As we’re now achingly close to the start of real hockey, I’ve decided to lay out five things I expect to see out of the 2011-12 edition of the Vancouver Canucks. I realize the title of this blog is absolutely ridiculous, there’s really nothing fearless about making bold predictions with nothing on the line, but I thought the original title “A modest proposal: five things that might or might not happen” didn’t quite have the same hook to it. Oh and when all of these statements come to fruition at the end of the season, I’d like some credit thrown my way.
The Vancouver Canucks will not win the Presidents’ Trophy.
I’m not expecting the massive drop-off in performance some are calling for from the Canucks, but there a variety of factors conspiring against Vancouver’s attempts to repeat the feat. Firstly, notching consecutive seasons as the league’s best team is not something done very often in the NHL. The last club to win two straight Presidents’ Trophy’s was the Dallas Stars in 1997-98 and 1998-99. But fear not Canuck faithful only five of the last 20 winners of the award have gone on to lift the Stanley Cup. Secondly, the short summer and the injuries garnered during the ill-fated Stanley Cup Run will contribute to a sluggish start for Vancouver. I expect the team to finish second or third in the Conference, with the San Jose Sharks most likely to the take top spot – which really isn’t the end of the world.
Jannik Hansen will reach the 30 assist plateau
Hansen managed nine goals and 20 helpers last season while playing almost exclusively on the third line with
offensive juggernauts Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres, while seeing just nine minutes of power-play ice time all of last season. He managed to put up those points despite starting just 34 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone. As we’ve written about extensively at CanucksArmy, we expect Hansen to play a top-six role at some point this season. With better quality linemates, and a more favourable offensive zone start ratio – it’s entirely reasonable to expect Hansen to improve on last year’s totals. I see Hansen finishing near the 15 goals and 45 points range.
Chris Tanev will tally 25 points
There isn’t a great deal of raw data to suggest Tanev is poised to contribute offensively this season, but call it a hunch. We all got a little giddy when Tanev took the sweet feed from Marco Sturm in the exhibition game versus the Calgary Flames, and though it is dangerous to draw any real conclusions from the preseason, it’s clear Tanev is a much more confident defenceman in his sophomore year. Yes he totaled a whopping one assist in 29 games last season, yes he’s never produced huge offensive numbers at any level (a career high 41 points at the Junior A level for the Markham Waxers in 2008-09) but there a few factors which could allow Tanev to blossom. Firstly, Vancouver’s emphasis on puck possession and on activating its defence should allow for Tanev to pick up some points on the rush. The 21-year-old will likely receive the most favourable match-ups playing on the Canucks third pairing, and when Sami Salo inevitably goes down with a long-term injury (I’m saying high-ankle sprain this season) Tanev might get a look on the second pairing with Alex Edler and could see duty on the second power-play unit.
Cody Hodgson will play less than 30 NHL games
Offensive depth is a good problem to have, depth at centre goes a long way to determining the elite status of a club. It’s often said smart GMs build their teams with an emphasis on a strong spine, with quality centres, defence and goaltending. Hodgson will once again fall victim to the numbers game down the middle for Vancouver. He will start the season as the team’s second line centre, but it’s only a matter of time before Kesler returns. Malhotra looks to be as healthy as can be given the severity of his injury, and unlike last season Vancouver has a mainstay centring its fourth line. It’s going to be a lot more difficult for Hodgson to slot into the lineup in favour of Max Lapierre, than it was over the likes of Alexandre Bolduc and Mario Bliznak last season. But, breathe easy folks, he’s still a 21-year-old prospect and there’s absolutely no reason to rush him to the NHL. I don’t buy the “it’s this year or bust” tag that’s been unfairly given to Hodgson. All we need is just a little patience with the Markham native.
The Canucks will not win any regular-season awards
2010-11 was Vancouver’s best season in 40 years on many levels. The team took home five team and individual awards, Daniel Sedin won the Art Ross and Ted Lindsay Awards, Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider earned the Jennigns Award, Ryan Kesler finally etched his name on the Selke and Mike Gillis won executive of the year. As mentioned earlier, I expect the Canucks to regress some this season. You don’t see too many GMs of second or third place teams being honoured as the best of their peers. The Jennings hasn’t been won in consecutive seasons by the same team since Martin Brodeur won it for the New Jersey Devils in the mid 1990s. The only other goalie to win multiple Jennings is husband-of-the-year Patrick Roy, who accomplished the feat three years in a row from 1986-88 with the Montreal Canadiens. As far as the Selke Trophy, Kesler could be in tough this season as he’ll likely miss a month of action and could see voters scared off by the defensive presence of Vancouver’s most often used checking centre Manny Malhotra. Look for Datsyuk or Zetterberg to fight it out for the best defensive forward honours, and let’s all hope Jonathan Toews doesn’t get another phantom nomination. The Art Ross might be the most attainable award, Daniel and Henrik Sedin certainly have as good a chance as any in the league to finish tops in scoring. The twins have a pretty remarkable track record of remaining healthy and there’s no reason to expect anything different this season. But if Sidney Crosby can play even 80 per cent of the season for the Penguins he should be considered a favourite for the award. Sid the Kid was on pace for 132 points last season. If Crosby should remain on the sidelines there’s no shortage of candidates, namely Steven Stamkos who’s another year closer to his prime. The Sedins have a shot, but if I’m a betting man I’m taking my chances on a skater from the Eastern Conference.