Canucks Post Mortem Forwards Edition — Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

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Mar 26, 2013; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks left wing Daniel Sedin (22) reacts after a check by the Columbus Blue Jackets during the third period at Rogers arena. The Vancouver Canucks won 1-0 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

DANIEL SEDIN
#22  LW | 6’1″, 187 lbs. | Age: 32

$6.1 million/ 1 year remaining

2013 Stats:  Goals 12 / Assists 28 / Points 40 /  +/-12 /  PIM 18

Daniel Sedin had what most consider an off year, and what some consider a declining year.  Depending on your take, the Canucks either have a player ready to have a big bounce back season or another year when his scoring percentages and goals per game rate steadily drop as he ages.  The slick Swede still has the most accurate shot on the team and, if given space, will put it in the back of the net.  He is still the Canucks’ first line left wing but can he play without brother Henrik?  Can he make those brilliant cuts to the net that made him so successful instead of getting tied up on the boards like last season? Daniel’s leadership and competitiveness will keep him playing top line minutes on this team, but how long will it be until new coach, John Tortorella starts leaning on him for things he isn’t comfortable doing?

 

May 1, 2013; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin (33) goes down in front 0f San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun (61) during the third period of game one of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs at Rogers Arena. The San Jose Sharks won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

HENRIK SEDIN

#33  C | 6’2″, 188 lbs. | Age: 32

$6.1 million / 1 year remaining

Goals  11  /Assists 34  /Points  45  /  +/-19  / PIM  24

Like his brother, Henrik Sedin will be asked to play in areas and styles that he hasn’t done for a long time in his career.  This could make the Sedins better players than they’ve ever been, or send them back to Ornskoldsvik, Sweden to play out the remainder of their careers in obscurity.  The captain of the Canucks has a lot to prove this season with a contract on the line, and a season to repair all the disappointments of years past.  Henrik is a solid point producer and, if he starts hot, could keep the points coming all year long.  The former Hart trophy winner will try to show this season that his elite playmaking abilities have not eroded one bit.

 

May 3, 2013; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler (17) gets a blade to the face from San Jose Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin (52) during the third period of game two of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

RYAN KESLER

#17  C | 6’2″, 202 lbs. | Age:  28

$15 million / 3 years remaining

Goals  4  /Assists  9  /Points  13  /+/--5   /PIM 12

Next season appears to be the first season since the 2010/2011 campaign that Ryan Kesler isn’t playing hurt.  Injury after injury have depleted the strengths of the Canucks’ best 2-way forward in the franchise’s history.  He still possesses the team’s best wrist shot, still possesses the fleetest skates on the team, and still possesses the burning desire to, in his words, “play like bastards”.  Kesler has learned to tone down the between the whistles agitation business, but who knows, maybe he plays better when he’s chirping and being, well, a bastard.  Expect a bounce back year for Kes.

 

Jan 27, 2013; San Jose, CA, USA; Vancouver Canucks center Alex Burrows (14) is escorted to the penalty box during the third period against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion. The San Jose Sharks defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

ALEXANDRE BURROWS

#14 RW | 6’1″, 188 lbs. | Age: 32

Contract Status: $18 million / 4 years remaining

Goals  13  /Assists  11  /Points  24  /+/-15  /PIM  54

Blink an eye in sports, and suddenly a player is approaching his mid-thirties.  Burrows appears to be able to do the job he will always do well — agitate, hustle, kill penalties, and shutdown forwards, but Burrows is also starting to show signs of slowing down.  He led the league last year in minor penalties, a suspicious stat given his very public assault on referee Stephane Auger in the NHL equivalent of shooting a police officer.  Since that point in time, Burrows painted a bullseye on his back for all the refs to call penalties and hurt his team in the process.  At any rate, former coach Alain Vigneault preferred Burrows on the Sedin line, but it will remain to be seen if he stays on the top unit.  Burrows is skilled, but he will have to prove himself all over again for the new coach, and at 32, it’s easier said than done.  No one can train IQ, and in that respect, Burr is as smart as anyone in the game.

 

Mar 16, 2013; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks left wing David Booth (7) is defended by Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard (35) and defenseman Niklas Kronwall (55) during the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

DAVID BOOTH

#7 LW | 6’0″, 212 lbs. | Age: 28

Contract Status: $8.5 million, 2 years remaining

Goals 1  /Assists  2  /Points  3  /+/--3   /PIM  4

With a severe injury to his ankle last season, once again, David Booth’s year was cut short and, once again, his NHL team isn’t quite sure what they have in him.  At his best, Booth is a whirling dervish of energy — a big strong forward who crashes the net and anything else in his path.  At his worst he is sidelined with a prolonged injury.  The good news is that Booth is an effective forward.  He may not net 30 goals in a season  again, but he is undeniably an element the Canucks sorely lack with him out of the lineup.  He puts immense pressure on the opponent’s D, and goalie, and makes defenders opponents for their actions, dropping the gloves from time to time.  Booth is extremely useful, but he just can’t stay healthy.  If the Canucks can ever get a full season, or about 70 games, out of Booth, he can net 15-20 goals and round out the deeper parts of the lineup.  If he doesn’t do it this season, he’ll be another buyout candidate next summer… unless he’s injured again, that is.

 

Mar 23, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Vancouver Canucks left wing Chris Higgins (20) is on the ice after a hit by Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (8) in the first period of the game at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

CHRIS HIGGINS

#20 LW | 6’0″, 205 lbs. | Age:  30

Goals 10  / Assists   5  /Points 15  /+/-  -4  /PIM 10

Contract Status: $10 million / 4 years remaining

Higgins is the ultimate utility forward who can play up and down the lineup in any role.  He works hard, and can show the occasional nose for the net.  The problem with Higgins is that he isn’t physical enough, and has pretty limited playmaking ability. He’s also a barely average skater.  He showed some interesting chemistry for a couple of games with Derrick Roy, who will not be back with the club, but other than that represented an “average” hockey player.  Higgins had a good regular season last year, and can net 15-20 goals in a full season.  His main strength is his versatility, and that will serve him well going forward with a coach who has seen him play before with the Rangers.  Still, Higgy has yet to prove that he can handle the grind of the NHL playoffs. If memory serves, Higgins was traded shortly thereafter…

 

Apr 22, 2013; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks right wing Jannik Hansen (36) is checked by Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) during the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

JANNIK HANSEN

#36 RW | 6’1″, 195 lbs. | Age: 27

Goals 10  /Assists   17  /Points  27  /+/- 12  /PIM 8

Contract Status: $1.35 million / 1 year remaining

There’s a lot to like about Jannik Hansen’s game.  He is an excellent skater who forechecks well, and can agitate opposing players.  He thinks the NHL game through quite well for a Dane, and he can make some pretty passing plays from the wing, either of which he can play.  He is a consummate teammate, who stands up for others.  On the downside, he’s not the biggest man on the ice.  Until he bulks up a bit, Hansen will be limited in his role and too easy to shut down by bigger defenders.  If he’s not skating around defenders, embarrassing them with highlight reel goals to the net, then why not add a few pounds of muscle, if possible, and pose a bigger question for defenders, especially in the playoffs.

 

Jan 23, 2013; Vancouver, British Columbia, CANADA; Vancouver Canucks right wing Zack Kassian (9) gets a penalty for goalie interference against Calgary Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff (34) during the third period at Rogers Arena. \the Vancouver Canucks won 3-2 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

ZACK KASSIAN

#9 RW | 6’3″, 214 lbs. | Age: 22

Goals 7  /Assists 4  /Points 11  /+/- -7   /PIM  51

 Contract Status: $870,000 / 1 year remaining

The youngest of the Canucks current core roster, Zack Kassian was perhaps the main reason why Alain Vigneault does not have a job with the Canucks anymore.  GM Mike Gillis believes in Kassian to the point that he is all-in.  If there is one player on the roster who will make Gillis look like a genius it’s Zack Kassian.  Because of the trade that sent the popular Cody Hodgson to Buffalo, the career arcs of the two players are forever linked.  If Kassian scores, Canucks fans feel redeemed, if Hodgson scores, they feel as though they were duped.  It’s just the way it goes.  Thus, if you bench Kassian, you make Gillis look like a fool.  Simple equation.  Many people believe the rugged forward showed enough early in the season to merit top line consideration.  He has very underrated passing skills for a big man, and seems to enjoy causing havoc.  Something tells me this is exactly the kind of player Tortorella will enjoy coaching into an capable NHL player.   We haven’t seen the best of Kassian yet.

 

The Vancouver Canucks have an interesting training camp ahead of them with many changes expected on the front end. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

 VERDICT:  GLASS HALF EMPTY

There are serious doubts about the forward unit on this team.  They have shown all the ability in the world to compete during the regular season, but the group, as a whole, struggles to score goals in the playoffs.  This trend has begun to seep into aspects of their regular season as well, as NHL reffing is trending towards pocketing the whistle in many regards.  Even when the team did have the powerplay last year, they seemed to be lacking the ability to score.  With realignment coming in 2013, the team will have to face tougher competition than half a schedule of Edmonton, Calgary, Colorado and Minnesota.  In short, the regular season is about to mean something.

Henrik Sedin has shown more willingness to throw the body around than brother Daniel. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

After the Sedins and Kesler, who are all iffy right now as point producers given their downward spirals last year, the team has very little offensive reliability.  They simply haven’t shown the type of poise that they did in 2011 when they ran roughshod over the league and Kesler was scoring 40 goals. That’s getting to be a long time ago now, and the Canucks need to support this aging group with an elite level skilled forward and perhaps one more who is an above average goal scorer.  Free agency could yield a Danny Briere, but that is a stretch with a team with little cap space and players like Tanev in need of signing.  Trading for a forward would mean sacrificing a player they need, and the team doesn’t seem too willing on giving up their thin layer of prospects after trading their team MVP of last year, Cory Schneider, just to acquire the number 9 pick in the draft.  The Canucks are in an quandary.

Canucks’ new bench-boss, John Tortorella will have to hard-sell the Canucks in order to change the team culture. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

It seems Gillis is banking on a few things to happen this season.  First and foremost, he believes the team’s core needed a new voice — enter Tortorella.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Gillis has preached a youth movement.  Could we see Brendan Gaunce, Jordan Schroeder and Bo Horvat in the lineup as early as next season?  Seems a bit of a gamble, but it cannot be denied that the essential bet Gillis is making is on the shoulders of Zack Kassian.  If Kassian develops into something resembling a 20 goal scorer, the team’s lineup can relax a little.  But, if Kassian is another two or three seasons away (or never) from developing into a reliable scorer, the Canucks will be in serious trouble.  In addition, injuries to this group have tested the organization’s depth in the past.  Gillis must do something to address the overall skill level of the team, as well as adding to its depth.  Vigneault, Tortorella or Scotty Bowman could coach the Canucks, but without depth and improvement in younger players, and players who appeared to be slowing down, the team will fall flat.

Topics: Chris Higgins, Daniel Sedin, David Booth, Henrik Sedin, John Tortorella, Mason Raymond, Mike Gillis, Ryan Kesler, Zack Kassian

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