2011-12 Vancouver Canucks season preview
By most accounts it was a wildly successful season last year for Vancouver, as the Canucks rolled to the most points in the NHL while leading the league in goals scored and goals allowed. But most Vancouver fans will only remember their team losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals at home to Boston. So nothing short of winning the Cup will suffice this season.
The Canucks open tonight against Pittsburgh in a possible Cup preview and are -160 favorites on WagerWeb.com.
The team got good news Wednesday. Ryan Kesler has been cleared for contact for the first time since having hip surgery a little more than two months ago, the team announced. Kesler practiced with the team on the eve of Vancouver’s season opener against the Penguins, but there is still no timetable for his return. The forward had surgery in early August to repair a torn hip labrum suffered during the playoff run – he was Vancouver’s best player in the postseason.
While Vancouver’s roster didn’t experience much turnover this summer, the Canucks did lose one of their top defensemen as highly skilled Christian Ehrhoff signed a 10-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres. Ehrhoff, 29, had 94 points in his two seasons in Vancouver, and it will be interesting to see if anyone on the roster is capable of replacing that kind of offense from the blue line. Four other players who appeared in that crushing Game 7 loss to the Bruins also have gone elsewhere — Jeff Tambellini, Tanner Glass, Raffi Torres and Alexander Bolduc.
Marco Sturm arrives in Vancouver after splitting last season between Los Angeles and Washington. Injuries limited the German forward to just 35 games, but Sturm is a seven-time 20-goal scorer.
The first line remains one of the best in hockey. Henrik Sedin, one of the top centers in the world, will flank his twin brother Daniel and Alexandre Burrows, who had 17 points in 25 playoff games. With Kesler out, the pressure will be on the Canucks’ top three to provide enough offense in his absence.
Henrik Sedin won the Hart and Art Ross Trophies with 112 points in 2009-10, and he added 94 points (19 goals, 75 assists) last season. He also notched three goals and 19 assists over 25 playoff games, but just one of his 22 postseason points came in the seven-game series with Boston. Daniel Sedin, meanwhile, set career highs in goals (41) and assists (63) en route to claiming an Art Ross Trophy of his own. Daniel recorded 20 points (9g, 11a) in the postseason, but was limited to a goal and two assists by Boston in the final round.
Ehrhoff’s departure leaves a significant hole on Vancouver’s blue line that is unlikely to be filled by any one player. But the club did manage to retain Kevin Bieksa’s services after they signed the skilled defenseman to a five-year contract in June. Bieksa likely will be joined on the top pair by Dan Hamhuis.
Goalie Roberto Luongo turned in an excellent regular season in 2010-11. His 928 save percentage was the second best of his career and his 2.11 goals against average was a career-best. But he was up and down in the playoffs. He recorded four shutouts in the postseason, including two in the Cup Finals, but he was also pulled twice against the Bruins and surrendered a whopping 20 goals over the seven games. . Earlier in the playoffs, he was also benched for Game 6 against Chicago before returning to win the seventh and decisive game against the Blackhawks.
Additions: LW Marco Sturm, RW Mark Mancari, RW Byron Bitz, LW Mike Duco, C Andrew Ebbett, D Ryan Parent
Subtractions: D Christian Ehrhoff, LW Raffi Torres, LW Jeff Tambellini, LW Tanner Glass
WagerWeb.com odds to win Northwest: -500 (favorite)
WagerWeb.com odds to win Stanley Cup: +350 (favorite)