This morning at the University of British Columbia, the Vancouver Canucks will open training camp on the 2009-2010 season. The off-season has been a productive one for general manager Mike Gillis and now the body of that work will take the ice to try and earn jobs on a team that is being regarded a real contender in the Western Conference this season.
Here’s a look at the key issues as camp opens this weekend.
Will he or won’t he and do you care?
Let’s get this out of the way right off the top since Mats Sundin doesn’t seem to want to make a decision. As far as I am concerned if Sundin doesn’t show up for his physical today, and he won’t, it’s time to turn the page on him and I hope the Canucks feel the same. Congratulations to Mats and his new bride on their recent marriage, and I’m sure Mats is having a lovely time in wedded bliss, but I don’t want the ‘will he or won’t he’ circus that preceded his arrival last year. I also don’t want a Mats Sundin who will use regular season games to get into shape.
Bruce Dowbiggin of the Calgary Herald who was a guested on the TEAM 1040 yesterday, told Dave Pratt and Don Taylor he had been told that Mats wasn’t all that thrilled with his time in Vancouver, particularly with his ice time. Well Mats, if you had shown up in shape, we would have loved for you to get more ice time and be more effective for us, believe me.
Sundin doesn’t have the legs to compete like he once did. I would rather see a younger player be brought on to the roster and broken in than watch a former star of of the game play to half his capacity while he gets his legs.
Mike Gillis has maintained that Sundin, 38, would have to be in training camp from day one, so let’s hope he sticks to that deadline, and moves on.
Who’s got Roberto’s back?
With Roberto Luongo glued between the posts until your first born graduates, gets married and makes you a grandparent, the question turns to who will back him up. The Canucks signed Andrew Raycroft to add to the mix and of course Cory Schneider is still in the mix. The debate is who should go where? Schneider is obviously going to be moving on at some point. He’s a blue chip prospect who has nothing left to prove at the AHL level and could be a valuable piece to any trade package used to address another need. So, do you send him back to the AHL and let him play, or keep him here and hope that when he gets game action he showcases his talents? As with anything Mike Gillis does, he’ll take his time and let the situation unfold before him, but the goaltenders will certainly be an interesting group to watch.
No rest for the defense
Besides locking up his franchise player Roberto Luongo, Gillis’ biggest accomplishment in the off-season was adding layers of depth to his already talented stable of blueliners. Last season when Sami “Don’t sneeze on me” Salo (Just kidding Sami, kind of) the Canucks breakout game and power play suffered. This year with the addition of Christian Erhoff and Mathieu Schneider, the Canucks have some back up depth in those areas. As the Vancouver Sun’s Elliott Pap reports Schneider may not be ready for the regular season opener, and won’t be rushed back following off-season shoulder surgery, so that depth is already coming in handy.
However, there are lots of other battles on the blue line and something will have to give, especially with the club still needing another top 6 forward in many people’s opinion, and still needs to get to the cap, leaving some room to avoid the situation the Calgary Flames found themselves in last season. The chips to make that deal will likely include one of the 15 training camp defensemen looking to make the team, and with as much depth in camp as there is, only about 5 of those players can be considered locks.
The Hodgson watch
Cody Hodgson is the most anticipated prospect the Canucks have had in a long time. A back injury currently hampers the progress of the talented young forward who has the potential to become the next Trevor Linden of this hockey club. Asked recently whether Hodgson is a lock to make the team, Gillis wisely answered that he’ll have to earn his spot just like every other player. Going into camp Hodgson will no doubt be given every chance to compete, but the back injury which was reported as no big deal at one point is now about 6 weeks old, and we’ll have to see how it holds up through the rigors of training camp. The Canucks will play it safe with Hodgson, and ease him in slowly.
Where art thou scoring?
With Pavol Demitra on the shelf to start the year, and Mats Sundin doing whatever he’s doing, the Canucks only real weakness may be up front. The Sedin’s will be as consistent as they always are, and Burrows will be given the start on that line. Mikael Samuelsson, acquired a s F.A. from Detroit and the redesigned Steve Bernier could really help things by playing key roles. Ryan Kelser will look to advance even further in his development as a player, but without Demitra will need some offense added to that second line. There are also prospects Sergei Shirokov and Michael Grabner to keep an eye on, as well as Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, Kyle Wellwood to look to for offense. With more scoring expected from a restocked blue line, as well, the team could have some time to let things settle, before going the trade route if they need to.
All in all it’s going to be an exciting and competitive camp for the Canucks, with many interesting battles taking place for roster spots. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds.