THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: Third in Pacific Division.
2013: 26-15-7. Third in West.
KEY DEPARTURES: Steve Pinizzotto, Derek Joslin, Derek Roy, Andrew Ebbett, Keith Ballard, Maxim Lapierre, Cory Schneider.
KEY ADDITIONS: Benn Ferriero, Mike Santorelli, Yannick Weber, Brad Richardson.
THN’s TOP PROJECTED SCORERS: Henrik Sedin (71), Daniel Sedin (70), Ryan Kesler (57).
PROS: This team still isn’t too far removed from its Stanley Cup final appearance and still possesses all the major pieces that got it there. The Sedins, now in their early-30s, continue to be elite performers who raise the output level of linemate Alexandre Burrows. Ryan Kesler missed most of last season, but was a beast most of the time he was in the lineup. The defense still has a good mix of offense (Jason Garrison, Alex Edler) and responsible defenders (Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa) to make a pretty good top four. And though Roberto Luongo was supposed to be the odd man out and traded by now, you can’t go wrong keeping a Team Canada caliber goalie around. The window of opportunity is still open for this team and they better keep propping it open because once it closes, there’s no real prospect safety net to soften a fall.
CONS: The Luongo story has all the potential to be a distraction, more likely to be created by fans or media during a dry spell than an actual dressing room problem. He should be consistent enough throughout the season, but for those times he does have a bad game or streak, there’s no longer a qualified starter to spell him and ring off some wins. Depth could also be an issue for the top-heavy forward unit, as Jordan Schroeder and Zack Kassian will be back and Nicklas Jensen may even be forced to stay with the team – not exactly a bona fide third line, because Mason Raymond and Derek Roy weren’t replaced. The power play was also an issue last season for the first time in years, slipping to 22nd in the league with a 15.8 percent efficiency. Finally, much like Washington, the Canucks’ move to a new division means they aren’t the monopolistic bully on the block anymore and have to contend with the likes of Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim now.
X-FACTOR: How will this team respond to new coach John Tortorella? Run out of New York for his overly abrasive style, Tortorella has hinted that he’ll change somewhat, but you can bet he’ll be the demanding, defensive voice he was on Broadway. This is a sharp contrast to the outgoing Alain Vigneault. Tortorella, a Stanley Cup winning coach, has the pedigree to pick this team back up, but at some point his message will wear thin. Will that happen quickly, perhaps even this season, or will that be a couple years away?
PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: The Sedins both have a career-high season for blocked shots.
PACIFIC NO. 3: VANCOUVER CANUCKS