Opening Night: what would your lineup be?


The final cuts have been made, and we all now know what the 23 man roster is for the Vancouver Canucks, on the eve of the long overdue beginning to the 2013 NHL season.

To me, there was only one surprise to me on final cutdown day, and that was in seeing Jordan Schroeder being sent back to the Wolves as the teams final cut. Not needing to be put on waivers had to be the main determination as to why he was not included on the final roster, but I still feel that his name should have been there come opening night. If it came down to risking losing Cam Barker or Jim Vandermeer to waivers to keep him up, it is a risk that I, personally, would have made. There is an offensive void that does need to be filled on this roster, minus David Booth and Ryan Kesler. And though you can take virtually nothing out of a couple of scrimmages, in which Schroeder and Mason Raymond seemed to have some nice chemistry, there is always that one training camp story in every city, in which a player you do not expect to emerge explodes on the scene and captures everyone’s imagination, even if for only a short spell. (Hello, Steve Kariya) Not that I am comparing Schroeder to Kariya, but with every NHL club in a situation where they have not had a long training camp, let alone no pre season games, I thought it was a great chance for Schroeder (who has played all season) to show that he can put up positive numbers in a meaningful role, as NHL players catch up to live game speed. Granted, we may see Schroeder sooner, rather than later, once again with the big club, but I thought the time should have been now, and if not now, I begin to wonder if it ever will be?

The Canucks go into the season with 12 forwards, 2 goaltenders and NINE (yes, nine) defensemen. Obviously, not the ideal scenario for AV, and a head scratcher to me, to say the least. When the lights dim, and the arena begins to go crazy with the return of hockey to Rogers Arena Saturday night, I anticipate that the opening night roster will look like this.

Daniel Sedin Henrik Sedin Alex Burrows

Mason Raymond Andrew Ebbett Zack Kassian

Chris Higgins Max Lapierre Jannik Hansen

Aaron Volpatti Manny Malhotra Dale Weise

Kevin Bieksa Dan Hamhuis

Jason Garrison Alex Edler

Keith Ballard Chris Tanev

Corey Schneider in between the pipes, and Roberto Luongo wearing the ballcap

In the pressbox: Cam Barker, Jim Vandermeer and Andrew Alberts

Not exactly the lineup we had all hoped we would see on the ice once the season started, but to be fair, not a bad lineup. Not at all.

The first line is an All-World line, and has been now for years. The Sedins are among the elite, still top 10 players in the world, and I cannot wait to see “Sedinery” at it’s finest come Saturday night. We, as fans, are so fortunate to be able to watch what the twins bring to the table game in and game out, and although it may be tempting to try and take Burrows off this wing, to try and address possible holes in the lineup due to the injury bug that currently has Kesler and Booth out, I feel it would be a mistake to split up a line that works SO well. As always, the Canucks will go as far offensively, as the Sedins take them, which has been at or near the top of NHL scoring the last number of seasons. I see no reason why that changes right now.

Many will emphasize on how that second line is NOT a second line. But does it really NEED to be? Under AV, we all know that he will spread out the minutes, ride a bit of a hot hand if he sees one, and if things aren’t working, the lines will be in the blender in the second period anyways. You can categorize Higgins, Lapierre and Hansen a third line, but I will not be shocked if they play more minutes than Raymond, Ebbett and Kassian. The 2011 trade deadline acquisitions Higgins and Lapierre have far exceeded my expectations since they joined the club, and with the speed of Hansen, I feel that they can be a very effective two-way line, and it is a line that will not need to be altered once Kesler and Booth return from their injuries. The “second” line is full of “IF’s”. IF Raymond can build off of a strong (albeit, short) camp…IF Zack Kassian can use his size and speed to his advantage, and open up ice for Raymond and Ebbett to find ways to contribute offensively……IF this group can play a two-way game, and not hurt the club in the defensive end…if…if….if.

I like Andrew Ebbett. I do. I feel he has paid his dues, and through a strong showing in the AHL with the Wolves, and not hurting himself with a bad camp, he has earned his chance to make a difference with the Canucks this season. He is versatile, has good instincts on the ice and deserves to be on this club. He has shown in flashes that he can contribute offensively in the NHL, and AV is banking on his two way game once it starts for real, come tomorrow. There are still too many questions without answers when it comes to this line, and I guess a day from now, we will start to receive some of those answers.

The fourth line is of concern to me. You have to love Manny Malhotra, but it is fair to say that since that horrific eye injury he sustained in 2011, he has not been close to the same player. And to me, he is just not suited as a 4th line center. Aaron Volpatti has shown flashes that he can be an effective in-your-face winger, but injuries have slowed his development as well, so I will be curious to see just what he can bring to the table out of the gate this season. Dale Weise…..well, I honestly was not a huge fan of his game last season. To me, he needs to “play bigger” and be a winger that is difficult to play against night in and night out. If I didn’t see that last season, I don’t know why I should believe that I will see that this year. This isn’t the Dutch League…..all I want to see is a gritty effort night in and night out.

The defence of the Vancouver Canucks is an area that currently, I have very little concern with. For the most part, they will be very dependable in their own end, all three pairings have the ability of a defenceman stepping into the rush and joining the offensive attack, and will be one of the higher scoring defence groups in the NHL once again. Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis displayed great chemistry last season, and I have every confidence that this will continue this year.

Sami Salo is being replaced by Jason Garrison, and to me this is an upgrade in every aspect, even if Garrison does not put up as many points as he did with Florida last year. Every time Salo went into a corner. I wondered if he was going to take the hit that would put him on the shelf for an extended period of time. In a small sample size, Garrison showed me in two scrimmages that he can make a great first pass, and will not be a defensive liability. I won’t sit here and say that i know a lot about him, as let’s face it, no one watches the Panthers unless your team is playing them, but he seemed to be comfortable on the ice with Edler. More inportantly, Edler appeared to be comfortable with Garrison, and if Edler is feeling good about his game, it’s huge for this hockey team. Having just signed a new deal, it is time for Edler to be a consistent premier defenceman and a leader.

Ballard and Tanev….oh Ballard…..Is it fair to say that he possibly could not have had two worse years in Blue and Green? There is too much talent here, and it can’t have just disappeared once he arrived in Vancouver. I think AV needs to just let Ballard play regular minutes. Let him play knowing he will be given every opportunity to be succesful, and not have to look over his shoulder, wondering when he is going to be once again relegated to the press box. So much of this game is mental, and Ballard seems to have been playing scared, wondering what gaffe or injury or coaches decison was going to derail him next. With Cam Barker, Andrew Alberts and Jim Vandermeer waiting in the wings, its now or never for Ballard to show that he still belongs in a prominent role on an NHL blueline. I have my doubts, but it’s a new season, and I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

Chris Tanev is a great story, and I feel he deserves to be on the third pairing. No question I feel that he, and Ballard, are a better option than any of the three not on the opening roster. Depth is key, especially in a compacted schedule, and with ganes on back to back nights, it’s good to have options to slot a player in and give another rest. This team has shown you can never have enough defencemen, and Alberts, Barker and Vandermeer will all get their opportunities to play. How they play, when given the chance, is another thing altogether.

In my perfect world, in light of the injuries this club currently has, I would have loved to see Schroeder skating with Raymond and Kassian on opening night, and Ebbett playing the wing with Malhotra and Volpatti. That being said, I still look at this lineup and feel that it will win, and win often this season. Until Roberto Luongo is traded, the Canucks arguably have the best goaltending tandem in the NHL to begin the season, and I feel that either keeper can “steal” a game any night they play, if the offense is not quite up to par. Sure, a 2-1 win is not as flashy or exciting as a 6-4 shootout, but at the end of the day, I remember wins and losses. I don’t care how this team wins. Just win and much about game style can be forgiven. I do not buy the theory that AV will have to play a 2007 brand of Canucks hockey for this team to have success this year. Top to bottom, there is just too much talent on the ice, especially when you factor in defensive contributions, for this team not to score on a regular basis, even with the loss of Kesler and Booth.

I do not remember the last time I sat here, night before opening night, with so many questions about the roster and how it may play once it matters. But I am excited to see just how these games against the Ducks and Oilers play out. If the “IF” line can produce offensively better than expected and the fourth line can give this team 6-9 serviceable minutes a night, once can only salivate about what it will be like to welcome a healthy and rested Kesler and Booth to the club once they return from injury.

This is a very good hockey team. A deep hockey team. Is it still a first in the West hockey team? I say no, but it is definitely still a two or three seed team. The gap between the Canucks and the rest of the Northwest (Flames, Wild, Oilers and Avalanche) has narrowed considerably, but not to the point where I see one of these teams wrestling away the Division mantle from Vancouver. Not this season. And come April, when it will matter the most, I feel that the twenty men who step on the ice for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be a much deeper, more skilled hockey team, with less questions about who they are, than the twenty who step onto the ice tomorrow. And that is a very good thing. Your thoughts?


Raymond Kirk

Follow me on Twitter: @RayRay2233

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