Coming off back-to-back Northwest Division crowns, the only way Vancouver would view the 2010-11 season as a success was with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. A dominating regular season by the usual suspects (Henrik and Daniel Sedin
, Ryan Kesler
and Roberto Luongo
) carried over and led to the top seed throughout the playoffs. After a first-round scare from the Blackhawks, the Canucks were able to right the ship and advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Unfortunately for Canucks fans, their team came one win short of hoisting the cup after losing to the Bruins in seven games.
With most of the Western Conference winning roster still intact, the Canucks had very few moves to make this offseason. The one big departure was defenseman Christian Ehrhoff
, who signed a lucrative deal with the Sabres. Instead of chasing high-priced free agents or swinging a trade, the Canucks decided to deal with the loss of Ehrhoff with players already in-house. As a result, look for beefed up roles for Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis
, Kevin Bieksa
, Sami Salo
, Keith Ballard
and Chris Tanev
On the offensive end, the Canucks will once again rely on the high-scoring Sedin brothers. Ryan Kesler
gives the team a third elite option at forward, but he could miss some time early in the season as he recovers from hip surgery. After averaging 55 points over the past three seasons, feisty forward Alex Burrows gives the team another solid scoring option. Mason Raymond
(back) is another offensive player who could miss some action in the early going, so Vancouver will have to give a youngster like Cody Hodgson
a chance to contribute. And, of course, the team will still rely on veterans such as Mikael Samuelsson
, Manny Malhotra
, Chris Higgins
and Jannik Hansen
to round out the offensive attack. The lone newcomer who could provide a spark up front is Marco Sturm
With nearly all of the team returning, the Canucks are one of the Stanley Cup favorites heading into the 2011-12 season.
THE BIG GUNS
Henrik Sedin (C)
: While Sedin saw a slight drop off from his 2010-11 Hart Trophy production, he still managed to lead the NHL in assists (75) and finish fourth in total points (94) during the 2011-12 season. His 19 goals were somewhat disappointing after he posted a career-best 29 the previous season, but that total was more in line with the goal production we’ve seen from Sedin throughout his career. He’ll return to be the primary playmaker in the Canucks’ attack and shouldn’t have any problems remaining a point-per game play.
Daniel Sedin (LW)
: One year after watching his brother Henrik Sedin
take home the Hart Trophy, Daniel put together an MVP-caliber season of his own, finishing first in the NHL in scoring with 104 points (41 G, 63 A). He lost out on winning a Hart Trophy of his own, but Sedin still managed to earn fantasy MVP for most squads that were smart enough to draft him last year. At 31 years old, he is in the prime of his career and should once again lead the Canucks’ offensive attack alongside his twin brother.
Ryan Kesler (C)
: Kesler took the step to superstar status during the 2010-11 season, finishing fourth in the league with 41 goals while winning his first Selke Trophy. Unfortunately the gritty center will have to delay cementing himself as a bonafide fantasy stud after undergoing offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip. He went under the knife in early August with a timetable of 10-to-12 weeks expected for his recovery. If the full 12 weeks is needed, Kesler would be back on the ice before the end of October, but he’d likely need additional time to shake off any rust he might have from missing camp. Kesler’s one of the toughest cats in the league and has already declared optimism that he’ll be ready by the start of the season, but you should be prepared to manage your roster without him for the first few weeks of the season in case he has a setback.
Roberto Luongo (G)
: Despite uneven play during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Luongo still proved to be one of the best goaltenders in the league last year. He pitched four shutouts and finished the regular season with a record of 38-15-7, a nice complement to career-highs in goals-against average (2.11) and save percentage (.928). The Canucks consciously limited Luongo to 60 starts last season, and he’ll probably see around the same amount this year with Cory Schneider
slated to be his backup once again. His postseason struggles may cause him to drop down some cheat sheets, but Luongo remains one of the few elite options at the netminder position in fantasy hockey.
ON THE RISE
Alex Edler (D)
: Edler, a 25-year-old Swede, was well on his way to a career-best campaign and cementing himself as one of the top up-and-coming defensemen in the league before a back injury sidelined him for over two months. Despite the lengthy stint on the shelf, Edler still managed to finish the season with solid production from the back end, totaling 33 points (8 G, 25 A) and a plus-13 rating in 55 games. He’ll once again see plenty of time with the Canucks’ top offensive lines, while also quarterbacking the power play. Edler’s injury last season will likely lower his price on draft day, but you would be wise to grab him before he puts everything together and fully breaks out.
Cory Schneider (G)
: Schneider excelled in his first prolonged stint at the NHL level, finishing 16-4-2 with a 2.23 goals-against average and .
929 save percentage while serving as Roberto Luongo
's backup in 2010-11. The 25-year-old netminder will once again be back in the same role as Luongo's understudy this season. While he would clearly hold more fantasy value as a No. 1 goalie, Schneider should still manage to see approximately 20 starts for the Canucks, making him a solid option in leagues that value backup goalies.
TWO TO AVOID
Sami Salo (D)
: The 2010-11 campaign was another season ravaged by injury for Salo. The Fragile Finn didn’t make his season debut until mid-February, totaling seven points (3 G, 4 A) in 27 games. Despite his injury-riddled past, the Canucks opted to bring Salo back for another go-around by re-signing him to a one-year deal this summer. The injury risk will always be there with Salo, but he does head into 2011-12 healthy and should play a big role for the Canucks as a top-four defenseman.
Dan Hamhuis (D)
: Hamhuis produced as expected in his first season with the Canucks, and if it weren’t for multiple minor injuries during the regular season, he likely would have eclipsed 30 points for just the second time in his career. Even after missing 18 games, Hamhuis was able to post a career-best plus-29 rating while arguably providing the best play on the back end for the Canucks. He had offseason surgery on a sports hernia suffered during the Stanley Cup Final, but is expected to be ready for the start of camp. Barring a setback, look for Hamhuis to open the regular season as part of the Canuck’s top defensive pairing. While Hamhuis’ steady play on the back end is a definite plus for the Canucks, he has averaged just 24 points over the past five years. This is a case where a player’s worth to his team doesn’t translate to fantasy success.
Cody Hodgson (C)
: Hodgson made a quiet debut with the Canucks in 2010-11, finishing with two points in eight games while seeing limited ice time. Despite the lack of fireworks during his NHL debut, Hodgson remains one of the better prospects in hockey. He finally appears to be over the back issues that plagued him for the past two seasons, and with Ryan Kesler
(hip) expected to miss up to the first month of the regular season, Hodgson may get a shot at significant ice time for the Canucks. If given the opportunity, Hodgson has the talent to be one of the better scoring options in the 2011-12 rookie class.
Jordan Schroeder (C)
: The Canucks' first-round pick of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft was stymied by an ankle injury during his first full season at the AHL level, finishing with just 28 points (10 G, 18 A) in 61 games. Despite the lackluster season, Schroeder remains one of the Canucks' top prospects thanks in part to his speed and playmaking ability. He probably won't win a spot on the Canucks' roster out of camp, but Schroeder could see a promotion before the end of the season.