Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Goals! Getcha Goals here!

The pugnaxious sub-500 team that made a startlint run to the cup in 1982 had a long list of characters and castoffs. 1994's high flying edition of the Canucks was a well built machine, with a battle-tested captain, tier-1 sniper, former Vezina finalist goaltender and big, veteran blue-line, and was helmed by the Big Irishman himself but fell to New York's other team. Bertuzzi, Naslund and Morrison were the best line in hockey, but any incarnation of the Canucks pails in comparison to the offensive jugernaut that was the 2009-10 team:

Henrik Sedin became the first Canuck to win the Heart and Art Ross Trophies, leading the league in scoring.

Six players totaled 25 or more goals and the team finished second only to Chicago (the eventual cup champion) in goals for last year with 268, fourty of which came from defensemen.

But the wheels fell off as the soft third-line underbelly was exposed, the defense lauded as one of the leagues best going in to the season unraveled and Bobby Lou was bested by Byfuglien again in the second round.

That's all in the past. If last year's team wasn't the best we've ever seen here in Vancouver then the off-seasons improvements have made this years team our best chance at a cup ever.  GM Mike Gillis shored up the soft third line by adding bruising winger Raffi Torres, former fifth over-all pick and twenty goal man, at a bargain price. We all thought he overpaid for Manny Malhotra, but shouldn't the league leader in face-off winning percentage demand upwards of 2-mil/season? Malhotra and Torres are familiar with each other after skating with the Blue Jackets. Their third line pairing has included the likes of Jeff Tambelini, Janik Hansen if promoted from his usual fourth line duty, Tanner Glass, the almost come-back story of the year Peter Schaefer and Mikael Samuelson after a demotion. But Schaefer was sent to Manitoba, cleared waivers and refused to report; Samuelson, who was finding his game is now out with a concussion. Tambelini has put up 8 points in 11 games and looks to be filling a hole on the second line for the time being.  Hansen, the teams best player in a home loss to a hurting St. Louis squad could end up earning the job full time, and hopefully will.

Shane O'brien and his happy-go-drinky show were shipped off with promising but long-term project forward Dan Gendur for an intriguing Swede, and graduate of the OHL, not to mention former second round pick Jonas Andersson, and former first round blue-liner Ryan Parent. They've joined a group with Kevin Connauton, Yann Sauve, Eddie Lack, Jordan Schroeder, Sergei Shirokov and Cody Hodgson that form perhaps the best young core of up and coming Canucks ever. The children of the farm and a group of hungry, seasoned vets will round out our fourth line.  The team has battled injuries early to new acquisitions Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard, defenseman specifically brought in for their durability who both missed time early in Vancouvers blue-line grave yard.

It's a new team, but it's core is in place for a long time to come, so, was last year's team better than this year, or is this year's team, with it streaky, inconsistent play a sleeping giant waiting to find formiliarity and traction in a battle to form an identity and overcome injury all it's cracked up to be? 

The answer is, on paper atleast, yes.  They're impressive.  Everything you could mould a Stanley Cup Champion out of.  New players will establish themselves in their roles.  The walking wounded (not even including Sami Salo) will return, but one thing that is a concern is the offense we saw a year ago and its subsequent vanishing act. 

The top six forwards are all stillt he same group that had 25 goals or more each but at the current pace only two of last year's top six forwards are currently on pace to reach 25 or more, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler. Alex Burrows missed ten games early on but hasn't regained his 35 goal pace from last season and Mikael Samuelson is out.  Most disturbingly last years MVP seems to have lost faith in his shot which looked so good in the six week absence of his twin brother early last year.  Unarguably Daniel's absence forced Henrik to rediscover his ability to score and something needs to job his memory again because he has only 3 goals after 25 games, but he does lead the league in assists.

The third line has been better than imagined. Torres has picked up some of the slack and is the teams third leading scorer, earned early player of the week honours in the NHL but has proven streaky.  It's up to the unmentioned top-six winger Mason Raymond to pick up the production.  He's got all the tools. One of the fastest men in the league, strong in puck battles, used in all situations (even strength, shorthanded and powerplay).  He's off to a slow start, but a hattrick in his last game before missing time with a flu should make him the most likely candidate to step up the offense.  The fact that his hard work and smart play has earned him more ice in all situations means he'll see enough ice to do it, and the fact  that he's had 7 points in 11 career games versus the Ananheim Ducks makes tomorrows game the perfect time to pick up production.

The Canucks 80 goals so far this season are good for fourth in the West and put them on near the same pace they were in last years dynamic showing, however, if we're going to see the Stanley Cup in Stanley Park this summer last season's top-six are going to have to show up offensively at the same level they did last season, along with the new pieces of the puzzle performing to their potential. Goals are coming from the blueline as always, the league's best powerplay and a new and improved core of depth forwards, but to borrow a cliche, your best players need to be your best players.

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