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The Canucks will need to get big minutes out of big Shawn Matthias against the Kings Thursday.

The Canucks will need to get big minutes out of big Shawn Matthias against the Kings Thursday.

Times have changed and the franchises have gone in different directions since the Kings ousted the Daniel-less Canucks in 5 games en route to their first Stanley Cup.  The Kings are coming off their second Stanley Cup and have, in some ways, a better roster that helped them take the cup in previous seasons and in other ways one which has grown a little stale.  The Canucks, meanwhile, have rebuilt on the fly, and coach Willie Desjardins has them playing an up-tempo forechecking style of play which keeps opponents defense on alert and their forwards pinned in the neutral zone.

Tale of the Tape

Season Overview
LA VAN
Season Record (NHL Rk) 32-21-13 (17) 38-24-4 (13)
Division Rank 4 2
Conference Rank 9 6
Home Record 21-7-7 18-12-1
Away Record 11-14-6 20-12-3
Division Record 10-4-6 12-8-3
Conference Record 19-9-9 19-15-3
Goals For 180 189
Goals Against 170 179
Streak Won 1 Won 2
WHO’S HOT?
Justin Williams LA
3 pts in last 2 GP
Marian Gaborik LA
4 pts in last 4 GP
Kyle Clifford LA
2 pts in last 2 GP
Brayden McNabb LA
3 pts in last 3 GP
Jake Muzzin LA
3 pts in last 3 GP
WHO’S NOT?
Tyler Toffoli LA
0 pts in last 3 GP
WHO’S HOT?
Radim Vrbata VAN
6 pts in last 5 GP
Daniel Sedin VAN
11 pts in last 10 GP
Dan Hamhuis VAN
5 pts in last 6 GP
Jannik Hansen VAN
11 pts in last 13 GP
Eddie Lack VAN
2-0-0, 1.50, .957 in last 2 GPI
WHO’S NOT?
Alexandre Burrows VAN
0 pts in last 3 GP
Canucks fans are hoping the return of Tanev solidifies their playoff bid.

Canucks fans are hoping the return of Tanev solidifies their playoff bid.

Other Intangibles:

LA:  The Kings talismen are not getting it done as a whole.  Other than Jeff Carter and, lately, Gaborik, who missed some games with an injury, the Kings have had some trouble finding regular contributors on offense.  Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, and the all- but-finished Mike Richards have had trouble finding the back of the net this season. Going into the game vs. the Canucks, who do a pretty good job of shutting down other teams top lines, these players will need to produce.

The win against Colorado was a big one, but the Avs started rookie netminder Calvin Pickard who was pulled in favour of Reto Berra.  While Canucks’ Eddie Lack isn’t exactly Patrick Roy, he is a legitimate NHL caliber goalie, so the Kings will have to be accurate.  Although the Kings have been a little up and down this season, they have a tendency of playing well against the Canucks and are not bothered by having their backs up against any wall, ever.  L.A. is also a very good road team, at least when it matters, have a day’s rest and just finished playing in higher elevation.

doughty kopitar vrbata

Kings’ all-stars haven’t been, while Canucks’ Vrbata has been tremendous.

Vancouver:  Rogers Arena hasn’t been indomitable for the Canucks and they haven’t beaten the Kings all season.  Their record against Pacific teams is only 19-15-3 and the Canucks have traditionally struggled against bigger more physical teams, which the Kings are.  Still, the Canucks have shown signs of becoming more “Kings-like” in recent months, adding younger legs and bigger bodies throughout the lineup.

Some of those legs and bodies are playing quite well for the team, as in the case of the Dorsett, Matthias and Horvat line.  They’re not setting the NHL on fire exactly, but Desjardins is getting timely production and using them in big minutes.  As well, the Canucks have assembled a formidable back line of stay-at-home defenders who take no prisoners and make sound hockey plays.  The wins against San Jose and Anaheim in the last week are much bigger character-builders than wins against the Avalanche and Oilers in a two week period which saw the Kings go 3W-4L.

The Canucks would love it if Alex Burrows could find the net again.

The Canucks would love it if Alex Burrows could find the net again.

Advantage Canucks:  Even though the Kings have a tendency of producing big wins when they need them the most, Thursday’s game feels like a Canucks win.  The key scorers for Vancouver have been consistent, while the supporting lines do what they’re supposed to do.  The Canucks are getting healthy at the right time, though they are still missing key D-man Kevin Bieksa.

More importantly the Canucks mental health has improved dramatically since the January 1st loss to Los Angeles while the Kings, say what they will, have been a little shaky.  As the Canucks younger players begin to arrive now, the Kings key pieces are slumping at the wrong time. The traditional size mismatch still favours the Kings but is not as dramatic as before.  This game will be close, but the Canucks should have enough to get their first win of the season vs. the defending champs and all their hubris.

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New President Trevor Linden will need to determine if there's any more juice left in the Canucks' core?

New President Trevor Linden will need to determine if there’s any more juice left in the Canucks’ core?

Is it a  retool, a reset a refresh or a rebuild?  It’s a known fact that the Canucks are breathstrip thin in the offensive ranks and are in need of serious help all over the roster.  Even a quick glance at this year’s playoffs will tell any Canucks fans who watched the game closely that the team is neither strong enough or quick enough to compete with any of the remaining eight teams in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Trevor Linden gives the Canucks a face that's difficult to hate.

Trevor Linden gives the Canucks a face that’s difficult to hate.

Newly appointed President of Hockey Operations, Trevor Linden, knows a few things about playing the north/south game, and will be looking to understand what the franchise holds in current talent vs. what the franchise needs vs. what it can afford. But without a GM and a coach his job is significantly more difficult.  Linden will have to prove that he’s not just a figurehead, and soon.

It is assumed that the team returns with Sedin as their primary scoring center and Kesler as the team’s premier two-way pivot and not as the  slow defensive pass-first center and a swashbuckling right winger as under the Tortorella regime.  Even so, with Mike Santorelli’s health in question (and a UFA himself) the team will be looking to add a quality player as insurance in the middle at the three spot, while bolstering the lines with quality scoring wingers.

The other assumption is that the Canucks new direction is a departure from the old direction.  Former President/GM Mike Gillis’ s main strength was to scour other teams’ rosters in order to mastermind a roster.

GM Gillis’s acquisitions were mostly misses anyway.

In the case of Dan Hamhuis, Mikael Samuelsson and Manny Malhotra, the strategy seemed to pay immediate dividends. In other cases such as in Jason Garrison’s or Mike Santorelli’s, the results are still in the balance.

Mike Gillis's acquisitions often made the Canucks the target of league-wide scorn and mockery.

Mike Gillis’s acquisitions often made the Canucks the target of league-wide scorn and mockery.

The list of failures, however, is lengthy: Kyle Wellwood, Darcy Hordichuk, Ryan Johnson, Curtis Sandford, Pavol Demitra, Rob Davison, Mats Sundin, Andrew Raycroft, Tanner Glass, Marco Sturm, Dale Weise, Andrew Ebbett, Byron Bitz, Steve Pinizzotto, Mark Mancari and Alexander Sulzer all arrived to the Canucks via free agency and were never better than just roster filling support players for a core that he neither drafted nor traded for.

Rest assured, Trevor Linden’s philosophy will be to search from within to succeed from without.

Linden will not be as involved with the free agent chase, unless to sign his own, for nothing says “F-U” to other GM’s in the league more than signing their players for more money than they’re worth, a talent for which Mike Gillis appeared to have a penchant.  If Linden is the second coming of Pat Quinn, the talents of other teams’ player development and scouts will will take a back seat to his own.

The Linden regime’s first move will determine what the team is doing going forward.  A Ryan Kesler trade for youth and draft picks, for example, would indicate a movement towards rebuilding.  A signing of a big name UFA like Paul Stastny, Andrei Markov or Dan Boyle, for example would indicate a reloading.

And then, of course, everything depends on what the team’s new GM’s philosophy is and, ultimately, who the new coach is too.

If the Canucks acquire the right combination of management and coach, a veteran UFA like Dan Boyle might find Vancouver an appealing choice.

If the Canucks acquire the right combination of management and coach, a veteran UFA like Dan Boyle might find Vancouver an appealing choice.

Linden’s most pressing concern is to fill the gaping management hole with a seasoned professional who has numerous connections league-wide.  The next step is to find a coach whom the players will enjoy playing for.  In the end though, Linden’s most critical stamp on the team will be to repair the bridges Mike Gillis burned in his five-year tenure with the team.

Perhaps it isn’t a retool, reset, refresh or rebuild inasmuch as it is a re-engineering of the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks and their fans are hoping  these bridges hold this time, because the franchise is one collapse away from a protracted period of futility.

 

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It might be time to let longtime Canuck Ryan Kesler go in 2014.

It might be time to let longtime Canuck Ryan Kesler go in 2014.

The Canucks can compete as soon as next season with a few decisive roster moves but a few things have to happen first.  Here is a top ten list of things to do in Canuckville this off-season to turn last year’s roster of  spare parts into a unified and up and coming team, in chronological order.

  1. Trade Ryan Kesler.

    Even if he wants to stay, the Canucks’ forward was and will continue to be a distraction.  If Tortorella was right about one thing, it was that Canucks fans need to forget about 2011.  That Selke trophy and those 41 goals are distant memories now, but the player still holds his value across the league.  To avoid an Iginla situation,  at the first available moment the team must trade him to acquire what they really need.  See number 2.

  2. Acquire a young “can’t-miss” offensive defenseman.

    If there is one commonality between all previous cup winners it is that they all had a defenseman who could skate, shoot, and move the puck.  Think about the previous ten Stanley Cup champions and their premium defenseman:

    The Hurricanes were the only group to win without a dominant D-man in the last 10 years.

    The Hurricanes were the only group to win without a dominant D-man in the last 10 years.

    2013:  Chicago Blackhawks — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook,
    2012:  L.A. Kings —  Drew Doughty
    2011: Boston Bruins  — Zdeno Chara,
    2010: Chicago Blackhawks — That combo of Keith and Seabrook again
    2009: Pittsburgh Penguins  — Kris Letang,
    2008:  Detroit Red Wings — Nicklas Lidstrom (who also won in three other finals)
    2007: Anaheim Ducks — Scott Niedermayer (who also won with the New Jersey Devils in 2003)
    2006: Carolina Hurricanes –Leadership of  Brind’Amour and goalie Cam Ward.  Oilers did have D Chris Pronger.
    2005: No playoffs due to lockout
    2004:  Tampa Bay Lightning — Dan Boyle

  3. Compliance Buyout David Booth.

    I’m not sure I need to explain this to Canucks fans, or any other fans for that matter, but David Booth would have been a disappointment if he were being paid half a million and change.  Unfortunately, the club has been saddled with his $4.5 million over the last three years. The likeable Booth has unfortunately not really lived up to any part of his end of the contract, and is now healthy enough to use a buyout on.  This must happen if the Canucks can do the next logical thing in number 4.

  4. Overpay Paul Stastny.

    The Canucks can now dangle near Sedin money at the 28 year-old player.  He was a big part of Colorado’s resurgence this season and also has developed a strong two-way game.  Is he a better defender than Kesler? Not yet, but he is a better distributor of the puck which is what the Canucks need on the power play and on their second line.  The Canucks need goals and Stastny plays more like a true centre rather than the converted winger Kesler is.  Unfortunately, the Canucks will have to pay big bucks to gain the centre’s services.

    The Canucks would have to do a good sell-job on the Av's centre, but he's a good fit for the second line in Van.

    The Canucks would have to do a good sell-job on the Av’s centre, but he’s a good fit for the second line in Van.

  5. Find a backup mentor for Eddie Lack.

    J.S. Giguere is another free agent who may come at a nicer price tag than most.  He’s at the tail end of a brilliant career and would provide the kind of stability behind Eddie Lack that, say, a 38 year-old Roberto Luongo would provide — can get in when called upon, but is no threat to the throne.  Meanwhile, Lack could benefit from an experienced netminder giving him tips along the way.

  6. A right winger with pedigree and/or leadership.

    The Sedins are not going to do much more with Alex Burrows, that much is proven.  After a season in which the former “third Sedin” went half a year without scoring a single goal, and injured every part of his body in the process, the Sedins need a trigger man who can bury the puck on the right side.  I suggest Radim Vrbata or Ryan Callahan depending on what kind of cap space is available.  Marian Gaborik is also a free agent, but will command top dollar.  How about dangling an opportunity to play with the Sedins for Daniel Alfredsson?  It’s all doable.

  7. Sign UFA’s.

    First, Chris Tanev.  The Canucks need to lock this player up long-term.  He is simply too important to let go.  He is not the dominant D-man they need, but he is the steadiest and most reliable player former GM Mike Gillis was ever able to acquire on his own intuition.  Tanev might cost the Canucks in the 3-4 million zone, but he is too important to the team.  Second, Zack Kassian.  He’s still on the cusp of becoming a legitimate contributor but there were some signs last season that the hulking winger was willing to take on the challenge.  The game vs. Buffalo when he poured in 4 assists was utterly dominant.

    Kassian will have to fill the net more often next season after he signs.  He's no longer just a kid.

    Kassian will have to fill the net more often next season after he signs. He’s no longer just a kid.

  8. Roll out the rook.

    Bo Horvat’s time is now.  The Canucks must give him every opportunity to make the big leagues, especially after he has accomplished everything there is to accomplish at the junior level.  Linden’s leadership and advice will serve the young Horvat well and could make the Canucks competitive as soon as next season.

  9. Find a scoring left-winger.

    It’s also time the Canucks had a proper NHL second line, and with the addition of Stastny, all the Canucks need to do is find him some skill to work with for a season or two while the younger players develop.  If all goes according to plan, a second line of Stastny, Kassian and Michalek wouldn’t look half bad skating after the Sedins with their new winger.

  10. Salary dump Alex Edler.

    It’s time the club admitted what they have in this player.  Benning is the second evaluator of Alex Edler to come in from an objective standpoint and say what this player once was:  a dominant defenseman who could move the puck and put opposing forwards on the ice with shocking hits.  By rights, this is the player the Canucks needed to have develop  more than most but he is verging upon becoming a bust.  By lifting the 4 million from the Canucks books, they can acquire a higher draft pick and/or a prospect while shoring up a better winger for the newly acquired Stastny.  It’s time to say bye to Edler, and the Canucks could look like this:  http://www.capgeek.com/armchair-gm/roster/20191

 

 

 

 

 

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Henrik and Daniel Sedin worked out pretty well in the NHL.  Will Bo and Hunter be the next "twin" draftees for Vancouver?

Henrik and Daniel Sedin worked out pretty well in the NHL. Will Bo and Hunter be the next “twin” draftees for Vancouver?

The last time the Vancouver Canucks had two teens in their lineup is a long time ago.  Nearly 13 years later, Hank and Danny are two of the most prolific scorers in Canucks history, and well on their way to scoring 1000 points for their careers each if they have a point a game for the next three seasons, and remain healthy.  If Henrik and Daniel Sedin were from Medicine Hat, Alberta or Brampton, Ontario, they’d be the two most celebrated players in Canada.  As it is, they take knocks for being “too Swedish” even after showing an unsurpassed durability over the years.

hunter shinkaruk

Hunter Shinkaruk has shown glimpses of the kind of scoring the Canucks have lacked lately.

This year, the Canucks are keeping “twin” rookies, both from Canadian cities though unrelated.  Where they do seem to be related is in how they complement each other in games, somewhat like the Sedin brothers.  In Bo Horvat, the Canucks have a future defensive centre who has a nose for the net in big moments, and can be placed in positions of high responsibility.  Hunter Shinkaruk, now a household name in Vancouver, is a pure goal scorer with the happiest feet this side of the world of Emperor Penguins.  Shinkaruk scored two goals in pre-season and looked dangerous on several shifts.  Horvat, though not as prolific near the net, worked solid shifts on a fourth line, grinding with the likes of Tom Sestito and Dale Weise.

Bo Horvat

Bo Horvat will provide leadership and presence for the Canucks for years to come.

They might not stick with the club past their requisite 8 game trial period before being sent back to juniors, but the plan seems solid.  Have them play with the real twins, Henrik and Daniel, for a few weeks to show them the ropes and perhaps to remind the Sedins how far they’ve come since then.  Maybe the young blood in the lineup can serve as a reminder to the Canucks as a whole that time is short, and the team isn’t getting any younger.  And, who knows, if things go right in Canuckville, maybe they’ll stick around like those two other guys who were on the team as teenagers those many years ago.

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There is always something in the air when these two rivals meet.  The case was no different at Rogers Arena Friday night.  On a night when the discussion centred around who was in goal for the Canucks and whether or not Duncan Keith‘s elbow to Daniel Sedin in the waning weeks of last season would go unchecked, a compelling hockey game emerged.

If you noticed that the game had a much more professional approach than usual for both teams, you are not alone, nor mistaken.  Coincidentally or not, the Canucks did not have their best shutdown centre in the lineup, agitator Ryan Kesler, but it appeared as though the team was willing to play the shutdown role by committee instead.

The always intense Dave Bolland showed his frustration after sustaining an injury on a Jannick Hansen slash.

The always intense Dave Bolland showed his frustration after sustaining an injury on a Jannick Hansen slash.

After a brilliant blue line feed from Alex Edler to an expectant Henrik Sedin on the other side of the rink, Edler hustled up the ice to the Blackhawks’ high slot area where he was maturely  setup by newcomer, Zack Kassian.  After connecting on a one-time snapshot the recently re-signed Edler made the score 1-0.  Chances seemed to dry up for the team after this, however, with a slight edge in opportunities going to the Chicago Blackhawks.

With the two teams seemed mired in a possession battle which lasted for two periods a wide open Patrick Kane made the score 1-1 late in the third, by slapping a beautiful cross ice feed at the doorstep of the Canucks crease past a sprawled Luongo on his blocker side.  The game ended in overtime, with the Hawks pressing for the go-ahead goal.

Henrik Sedin and Alex EdlerFor his part, Luongo made a variety of compelling saves, demonstrating leg quickness, blocker and glove timing, as well as superb rebound control.  It was yet another dominant performance in this young season, one which even the Canucks market has never seen from the veteran netminder, begging the question “will Mike Gillis trade Luongo?”, once again.  The consensus, if you are to believe the chants of 19,000+ fans reigning down a chorus of “Luuu’s” for each phenomenal save he made in regulation would be a resounding “no”, but it remains clear that the Canucks find themselves firmly lodged in the midst a goaltending predicament, yet again.

After an overtime which solved nothing, the shootout loomed for the Canucks and Luongo.  Despite most fans’ opinions, which would agree that it has not been the team’s success of late, the Canucks, behind the best Roberto Luongo shootout effort in recent memory, outlasted the skillful Hawks en route to a narrow 2-1 win.

Perhaps the moment of the game was Patrick Kane’s slow-motion shootout approach which saw Luongo make an unorthodox soccer-save on the Blackhawk, resulting in the two men sprawled on the ice alongside each other.  Luongo had a few words for Kane, to which Patrick allowed an impish grin, speaking to the level of respect that these two teams have underneath the veneer of competitive hostility.

Kane and Luongo

Patrick Kane is already laughing at this experimental move, and Luongo’s “pounce-save”

In the end the game was about everything that is right with the NHL.  Yes, the fans booed local BC player, Duncan Keith all night.  Yes, the teams aren’t mired in a playoff chase at the moment, and yes there was little but pride on the line last night, but the game of hockey was the focal point, and not scrums and fights after whistles.  Perhaps somewhere in a press box Ryan Kesler was watching, hopefully learning from Luongo’s example, that to beat a team you must win first, talk later.

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Is this the year TJ Oshie breaks through?  Yes, and St. Louis too.

Is this the year TJ Oshie breaks through? Yes, and St. Louis too.

Let’s cut to the chase shall we?  Below are the Western conference predictions based on the ramblings of three normal guys and what we can discern all of the NHL teams are going to roll with.  Even Jacque Strapp’s newborn baby boy got himself decked out in Canucks gear for this one.

The audio is forthcoming, but because I’m under some pressure to produce this, i’m just going to summarize what we said on Friday before the season started, and add to it as time goes on.  I’ll have the audio up later too so you can hear our digressive ramblings.  Then again….

WESTERN CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS — LOCKOUT SHORTENED SEASON 201

stlouis1. ST. LOUIS BLUES:  We really likes this team to play hard for a president’s trophy which they didn’t achieve last season.  Same team, a year older and a year better.  Young, dumb and full of guns.  Healthy David Perron will help, and goaltending tandem is tops in the league.

sanjosesharks2. SAN JOSE SHARKS: What?  OK, seriously we looked at this lineup and can’t find anything wrong with it.  Must have been an off season last year, and should have enough to win their division and take second overall.  Have a look at this roster.  Seriously.  What’s wrong with it?  Nothing.

vancouvercanucks3. VANCOUVER CANUCKS:  This isn’t just hometown bias speaking, this is the prevailing thought that Minnesota, Calgary, Edmonton and Colorado are still worse than the aging Canucks.  After the Luongo trade is done, Kesler back to health and Booth ready, the Canucks will be dark horses.

chicagoblackhawks4. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS:  Chicago isn’t everyone’s favourite around here, but they should be fine with a healthy roster heading into 2013.  Question mark in net, but everything else is tight on this team.  They’ll be tough again.

losangeleskings5. LOS ANGELES KINGS:  With Kopitar on the shelf, and Quick recovering from surgery the Kings will miss some scoring and goaltending.  Also, Carter and Richards are notorious sleepy starters.  Expect a less focused season, but the Kings will threaten by season’s end.

minnesotawild6. MINNESOTA WILD:  Everyone loves this team, but we’re not convinced until we see it over a full season.  Honestly, couldn’t you use a plush toy next to Shea Weber and turn him into a Norris candidate?  Parise will help, but Heatley must return to form to have a chance.  Say what you will about captain Koivu, but he still gets you extra points on the shootouts.

detroitredwings7. DETROIT RED WINGS:  This might look bad, but it’s because things will be so close in their division.  The loss of Lidstrom will be felt all season.  Not much scoring depth, and depending on some old legs here and there.  Goaltending, for a change, not an issue here.

dallasstars8. DALLAS STARS:  Up and down all season, but Dallas will make the playoffs on the strength of balanced scoring in the top six, and some nice depth players all over the place on the roster.  Kari Lehtonen is ready to assume the mantle of Vezina candidate, and Jamie Benn is a beast.

edmontonoilers9. EDMONTON OILERS:  Yup, again, the Oil will miss the playoffs.  Just not enough experience on the blue line and questions in goal with Devin Dubnyk.  At some point, the Oilers will make the playoffs with this young team… or will they?  Just short this year.

nashvillepredators10. NASHVILLE PREDATORS: This team always seems to sneak in, but with the turmoil Alex Radulov caused in departure, the loss of Suter, and the lack of scoring depth up front, expect a minor setback this season.  It was 2012 or bust for Nashville.  Bust it is.

phoenixcoyotes11. PHOENIX COYOTES:  Mike Smith really proved himself capable of backstopping an NHL team last post season, and signing Shane Doan was huge, but losing “Wizard” Whitney to Dallas will mean the difference in making and missing the playoffs for both teams.

calgaryflames12. CALGARY FLAMES:  We didn’t see much to like on this team after aging netminder Mikka Kiprusoff and Flames lifer Jarome Iginla.  Something has to be done about the albatross that is Jay Bouwmeester’s contract.  Is there no end to bad Florida signings in the NHL?  He chews up 30 minutes a game, sure, but he also chews up 15% of your salary cap.

colorado avalanche13. COLORADO AVALANCHE:  The Avs, like Edmonton, are an up and coming younger team with questions on D and in net.  They are like the Oilers, but they aren’t as talented.  Another rebuilding year in Colorado awaits.  Patience Avs fans, patience.|

columbusbluejackets14. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS:  The BJ’s will hang around a few more games thanks to shoring up goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, but hanging around is a far cry from actually winning.  A few more close games, but a pop-gun offense will not help this team get to the playoffs, yet again.

anaheimducks15. ANAHEIM (MIGHTY)DUCKS:  Call it spite, or call it pro-Canucks fever, we don’t like the Ducks around these parts, just because they spoiled our chances to win a cup, when they took it all.  We could be wrong, heck, we are likely wrong, but we see the Ducks sinking this season as a result of … we’re not sure.  

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The once-maligned Bieksa is now the Canucks top D-man.

There are always questions about a team’s needs in every area, but no questions have been asked of the defensive core in several seasons here in Vancouver.  This might be the year which will see the most fluctuation of the team’s roster in recent memory.  There are questions in need of answers.

1.  What is the Canucks greatest need on the back end?

Only Mike Gillis knows what he wants.  The GM is now in his fourth year as Canucks GM, and has a fairly good grasp on the strengths and weaknesses of his blue-line core by now.  NHL defenders currently signed are:  Kevin Bieksa,  Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Alex Edler, Andrew Alberts and Chris Tanev.  Of those six, only three, Hamhuis, Bieksa and Edler, saw regular minutes.

The other three were used as alternates and varied in effectiveness.  The greatest need here is size, mobility and leadership on the one hand, and a skilled positional player who can run the point on the power play on the other.  That’s two top-4 defensemen or one Shea Weber.

Preferably the latter, as there is currently no player on the back end who can be categorized as a number-one d-man.

2.  Should the Canucks trade Keith Ballard?

Should they? Yes.  Can they? No.  The Canucks will never rid themselves of this albatross of a contract, but they should consider absorbing him in the minors until such point exists when a trading partner can be found, or they are assured losing him at half the salary cap hit when they recall the player.

Keith Ballard has had ample opportunity to prove that he belongs on this team, but he simply isn’t making the cut.  He played because no one else could last year, but next season, expect the Canucks to load up on D-men and push Ballard down the totem pole a bit further.  Chicago is a great city, and I’m sure Ballard will star for the Wolves.

3.  Should Sami Salo retire?

Yes.  Salo is not aging gracefully and has had too many injuries over his career to continue.  With the Canucks looking like a rebuilding team next season, especially on the back end, one would have to believe that Salo’s best fit is as a utility depth defenseman on a Stanley Cup contender, which the Canucks are not.

The team should look to fill positions on the back end with defensemen who can handle the Dustin Browns, and Milan Lucic’s of the league.  Currently there are none.  Salo has had a fine career, but it’s time to call it quits before he does more damage to his body.

4.  Is Chris Tanev or Marc-Andre Gragnani the answer to the future power play?

Tanev needs to cut down on some nervous moments and must learn how to hit the net with his shot in order to justify his existence on an NHL roster.

No.  Tanev is simply under powered as a defenseman, and has very little pop on his shot.  Tanev is a nice player to move the puck out of the back end, but he lacks the requisite strength to handle bigger players, and can’t hit the ocean with his slapshot.  At 6’2″ and only 22, Tanev can fill out his frame, but he does not have the kind of toughness needed by the team at the moment, and this is difficult to teach.

In Gragnani’s case, the Canucks need to tender an offer sheet which they have not done. The Canucks interest in signing Marc-Andre Gragnani is tempered somewhat by his propensity for turnovers in his own zone.

Gragnani has not shown the type of promise scouts have spoken of, instead, his game lacks the type of confidence one would expect from a player of his age and caliber.  While his skills are good, he lacks toughness and physicality.

There was some talk of making Gragnani an offer, but the Canucks might not be interested if the price is more than what they wish to pay.  Besides, he didn’t seem to be favoured by Vigneault, who himself just signed an extension with the team.

5.  Which Alex Edler is the real Alex Edler?

Alex Edler needs to put it all together next season in what is, for him, a contract year.

Edler represents the future of the team on the blue line, but his choking (for lack of a more accurate term) in this year’s playoffs was nothing short of alarming.  Yes.  Alex Edler choked in the playoffs.  And it isn’t the first time either.

There are serious questions about Edler’s ability to perform when it matters the most dating back to 2010 against Chicago when the Canucks were eliminated in 6 games by the eventual champion Hawks.  There was some talk of trading Edler to the Predators for Shea Weber last season, which at the time was met with aghast by Vancouver fans.

There aren’t too many fans who wouldn’t make that trade now.

Would the GM’s?  Both players are in contract years, both RFA’s, and both teams have suffered setbacks in terms of expectations not matching results.  One thing is certain, and that is that the Canucks have some serious holes to fill on the back end, and without addressing this in the off-season, with nothing coming up through the system, the Canucks will let in a lot more goals than they have in the past.  Unless of course they make the right decision in goal.

Canucks defense outlook for 2012/2013:  As it stands?  Glass half empty here for sure.

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