VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks embark on a new adventure tonight when they open their lockout shortened NHL season against the Anaheim Ducks, and even Canuck head coach Alain Vigneault isn’t sure what to expect.
“I think everyone has been waiting for this moment for a long time,” Vigneault said today following the morning skate. “It’s finally here. Let’s drop the puck and play. I don’t think anyone can really predict exactly how we’re going to perform on the ice, or how any of the other 29 teams are going to perform. We all hope. Let’s wait and see how it works out.”
As announced at the end of last season, Cory Schneider will start this season as Vancouver’s No. 1 goalie, supplanting Roberto Luongo. Schneider was drafted by the Canucks in 2004 so it’s been a long, steady climb for the redhead from Marblehead, Mass.
“That’s all in the past now,” Schneider said. “It doesn’t matter what’s led up to this point, or what I’ve done, or haven’t done. All that matters is what happens going forward and I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m very excited to play. We’ve been waiting four months.”
Another excited Canuck is defenceman Alex Edler, who signed a six-year contract extension Friday night worth $30 million. The new deal takes effect next season but Edler wanted it out of the way before this season started. He stood to become an unrestricted free agent next July.
“I’m very happy about it,” said the 26-year-old Swede. “This where I want to be and it was great to get a long-term deal done. I don’t think I could ever have dreamed about this situation ($30 million) but I’m very fortunate to be here. Going to free agency, I mean, it crossed my mind but if there was a deal to be done here, I wanted to do that.
“Vancouver is a great city with great fans. It’s a great organization and a great team. So it was a no-brainer.”
Edler conceded he may have left some money on the table but he won’t be the first Canuck to sign for less than market value to remain with the team.
“I don’t know, maybe I did leave something on the table,” Edler replied. “But like I said, this is where I want to be and I’m very happy the Canucks wanted me here and see me as part of their future.”
Edler will have a new defence partner this season in White Rock’s Jason Garrison but otherwise the Canuck blue-line will have a familiar look tonight against the Ducks. Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis will be paired together as will Keith Ballard and Chris Tanev. The forward lines will be the same ones that practised together in training camp and the healthy scratches will be Cam Barker, Jim Vandermeer and Andrew Alberts.
Meanwhile, the Ducks are pumped and ready to go as well.
“We all feel like kids right now,” said Duck centre Saku Koivu, 38. “It’s going to be a tough schedule and an interesting season but it’s fun to get started.”
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau admitted he didn’t quite know what to expect with the short camp and no exhibition games.
“We’ve covered everything,” he said. “We keep going over everything both verbally and visually but who knows? It’s a different story when you’re playing against people who aren’t your friends. So we’ll see. Sometimes the best laid plans … but we’re hoping it works.”
New faces to the Ducks this season include defencemen Sheldon Souray, Bryan Callen and Jordan Hendry and winger Daniel Winnik. Among those gone are Lubomir Visnovsky, George Parros, Jason Blake, Sheldon Brookbank and backup goalie Dan Ellis.
ICE CHIPS: Mike Leggo and Tim Peel are tonight’s referees … Anaheim was 13-18-10 on the road last season … The Canucks’ power play finished fourth in the league last season while the Ducks were 21st. Vancouver was sixth on the penalty kill and the Ducks were 16th.
INJURIES: The Canucks will be without centre Ryan Kesler (wrist, shoulder) and winger David Booth (groin). The Ducks are starting the season healthy.
ANAHEIM DUCKS AT VANCOUVER CANUCKS
TONIGHT, 7 PM, ROGERS ARENA
TV: CBC. RADIO: TEAM 1040