Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pool Outlook for Vancouver

54 wins in 2011, a President's Trophy, but no Stanley Cup to round out the season for the Vancouver Canucks, as they were met by disappointment in the final round of the playoffs, losing to the Boston Bruins in seven games.  It was a bitter pill to swallow for the team, as they did so well for over 100 games, but it just wasn't to be.  Thankfully for Vancouver, they do have a good core group of players and we should be seeing good things from them in the 2012 season, including lots of points for the hockey pool.

It is back-to-back scoring titles for the Sedin twins, as Daniel Sedin stepped up and delivered a great season in 2011.  Daniel finished with 41 goals and 63 assists in all 82 games to be the only player to pop over the 100-point mark in the year.  Daniel's 2010 was shortened by injury, but he was able to come back and make a real impact, helping the Canucks to a President's Trophy in the regular season, unfortunately, he wasn't quite as effective in the playoffs, namely the Finals, where the Canucks didn't produce enough offense as a whole to win it all.

Five forwards finished in the top 100 in scoring for their position, as Henrik Sedin had another banner year with 94 points in all 82 games to finish 4th in scoring among forwards.  Ryan Kesler (73 points in 82 games), Mikael Samuelsson (50 points in 75 games) and Alex Burrows (48 points in 72 games) all had great years and will likely be looked towards when the pool teams are divvied out again.  There wasn't much wrong with the Canucks forwards in the regular season, now they just have to find a way to be more dominant in the post-season.

The defense was rocked by injuries in the 2011 season, having seen more than their fair share of players dress on the blueline.  Four defensemen hit the top 100 in blueline scoring in the year, led by Christian Ehrhoff, who had 50 points in 79 games, good enough for 7th in the rankings.  Alex Edler (33 points in 51 games), Dan Hamhuis (23 points in 64 games) and Kevin Bieksa (22 points in 66 games) all contributed well when they were on the ice for the team.

All things considered in the post-season, Roberto Luongo had a very good year in the crease for the Canucks, he just simply couldn't put the cherry on top.  Luongo finished 4th among all keepers with 38 wins, 4 shutouts and 3 assists for 87 points in the pool, good enough for 9th overall.  Since a solid portion of the core is not expected to change in 2012, I would imagine that Luongo should put up good numbers again in 2012.  Also having a great rookie season in net, Cory Schneider secured 16 wins, 1 shutout and 3 assists for 37 points as the back-up, ranking 29th among all goalies in the league in pool points.  He would be considered a starter with that ranking.

2012 Pool Outlook
The biggest questions, looking at the team table below is, what is to happen with the blueline going into 2012?  The forwards look solid, the goaltending is already there, it is just that some of the key defensemen in the year are not included on the list going forward and some decisions will have to be made about whether they will be back or not.  That's about the only concern for making a step back towards the Cup Finals for Vancouver.

Daniel SedinAlex EdlerRoberto Luongo
Henrik SedinDan HamhuisCory Schneider
Ryan KeslerKeith Ballard
Mikael SamuelssonAaron Rome
Alex BurrowsChris Tanev
Mason Raymond
Manny Malhotra

Salary CapCurrently, the core group of players above, the seven forwards, five defense and goaltending tandem, come in at $46.6 million against the cap for the coming year, working on annual projections.  The team doesn't have any buyouts at the moment, so they will be working with the full amount in the off-season, likely giving themselves $16 million for about nine players.  That's a pretty reasonable number, especially when the top six is signed, three top defenders are on board and the goaltending is secure.

Unrestricted free agency will be the biggest concern for the Canucks, with Christian Ehrhoff, Raffi Torres, Chris Higgins, Kevin Bieksa, Jeff Tambellini, Tanner Glass, Sami Salo and Andrew Alberts all heading towards the open market.  Ehrhoff, Bieksa and Salo are the biggest concerns before July 1st and all of them will be commanding some serious dough as free agents, which would put a serious dent into that $16 million gap between now and the ceiling.

The restricted free agents don't look quite as menacing, but Jannik Hansen, Maxim Lapierre and Victor Oreskovich will all likely have some long talks with the club, trying to fit everyone in with the budget that is in place.

The Canucks do have some offensive depth in their system at the moment, but offensive depth isn't one of their biggest needs going into the 2012 season.  Bottom six, responsible defense, those will be the keys to being a rookie in Vancouver next season.  Cody Hodgson did see some bottom six time, not to mention some power play, so a promotion could be on the cards for him, as the 4th line centre in 2012.  Anton Rodin has been dazzling management with speed, which could earn him a 3rd line wing promotion for the coming season.  Yann Sauve took last season's setbacks and turned them into a good story, suiting up five times for the Canucks last season, so if some depth is lost to free agency, he could be the first to be called to fill in.

Well, teams don't use their 1st round picks to draft bottom six players or last-pairing defensemen, so they should be using it to increase the team speed and/or size overall.  A speedy winger or a solid defenseman will likely be in the cross-hairs of the Canucks in the opening round of the draft, while some good two-way players will likely be needed to compliment the organization in the lower rounds.  The Canucks are historically poor drafters, but sitting closer to the 2nd round may play into their hands with a good class down low.

What I said last year at this time... "For 2011, I think the Canucks are going the right way to doing about the same as what they did in 2010. The core group of players are signed on and the Summer will dictate whether or not some of their veteran players will be back for another tour of duty, but they certainly won't be as key to the team's success as the core group will be. The Sedin twins are likely to see a drop in production, as they drew a lot of attention from teams around the league, so defending them will be paramount and their production may be hampered by that. Kesler, Burrows and Samuelsson will have to pick up some of that slack, as will Raymond, if and when he re-signs in the Summer. There will be some tinkering on this existing roster, so the Canucks are hoping all of that tinkering will be put towards a winning formula."

The core group of players for the Canucks were the key to their success in  the regular season and three rounds of the playoffs, not to mention a couple new additions in Malhotra and Hamhuis.  The twins did see a drop in production overall, but still led the league in scoring, in somewhat of a down year in individual accomplishments, league-wide.  Kesler, Burrows, Samuelsson and Raymond did well to pick up some slack and everything else came with it, putting together a great year in 2011.  A pretty solid prediction on my part there.

For 2012, it should be much of the same for the Canucks, who played a pretty solid system during the year, but did have troubles playing against better defensive teams than they.  The twins will be the twins, Kesler will continue to blossom and improve his scoring and Edler will become a top 20 defenseman, so the team should be set for some more winning ways.  The Canucks can't really go any higher in the regular season, so how far they stray from 117 regular season points in the standings will be determined by who fills in on the blueline, whether or not they can re-sign Ehrhoff and/or Bieksa and keep a stronger core together.  It won't be as good of a regular season, but there is potential for a better playoff result with more experience.

No comments: