Another great regular season, another disappointing post season for the Vancouver Canucks. That's been the theme for quite some time now, and last year was no different as Chelsea Dagger haunted their playoff dreams yet again.
Our preseason NHL power rankings seem to suggest the same regular season success will beset the Canucks again this year, but in Vancouver, that's not really the story anymore. Can this team make the jump and go on a playoff run? With help from the fellas at Nucks Misconduct, our Canucks blog, we take a look at Five Burning Questions surrounding the team this year.
1. What are Vancouver's weaknesses?
On paper not much: got that Art Ross / Hart guy on the first line, the Selke nominee on the second, bigger players in the bottom six and a restocked defense in front of Canada's Olympic Gold netminder. But beneath that remain some lingering questions: will the secondary scoring from players like Mason Raymond and Mikael Samuelsson dry up, can the defensive corps rebound from a injury-plagued 2009-10 and will Luongo be better off without the responsibilities of captain?
2. Is this Cody Hodgson's year?
Doesn't look like it. He struggled again to even start camp with his lingering back issues and didn't outplay anyone (yet) to openly deserve a spot. He did play decently in his few games and was very responsible away from the puck, but his speed and execution weren't quite there. On the other hand, Vancouver may not need him opening night and have a good crop of rookies waiting in the wings alongside Hodgson so there's no need to race him. Hodgson's next step logically should be cutting his teeth with the Manitoba Moose and being an occasional injury call-up.
3. Vancouver is the only team above the cap. How do they solve that before the puck drops?
With Alex Burrows and Sami Salo starting the season on the LTIR, they'll get some relief but probably not enough to erase their $3,148,333 excess. They have to cut their defense down to eight guys so players like Aaron Rome, Andrew Alberts or Shane O'Brien may pay the price. Similarly there's some bodies up front who could be moved or cut, including heavyweight Darcy Hordichuk. This is also a reason to hold Hodgson back as his bonuses would push his salary to the $1.6 million range. Now what they do once Salo is vertical or Burrows can lift his arm again is another question.
4. Can Henrik Sedin repeat his 2009-2010 success?
It depends who you ask, but probably not. His shooting percentage and even strength stats were off the charts last year; lightning may strike twice but it seems unlikely. Defensemen will hone in on him more quickly as well, but all of this attention could help Daniel Sedin who is a more natural goal scorer and enjoyed a career season despite missing 19 games. Regardless of their individual success, we know they're a tandem that's increasingly hard to stop so we'll gladly take another four seasons of it.
5. What, if anything, can be expected from Roberto Luongo?
Your guess is as good as anyone's. Typically he starts off slow, hits his stride in the winter and powers through until the spring (though last year he did the exact opposite). Once they get to the playoffs, it's even more of a guessing game. The hope is that without having to the face the media as captain, a new goalie coach in Roland Melanson and a deeper defense helping him, he should be harder to beat. He doesn't even need to be world class; on most nights they'll need him to be above average. If he can't muster that - and if back-up Cory Schneider proves he's the real deal - Mike Gillis is going to have a real problem.
For more on the Canucks, be sure to check out Nucks Misconduct.