Friday, October 6, 2006

Northwest Preview: New Team, Same Results?

2005-06 Record: 42-32-8, 92 pts, 9th place, 4th in division
Vs. Oilers: 2-4-2

G Roberto Luongo, D Lukas Krajicek, D Willie Mitchell, LW Taylor Pyatt, C Jan Bulis, D Yannick Tremblay, D Rory Fitzpatrick, G Dany Sabourin


RW Todd Bertuzzi, RW Anson Carter, D Bryan Allen, G Alex Auld, G Dan Cloutier, D Ed Jovanovski, D Keith Carney, RW Jarko “Momentum Assassin” Ruutu, D Sean Brown, D Eric Weinrich

DEPTH CHART (so says Yahoo)
Matt Cooke / Brendan Morrison / Markus Naslund
Daniel Sedin / Henrik Sedin / Jan Bulis
Alex Burrows / Ryan Kesler / Taylor Pyatt
Josh Green / Tommi Santala / Trevor Linden

Mattias Ohlund / Sami Salo
Willie Mitchell / Kevin Bieksa
Lukas Krajicek / Luc Bourdon

Roberto Luongo
Dany Sabourin

Wow. I knew that the Canucks made some serious moves in the off-season, but you really don’t get a sense for what a clearing-house riot it was in Vancouver until you have to type out all their additions and subtractions. This year represents wholesale renewal for the Canucks, who weren’t technically that bad at all (aside from their goaltending) last year, but just bad enough to graciously step aside and hold open the door to the post-season as the Oilers marched on through into playoff history. In all, the Canucks have ditched a remarkable 14 players from their roster heading into this season — among them their entire goaltending staff, four of their top-six defencemen, and two of their top-six forwards. Normally, this would indicate that fans should buckle down and get ready for a grim year, full of platitudes about transition, planning for the future, and, of course, losses by the barrelful. And believe me, as an Oilers fan I would like nothing more than to predict such a year for this perennially talented yet self-destructive franchise, and looking at this depth chart, I likely would — if not for a certain well-hyped 27-year-old from Montreal.

Roberto Luongo, Vancouver’s first real, no bullshit, indisputable No. 1 goalie since Kirk McLean won 38 games in 1991-92 (!!), changes the entire equation. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem to matter that the Canucks lost an astounding 58 goals and 130 points’ worth of forward production from last year in Carter and Bertuzzi, that they lost a generations’ worth of experience from their once-grizzled blue-line corps. Luongo is going to make up a lot of wins this team would otherwise be tossing out into the street like confetti. We’ve already seen what the kid is planning to do this year in Vancouver’s season-opening road win against Detroit last night, in which he allowed a single goal on 28 shots to post a .964 sv% and his first W.

BUT will Luongo alone help the Canucks improve their numbers from last year? I doubt it. Looking at this depth chart, I really don’t see how one could expect this team to pick up more than 40-45 wins this year. While Jan Bulis and Taylor Pyatt are pretty good FA pickups in practice, they don’t bring much in terms of numbers. Bulis has scored 16, 13 and 20 goals over the past three seasons while never getting past the 40-point mark. Pyatt has size and “potential,” but this top-10 pick in 1999 seems to have peaked in 2002-03 with 14 goals and 28 points in Buffalo. Ryan Kesler has a lot of promise, and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds to his gift-wrapped million-dollar raise, but Vancouver is going to rely heavily on Naslund and The Sisters to provide all their offence, and their lack of scoring depth will make them an relatively easy squad to line up against. On the blue line, meanwhile, I actually like what Vancouver has done. They were smart enough to let UFA Ed Jovanovski walk after four years of increasing games lost to injury and diminishing offensive returns, and they made some smart additions with my favourite Minnesota d-man, the punishing Willie Mitchell, and Lukas Krajicek, who is going to be a fantastic player a couple years down the road. As well, Ohlund and Salo are an underrated top pairing, in my opinion. Overall, this year’s back end is a slight upgrade from their older, slower squad of last season, although it may come out pretty even in the wash.

Okay, so what does this all mean for the Oilers? While I don’t think we’re going to see the Canucks return to their 4-1-0-1 dominance over in Edmonton in 2003-04, but it’s safe to say that they’ve improved enough to win against us more than twice in eight games this year. Their 2-4-2 record against the Oil looks a lot worse than it actually was; five of those games were decided by a single goal, including two Edmonton wins in extra time. Luongo’s presence in net may be enough to even the season series up, and maybe even push the Canucks over the edge.

Despite the significant upgrade in goal, regression up front will keep this team on the cusp of the playoffs once again. Edmonton will narrowly win the season series 4-3-1; Canucks finish 3rd in division, squeak into playoffs at 8th in West.


RJ said...

Hey Chris, as a Canuck fan I must thank you for your honest and carefully considered assessment of the team. I think I agree with almost everything you say but I would like to offer the following points for you/others to consider.

1) Expect Bulis to score at least 20 but more likely a few more given his extra ice-time and offensive opportunities (read: he will replace Penaltuzzi's 25 goals from last year).

2) Although the rest of the additions won't completely make up for the loss of Carter's 30 + goals, I suspect the marked improvement between the pipes will help the Canucks 'steal' quite a few hockey games we might not otherwise deserve to win (read: something this team has NEVER done recently).

Result: the Canucks will have a better record overall than last year and will finish 6th or 7th. (Not much of a departure from what you say, but a little more optimistic...)

Chris! said...

I admire your optimism, rj, but sixth in the West is a bit of a stretch unless the Canucks plan on absolutely wreaking havoc in their own division. Which I don't think they're capable of just yet.

Also, only one comment? What, weren't there any miniscule errors in here for you jackals to niggle about? HUH??

Far more likely: no one cares.

uni said...

The one thing about Bulis is that he was used as a checking line defensive forward in Montreal, and last year he put up those numbers despite being sat out of games and not getting quality offensive ice-time.

That's the one thing that was confusing to me, he seemed to be a good probable 60 point man, certainly more reliable than a Ribero per se, but yet he always seemed to be in the doghouse. Made me wonder if there wasn't some reason for it, or if it was just a coach's preference thing.

If he was being biased against in Montreal, he may well turn out to be a legitimate 2nd line scorer, although the proof is in the pudding and this year he has a golden brick road, the gates are open, and the only 'witch' will be the opposing goalie; no more excuses. Here's hoping he turns out like a Scott Walker.

Temujin said...

I'm just speechless that someone actually placed the Canucks in 8th spot. I'm so used to seeing them in 10th or 11th!

Anonymous said...

"What, weren't there any miniscule errors in here for you jackals to niggle about? HUH??"

OK, fine. It's spelled "minuscule."