Vancouver Canucks 2013-14 Season Preview

Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin
Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin
Apr 6 2013 Vancouver British Columbia CAN Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin 33 during the second period against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena The Vancouver Canucks won 5 2 Anne Marie Sorvin USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Alain Vigneault failed to push the Vancouver Canucks into the postseason only once in seven seasons, but a Jack Adams Award and two Presidents’ Trophies were not enough to keep him from getting fired. In steps John Tortorella, who ironically lost his job in New York to his Vancouver predecessor. The firebrand bench-boss must now tweak the culture in Vancouver to build a champion.

While with the Rangers, Tortorella built a reputation for convincing his players to sacrifice the body. The Broadway Blue Shirts dove in front of vulcanized rubber dozens of times in each and every game. The same-sort of hard-nosed culture might be hard to instill in Vancouver.

Daniel and Henrik Sedin are two of the softest stars in the sport. What they lack in grit, they make up for in offensive skill, but it’s hard to see them meshing with Tortorella’s style. The twins have led the team in points for the last six seasons, so perhaps they can add enough offensively to avoid one of their new coach’s famed public shamings.

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The pair of Swedes should give Tortorella something he could only dream of in New York: a decent power play. Back in 2010-11, the Sedins’ twin telepathy made Vancouver the league’s most effective special teams unit. However, the Canucks only converted a paltry 15.8 percent of their chances with the man-advantage in 2013.

Ryan Kesler‘s return should help resurrect Vancouver’s power play, and he looks like a quintessential Tortorella-style player. The American center is a dominant force both offensively and defensively, and when healthy, he deserves to be compared to Pavel Datsyuk, Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews as one of the best two-way players in the league.

Off-season surgery delayed his 2013 season debut by almost a month, and a fractured foot cost him more than a month. Kesler’s offensive production has been somewhat inconsistent over the years. However, he was a 104 point-producer in 2009-10, and he scored 41 goals the following year. His versatility is unmatched in Vancouver, and his leadership will be essential this season.  If he can stay healthy, it might be his time to become the face of the Canucks.

The Canucks-Rangers coaching swap made headlines, but the big news for Vancouver this off-season came in the form of a draft day trade. On June 30, the Canucks finally ended their multi-year starting goalie dispute. The resolution was far from expected.

After attempting to trade Roberto Luongo and his massive contract for seemingly forever, GM Mike Gillis finally waved a white flag and dealt 27-year-old Corey Schneider. The Canucks would have much preferred to keep the younger of their two netminders, but no team was willing to take on Luongo’s 12-year, $64 million deal.

The Devils made Schneider the heir-apparent to Martin Brodeur by parting with the ninth overall pick. Considering Schneider’s proven ability, the trade seems to be significantly in New Jersey’s favor, but the Canucks could no longer hold on to both goaltenders.

Luongo is far from the ideal option, but he is still an elite netminder. Several embarrassing showings in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final put the fans on Schneider’s side. However, Luongo has flashed his brilliance fairly often over the last two seasons, and there might still be a Vezina-caliber puck-stopper hidden behind his pads.

Luongo’s confidence will be vital this season. With the franchise backing him fully for the first time in a few years, he could return to elite form. If he steps up, the Canadian Olympic brass will be watching and the Canucks will be a lock for the postseason.

The Canucks have some holes to patch. Derek Roy, Mason Raymond, Maxim Lapierre and Keith Ballard all left via free agency. Signings Yannick Weber, Brad Richardson and Alex Biega don’t seem likely to plug those openings to perfection. The slack might be picked up by a couple of rookies.

According to CBS Sports’ Chris Peters, 2013 first round picks Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk will start the season in the NHL. The Canucks drafted Horvat with the pick acquired in the Schneider deal. The imposing forward is big and fast enough to try his hand in the big leagues, though he remains somewhat raw. Shinkaruk fell on draft day, and Vancouver was ecstatic to scoop him up at 24th overall. He is a tremendously skilled forward, but his limited size makes early success unlikely.

Older prospects Brendan Gaunce, Jordan Schroeder and Frankie Corrado could also factor in. Corrado has an especially good shot to make an impact in Vancouver’s defensive group. The offensive-minded blue liner got three NHL opportunities last season, and he might be a bottom pairing option this season behind established defenders Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa.

The Canucks ruled the roost in each of the weak Northwest Division’s final five seasons. A move to the new Pacific will provide a much stiffer challenge. The Anaheim Ducks, L.A. Kings and San Jose Sharks are much better equipped to top the Canucks than any of the old Northwest clubs.

Off-season turbulence will probably result in an adjustment period early in the season, and a loss of depth will hurt the Canucks’ chances of winning a sixth straight division crown. Vancouver is still playoff-bound, but the team will probably have to settle for a wild card spot as the fourth best team in the Pacific.

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Chris Blanchard
Chris Blanchard is a Boston, MA native and a student at Davidson College. He began writing about hockey as a Boston Bruins featured columnist for Bleacher Report in the fall of 2012. He has been covering the NHL for XN Sports since May of 2013. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');