Sunday, 7 September 2014

NHL: Canucks Push Back

For the first time since the 2007-08 season, the Vancouver Canucks failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  I am a firm believer that this season will be an enormous building block for the team.  Long time Canuck, Trevor Linden rejoined the team recently, not as a player, but as President of Hockey Operations.  From the get go, Linden has made it clear that he wants to completely restructure the definition of Canuck hockey.  Changes came immediately, as the organization relieved both John Tortorella and Mike Gillis from their duties as Head Coach and GM respectively.

At first, many Canuck fans including myself were tentative in buying into these changes.  Benning is a relatively quiet guy, and most fans knew little about him.  I was personally shocked to find out that he had actually played with Linden many years back on the Canucks.  Benning was never a standout NHL player, but he seems to be handling his new role as GM quite well.  Since the start, he has worked with Linden to strengthen the Canucks roster.  He made two vital moves early on; signing Radim Vrabata and trading Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks.  For the first time in years, the Sedin twins will have a top line scorer to play with.  Getting rid of Kesler was another important move as his agent made it clear that they were pursuing a change.  With media attention already swirling around the team, avoiding further controversy with their players was an easy decision.

Given the previous season, the Canucks decided that it was important to get a legitimate number one goaltender who can act as a guide for young standout, Eddie Lack.  The signing of Ryan Miller should prove to solidify the goalie position.  There is no question about goaltending now, as both Miller and Lack are comfortable with the roles they have been assigned.  Keeping Lack appears to be part of Benning's plan to sustain that internal competition at every position.  Benning clearly intends on building a team internally through smart drafting and development of young players.

For the first time in several years, the Canucks came out of the draft looking great.  Out of every single team this year, the Canucks may have had the best draft based on their position.  First round pick, Jake Virtanen is a clear indication of where the team wants to go.  He is a powerful skater who goes through defenders.  He is dangerous from everywhere on the ice, and brings an edge that the Canucks roster has not seen in years.  Expect new Canucks coach; Willie Desjardins to buy into Benning's ideas. They will be pushing youth into the system in an effort to create internal competition.  The Canucks do not have the luxury of a deep pool of young stars, but they do have numerous players who are closing in on cracking the roster.

I am personally a little concerned with the youth talent.  All of our strong young guys are still in the midst of development, and Benning has made it clear that they will not be playing on the NHL team unless they are physically and mentally prepared.  Top prospects Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, and Jake Virtanen are still very young and are a long shot this year.  Our only young guys who have a good shot at making the team are individuals who have had a shot before, but have not succeeded.  Jordan Scroeder was one of those guys that Canucks fans were expecting to put up big numbers for us.  However, he is already 23 and is still struggling to find that extra gear he needs to succeed at a top level.  I expect Scroeder, Brendan Gaunce and Frank Corrado to bounce around between the AHL and the NHL depending on injuries and other variables.

If you are a Canucks fun, do not expect these off-season pickups to completely turn the team around.  We should make a decent push at one of the later playoff positions, but it will be a struggle.  The Canucks have to jump four full spots in the west this season if they want any chance of making the post-season.  Teams like Dallas, Winnipeg, Phoenix and Minesota are looking to make a push for that final spot as well.  It is not impossible, but the Canucks are going to have to bounce back immediately and start strong early on this season.