(Note: The morning papers can be found at the bottom of this post below my evaluation of the Vancouver Canucks)
After pulling off one of the most lopsided trades of all-time in the summer of 2006, Dave Nonis saw his Vancouver Canucks bow out in the second round of the playoffs to the eventual Stanley Cup champions in Anaheim. While a second round exit can be seen as progress, Nonis had the job, this off-season, of trying to push his team to the next level. As Nonis knows, once your team takes a giant step forward in the standings, expectations only increase, especially in a hockey hotbed like Vancouver.
Here are six questions that people have about the Canucks heading into 2007/08?
Does the team have enough offense to contend for the Stanley Cup?
Not likely. Creating offense was the Canucks' biggest problem during the playoffs and all the team added up-front during the off-season was Ryan Shannon, Brad Isbister and Byron Ritchie. Needless to say, that is not a list of forwards that will suddenly instill fear into opponents. Some may cite the possible rebound seasons of Brendan Morrison and Markus Naslund but, in reality, what reason do we have to believe that they will suddenly return to pre-lockout form? If anything, they are both a year older and their play should fall-off.
Was the addition of Aaron Miller significant?
It is hard to say the addition of a defenseman who is likely to play sixth defenseman minutes is significant, but playing in a Canadian city can do that. Jokes aside, Miller is an upgrade over Rory Fitzpatrick and the other end of the bench defensemen he will play in place of. The Canucks top four defense is very strong and Miller should be able to handle an increased workload if one of the defensemen were to go down to injury.
Can the Sedin twins each crack the 100 point plateau?
Anything is possible, and with their progression over the past couple of years the twins have begun to carry the Canucks' offense. Nonetheless, the 100 point plateau is generally reserved for the creme de la creme and the Sedins seem more likely to slot in around the 85-90 point range.
Was Kevin Bieksa's breakout season a fluke?
Coming into last season's training camp, Bieksa was just hoping to crack the Canucks' roster. It is fair to say he did far more than just that, as the Grimsby, Ontario native cracked the team's top-four defensive rotation and was a consistent workhorse all season long. Bieksa is no fluke, he proved his worth for a couple of seasons with the AHL's Manitoba Moose and used that experience in the minors to better himself in all areas of the game. The 26 year old rearguard was given a three-year contract extension this off-season that will take his tenure with the Canucks through at least 2011-2012. Expect another solid season from the gritty Bieksa.
Do questions 1-4 even matter if Roberto Luongo has a sub-par campaign?
In short, no. Roberto Luongo is the best goaltender in the NHL and, some believe (including this writer) that Luongo was the sole reason that the Canucks advanced to the second round of the playoffs and had a 100+ point year in the standings. It is a fairly simple equation in Vancouver, if Luongo plays up to his capabilities, the Canucks have a chance to make a Stanley Cup run; if he doesn't play up to his capabilities, the Canucks will be fighting for a playoff spot.
Can the Canucks win the Stanley Cup?
They weren't good enough to win it last year as they exhibited by just squeaking by an overrated Dallas squad and then getting dominated in round two by Anaheim. The Canucks have a very good one through six defense and the best goaltender in the world, but their offense leaves much to be desired. There is always a chance that Luongo becomes simply unbeatable and takes the team on a long playoff run; however, it says here that the world-class goaltender can only do so much and the team is most likely headed for another second round exit.
On to the morning papers:
- In an attempt to ratchet up training camp competition, Alain Vigneault said the only players with guaranteed roster spots in camp are Roberto Luongo and the Sedin twins; Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province has the story.
- The pressure is on Markus Naslund this season to help increase the Canucks' offensive output after a disappointing 2006/07.
- The last thing head coach Alain Vigneault wants his team to do is look ahead to the playoffs before even making it writes Bob Mackin of the Vancouver Sun.
- Alexander Ovechkin is awfully excited to get the season underway and says he's in the best shape of his young career.
- Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has the story of Andy Murray's long and inspiring journey to become a head coach in the NHL.
- In one of the better reads this morning, Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox believes the NHL necessarily put the clamp down on Mark Bell.
- In light of the Mark Bell suspension, Eric Duhatschek of the Globe & Mail has an interesting article this morning on athletes indiscretions and poor business for the NHL.
- Dave Shoalts of the Globe & Mail believes that Gary Bettman needs to be more consistent in levying his suspensions, therefore, forewarning other NHL'ers when their actions will be worthy of suspension.
- Aaron Ward is now fully integrated in the Boston community and is looking forward to getting the season underway writes Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe.
- Kevin Paul Dupont has the story of the Bruins' most recent acquisition Petteri Nokelainen (trying spelling that name correctly!) and the attributes that the organization feels he can bring to the table. That being said, there are few spots up-for-grabs at Bruins' training camp.
- There are some questions as to whether the winner of the Flames' second goaltending spot will actually start the season in Calgary or as the starter for team's AHL affiliate in Quad City.
- Mike Keenan has high expectactions for his veterans heading into camp writes Steve Macfarlane of the Calgary Sun.
- It looks like both Dustin Boyd and Cam Cunning have made a good first impression on head coach Mike Keenan writes Scott Cruickshank of the Calgary Herald.
- Without the distractions that come with defending the Stanley Cup the Carolina Hurricanes are focused on bouncing back from a subpar 2006/07 season; Luke Decock of the News Observer has the details.
- The Dallas Morning News has an interview with Brenden Morrow conducted by the fans.
- The Red Wings plan to split up Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk this season writes George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press.
- Mike Illitch, owner of the Red Wings, is looking forward to getting back to a more balanced schedule after the 2007/08 season. (Writer's note: Thank goodness. This unbalanced schedule needs to go.)
- Noah Welch, the player that the Panthers acquired for Gary Roberts at last season's trade deadline, has signed a new two-year contract.
- Derek Armstrong of the Kings has always been a team player and he is proving that once again with his willingness to take a reduced role in 2007/08 with all the off-season acquisitions Dean Lombardi brought in.
- Michael Russo of Star-Tribune has questions and answers on the 2007/08 season for the Minnesota Wild.
- The Nashville Predators named Jason Arnott captain on Wednesday and Arnott couldn't have been happier writes John Glennon of the Tennessean. (Writer's note: Why did Steve Sullivan get passed over?)
- As Pat Hickey details in this morning's Montreal Gazette, if you are attempting to crack the Canadiens' roster, rest must not be part of your vocabulary.
- Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger previews the 2007/08 version of the New Jersey Devils.
- Tom Renney expects to contend for a championship this season, a far cry from his early days on Broadway; John Dellapina of the Daily News has the story.
- Chris Stevenson has the story of Martin Gerber's new black helmet (Writer's note: You know you are in Canada when...).
- The Senators want to guard against complacency and comeback hungrier this season writes Ken Warren of the Ottawa Citizen.
- Jim Gontonio details the story of Bill Thomas and his attempts to make the Coyotes in this morning's Arizona Republic. However, Thomas won't be without lots of competition from the 50 plus players the Coyotes have at camp.
- Flyers' coach John Stevens is keeping a close on the rookie battles at camp, and with few spots up for grabs, you better be on your game to make the Flyers.
- Even with increased expectations, Pens' coach Michel Therrien doesn't plan on changing his training camp routine writes Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Apparently Ron Wilson is not a man without a plan, as the veteran coach has only three things that he wants to make a decision on in Sharks' camp.
- Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune answers five burning questions surrounding the Lightning heading into 2007/08.
- According to Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun, John Ferguson Jr. is unafraid of free agency.
- Do the Leafs lack hometown supporters? Matthew Chung of the Toronto Star provides us with the real answer.