Season Preview: Goats and Stars

Thomas Drance
September 27 2011 11:38AM

It's become a tradition: every year at the Nations Network, our writers and commenters pick their stars — that one player who they will praise without end no matter what — and their goats — their yearly whipping-boy; he who can do no good for the season.

And this season is no exception.

CanucksArmy has expanded in the past few months, and our roster of writers has grown along with the blog. Writing for the site this season will be: Jeff Angus, TinfoilTuque, Cam Charron, Thomas Drance, Remy Greer (aka Herbert Vasilijevs), Patrick Johnston and Alix Wright. 

Jeff Angus' Star and Goat

Star: Alex Edler

The table is set for Edler to take the next step into the class of truly elite two-way defensemen in the National Hockey League. His physical game has developed from average to dominant in a little over two seasons, and his confidence with and without the puck as increased just as dramatically. Look for him to break the 50-point mark playing at both even strength and on the power play with the Sedin twins and Alex Burrows.

Goat: Roberto Luongo

Roberto Luongo is an elite goaltender in the NHL. He had a wildly inconsistent Stanley Cup Final, but he did help the Canucks get to within one game of winning it all. His problems are mostly off the ice, where his sensitive personality has risen to the forefront in a hockey-crazed market. Luongo needs to stop caring what other people think of him (Tim Thomas, his teammates, fans, whoever), and play the game that got him a Gold Medal and Vezina and Hart Trophy nominations. Luongo needs to get some fluidity back in his game – looking at highlights from even two or three years ago, he looks too robotic and predictable right now. He has a lot of hockey left in the tank, and the Canucks still have a few years left in their window to win.

Unfortunately, he’s going to be the goat of this team unless he can lead them to a Stanley Cup. Fair nor not, he needs to not care and just play his game.

Cam Charron's Star and Goat

Star: Alex Edler

Henrik Sedin said it best: Many of Christian Ehrhoff's points the last couple of seasons with the Canucks were situational. Edler, I believe, is a superior player to Ehrhoff at both ends of the ice and he will get his chance with favourable offensive zone starts with the twins and powerplay opportunities. I fully expect Edler to become the first Canuck defenseman to crack 60 points since, get this, Doug Lidster back in 1987.

Goat: Marco Sturm

Aside from having a name that sounds like some sort of disease, I literally had to search Sturm when the Canucks signed him because I had completely forgotten which team he played for. (For the record, it was Washington) Sturm was the major piece in the Joe Thornton deal back in 2006 and had a couple of good seasons with the Bruins and nothing else before spending more time in the hospital waiting room than in goal celebrations.

I have nothing against this signing, if it were made back in 2007, but the Canucks dropped a lot of money on a question mark on the wing when there were many, better, healthier options available. Regardless of whether or not Sturm plays or has an impact, I will silently mutter under my breath that an alternative would still have been a better pickup.

 

TinfoilTuque's Star and Goat

Star: Alex Edler

Alex Edler is going to get the lion's share of Ehrhoff's PP minutes. And PP points for a defenceman look real sexy. Edler's role with the team will certainly be ramped up from last year, and he's shown that he is ready for the added responsibility.

Goat: Marco Sturm

I like the acquisition, and the price was right. But unless he scores 20+ goals and 50+ points, it will be seen as a poor season for him. Given his recent injury history and his age, he's not likely to hit those milestones.

 

Thomas Drance's Star and Goat

Star: Manny Malhotra

Before he suffered a freak injury that nearly cost him his eye, Manny Malhotra was the best defensive player in hockey last season. He spent the playoffs healing, and "having fun," then made an epic comeback in the finals. His effectiveness - unsurprisingly - suffered in the series against Boston, but he showed a lot of heart that Canucks fans won't soon forget. He has yet to appear this preseason, having undergone a couple of offseason surgeries, but I expect he'll make a full comeback this season and pick up where he left off, "enabling" his teammates, while acting as "a cooler" against the opposition's top lines.

Goat: Keith Ballard

The 4.5 million dollar man had a disappointing first season in Vancouver, and sadly I expect that will continue. Watching him in the preseason, his play remains erratic and he hasn't stood out above the likes of Aaron Rome and Chris Tanev on the scrub teams the Canucks have iced. When you're basically tied with Bieksa and Hamhuis as the highest paid defender on the team - and you're not significantly better than Aaron Rome - that's a big issue. Ultimately I think Keith Ballard will fail to crack the team's top-4, and I think he'll get limited power-play time as well. This correlation of factors will keep his production down and cement his albatross contract status.

Remy Greer's Star and Goat

Star: Jannik Hansen

As evidenced by my summer musings on Vancouver's Danish Delight, I am quite the ardent supporter of Jannik Hansen.

Whether or not the right winger puts up more points this season, which I expect him to do if given increased offensive opportunities, what I admire most about Hansen's game is his consistency. You would be hard pressed to find a Canuck who showed up to more games last season and put in that workmanlike effort on both the forecheck and back-check. I'm a sucker for players who thrive on will rather than an abundance of skill and I look forward to Hansen's hands catching up to his feet this season. Jannik Hansen will be the breakout star on the Canucks and with a cult following of hockey nerds already singing his praises, expect the Dane to hit the mainstream come 2012.

Goat: Aaron Rome

I have a hard time picking one player I genuinely dislike on this roster. I'm not going to hate on Sami Salo or Marco Sturm for being injury-prone, but I will hold Aaron Rome accountable for being prone to bad decisions on the ice. I can see what Vigneault likes in the stay-at-home-defenceman, he makes the easy plays, he's physical, he's a safe player on the back-end. However, every once in a while we see Rome seemingly panic, as if his body and mind reach a disconnect leading him to play wildly out of position or use his aggression to compensate for his being lost on the ice.

I hope Rome does well this season, it's just frustrating to see him in the lineup in favour of future Calder Cup Trophy winner Keith Ballard.

Patrick Johnston's Star and Goat

Star: Mikael Samuelsson

Anecdotally, he was hurt almost all of last season, yet he still put 50 points. He's one of several players whose absence was noted in playoffs post-mortems. His talent is undoubted; neither is his age. If he's healthy, he is a vibrant scoring threat, using his fantastic shot to pick corners and his vision to find his equally threatening linemates. He'll be burning to improve on last season, and if everyone says last year stank for him, how can this year *not* be better. You can't say a 34-year-old will have a breakout season, but you can say he'll be everything we want and more. Mikael Samuelsson will be a star because, quite simply, he won't be hurt all year.

Goat: Mason Raymond

Yes, I am going to pick on the injured guy. Yes, last year he played heavy, heavy minutes against some of the opposition's best players. We know he can play a responsible defensive game. What we hope for, but will probably be disappointed about, is a regular scoring presence. He takes lots of shots, and it's unlikely he'll repeat his anemic 7.6 shooting percentage, but will it really be enough to give you the kind of production you want? Whenever it is that is he returns to lineup, his 2nd line spot may be gone. Will he be useful enough on lines that aren't there to score? Probably. Unfortunately his contract says otherwise. His contract pays him to be a two-way player; that means scoring, and that means more offensive zone starts than Manny Malhotra gets. Mason Raymond may become a goat, simply by circumstance.

Alix Wright's Star and Goat

Star: Alex Edler

He should get tons of power play time and rack up the points leaving Canucks fans saying Erhoff who? If Edler stays healthy he could put up 50 points and give the defence a strong offensive kick. Bieksa and Hamhuis were a very strong top pairing last season but it's been a long time since the Canucks have had a true number one d man. Edler has the talent to get to that level.

Goat: Alain Vigneault

Many of his decisions with younger players and d men baffle me. He likes to raise heartbeats by often sitting on leads. AV can't seem to adapt during the playoffs when his team gets shutdown. But his love of Aaron Rome and weird relationships with Cody Hodgson and Keith Ballard give me half of my blog humour so maybe AV should actually be my hero.

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 Kent Wilson
September 27 2011, 12:00PM
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Only one Luongo pick?

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#2 Mantastic
September 27 2011, 12:12PM
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Edler played with Error on the same PP D pairing until Edler got injured. Edler will not get more PP time because Error is gone but simply because he should be healthier. Error was also the trigger man from the point something Edler isn't as good as, but a much better 2-way d-man. Edler will not completely replace Error in this department.

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#4 Kent Wilson
September 27 2011, 02:43PM
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@Thomas Drance

Sure. But he's still a good candidate, if only because a lot of folks are just waiting for him to trip up. If he has a bad season (even if it's only because of variance), the hyenas will pounce.

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