The Canucks showed improvements across the board in 2009-10, tying the franchise record with 49 wins, and taking home their second consecutive Northwest Division crown. Unfortunately, their season once again came to a screeching halt in the second round of the playoffs at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks.
After lackluster defensive play and uncharacteristic struggles between the pipes by the usually reliable Roberto Luongo, Canucks general manager Mike Gillis opted to retool the team’s back end this offseason. Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard were brought in to invigorate a defensive unit, which had already sported notable names such as Christian Ehrhoff, Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo and Alex Edler. With the Hamhuis and Ballard set to stabilize things in from of the net, Luongo will have the necessary tools at his disposal to bounce back from a surprisingly mediocre campaign.
On the offensive end, the Canucks will once again rely on the high-scoring duo of Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The Swedish twins lifted their games last season, totaling 197 points (58 G, 139 A) in 145 combined games. Helping out the Sedins will be Ryan Kesler, Mikael Samuelsson and Alex Burrows, all of whom set career-best marks in scoring last year. To add much-needed grit and veteran leadership, the team added Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres and Joel Perrault to their frontline.
With new additions to their offensive and defensive units, the Canucks are one of the most well-rounded teams in the NHL and should once again finish near the top of the Western Conference standings.
THE BIG GUNS
Henrik Sedin (C): The 2009-10 season was a banner year for Sedin. He shook off his label of playmaker to become a well-rounded offensive machine for the Canucks, leading the league in points (112) while setting career-best marks in goals (29), assists (83) and plus/minus (plus-35). It’ll be hard for the Swedish center to replicate his dominance from last season, but he remains a legit point-per-game player and a threat to lead the league in assists at year’s end.
Daniel Sedin (LW): Even after missing over a month of action near the beginning of the season with an ankle injury, Sedin was able to eclipse the 80-point threshold for the third time in four seasons, finishing with 29 goals and 56 points in 63 games. As a point-per-game player, he’s an elite option at left wing and the Canucks’ primary goal scorer. He’ll once again be well worth the early-round investment this season.
Roberto Luongo (G): Despite being just one of five goalies in the NHL to win 40 or more games last season, Luongo had a down year. Bobby Lu posted a 2.57 goals-against average and .913 save percentage with just four shutouts -- his worst marks in each category since joining the Canucks. He also stumbled during the playoffs, going 6-6 with a 3.23 GAA and .895 save percentage. The Canucks responded by retooling their blue line this offseason to offer Luongo more support. Given his track record, we’re betting on a bounce-back campaign from Luongo. Enjoy getting him a little bit cheaper than usual in drafts this year.
ON THE RISE
Ryan Kesler (C): The Olympic hero brought his game to new heights during the 2009-10 season. In 82 games, Kesler set career-highs in assists (50) and penalty minutes (104), while lighting the lamp 25 times. The gritty two-way forward provides excellent defensive play and solid skills in the faceoff circle, ensuring him of ample ice time each night. The Canucks didn’t make any tweaks to their first two lines this offseason, so look for Kesler to play a key role in the top six again this season.
Christian Ehrhoff (D): After seeing his production fluctuate in four full seasons with the Sharks, Ehrhoff was able to not only match a successful 2008-09 campaign, but also surpass it in his first tour with the Canucks. The 28-year-old blueliner set a career-high with 44 points (14 G, 30 A) while leading the Orcas in ice time. He also sported a career-best plus-36 rating. Ehrhoff will once again be playing the role of lead defenseman for the Canucks, so look for more of the same from the German blueliner in year two with Vancouver.
Mason Raymond (LW): It seems like each year the Canucks have a breakout season from an unexpected forward. In 2009-10, it was Raymond’s turn to fill that role. The 25-year-old winger finally landed a significant role on the team, skating with the top two lines for most of the season. The new responsibility resulted in career-best marks in goals (25), assists (28) and shots on goal (217). With elite speed and a defined role, Raymond will have the opportunity to repeat last year’s success.
TWO TO AVOID
Sami Salo (D): When he wasn’t battling injuries in 2009-10, Salo was a decent fantasy contributor, finishing with 28 points (9 G, 19 A) and a plus-14 rating in 68 games. Unfortunately, Salo already appears destined to spend time in the press box next season. The Fragile Finn suffered a torn Achilles while playing floor hockey this offseason. He’s expected to miss three-to-five months with the injury, putting his status for the start of the regular season in serious doubt. He’ll be a nice play when healthy, but don’t draft Salo unless you’re prepared to deal with the countless bumps and bruises.
Kevin Bieksa (D): For the second time in three years, Bieksa missed significant time after suffering a laceration to his leg. After missing two months of action, the 29-year-old was able to return and finish with three goals and 19 assists in 55 games. All looks good health-wise for Bieksa as he enters the 2010-11 campaign, but his role with the Canucks could be reduced after the offseason additions Hamhuis and Ballard. There’s 40-point potential here, but uncertainty surrounding his role should be of some concern when putting together your back end.
Cody Hodgson (C): After finding himself near the top of most prospects list the past couple years, Hodgson took a step backwards last season. The 2008 first-round pick dealt with a back injury that held him out of action until early February. He did manage to showcase his first-line skills after returning, racking up 30 points (11 G, 19 A) in 24 regular season and playoff appearances with Brampton of the OHL. Hodgson was close to landing a gig with the Canucks last year and will get another shot in training camp this fall. He’s a legit rookie-of-the-year candidate if he can secure a spot on the Canucks’ roster, so keep him on your radar.
Jordan Schroeder (C): The Canucks landed Schroeder with the 22nd pick of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft after the talented winger dropped due to size (5-foot-9, 180) concerns. Schroeder squashed those worries after reporting to Manitoba of the AHL late last season, totaling nine points (4 G, 5 A) in 11 games. He’s not expected to make the Canucks’ roster out of camp, but Schroeder’s top-notch speed and playmaking abilities make him a long-term keeper.