A decent start.

Captain Hankby Jason Kurylo

On the opening night of the 2010-11 season, it would have been pretty hard for the Vancouver Canucks to live up to the pre-season hype. Heck, it would have been pretty hard to live up to the pre-game hype: Las Vegas-style scrims with Canucks stars’ faces projected 10 metres tall, Tom Larscheid’s much-publicized swansong after decades in the broadcast booth, and a dozen-plus members of the original 1970 Canucks on hand to see Orland Kurtenbach hand Henrik Sedin his brand new Captain’s C. Vancouver was positively abuzz with excitement coming up to tonight’s puck drop against the Los Angeles Kings, who to add another wrinkle to the plot, feature ex-Canuck Willie Mitchell as their senior rearguard.

Pundits all over North America have picked VanCity to hoist its first Stanley Cup since the Millionaires had their names engraved inside the bowl of Lord Stanley’s mug in 19-freakin’-15. This iteration of NHL hockey in Vancouver has seen 40 years go by without a Cup, and Mike Gillis has assembled a team that has people in Toronto and New York paying attention? The home team could have won this game 10-0 and some fans would have left unimpressed. It’s a Cup they want, not a win in mid-October.

So what does the 2-1 shootout loss to the Kings mean, exactly?

We saw tonight that the other clubs in the NHL are not just going to hand the Canucks a championship just because Gillis signed Dan Hamhuis in the off-season. Heck, the Kings didn’t even want to hand us these two points just because Roberto Luongo dropped seven pounds, passed the C to Henrik & hugged the blue paint like a good goalie should. Yes, this team has a mobile, trustworthy defense. Yes, Luongo is playing now the way he usually starts playing in November. But this team should not try to win a game 1-0. A solid D does not preclude going for the jugular.

We saw that the league’s second best offense last year will have to work just a little harder if they want to score more than a goal a game. Christian Ehrhoff was the most dangerous Canuck for much of tonight’s game. Ryan Kesler was unlucky not to score tonight – he will have be greasier. Mason Raymond played well, but he will have to go to the net just a little harder. The Sedins showed confidence and patience tonight, but with little of that sandpaper they showed after the All-Star break last year. Raffi Torres made some good plays in his first game for the Canucks, but his linemates didn’t seem to know what to do with those decent feeds.

Quick's retro pads - If you remember these, you're old. *sigh* I'm old.In all, we saw a good team that was unlucky not to win their home opener. Sure, Jonathan Quick played well in his outrageously bad ass retro pads, but the fact is, the Canucks didn’t have enough want to get it done on opening night. Most nights, if the opposition is held to one goal in regulation time, Vancouver is going to be in the W column. This Canucks team, when it gels? It’s going to be a fun time to be a hockey fan in Vancouver.

Anyone jumping off the bandwagon today should be banned from watching in April when it matters most.

[tweetmeme]

Justine Galo: What makes a good captain?

First blog of the upcoming season and Roberto Luongo has decided to relinquish the captaincy. Was it a good decision? I suppose it is, but time will tell.  However, I do believe it’s probably the best thing for the team and for the play of Roberto Luongo in the long run.

It takes a big man to take the responsibility of a team and shoulder leadership, it’s not an easy job. It takes an even bigger man to own up to his limitations.  Roberto Luongo did just that.  Now that he is no longer the captain, the biggest question in Vancouver is who will be his heir apparent? Should it really matter to us fans?

On the CanucksCorner.com forum, there were some interesting opinions of the type of Canucks captain fans would want to see.  Which of the current team members exemplifies a good captain?

Unfortunately, my choice to succeed Lu, is no longer a Canuck. Willie Mitchell would have been my prime candidate.  Now there is the great debate between Hank and Kesler and other honourable mentions.

Henrik Sedin has done what no other Canuck has done and that’s win the Art Ross and Hart trophies as the league’s MVP. As much as I could go on about how good of a candidate he would be, I believe Canucks Corner poster, DonCherry4PM said it best.  Others have voiced that Ryan Kesler would be a better choice, due to his tenacity, his style of play and his vocalization with the media. After those two, there were other names thrown in,but the  ‘dog fight’ is between Hank and Kes.  Both bring goods to the table, both have impressive resumes, but who has that leadership quality to shoulder the responsibility for this team?

For me, it doesn’t really matter who the fans think (I know I will get roasted for this) should be the captain.  It only matters who the team thinks to be their next captain and if that is in sync, maybe our noses (as fans) won’t be so bent out of shape.

Canucks Captaincy: The players should choose Luongo’s successor.

Well the most talked about Canucks off-season topic has now been officially announced, and to no ones surprise, Roberto Luongo has resigned himself from the captaincy of the club.

First of all, I guess it should be noted I think this was the right decision. I had no problem with Luongo as the captain, and I think for the most part he stood in there, took the questions, and did a decent job. Roberto is a very intense individual. His desire to win and compete at the highest level cannot be denied. By giving up the captaincy he’s giving himself and his team the best chance to do just that.

There is no doubt that Luongo plays in the most mentally demanding position on the team. In my outsiders opinion, I think the added responsibilities of being the captain of an NHL team only added unnecessary stress to his already challenging  job. The media scrums that come with being the captain are a regular occurrence, and on nights when Luongo didn’t play well, or the defense broke down in front of him, it was tough to watch him in those scrums. Your captain should also lead on a nightly basis, and on nights when Luongo didn’t start, or got pulled, that wasn’t an option.

With the mental strain of his position, everything possible should be done to ensure that Roberto only has to concern himself with preparing himself in whatever way he needs to on any given night. Maybe that means he doesn’t speak to the media before games. Yes he’s still a marquee player, and he’ll still be called on to speak to the media, but there will be less expectation to do so and if there is a night where he just doesn’t feel like standing there taking the same old questions, he will have that option.

The captaincy importance itself is a situation fairly unique to hockey with the visible “C” on the jersey, and the fact that only captains are supposed to speak with officials. But I think it’s safe to say that the players themselves realize it takes a team effort to win, and not just a great leader wearing a letter on their jersey. It matters a lot less to them who the captain of the team is. It’s a much bigger deal to the media and the fans, and this decision is better or the team.

So who should be the captain of the Vancouver Canucks? There seems to be two public front runners in Ryan Kesler and Henrik Sedin and both players would be good choices, but I think the players themselves should choose their new captain. I’d even like to see the vote delayed until the preseason comes to an end to let the cream rise to the top. The players in the room know who the leaders are, they should be the ones that elect the successor to Luongo.

[tweetmeme]

Philip Yo: Kesler Solidifies The Core, The Time Is Now To Win

Philip Yo, CanucksCorner.com

There were some anxious fans worrying about what would happen with Ryan Kesler this summer. The gritty centre has been a huge part of the Canucks team over the last two seasons and was approaching restricted free agency this summer. There is no doubt that Kesler would be the recipient of numerous offer sheets. But worry not, Friday morning Mike Gillis made the surprise announcement that Ryan Kesler was re-signed for a 6 year term worth $30 million. The deal would give Kesler a $5 million cap hit over the duration of the contract.

Ryan KeslerRyan Kesler: Photo by csztova, on Flickr

The announcement was all the more surprising given the news reports that had surfaced throughout the season regarding the negotiations. However, it took just 24 hours for Kesler’s agent and the Vancouver Canucks to finally come to terms on the new deal. This contract means that Kesler will have the second longest active contract on the Canucks after Roberto Luongo’s 12 years. The Sedin’s will still have 5 years remaining on their contracts after this season.

The core players for the Vancouver Canucks over the foreseeable future will consist of the following:

Roberto Luongo, 12 years @ 5.33 million
Daniel Sedin, 5 years @ 6.1 million per
Henrik Sedin, 5 years @ 6.1 million per
Ryan Kesler, 6 years @ $5 million per
Alex Edler, 3 years @ $3.25 million per
Alex Burrows, 3 years @ 2 million per
Mikael Samuelsson, 2 years @ $2.5 million per

*2010-2011 Total Cap Hit:* $30.28 million

If the Canucks plan on winning a Stanley Cup soon, these will be the players who will make it happen. With a little over half of the expected salary cap locked up in these players, a lot of attention will turn to the upcoming prospects to help fill the holes and save cap space. Unfortunately, it looks like Mason Raymond could be a casualty of the cap after his breakout year. However, because this is just his first year of success, he may be willing to settle for a slightly lower cap hit.

Michael Grabner has been a name that has been bounced about in the Vancouver media for several years now. He showed early this season that he may have what it takes to survive in the NHL, but he’ll need to show that he can consistently deliver. With Samuelsson out, these next few weeks could be very telling for what lies in store for the Canucks next season. If Grabner continues his strong play from before his injury, the Canucks may go with Grabner next season. If he doesn’t, then they will most likely do their best to re-sign Raymond.

And then there is Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder. Hodgson is coming off a serious back injury and has missed most of this season due to that. With a loss of almost an entire year of development it may be wise to have Cody spend a year in Manitoba. The same will likely happen with Schroeder who recently decided to go pro and end his NCAA career.

Whatever the case may be, the Canucks arguably have their strongest top six forward core in history. They also have their best goaltender in history holding down the fort in net. If the Canucks are to finally win a cup, these players are as good as any to make that happen.

[tweetmeme]

Olympic Impact Could Help Canucks

As we all nurse our Olympic hangovers and search for other ways to fill the void by the end of the games, it’s time to get ready for the final push of the NHL season. The Canucks had seven players in the games, and they had varying degrees of success. Three players in particular had great games, and they will bring into the dressing room a complete set of Vancouver 2010 medals. Let’s take a look at how the Olympic tournament may just help the Canucks as they aim to take another Northwest Division crown and go on a lengthy playoff run.

Pavol Demitra – Slovakia

Pavol Demitra - Matthew Manor/HHOF-IIHF ImagesMany Canuck fans may had forgotten who Pavol Demitra was, and you could hardly blame them for doing so. Demitra, 35, who missed 47 games for the Canucks with annoying shoulder problem that required two operations and many opinions on treatment. He returned to the Canucks on January 16th, but had struggled to find his game notching just a goal and three assists in 11 appearances since his return. Of course people were willing to cut him slack after missing so many games, but just before the Olympics Demitra was starting to get some heat from fans and media to start producing and he was seeing time on the teams fourth line.

Playing for his country seemed to be the tonic that Demitra needed and the veteran Slovak led his team to a best-ever fourth-place finish, while earning a spot on the tournaments all-star team. He also nearly ruined the hopes of the Canadian public with a last second goal in the semi-final but was thwarted by teammate Roberto Luongo. Demitra’s continued success would be a huge bonus for the Canucks heading down the stretch, but he won’t be playing with Marion Gaborik and Michael Handzus when play resumes. Early reports say he’ll start the post Olympic session on a line with Ryan Kesler.

Roberto Luongo

Roberto Luongo - Photo: John MahoneyThere is no doubt that most had resigned themselves to the fact that Roberto Luongo would be the backup to Martin Brodeur heading into the games, and that was the plan when they began. But when the future hall of famer had a sub par game versus the USA, Luongo got his chance and the pressure to win was no doubt immense. Playing in front of his fans in Vancouver, in his rink and with the hopes of a nation riding on his shoulders, Luongo got the job done and won gold.

Luongo has had his critics, and their biggest beef has been the fact that he hadn’t won the big one. A couple of playoff series wins are the only thing on his resume and he needed to take that step. Well on the biggest stage in the world, he got the monkey off his back. No more can critics say Luongo can’t win the big game and with that label out of the way, who knows how it will translate to his role with the Canucks. He’ll get a brief rest and give way to Andrew Raycroft versus Columbus but he should return to the net with confidence of knowing he can win the big games. That in itself could be the key to a long playoff run for the Canucks.

Ryan Kesler

Ryan Kesler - Canucks.comKesler had an outstanding tournament for the USA. He was a leader all over the ice. He killed penalties, won huge face offs and did what Kesler does best…pissed a lot of people off. The same reasons you love him as a Canuck were the ones you hated him as a Canadian. He took shots at his teammate Roberto Luongo in the media, and on the ice. Some felt there was friction between the two but I tend to believe all will be fine in Canuckville, and it was part of the quest for the gold.

The experience for Kesler had to be a valuable one. He led a great hockey team to within a sudden death goal of a gold medal, and the Canucks should reap the benefit of that experience. He’s truly becoming one of the best two way players in the game, and he can contribute in many ways. It sounds like Alain Vigneault will pair Kesler with Demitra to start when play resumes. If both can keep up their inspired play, the Canucks will be a tough team to handle going forward.

The disappointment of losing the gold should feed Kesler’s thirst for a cup and we should see the best Ryan Kesler we’ve seen yet down the stretch. I can’t wait.

The Rest

The other Canucks, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Christian Erhoff and Sami Salo should all be better for the experience. The early exit for the Sedin’s at the hands of the Slovaks was unfortunate for them, but they should pick up where they left off. Salo will bring home a bronze medal for his efforts, but Canucks fans are just happy he came out of the games healthy. Erhoff, playing for the Germans had little expectation of hardware, but got to compete at a high level in a great tournament.

So in the end the results of the tournament set up pretty good for these players to turn their experience into good things for themselves and their teammates. I’m sure a cup  and a ring to along with the gold, silver and bronze in the room would suit the Canucks and their fans just fine.

[tweetmeme]