Will the Canucks fare better this season at the 20-game mark?
(Photo by some dude on the innernetz)
(In full disclosure, I wrote this article Thursday afternoon, before the Canucks opening game.)
Will the Vancouver Canucks win the Northwest Division for the fourth straight year? Probably. Will the win the Western Conference? Maybe. Will they get back to the Stanley Cup Final? Will they win it all? The odds are against them. With the exception of the Northwest crown (which is practically a given), the rest are predictions that are too hard to make.
Instead I am going to focus on some predictions for the Canucks that have more of a chance of actually happening. Because, frankly, I’m not that smart and this is easier.
Here are my five predictions for the first 20 games for the Canucks this season.
1. Manny Malhotra will have a horrible start. I really don’t want this to happen, but my gut is telling me that his recovery from that terrible eye injury and the subsequent surgeries had a much bigger on him than we are led to believe. I think that his face-off winning percentage and his penalty killing abilities and his point production will all suffer greatly as a result. I love me some Manny but if he gets more than 7 points and has a FO% greater than 53% (that would be a >5% drop… pretty significant), I’ll be shocked.
2. Sami Salo will play 19 of 20 games. Given Salo’s history injury (and his utterly glass-like physical composition), I’m going out on a limb here. Salo looked solid during pre-season, skated well and had plenty of jump. I think that he’ll be withheld from the the lineup for one game, the tail end of a back-to-back, but that’s it. The injuries will come later in the year.
3. At the 20 game mark, Cody Hodgson will have 2 goals and 3 assists. It looks as though Ryan Kesler will be back in 5 or 6 games. That means that the Canucks have to find something to do with Hodgson. It’s unlikely that he’ll make it to move to the wing when Kesler returns, because Sturm and Samuelsson are there. And it’s unlikely that Hodgson will bump anyone from the third line, which appears to be set as Higgins/Malhotra/Hansen. I know that I predicted that Malhotra will have a bad start. But despite a bad start, is Vigneault really going to bench MM in favour of Hodgson? Uh, no. No he isn’t. So Hodgson’s luck is just going to keep running out on him. He’ll probably play 15 games, he’ll score 5 points and I’ll say that there is an 80% chance he is back in the AHL by the 20-game mark. Sorry kid.
4. Keith Ballard will redeem himself to Canucks fans. And Alain Vigneault. This is my bold quarter-pole prediction. Ballard looks to be full healthy, skating miles and cutting down on his mistakes. And let’s face it folks – people love the end-to-end rush. It’s flashy, it’s exciting, and Keith Ballard is damn good at it. That and his hip check are just special to watch. The pairing with Tanev might just save his reputation as a decent defenceman.
5. Finally, the Canucks will finish 11-7-2. Slightly better than last season, but not a significant improvement. And the quarter-pole MVP… Chris Higgins. I believe Higgins will end up rescuing that second line when either Sturm or Samuelsson both fail to deliver.