Sunday, April 6, 2008

Seeing a Pattern?

Our beloved Vancouver Canucks have been eliminated from the playoffs, and look set to finish 9th overall in the Western Conference for the 2nd time since the resolution of the 2004-2005 lockout.
Whilst the team that bowed out in front of GM Place April 3rd had a vastly different identity from their counterparts of 2 years past, the end result was the same. The worrying thing is that the roster that couldn’t get it done this year is virtually identical to that which set club records 12 months ago. From that perspective, we should be glad that $12 million of salary will be pliable starting July 1st. Captain Markus Naslund’s hefty $6 million contract will be one of those to go, so there will be ample room for improvement. Still, GM Dave Nonis’s game plan should remain intact. There are still at least 2 years left of Roberto Luongo, meaning world-class goaltending will not leave Vancouver too soon. The same problem that confronted Nonis last season remains: the Canucks have 5 legitimate top six forwards. Yet this time, he has both plentiful financial belt room and a well-stocked farm to pick from. Young guns such as Ryan Shannon and Mason Raymond have both shown promise playing top-six minutes, and upper-level forwards such as Ryan Malone and Kristian Huselius have expired contracts that will be difficult to renew. In short, it is hard to imagine this nagging problem not being resolved.
Then take a look at Vancouver’s defence. Names such as Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo and Alex Edler are epitomise dependable European defence. Then you’ve got Kevin Bieksa and Luc Bourdon, both feisty, strong, young defenseman. Lukas Krajicek skates with the grace of Scott Niedermayer and has a brilliant offensive mind. Don’t forget Willie Mitchell, one of the game’s premier defensive defenseman, responsible for almost as many saves as Roberto Luongo. Aaron Miller is veteran reliability, and Nathan McIver has some of the quickest fists out there. I think by now you’ll see my point. The Canucks have 9 defensemen capable of making most team’s top six.
Playing behind them is Roberto Luongo, thought by many to be the best goalie in the game today, and Curtis Sanford is a very capable back-up. Standing on the bench is Jack Adams Trophy winner, Alain Vigneault. If only that hole had been filled, the Canucks would have been headed deep into the post-season.
At least, that very simplistic analysis is forgoing one crucial bit of common sense: it is very difficult to do much if your team never fields a fully healthy line-up. Not one defenseman escaped the injury bug, and at times only one top-six player was available. When Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo suffered horrific injuries in an early November tilt against Nashville, many Canuckleheads forecasted a falling sky. Whilst it appeared they were wrong for a long time, I feel like I’m stuck between a thundercloud and a brick wall right about now.

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