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Oct. 5th, 2006


Tonight is Vancouver's season opener!


The Canucks made a bunch of BIG moves over the off-season. The biggest was the acquisition of goalie Roberto Luongo, who is commonly considered one of the three best goalies in the NHL. But the thing about Luongo is that a lot of his promise is *potential*. He has been playing on crap teams for years, and has never played a single playoff game. So he doesn't come as a playoff-proven goalie. But expectations are high nonetheless. (Oh please lord, do not let him get hurt.)

Other changes to the team were more subtle. They lost a few more big players (due to the salary-cap issue of not being able to afford to keep them), and other than bringing in Luongo, they didn't replace the losses with players of comparable stature. Their additions to the defensive corps were solid but not really spectacular; there's a great deal of hope, though, presuming the top three guys stay healthy, which last year they did not.

The biggest *change* has been the switch of Marcus Naslund (the captain) from LW to RW, so as to move him to the Sedin line. That's now become the top line (the team traded RWer Bertuzzi to get Luongo; center Morrison will now be down on the second line with some other guys). More even than having Luongo between the pipes, this puts a really new feel and look on the team, although the new coach says he's still experimenting with lines.

Several of the key pieces lost over the off-season (notably their number one defenseman, Jovanovski, whom they could not afford to keep) were offensive contributors. The cautious assessment now is that Luongo should absolutely be able to steal some games for them; but no goalie, with the possible exception of Patrick Roy, is that sure a thing, and to win, a team also needs offense. Offense is unfortunately the big question mark right now. Jovo tended to be the key scoring d'man on the power-play, and he's gone. Even with his slump, Bertuzzi was still a goal-contributor, and he's gone. Carter was a spectacular finisher for the Sedins, and he's gone. Naslund has always been the team's foremost offensive weapon, and behind him were the Sedins. Now, interestingly, they have been put on the same line -- which is great if they click, of course. But it's a little disturbing that instead of using Naslund/Morrison and the Sedins to build out two productive lines (which was the hoped-for direction of the past few seasons), they have been collapsed into one high-scoring line (that is still experimental), and one line (Morrison's) that is nothing but question-marks, given that he'll be anchoring two total newcomers. Nobody wants a one-line team.

So this season, somewhat refreshingly, the team starts off without the albatross of Huge Expectations around their necks. The Canucks of 05/06 and 03/04 were considered serious Cup contenders, which translated into Cup expectations in Vancouver -- but they couldn't get it done. Last season, they couldn't even make the playoffs (although it was a squeaker), and that more than anything resulted in the blow-up of the team, the firing of the former coach and the big trades and everything. This is now a team with familiar pieces still in it (the Sedins, Naslund, Morrison, Ohlund, Salo, Linden), but it's not a familiar team any more. Luongo is significantly better in theory than the goalies they have had in the past decade, but the proof as always is in the games, in the team in front of him, and in his not getting injured (as their #1 goalie did in a fluke play early last season). Trevor Linden, who took a pay-cut when he re-signed this year, is this season's "win it for the old guy so he can retire" story, but, we'll see.

I would think that hardly anyone in Van this year is going into the season demanding a Cup. They'd *like* the Cup, because that is always the case, and people are eyeing Luongo hopefully. But the wise attitude to have right now is "wait and see". Tonight is going to be exciting not just for the return of hockey, but because it's finally the chance to see in serious action the team that's been built over the summer. How will they do? No idea! That's the exciting part.

Yay! Drop puck!



Oct. 5th, 2006 09:31 pm (UTC)
But the Sharks have JOE THORNTON! They can't suck THAT badly. They made it to the second round of the playoffs and only lost to the team that went on to the Cup finals. That's respectable.
Oct. 6th, 2006 12:27 am (UTC)
The Sharks sucked HORRIBLY before they got Joe; he's been credited with getting them into the playoffs in the first place. Thing about Bay Area sports is the fans in general have very short attention spans, and the local sports media don't forgive losing streaks quickly. There's not ANY front-page coverage of the Sharks opener tonight against the Blues -- it's all the A's, who are the current Shiny Sports Thing.
Oct. 6th, 2006 06:14 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I can see how that would be true, about all the focus being on the A's. And it's not like the Bay Area has ever been a hotbed of hockey interest or anything.