After coming as close to winning Lord Stanley’s Cup as you can without actually taking home the hardware, the Vancouver Canucks are poised to do everything in their power to ‘seal the deal’.
As it stands right now, the Canucks have made 3 Stanley Cup Finals appearances, yet the ultimate team prize eludes them. With only small changes, relatively speaking, occuring during the off-season, General Manager Mike Gillis still has the utmost confidence in this group to go deep. Some hockey pundits felt that more could have been done to the team during the summer, particularly in free agency. To this, Gillis responded:
"“We think we have a really strong team. We don’t really see a tremendous weakness. Of course there are certain players that you would love to have that are on other teams and think they would fit in well here. They are impossible to get at this point. We are really confident in the group we have. If something comes our way between now and the start of the season we are going to act upon it. You can’t manufacture it.”"
If one subscribes to the theory that the Canucks were ‘out-muscled’ in the Final against Boston, then the departures of veteran Raffi Torres (Brent Seabrook can attest to that), Tanner Glass (Winnipeg) and the sudden loss of Rick Rypien might look like further proof the Canucks need to get tougher. But the trained eye would also note that a couple of new faces, particularly Victor Oreskovich (6’3, 215 lbs), Mark Mancari (6’3, 225 lbs) and a tryout contract for Todd Fedoruk might help replace the missing brawn. In recent interviews, all three have stated they understand their role, and their need to protect their teammates. Another name to throw into the mix is Aaron Volpatti, though based on watching him live against San Jose in the pre-season, he is still a little ways off from any regular duty.
One Canuck in particular that has been getting a lot of attention and extra ice-time in pre-season is center Cody Hodgson. Coach AlainVigneault (on the last year of his current contract) has afforded the 10th pick overall from 2008 a lot of opportunity to strut his stuff in pre-season action, and the kid has been delivering. Over the summer, Hodgson added about 10 lbs of muscle, and his work along the boards shows that. In times past, while in the offensive zone, he might not have the power to protect the puck, working against bigger defenders. So far in pre-season, he’s shown a willingness to battle hard, and the talent to keep control of the puck, even after being hit. With Ryan Kesler still on the mend from a torn hip labrum, and Malhotra’s status uncertain, Hodgson’s development couldn’t come at a better time. Pure grit behind the Sharks net to get his first goal of the pre-season.
2011 first round pick Nicklas Jensen has also been turning heads, both in Penticton during the Young Stars tournament, as well as in pre-season play. In 18:18 of ice during Sunday’s tilt against the Sharks, he earned an assist and had four shots. Coach Vigneault evaluated the young Danish winger:
"… the young man who has impressed me more in terms of handling the workload is Jensen. He went to Penticton and played three games, came here and was put through the paces and hasn’t missed a beat. We’ve got a very good kid there and we’ve got to do everything we can to develop him the right way. I’m enthusiastic right now."
39 year old Owen Nolan, who was slowed by a groin strain, was released from his tryout with the Canucks after Sunday nights’ loss. A new face that should get every opportunity for regular ice-time is Marco Sturm. It appears he’s ready to put a couple of mistaken, returning-too-early injuries behind him. His knees appear reinvigorated and healed, and thus far in the pre-season, he’s been putting pucks onto team-mates’ sticks in scoring positions. A return to his annual 20 goal pace would be a very welcome addition in Vancouver, particularly in light of the Canucks’ recent wave of longer-term injuries. Mason Raymond, who some projected would be back in the
lineup in November, will in my opinion be fortunate to see ice-time before 2012. After his compressed vertebrae fracture suffered in the Stanley Cup Finals, Raymond has been understandably slow to heal. While he says that there is some improvement every day, I recognize there is still the chance he might not play hockey again for a long time. Canucks’ fans eagerly await any type of positive news in relation to Raymond. They’re also starting to understand the price players pay attempting to help their team win the sports’ ultimate prize.
Though there is reason for continued optimism, the off-season was an unusually cruel and emotionally trying time for the club. Sudden losses of former team-mates and friends, Rick Rypien, as well as Pavol Demitra. There was also negative press generated from the riots, and injuries that may take their toll well into this coming season have added to the stress of the situation. But the team will press on, and should still be a Western conference titan in the 2011-12 season.