2014-15 NHL season preview: Vancouver Canucks

This 2014-15 NHL season preview features the Vancouver Canucks.

What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?

Amidst the chaos that was the Vancouver Canucks last season, there were silver linings from the unlikeliest of clouds.

Defenseman Ryan Stanton was a spare part in Chicago that Vancouver claimed off waivers. In 64 games, he scored 16 points and posted a +5 despite only averaging 14:43 of ice-time per game.

Another rookie defenseman, 24 year-old Chris Tanev, also played relatively well for the Canucks. In his second season of full-time duty, he posted 17 points and a +12 in 64 games while playing just over 20 minutes a night.

The only other regular defenseman on the team who was a positive player was Dan Hamhuis. Although his offensive production was down along with the rest of the team, he still led the Canucks with a +13 and played a team-high 23:57 per game.

Tanev and Hamhuis were also positive possession players despite drawing the toughest match-ups of any defensemen on the team.

26 year-old rookie goaltender Eddie Lack did a decent enough job in a market that’s come to be known as a bit of a goalie graveyard. He finished with a respectable .912 save percentage and a 2.41 goals-against-average in 41 games, numbers that stacked up very well with Roberto Luongo’s.

What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?

The Canucks’ .506 winning percentage was their worst since 1998-99 (.354). A major factor for that was the team’s inability to finish off plays, as they recorded the second lowest shooting percentage in the NHL at 7.56%.

That likely also contributed to their 26th ranked powerplay which converted just 15.2% of their chances.

When you talk about the Canucks’ offense, you talk about the Sedin twins. While Henrik led the team in scoring for the third consecutive season, his 50 points in 70 games represented his lowest point-per-game average since 2003-04. He also saw his iron man streak end at 679 games when he missed his first game since that same season (’03-04) due to a rib injury.

Meanwhile, brother Daniel finished second on the team with 47 points, with only 16 of those being goals. His goals-per-game and point-per-game averages were his lowest since 2002-03. He also failed to convert over 10% of his shots on goal for just the third time in his 13 year career, finishing with a personal worst 7.1% shooting percentage.

Another Swede who had a disastrous season was defenseman Alex Edler. his 22 points in 63 games equalled a career-low (in a full season) and he was an absolutely astonishing -39, the worst +/- rating in the entire league.

While 5 goals and 17 points in 49 games weren’t the worst numbers of Alexandre Burrows’ career, they weren’t far off. He did post a career-low with a -9 however, and converted an incredibly low 4.8% of his 104 shots on goal.

So what did they do to get better?

Well, the first thing they did is fire everyone involved with putting last year’s team together, which is probably a good idea. They replaced GM Mike Gillis with Jim Benning, and head coach John Tortorella with Willie Desjardins. According to former team captain turned team president Trevor Linden and Benning, the Canucks will try to play an up-tempo, fast-skating skill game.

The first casualty of the new regime was Ryan Kesler, who asked for and finally got a trade out of Vancouver. He was dealt along with a third round draft pick to the Ducks for Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, a first and a third rounder.

Bonino brings a strong work ethic and a very good two-way game. The Hartford, Connecticut native scored 22 goals and 49 points for the Ducks last season, and converted 13.8% of his shots on goal, an important statistic for the Canucks.

24 year-old defenseman Luca Sbisa has yet to fulfill the potential that him a 19th overall pick in 2008. Still, he’s a smooth skating blueliner who can move the puck and has developed into a reliable defender, but is still searching for some consistency.

Some players play well in certain cities and Radim Vrbata has been one of those players thus far, scoring at a much higher clip with Arizona (0.67 points per game) than anywhere else he’s played (0.48). Still, the Canucks hope he can provide some good secondary offense and help improve a powerplay that has been downright terrible the last few seasons.

Last, but certainly not least, goaltender Ryan Miller was brought in to be the answer in goal. It’s hard to believe that after countless playoff failures and goaltending controversies, Vancouver turns to a player who’s posted a save percentage better than .918 just once (.929 in 2009-10) in nine seasons as a starter.

Player to watch

With 12 points in his final 17 games, a stretch which included a four-point game, Zack Kassian may finally be ready to fulfill some of his power-forward potential.

He’s big, very strong in the corners and when he’s on, he can put up decent point totals.

If he can find some consistency with his effort this season, look for him to approach 20 goals and 50 points.

The question is, if they fail to make the playoffs again, what’s next?

They will make the playoffs if…

The Sedins return to their point-per-game form.

They will miss the playoffs if…

Last season was the new norm, not the exception.

What should we expect this season?

There are lots of people wondering whether the window has closed on the Canucks. Certainly the previous core has been blown to pieces, and a re-tooled Canucks team will take the ice this season, but it remains to be seen if the remaining players, who are still mostly on the wrong side of 30, can make one more run.

Having said that, barring a return to Hart Trophy status from both Sedins and a Vezina calibre season from Ryan Miller (yes, both), it’s hard to envision Vancouver being more than a bubble team in the Western Conference this season.

The question is, if they fail to make the playoffs again, what’s next?

Prediction

42-31-9 93 points, 4th in the Pacific Division, 9th in the Western Conference