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Plenty of changes on Canucks, but question remains if team will be better

No one predicted the hurricane that hit.

Coach Marc Crawford was fired and Alain Vigneault was hired. A total of 14 players - some leaped, others were pushed - are gone.

Brooding forward Todd Bertuzzi, defenceman Bryan Allen and netminder Alex Auld were shipped to Florida for goaltender Roberto Luongo and young defenceman Lukas Krajicek. That cleared the way for goalie Dan Cloutier to be traded to Los Angeles.

Free-agent defenceman Ed Jovanovski signed with Phoenix while forward Anson Carter, who led the Canucks with 33 goals last season, went to Columbus.

To fill these holes the Canucks dipped into the free-agent market, acquiring forward Jan Bulis, centre Marc Chouinard and defenceman Willie Mitchell. General manager Dave Nonis then traded a fourth-round draft pick to Buffalo for forward Taylor Pyatt.

Young defenceman Luc Bourdon, the 10th pick in the 2005 draft, is also expected to stay with the team.

There's no doubt the Canucks will have a different look when they open the season Thursday in Detroit. The question remains, will they be better?

Even captain Markus Naslund hesitates to answer.

"It's tough to say," said Naslund, whose 32 goals last season was his lowest tally in five years. "I think on paper we may not be as strong.

"The key for us is to play a better team game and have strong goaltending. That will carry us through."

In Luongo, the Canucks may finally have the goaltender they've been searching for. At six-foot-three and 205 pounds, he's an imposing figure in the net. In 75 games with the Panthers last year he had a 35-30-9 record with a 2.97 goals-against-average, a .914 save percentage and four shutouts.

"I'm excited to get things going," said Luongo. "There's a lot more skill on this team than people make it out to be."

One doubt about Luongo is that he's never played in the playoffs. After five seasons in Florida, he will also now face the scrutiny of a hockey-mad city where the Canucks are front-page news every day.

Past Vancouver teams operated on a high-octane offence, led by the line of Naslund, Bertuzzi and centre Brendan Morrison. By trading Bertuzzi and losing Carter, Jovanovski and Jarkko Ruutu to free agency, the Canucks gave up 76 goals.

The team struggled to score goals during their 2-6 exhibition season. The power play was 1-for-17 during the last two pre-season games.

Vigneault said it's too early to start worrying about scoring.

"The goals are going to be there," said the former Montreal Canadiens coach. "We're getting a lot more shots than the opposition on net.

"As soon as we get our people to jell a bit, and get a little better chemistry, we'll be fine."

To help fill the goal gap, Vancouver signed Bulis who had 20 goals last year with Montreal.

Originally it was assumed Bulis would play on a line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. But during the exhibition season Vigneault switched Naslund to the right wing with the Swedish twins while Morrison and Bulis were playing with Pyatt.

Daniel Sedin, who had career highs in goals (22) and assists (49) last season knows more will be expected of him and his brother this year.

"I think everyone has to step up," he said. "It's a lot of goals to fill."

Eliminating Bertuzzi may be an addition to the Canucks through subtraction. The big forward still carried the baggage from his attack on Steve Moore and his caustic relationship with Crawford soured the dressing room.

Veteran defenceman Sami Salo said there's a new attitude on the team.

"I think our work ethic is going to be harder," said Salo. "And we'll be better defensively.

"Last year I think we had too many collapses in our own end. That has to change to be successful in this league."

The Canucks play nine of their first 11 games on the road. That stretch could set the tone for the season.

"We have to get off to a good start," said Morrison. "It's imperative."

Vancouver had a 42-32-8 record for 92 points last year. That left them ninth in the Western Conference, three points back of eighth place, and out of the playoffs for the first time in five years.

For the last several years, the Canucks have promised a lot but failed to deliver the goods.

They are a team that has won only one playoff round in the last 10 seasons the NHL played. Morrison said change was inevitable.

"We had a good team but we weren't able to win," he said. "You can talk all day about could have, should have, but we didn't.

"That's the bottom line. This business is about winning. We had to do something. We have a whole new coaching staff. It's a clean slate for everybody to go out and show what they can do."



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