VANCOUVER – A couple of workers were busy scrubbing walls Friday inside one of the main entrances to GM Place as Vancouver Canucks veterans and hopefuls assembled for the start of training camp.
The workers were removing some outdated pictures, including one of longtime captain Markus Naslund.
Out with the old, in with the new.
Notably gone as the club begins another season in search of the so-far-elusive Stanley Cup are GM Dave Nonis, fired; Naslund and fellow forward Brendan Morrison, signed elsewhere; and veteran forward Trevor Linden, retired.
There was also tragedy in the off-season as promising defenceman Luc Bourdon was killed in a motorcycle accident back home in New Brunswick.
Not gone, or even arrived, but still missing, is longtime Toronto superstar Mats Sundin, steadfastly uncommitted to taking the Canucks up on a US$20-million, two-year offer.
The new includes GM Mike Gillis, forwards Pavol Demitra and Steve Bernier and a handful of lesser lights who won’t be recognized on the streets of Vancouver anytime soon, even in this hockey mad town.
Perhaps the biggest mystery – for their fans and even themselves – as the team heads to Whistler for two days of training camp is what kind of team is this going to be.
The goaltending under Roberto Luongo is solid. The defence is among the best in the NHL.
But the offence?
Well, that is the great unknown.
The Canucks missed the playoffs last year for the second time in three years, resulting in Nonis’s firing.
The Canucks scored just 213 goals last year. Only six NHL teams scored fewer.
Head coach Alain Vigneault, in his first mass interview of the season, already felt the heat.
“Mike (Gillis) and I, with the changes that have been made to this organization, we’ve been talking all summer about finding a better balance between our grit, between our defence, between our forwards, our offence,”Vigneault said, facing a barrage of questions about a team that had trouble scoring goals last season.
“We really believe if we can find that better balance between those three elements – grit, offence and defence – that we’ll be able to score more goals.”
Veteran centre Henrik Sedin, the team’s leading scorer last year with 15 goals and 76 points, doesn’t think the emphasis on defence first will change too much.
“He brought in a few new players but I don’t think it’s going to change drastically,” said Henrik, whose twin brother Daniel finished last season two points behind him.
“Of course you want to score a little bit more goals and that’s going to make it easier on our defence but still I think we’ve got to focus on playing a good defensive game and that’s how you win playoff games.”
The Canucks didn’t turn too many heads with blockbuster off-season acquisitions, but Demitra and Bernier were the two biggest.
Demitra has not been reticent about making it known he hopes he was brought here to be more offensive than was allowed under the defensive-oriented system employed at his last stop in Minnesota.
“I think that’s why they brought me over here, for a little bit more offence,” he said after he had finished undergoing strength, agility and cardiovascular tests along with all the other players.
“With the Minnesota system it was a little bit tougher. But I think the number one thing for this team is to play good and make the playoffs and see what happens.
“Obviously we’ve got the best goalie in the league and I never played with the best goalie. I never had a team like that.”
The Canucks signed the 33-year-old Slovak to a two-year, US$8-million NHL contract.
In 750 games with Ottawa, St. Louis, L.A. and Minnesota, Demitra has 699 points from 281 goals and 418 assists.
His best season was in 2002-03 when he had 36 goals and 57 assists for St. Louis. Last year, Demitra had 15 goals and 54 points in 68 games with the Wild.
Demitra, however, also understands that defensive hockey is crucial to winning.
“In Minnesota everybody was playing defence but it was working for us. Obviously, if you want to win games you have to play good defence but sometimes it’s good to open up and play offensive hockey.”
The talk among local Canucks sportswriters has Bernier skating with the Sedins, and he clearly relished the idea without making it sound as if it was a fait accompli.
“I had a chance to see them practise a little bit,” said Bernier, signed by the Canucks to a US$2.5-million, one-year contract.
Vancouver acquired the 23-year-old from Buffalo for a second-round draft choice in 2010 and a third-round draft choice in 2009. The six-foot-two, 225-pound winger played for San Jose and Buffalo last season, totalling 32 points (16-16).
“I don’t know what’s going to happen but I’m going to be ready to practise with the twins if I have a chance to.
“Hopefully everything is going to go well if I have a chance to play with the two brothers.”
The new-look Canucks, who open the pre-season Monday in Edmonton, signed defenceman Rob Davison to a one-year, US$560,000 deal. The six-foot-three, 220-pound St. Catharines, Ont., native split last season between San Jose and the New York Islanders.
Also added were forwards Darcy Hordichuk, Ryan Johnson and Kyle Wellwood.