No team angers the majority of Oilersnation readers more than the Vancouver Canucks. How I wish the Oilers were actually competitive during the past eight seasons, because an Oilers/Canucks playoff series, or even meaningful games down the stretch, would have pushed the animosity to extraordinary levels.
Alas, it never occurred, and in fact the Oilers and Canucks have only been in the postseason together three times during the past 20 NHL seasons; 1992, 2001 and 2003. I’ll be surprised if it happens this season, but is this the year the Oilers finish ahead of the Canucks for the first time since 2006?
No Pacific division team made more changes in the summer than the Canucks.
They fired head coach John Tortorella and GM Mike Gillis and replaced them with Trevor Linder as President, Jim Benning as GM and Willie Desjardins became a rookie head coach at the young age of 57.
After Gillis foolishly traded away Corey Schneider and Roberto Luongo last season, Benning needed to find a starting goalie — he clearly lacked confidence in Eddie Lack and Jakob Markstrom — so he signed 34-year-old Ryan Miller to a three-year deal worth $18 million. Considering how supportive Canucks fans and management have been of previous netminders, I’m sure Miller will feel a lot of love all season long.
Linden and Benning off-loaded Jason Garrison and his heavy contract to Tampa Bay for a 2nd round pick, moved their second line centre, Ryan Kesler, to the Ducks and bought out David Booth.
The Canucks had a major renovation after missing the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, and for me they are the most unpredictable team in the west.
Was last year a blip, or are the Canucks on the downturn?
CALMING THE WATERS
The Canucks won’t be a circus like last year, which is really too bad. It was excellent entertainment and better than any reality show on TV. Torts was lunatic, Gillis become so wrapped up in his goalie controversy that he screwed himself out of a job and left the Canucks with no proven goaltenders.
The Canucks scored the fewest goals in the Western conference, a measly 191, their lowest total in franchise history. The only other time they scored fewer than 200 was in 1999, when they tallied 192.
The statistics suggest Tortorella’s systems weren’t that bad (more on that later), but the overall atmosphere surrounding the Canucks portrayed a dysfunctional group.
The Sedins should be better than last year. They scored fewer than 60 points, in a full season, for the first time since 2004. Torts gave them more minutes and more defensive zone starts, and they struggled. Expect Desjardins to reduce their workload to increase their productivity. Vrbata averaged 25 goals that past five seasons, not including lockout, and he could flourish alongside the Sedins.
Scoring depth is the concern. Kesler led them in goals last season with 25 and he’s in Anaheim.
Nick Bonino and Shawn Matthias will be the second and third line centres, unless Bo Horvat, 9th overall in 2013, has a great camp and preseason. Chris Higgins, Alex Burrows, Zack Kassian and Jannik Hansen will round out the top-nine wingers positions.
Linden Vey, acquired from the Kings, could also push for a top-nine role.
Derek Dorsett will add some tenacity to the fourth line and could be the 6th forward on the PK, while Brad Richardson returns as the 4th line centre.
Can their 2nd and 3rd lines contribute offensively? Bonino had 20 of his 49 points on the PP with Anaheim last season, but he’ll be hard-pressed to match that playing on the second unit.
The top half of their D-corps is solid. Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa and Olympian Dan Hamhuis give the Canucks a nice trio. Chris Tanev was paired with Hamhuis last season and they faced the most ES minutes of any pairing, and I’d expect they will be reunited this season.
Luca Sbisa came over from the Ducks and will fill out the third pairing with Edmontonian Ryan Stanton. Stanton was a solid waiver wire pick for the Canucks last year.
The stats suggest the Canucks should score more. They were 11th in shots on goal last season, but 28th in goals. As a team they were +171 in Fenwick and +190 in Corsi.
Their PP was 26th at 15.2%, but they had the 4th highest SF/60. The statistics suggested they should have had much more success on the PP, finishing with the 7th most shots, but it never happened. Their second unit was atrocious.
After Kesler and the Sedins, Higgins had the most PP goals amongst forwards with a measly two. Alex Burrows never scored a goal of any kind until March 12th, in his 36th game. He was terrible offensively, and even if he tried he won’t be that lethargic this season.
The Canucks will finish better than 12th in the west, but they are not a lock to make the postseason. At best they finish 4th in the Pacific, but they are closer to the Coyotes and Oilers than they are the Sharks, Kings and Ducks.
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