"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect-like creature."
-The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
After an uneasy offseason the Canucks have awoke (or not) to find themselves transformed into a gigantic Rocky 6-like disappointment. What has changed? Slow starts aside this team doesn't even look like a shadow of its old self. The team, its fans and management, all seemed to think the losses of Raffi Torres and Christian Ehrhoff wouldn't affect the on-ice performance, after all they had Chris Tanev, now in the AHL and injured, and Cody Hodg-slug to replace them. The only problem is Ehrhoff was the lynch-pin of the Canucks greatest asset, their powerplay, and Tico set the pace physically.
I feel the Canucks are at a crossroads: Do they try to recreate last year's team identity with new parts or do they carve out a new one?
Unfortunately for AV and Co. I don't feel today's league with its parity and loser-points allows for a team to work its way through an identity change at this stage of the season, that's what the pre-season is for. I truly feel the coaching staff and management need to reflect on what made the Canucks a dominant force last season and recreate it with new personnel.
So what made the Canucks so good last season that is missing now?
1 - Energy Line: The Sutter brothers introduced us to the idea of an "Energy Line", usually the third unit, which featured speed and physicality. Traditionally the Energy Line plays a chip-n-chase style forcing opposition d-men to retrieve pucks tactically placed in the corners as offensive wingers strike with speed. The biggest benefit was not felt by this line but by others who capitalized on the mistakes the opposition make in their own end knowing they need to rush the play to avoid a crushing hit. How do they address this? Promote Aaron Volpatti (the new Raffi Torres?) and Max Lapierre to third line duty. They are one-two in hitting amongst Canuck forwards. Give diminutive Andrew Ebbet a look on this line. His play-making ability will maintain a level of scoring threat on a line that will play about 15 minutes a game.
2 - Mobility on D: The Canucks d-corps were lauded in last year's playoffs for stymying the opposition forecheck by moving pucks quickly out of their own zone. Keith Ballard was relegated to the press box despite the expectations that his pay scale and the package of prospects given up to acquire him suggested. For the team to play their best they need to play the best options, and right now that doesn't include Kevin Bieksa. If this team is to recapture the magic of last season then they need that level of puck movement that is sorely missing with the departure of Christian Ehrhoff. Lucky for them they have great pro scouting and acquired Alex Sulzer in the offseason. He might be the best passer on the backend and he was the only Canuck d-man to finish with a plus rating last night despite playing just 15 minutes. The team can't afford to let Bieksa work through this rough patch playing 20+ minutes, he's too much of a liability right now. Bump Kevin back to third pairing with whomever they settle on back there. Sulzer can pair with Hamhuis while Bieksa rebounds, the spot beside Alex Edler vacated by injured Sami Salo can be filled temporarily by Keith Ballard, not that he has earned it.
3 - Great Goaltending: The Canucks duo of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider won the Jennings trophy for lowest GAA last season. Lou was a Vezina candidate and Schneider a blossoming rookie. This year the tables are turned. Lou isn't getting it done and Schneider is looking like the better goalie. Like Bieksa, Lou can't be afforded the luxury of working through this slow start. Cory Schneider needs to continue to get more starts.
Last year the secondary scoring took a big hit. Mason Raymond had an off year and Mikael Samuelson failed to reach the 20 goal mark. Raymond is out with injury and Samuelson was part of the trade that brough in David Booth, this leaves Cody Hodgson to find a place on the second line, but when Burr and Raymond are healthy again there won't be room for him in the top six and he needs to be playing meaningful minutes, if not in the NHL then in Chicago with the Wolves. He can't be expected to develop in to a top six player bouncing around positions and lines with the Canucks.
If the Canucks don't learn from the past they won't get a chance to repeat it. The Northwest is a lot tougher than most hockey pundits felt it would be and the Nux don't have the flexibility to play .500 hockey through November. If I were AV my line-up card for Sunday's game in Chicago would be as follows:
Sedin Sedin Booth
Higgins Kesler Hodgson
Volpatti Lapierre Ebbett
Weise Malhotra Hansen
CANUCKS and LIONS PODCAST: http://soundcloud.com/josh-statham/epi4complete