We've completed our look at the Central Division, and if you're familiar with this series from last year, you'll know that I left out a few extra "questions" regarding the teams. That's because we'll be keeping tabs on the Central all year as the Wings look to win their 6th Division title since the lockout.
We turn our attention west to check out last year's President's Trophy winner and Stanley Cup favourite. This was a team that had a lot of pressure on them to win last year, and they went out and had their most successful season in their history. Unfortunately, it didn't end the way many thought it would, but Wing fans can certainly relate to how Canuck fans feel after that heartbreaking Game 7 loss.
The real question is can the Canucks rebound after coming up empty? Follow the jump as we analyze the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks entered 2010-11 with very high expectations. They had the reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner in Henrik Sedin, a Selke candidate in Ryan Kesler, and an All-Star goaltender in Roberto Luongo. Unfortunately, the Chicago Blackhawks had ended any Cup aspirations the Canucks had 2 years running. The Canucks roared to the top of the standings last season and stayed there, winning the first President's Trophy in franchise history. After staving off a near-miraculous comeback by the Hawks in the first round, the Canucks advanced to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994. They won the first 2 games at home, dropped the next 2 on the road, won Game 5, but didn't win another game as the Bruins won their first Cup since the Bobby Orr era.
Arrivals: Owen Nolan, Todd Fedoruk, Manny Legace, Marco Sturm
Departures: Christian Ehrhoff, Raffi Torres, Jeff Tambellini, Tanner Glass
Pertinent Stats in 2010-11
Points: 117 (1st NHL, 1st West)
Goals For: 258 (1st NHL)
Goals Against: 180 (1st NHL)
Power Plays: 24.3% (1st NHL)
Penalty Kill: 85.6% (T-2nd NHL)
Offense: When your team has the last 2 Art Ross Trophy winners and a 40-goal scorer, it's clear that the offense is very capable. The Canucks finished first in the NHL in scoring last season, and the only player they lost that was a big contributor was Ehrhoff, their puck-moving defenseman.
The main scoring threats on Vancouver are Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Henrik is the playmaker while Daniel is the goal scorer, and both have won scoring titles. Daniel finished second to Corey Perry for the Hart Trophy, which was a travesty if only because Perry should never be recognized for anything except being the biggest tool in the NHL. Ryan Kesler established himself as one of the premier power forwards in the game, hitting the 40-goal mark for the first time in his career and winning the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward.
Beyond those 3 stars, there is still a lot of offensive talent. Alexandre Burrows really sunk his teeth into his role as the other winger on the Sedins' line, and he responded with 20 goals. Former Red Wing Mikael Samuelsson was able to hit the net for goals 18 times before being sidelined in the playoffs with an abdominal tear. Mason Raymond is a speedy forward who was crushed by Johnny Boychuk in the Finals, but he's got 20-goal potential. Truth be told, the Canucks have forwards up and down the lineup who can score 15-20 goals, giving them a ton of offensive depth.
On the blueline, the biggest loss will be Ehrhoff, who was their leading scorer among defensemen last year with 50 points. He parlayed that success into a mega-contract with Buffalo, leaving the Canucks with a hole to fill. However, Vancouver is able to bring back Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo and "depth defenseman" Alex Edler to provide offensive support from the back end. Salo will be looking to stay healthy for an entire season, while Bieksa could see more power play time in the absence of Ehrhoff.
Defense: A look at the names that make up the Canucks' defense doesn't reveal any obvious superstars, but the Canucks have one of the deeper defensive corps in the NHL. Bieksa is the leader of the defense, an all-around defenseman who can score, play physical, and is one of their best shutdown guys. Keith Ballard, who was a healthy scratch at times during the playoffs last year, will be expected to bounce back from a sub-par season and help make up for the hole that Ehrhoff left.
Dan Hamhuis was injured in the playoffs last year, but he's expected to be fully healthy for training camp and will be counted on to play big minutes in all situations. Alex Edler is an up-and-coming defenseman who can score and play a very physical game.
The Canucks have a very deep defense, but add in Kesler and Manny Malhotra up front and the Canucks are a very tought team to score against.
Goaltending: Roberto Luongo is one of the best goaltenders currently in the NHL, but his reputation as a goalie who can't rise up in the clutch was not helped when by some of his performances in the playoffs this season. He allowed 10 goals in Games 4-5 against the Blackhawks, 4 goals on 23 shots in Game 5 against the Predators, and was absolutely porous against the Bruins in Boston, allowing 15 goals in the 3 road games of the Finals.
As unfortunate as it is for Canucks fans, Luongo (like Chris Osgood) will never shake his reputation until he wins a Cup or puts up huge numbers in playoff losses as he did in 2008 against Dallas.
However, despite his perceived struggles, he was a Vezina Trophy candidate last year for a reason, posting a 38-15-11 records with a 2.14 GAA and .928 SV% in the regular season followed by a 15-10 record in the playoffs with a 2.56 GAA and .914 SV%.
Player to Watch: Kevin Bieksa established himself as the leader on the Canucks defensively, registering a team-high +32 rating while finishing 2nd in hits with 104 and 3rd in blocked shots with 96 despite missing 16 games due to injury. He was rewarded with a 5-year contract from the Canucks to be the anchor of their defense. However, he scored 10 points in 25 games in the playoffs, leading some to wonder whether he has more offensive upside than initially thought. With the Canucks' best offensive defenseman skipping town for Buffalo, Bieksa could get an opportunity to contribute offensively and make a run at a Norris Trophy.
Player With Something to Prove: This will always be Luongo, despite his success last year both in the regular season and in the playoffs. As the goaltender on a Stanley Cup-contending team, he will always have the most pressure to live up to expectations placed on him by the fans and to lead the team to success. It will be hard for him to improve upon his regular season numbers, but a strong playoff performance, even if the Canucks lose, could go a long way to helping him become something else in the eyes of outsiders.
The Skinny: Outside of Ehrhoff, the Canucks did not lose anyone of any real importance, and they have more than enough offensive and defensive depth to overcome his absence. Torres, Tambellini and Glass were all role players, and the Canucks should have no problems replacing them. They will win the Northwest again because they are the best of a bad division, but this season is all about overcoming the Game 7 loss and getting back to the Stanley Cup Finals to avenge their defeat. As Wing fans can testify, that's a lot easier said than done.