The Canucks go into the new season with low expectations – something that hasn’t happened since before this city hosted the Olympics. Can the “core” change this, or will they truly decline this year?
Despite the 2011 Cup run, two President’s Trophies and the constant assumption that this team was a Cup contender year after year, windows close, biological clocks tick and cycles take their natural course of taking a great team into a mode of rebuilding. The “r” word is always a touchy subject with a team that really hasn’t fallen off a cliff yet, but it’s a notion to take seriously.
The team that we know and love has seen a lot of players come and go, but a small core stuck together and provided what it took to bring the Canucks to the flashes of greatness throughout the last few years. The Sedins, Kesler, Luongo and Burrows of course come to mind.
This article focuses on a key part of the rise, fall, or plateauing of any team, the core and three just mentioned will play a role in what happens from here on out.
The Sedins have been going into 2013-14 with two burning questions waiting to be answered: Are they too old, and will they sign a new contract?
The first one is very much a myth. The twins, having just turned 33, have at the very least three or four solid seasons to provide to the fans in Vancouver. Keeping in mind their slow-paced yet quick-passing style of play, these players don’t play in as many dirty areas that would take a toll on their bodies, forcing a retirement on the horizon. While their time on the first line is definitely limited, expect Hank and Daniel to be a mainstay on the Canucks powerplay through to the 2016-2017 season, dazzling players with their signature no-look passes.
However, this 2013-14 season is a year where they do have a lot of cleaning up to do around them.
While they weren’t in the running for any scoring awards last season, the twins pulled off their best ever defensive season, and we might see another one like it; coach Tortorella revealed early in the preseason that he expects the twins to play a key role on the Canucks penalty kill.
But this year they’ll need to provide more than just that – scoring has been notoriously low for this team, and if the Sedins don’t provide a balance between high-scoring and tight D, this team suffers, and there’s not many other pairs of players with their skill set that can step it up.
Media personalities have brought up the idea that as the Sedins haven’t signed a contract extension (their current one is due to run out July 2014), their future in Vancouver might be in jeopardy. After all, if they wanted to stay, why wouldn’t they get the deal out of the way before the season starts?
It’s likely that Gillis and the Sedins’ agent, J.P. Barry, are waiting on news of the raising of the NHL salary cap, which has been rumoured to be inflating by a lot in the 2014-15 season to over $70 million. The extra room would make it a lot easier to bring in the twins for a long-term deal until retirement, which is probably the deal the twins are looking for. After all, the twins have been here since 2000, have raised their families together here and even donated millions of dollars out of their lucrative contracts to local charities.
Then again, an Ottawa Senators fan reading this right now with tears down their face may be reading a familiar story, but otherwise, expect a contract to be signed, and all the worry to be gone.
Once upon a time, Ryan Kesler used to be adorned on video game covers, scored 41 goals and bested Pavel Datsyuk for defensive play awards. Now, he’s often pictured as bandaged, on crutches, or in ankle braces – he might just be spending too much time with David Booth.
The questions placed on him are: will he keep getting injured and can he be the star he was in 2011 again?
The first question can’t be properly answered, given Kesler’s style of play. The Michigan native plays a run-and-gun game, so the idea of him playing a full 82 games might be a stretch given his recent history. But considering that he’s healthy for now, and that Tortorella knows how to light a fire under anyone’s belly (for better or for worse), there are enough reasons to believe that Kesler might become the star that we once knew again.
What happens if he doesn’t? Beyond Kesler and the twins, another set of players would need to put out a first-line performance, well above expectations, to match the scoring quotas that this team needs to maintain its dominance in the west. If neither occurs, then the dreaded “r”-word might just well have to be uttered by Mike Gillis this year.
Together with other players like Burrows, Edler, Hamhuis and Luongo, these three core players will likely decide where the team goes.