10 teams that can win it all: Canucks

Every Tuesday for the next 10 weeks Ryan Porth gets you set for a fresh NHL season with in depth looks at the Top 10 teams that will compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup in the 2012-13 season.

Coming off a numbing Stanley Cup Final Game 7 home loss to Boston, the Vancouver Canucks bounced back in 2011-12 and captured their second Presidents’ Trophy in as many years. And then everything came to a screeching halt. Daniel Sedin suffered a concussion in mid-March, which was followed up by a five-game first-round exit courtesy of No. 8-seeded Los Angeles.

Pundits were left scratching their heads after coach Alain Vigneault was re-signed for two more years, which came on the heels of GM Mike Gillis receiving a five-year extension. The Canucks handed over the netminding reigns to Cory Schneider, but were unable to unload Roberto Luongo’s gaudy contract (at least not yet). Gillis dipped into the free agency pool to sign coveted defenceman Jason Garrison.

With much of the same cast of characters still around, here are three reasons why the Canucks are and aren’t set to (finally) win their first Cup:

1. Bold move to turn to Cory Schneider

Though Roberto Luongo has never captured a Vezina Trophy, he has earned his three career nominations for the award. Yes, he’s still trying to win that last game of the season, but he did win 15 times in the 2011 playoffs. That said, not everyone is made to succeed in a pressurized environment like Vancouver, where expectations have been at an all-time high in recent years. Luongo must move on from a city where he simply cannot win, with the media or the fans.

The Canucks made the bold decision in April to officially pass the torch to the 26-year-old Schneider. He may not be much of an upgrade over Luongo in terms of wins and losses, but Schneider represents a fresh start for the organization. The goalie’s overall makeup suggests he won’t crack under pressure, and as Luongo’s backup the Boston College product posted a composite 2.08 GAA and .933 save percentage over the last two years.

It just didn’t work with Luongo. If anyone has the ability to deliver that elusive Stanley Cup title to British Columbia, it’s Schneider.

2. Team’s overall balance

There may not be a team in the NHL that is as good from top to bottom as the Canucks.

Henrik and Daniel Sedin lead one of the sport’s most potent offensive attacks. Ryan Kesler, when healthy, is a top-five second-line centre and is at the forefront of a forward corps that is difficult to play against all over the ice. Defensively, Jason Garrison’s booming slap shot is a nice complement to the blue line’s two-way nature. If Luongo sticks around (doubtful), the Canucks have the league’s top goaltending duo.

Aside from personnel, the Canucks are elite in important team categories. No one is better on special teams; they are stellar at even strength; they won the Jennings Trophy in 2011 and finished fourth in goals allowed in 2011-12; they have led the West in offense in each of the last three seasons; they can dominate at home and on the road.

What can’t they do?

3. Crucial playoff experience

Sometimes you have to experience the pain of losing before you can enjoy the ecstasy of winning. It doesn’t work for everybody (ahem… San Jose and Washington), but there are examples where it has worked.

A year after blowing a 3-0 second-round series lead, Boston went on to beat Vancouver in 2011 for the Stanley Cup. In 2008, Pittsburgh fell short of winning the Cup by two games to Detroit; the following spring they defeated those same Red Wings to win it all. Almost every team that has won since 2004 has learned valuable lessons in those recent seasons.

The Canucks had two opportunities in 2011 to claim the Cup but couldn’t finish the deal.

Their most recent playoff appearance barely qualified as such. When you add the successive playoff losses to Chicago in 2009 and 2010, Vigneault’s gang has experienced enough adversity as it is. Now they must show they have learned from those disappointments.

1. Ryan Kesler breaking down?

At the age of 28, you’d hate to think Kesler is physically breaking down. But the fact he’s undergone another surgery, his third in five years, has to be worrisome. Last season it was his hip. Now it’s his shoulder, as a torn labrum had to be surgically repaired in May.

Kesler is expected to be out until November; the longer the CBA negotiations drag out, the fewer games he’ll miss. Still, the Canucks need their top two-way forward to be 100 per cent as soon as possible. It’s pretty simple: when Ryan Kesler hasn’t been Ryan Kesler in each of the last two postseasons, the Canucks have seen their Cup hopes evaporate.

The Canucks would love to get a repeat performance of 2010-11 from the Livonia, Mich., native. For Kesler it was a campaign highlighted by his 41 regular-season goals, postseason dominance and Selke Trophy win. But after all these times going under the knife, one has to wonder: Will he ever be that Ryan Kesler again?

2. Lack of reliable secondary scoring

You know what you’re getting from the Sedin twins; same with Alex Burrows when he’s the third wheel on that top line. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Daniel Sedin’s absence was a contributing factor, but the Canucks scored just eight goals in five games against Los Angeles. They need more out of their secondary scorers, David Booth and Mason Raymond especially.

Booth, 16 goals in 56 games, failed to live up to expectations after the team acquired him from Florida last October. Meanwhile, Raymond tallied 10 goals in 55 games in an injury-shortened year. Both are important to the Canucks’ offensive success, but neither is durable or reliable.

Even though they ranked fifth in offence a season ago, the Canucks’ depth up front isn’t overwhelming. When Henrik and Daniel were both kept off the score sheet in 2011-12, the Canucks’ record was just 8-13-5. Sometimes the twins need a crutch instead of being the crutch.

3. Mounting pressure

There isn’t much to dislike about the Canucks and their chances to go deep next spring, so it’s probably farfetched to say pressure from outside a locker room could keep any team from winning. However, the overwhelming expectations from Canucks fans and media alike can sometimes act as a negative.

Canucks fans are usually waiting for something bad to happen rather than expecting something good. And Vancouverites will have this "Stanley Cup or bust" approach as long as they’re the class of the Western Conference. Even if the Canucks put together another impressive 110-point season, it doesn’t matter unless they win in April, May and June. Players will constantly be asked all season long about the high expectations and how the season is a failure if they don’t win 16 games when they matter most.

Will it all be too much in the end?

Prediction: Vancouver challenges for their third consecutive Presidents’ Trophy and represents the Western Conference in the 2013 Stanley Cup final.

POLL:

How far will the Vancouver Canucks make it in 2012-13?

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