Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pool Outlook for Vancouver

It was a regular season of some pleasant surprises for the Vancouver Canucks, but it all ended up the same way it did in 2009, with a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of the playoffs.  The Canucks won a second consecutive Northwest Division title in 2010, but that wasn't going to be enough to stop an even higher powered Blackhawks team, who finished ahead of them in the Western Conference standings and matured a little bit more in a year.  Nevertheless, the season was not a complete bust for the Canucks, as they flexed some scoring muscle and established themselves as an elite team in the NHL, in the regular season.

In the pool this year, Henrik Sedin turned out to be the best player all around, thanks to his 112-point season.  He finished ahead the likes of Alex Ovechin, Sidney Crosby and Martin Brodeur, which is no easy feat.  One season on top of the league scoring may not be enough to make him the 1st pick overall in next year's pool Draft, but it definitely puts him in the conversation come September.  Of course, the most amazing part of this feat was he was able to do it without his brother (or partner in crime), Daniel Sedin, for 19 games due to injury.  The two are often thought to be more of a dynamic duo, but in this case, Henrik had a good portion of time on his own.  Henrik finished the season with 29 goals and 83 assists (both career highs) to lead the league (and pool) iin points.

The forwards as a whole really did well to keep building around the momentum of their scoring leader, putting up some impressive scoring numbers across the board.  Daniel Sedin did manage to have an impressive season, despite missing 19 games, scoring 29 goals and 56 assists in 63 games, finishing 19th in pool scoring, 12th among all forwards.  Ryan Kesler had an even bigger breakthrough season with 25 goals and 50 assists in all 82 games, while Alex Burrows lead the team with 35 goals in 82 games. while Mikael Samuelsson also potted 30 goals in 74 games.  Mason Raymond rounded out the group of forwards with 25 goals and 28 assists in all 82 games, giving the team six forwards with 50 or more points. 

On defense, it was a new face in the Canucks line-up that led the way in 2010.  Christian Ehrhoff was acquired by the Canucks before the season started, in a way to help the Sharks open up some cap space and he turned out to be a formidable offensive weapon, scoring 14 goals and adding 30 assists in 80 games this season.  This is nowhere near elite status, but it sure looked pretty good on management to pick him up.  Alex Edler also had a very good season, finishing right behind Ehrhoff in blueline scoring on the team, picking up 5 goals and 37 assists in only 76 games, which means his progress in development is coming along nicely.  Sami Salo had a bit of a bounce back year, not being injured as much as in 2009, playing in 68 games and scoring 9 goals and 19 assists, but his expectations may have been a little bit higher going into the year.  Kevin Bieksa had another injury-plagued year, missing another chunk of games and keepin his scoring totals low.  Bieksa finished with 3 goals and 22 points in 55 games for the Canucks, which was good for 3rd-best, but the scoring depth does drop off at about here.

It was not a dominating year for Roberto Luongo in the Canucks net in 2010, but that wasn't to say it wasn't a good year as a whole.  Luongo finished the year with 40 wins and 4 shutouts for 88 points, which is up on his 2009 total of only 85 points, with the wins total being the most important number getting an improvement.  Luongo finished as the 6th best goaltender in the pool, 15th in total pool scoring.  There is no reason why Luongo shouldn't be a 1st round pick in anyone's draft, unless there is only 10 people or less in that draft.  Behind Luongo, Andrew Raycroft had somewhat of a redemption season, playing back-up to Luongo and taking a few starts here and there.  Raycroft finished the season with 9 wins and 1 shutout for 20 points in the pool, averaging better than a point per 60 minutes of play in the year, but only ranked 51st among all goalies in the league.  He played well in the few minutes he was given this season.

2011 Season Outlook
Looking at the core of the team that is already signed and ready to go for the 2011 season, there isn't a great deal of difference between the team that won the division and the one going in to defend their title.  A good portion of their scoring is already locked up, which is arguably the best part of their game and their goalie, who was good enough to win 40 games in the regular season.  Defensively, they may be looking to improve, but familiarity should do well for them to keep up the pace that they had been winning at.

Henrik SedinChristian EhrhoffRoberto Luongo
Daniel SedinAlex Edler
Ryan KeslerSami Salo
Alex BurrowsKevin Bieksa
Mikael SamuelssonAndrew Alberts
Steve Bernier
Rick Rypien
Darcy Hordichuk

As for their salary cap number, they have one of the higher totals of cap space alotted going into the Summer, with $45 million already committed to the 14 players that you see above.  On the plus side, the 14 players above do constitute the core of the team, which has 198 goals to their names in 2010 (the 3rd-highest in the league as of today).  Saying that, those are just the goals that have been counted by players set inside the team's tables, more as regular fixtures on the teams and good bets to have their job in 2011.

Of course, free agency will be a concern for the Canucks, with such a large amount of cap space alotted already and it's not even July.  Restricted free agency will be their largest concern, especially since Mason Raymond will be needing a new contract, as well as Jannik Hansen, which might take a fair sized chunk out of their (yet to be determined) remaining cap space.  Both Raymond and Hansen were valuable parts in the Canucks run to the division title, for different roles, of course, so they will be interesting negotiation pieces this Summer.  Shane O'Brien, who had an up-and-down year between the ice and the doghouse, will also be up for a new deal and he might find himself a nice chunk of change as well.

Unrestricted free agency is arguably more troubling for the Canucks, but with change in some personnel, may come some positive vibes, but that's far from being a good time to guess about.  Kyle Wellwood, Andrew Raycroft, Pavol Demitra, Willie Mitchell and Ryan Johnson all heading the list of players looking for new deals this year.  I could see Wellwood and Johnson returning for 2011, while the other three might have to find a new home because of space, both roster and cap. 

Unless the Canucks have any thoughts of moving Cory Schneider at the Entry Draft or at any point during the Summer, I would have a feeling that he will likely graduate into Luongo's back-up in 2011, after playing in Manitoba for three years.  Schneider is becoming an NHL-ready goaltender and should fetch a fair price on the trade market, so his forecast for the line-up is cloudy.  Cody Hodgson's future with the club is also very cloudy with back problems hindering his progress as a hockey player and some reports of attitude problems have put some question marks on his chances as a Canuck.  A good Summer of rehab and training might see to that differently.  Jordan Schroeder may have ended up as the closest prospect to the big dance, but his diminutive size may have some concerns for coaching staff, but his overall talent should be able to wash those concerns away.  There is plenty of talent in the Canucks' stables, it's just questionable as to how much will move forward into 2011.

What I said at this time last year: "Depending on who signs what in the summer for the Canucks, there is a few question marks as to how the chemistry will work out and how many wins the team will get. You have to know that Luongo, Bieksa and Demitra will be mainstays, no matter what the climate, while Kesler, Burrows and Edler have room to fluctuate, due to inexperience. The signing of the Sedin twins will be key for the Canucks or else they are going to have to replace 160+ points with the money that is left over. Stay tuned, this will be a very interesting summer."

The Summer was pretty interesting for the Canucks, but they managed to fly through it without many hiccups or issues.  The twins re-signed and then they managed to sign up Kesler during the season, shedding some immediate concerns or concerns going into the season and this Summer.  Pool points for Luongo was relatively the same, but Bieksa and Demitra fell off, so nothing mainstay about them.  Kesler, Burrows and Edler all had room to fluctuate and they did... in the positive direction.  Overall, chemistry worked out exceptionally well for the Canucks in 2010, as you could tell by their scoring marks and their record.

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.

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