Rookie Camps are still more than a week away, and the regular season is a full month down the road. But it’s September. You want to read hockey, and I want to write hockey.
So we bring you something new, a look at some select teams in a series we like to call, “What I Want To Know.” I’ll give notice on my Twitter account (@SportsnetSpec) so I can try to answer a few of your questions, and we’ll make up a few of our own as well.
We’ll start out West with “What I Want To Know About the Vancouver Canucks.”
Hope you enjoy it.
My question first: Was last season a sign that the Sedins are in serious decline? Or, was it mostly John Tortorella's fault?
For starters, in his infinite wisdom, Torts played the twins about 90 seconds more per game last season, with tough minutes on the penalty kill that they'd never had before. Lo and behold, they both produced less and spent more time on the injury list than usual.
The Sedins will be 34 on Opening Night, when their new four-year deals begin. They were never fast to start with, though always in prime shape. If they really have slowed down, that's a problem. But handled better by new coach Willie Desjardins, perhaps the step returns.
Also, Alex Burrows was hurt all last season and the power play was awful. Add Radim Vrbata, a healthy Burrows and a functioning PP, and the Sedins production could return.
Prediction: Injuries will be the real clue here. When older players start to get hurt where they used to always be healthy (like the Sedins), that means the end is near. If the Sedins stay healthy, we predict they can be 75-point players again. If injuries curtail production, the Canucks are in trouble.
@SportsnetSpec Which of their top prospects will actually make the club in 2014? I guess Horvat and Jensen only.
— Jeff Putnam (@Putsky88) September 3, 2014
Bo Horvat is only well-served making an NHL roster if he gets top-nine minutes (maybe top-six) and we just don't see a spot for him. Newly acquired Linden Vey has a better chance. The Boston model, from where GM Jim Benning came, is to bring young players in slowly. Unless Horvat has an epic training camp, he's back in London.
As for Jensen, he's a bubble guy who has to prove that he's not just a 6-foot-3 winger, but he plays like a 6-foot-3 winger. Like everyone, the Canucks need some size. But if Jensen's just another XXL jersey, he won't make the club out of camp.
@SportsnetSpec Who takes the #2 spot in goal?
— oiler talk (@theoil193) September 2, 2014
Before the Canucks announced that they'd signed Miller, team president Trevor Linden called Eddie Lack to give him the news. That's a tell that Lack will be here, at least for me.
Jacob Markstrom came from Florida in the Roberto Luongo trade, but new GM Jim Benning did not make that deal. Markstrom is wholly unproven and has played just 47 NHL games. He once had a higher pedigree than Lack, but this long into an unproven career that potential has faded.
Lack has been a steady soldier in Vancouver and is very well liked by his teammates. He is as good as Markstrom, maybe better, and is a known commodity as an affable backup. So the question becomes, does Markstrom clear waivers with an AAV of $1.2 million? Or does someone whose backup did not impress at camp snap up Markstrom and put their own guy on waivers?
Which brings us to Craig Kamminga's question, and a fitting place to close:
@SportsnetSpec how about a simple one: are they a play-off team?
— Craig Kamminga (@CraigKamminga) September 3, 2014
Vancouver missed the playoffs last spring for the first time in six seasons. They finished a miserable 12th in the West and 25th overall—down from third and eighth, respectively, the year before. Pick any team in any league that declined that much in one season, and tell me if you would pick them to rebound and make the playoffs the following season.
Exactly. We don't see the Canucks as heading into a full blown Edmonton- or Calgary-type rebuild, but they do share some traits with teams that have been forced to go that route. Poor drafting. Bad trades. Sketchy free-agent signings. All of those have left Benning with the task of filling in a huge gap in the Canucks pipeline between the ages of 20 and about 28.
The draft-and-develop route takes much time, while changing the NHL roster via trades and free agency is also slow. But those two jobs are the priority in Vancouver, and that means an NHL linesman won't drop a playoff puck in British Columbia come April. I've got the Canucks at 11th in the West.