If and when the NHL returns to action, the Vancouver Canucks are facing a few issues.
After all, they were unexpectedly bounced from the first round of the playoffs last spring, and they’ll return to the league with pretty much the same lineup that couldn’t get the job done.
Over the course of 10 days, Jason Botchford and Ben Kuzma are examining 10 issues that might concern the Canucks and their fans. Follow the series here, where we’ll add a new installment each day.
4. Depth at centre
When the Canucks were at their best in 2010-11, third-line centre Manny Malhotra was a viable Selke Trophy candidate at the three-quarter mark of the season. Then came his eye injury, which made offseason training impossible, and a 2011-12 season in which Malhotra was always struggling to catch up. The Canucks’ depth at centre depends so much on whether Malhotra’s last season was an aberration, or the new norm. And they won’t find out until play resumes. Read more from Jason Botchford.
5. Getting draft picks into the lineup
The salary cap will likely be lower once a new collective bargaining agreement is struck, which will make it imperative for the Canucks to draft well and get their young players into the lineup on entry-level deals. Only one of the players drafted by general manager Mike Gilliis during his five years in charge — Cody Hodgson — has become an NHL regular, although Zack Kassian is close. Centre Jordan Schroeder and defenceman Kevin Connauton, both 22, will get their chances. The organization is also high on mobile 19-year-old defenceman Frank Corrado, who has dominated in junior and held his own in the AHL. Read more from Ben Kuzma.
6. The second line
You could argue that the second line was the first problem for the Canucks last season. Of the eight goals scored against the Los Angeles Kings in the conference quarterfinal, none came from those normally associated with the second line. The line was in flux all season because of injuries to Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler, but the question remains: When everyone’s healthy, do the Canucks have enough? Read more from Ben Kuzma.
7. The two goaltenders
Goaltending is always an issue in Vancouver, but never more than now. When hockey resumes after the lockout, the Canucks will still have two No. 1 goalies on their hands and will need to find something they can use in a trade for Roberto Luongo. Some might even suggest that carrying both goalies through a lockout-shortened season would work, but that would bring more risk than you might realize. Read more from Jason Botchford.
8. The coaching staff
Alain Vigneault is the Canucks’ most successful coach of all time, but can he bring them their first Stanley Cup? Several teams, including the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals, made significant changes to their coaching staffs after disappointing ends to the 2011-12 season, but the Canucks kept theirs in place. Will their faith in one of the NHL’s longest-serving coaches be rewarded, or will players be looking for a change? Read more from Ben Kuzma.
9. The salary cap
The way CBA negotiations are shaping up, the Canucks could find themselves needing to sign 10 players with only $4 million of cap space. One of them would be star defenceman Alex Edler, who will be looking for a raise. That puts a huge onus on youngsters Chris Tanev and Zack Kassian to perform while they are still among the club’s lowest paid players. Read more from Jason Botchford.
10. The window is closing
Last season, just seven teams were younger than the Canucks. Soon Dan Hamhuis will become the ninth Canucks over 30 years old. The Sedin twins may have a few good year left, but there’s nobody of their quality in the system poised to take over when they’re gone. Look no further than the 2007 Ottawa Senators to see how quickly a Stanley Cup contender can fall. Read Jason Back when the NHL still played games, the Ottawa Senators were saturated in confidence to start the 2007-08 campaign. Read more from Jason Botchford.