdon: 0.20 PTS/60, 2.40 GFON/60, 1.00 GAON/60
Lukas Krajicek: 0.46 PTS/60, 2.52 GFON/60, 2.86 GAON/60
Please note that Rob Davison actually played a lower level of opposition; relative to the rest of the Islanders defence corps he was actually playing at a third-pairing level. I think that the Canucks defence will look something like this:
Ohlund – Salo
Mitchell – Bieksa
Krajicek – Edler
A lot hinges on Kevin Bieksa here. In 2006–07, Bieksa and Mitchell formed an outstanding shut-down pairing, but last season Bieksa missed a bunch of time early with injuries and looked shaky when he came back. There have been trade rumours involving Bieksa all summer, and he may not get an opportunity to prove himself with Vancouver. Outside of that shut-down pairing, Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo can play in any situation effectively, and Alex Edler shouldn’t have any trouble handling third-pairing duty. Krajicek has never developed into the player the Panthers pictured when they took him 24th overall in 2001, while Rob Davison is at best a reserve player. The top-five here look pretty good, but after that things get dicey.
2005–06: 75GP, 35-30-9, 2.97 GAA, .914 SV%
2006–07: 76GP, 47-22-6, 2.28 GAA, .921 SV%
2007–08: 73GP, 35-29-9, 2.38 GAA, .917 SV%
2005–06: 34GP, 13-13-5, 2.66 GAA, .908 SV%
2006–07: 31GP, 8-12-5, 3.18 GAA, .898 SV%
2007–08: 16GP, 4-3-1, 2.83 GAA, .898 SV%
Roberto Luongo is a perennial Vezina trophy candidate and the biggest reason the Canucks are going to threaten for a playoff spot all season long, a guy who hasn’t had a save percentage lower than .914 since his rookie season. He’s the heir apparent to Martin Brodeur for Team Canada, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe he won’t be spectacular again this year.
Curtis Sanford has looked average since an eye-opening 2005–06 with a very poor St. Louis Blues team, but he’s still an OK option as a backup. It almost doesn’t matter who the Canucks have as a backup; Luongo starts 70+ games every year anyway.
Vancouver was a middle of the pack team in both penalty-killing and power-play situations. They ranked 18th in the league with the man advantage (17.1%) and 14th short-handed (82.6%).
The middling performance of the Canuck’s penalty-kill surprised me. Goaltending has a big influence on how successful a team is short-handed, and Luongo’s SV% 4-on-5 was only average at .886. The defence (in particular Ohlund) was relatively effective 4-on-5, with Willie Mitchell getting the lion’s share of the work. Kesler and Burrows got the majority of the ice-time among forwards, and both were overmatched (only Mike Weaver was more likely to be scored against per 60 minutes). The PK will get a big boost in the form of Ryan Johnson, who led all St. Louis skaters in short-handed TOI. Johnson also had a goals differential of -3.99 per sixty minutes—to put that in perspective, of the top-thirty forwards in the league by TOI SH, only Mike Sillinger and Sami Pahlsson posted a better number. The penalty kill this season should be in the top-ten in the league.
The power-play, on the other hand, took a major step back with the loss of Brendan Morrison. Morrison, who was injured for about half the season, averaged over three minutes a night when healthy, and easily lead the Canucks in efficiency, scoring 6.50 points/60 minutes of ice time. Markus Naslund (4.05 PTS/60) will also be missed here.
Of the newcomers, both Bernier (2.84 PTS/60) and Demitra (2.93 PTS/60) are coming off disappointing seasons and are unlikely to effectively fill the holes. It’s worth noting here that Kyle Wellwood, despite being brutal 5-on-5, was effective on the power-play last season (4.11 PTS/60). Daniel (4.87 PTS/60) and Henrik Sedin (4.68 PTS/60) were extremely effective with the extra man and should continue to be so, while Sami Salo (3.71 PTS/60) and Lukas Krajicek (2.93 PTS/60) did a good job from the blue-line. Players like Ohlund, Edler, Bieksa and Pyatt all saw lots of ice-time, and didn’t do much with it. The Canucks need a bunch of players (new and old alike) to outperform their results last season just to remain an average team.
Despite promises of radical change from Mike Gillis, the Canucks remain a team with almost the exact same profile as they’ve had for the last two seasons. Goaltending will be a strength, and barring injury defence should be as well, but the forward corps is neither deep nor overly talented, despite a handful of nice players. Fans complained about Alain Vigneault’s defence-first coaching strategy last season, but it may once again be the team’s best option.
Bottom line: The Canucks will stay in the playoff race until the end of the season but find themselves on the outside looking in for the second year in a row.
—Jonathan Willis is the owner of Copper & Blue, a blog dedicated to all things Oil, and a frequent contributor to OilersNation.com.