The Canucks are officially at the halfway mark of this lockout shortened season and something is clearly wrong with this team. This doesn’t resemble the team that won two straight President’s Trophies. Something is missing from the 2010-11 team that showed so much moxie, so much swagger, and more importantly, so much talent until it all fell apart in the Stanley Cup Final.
So what’s wrong with this team? Lets investigate…
The Vancouver Canucks are not the same team without Ryan Kesler, plain and simple. He does everything for this team, and any time without him is going to be felt. It’s also not a coincidence that the team’s worst slump of the season has come with Kevin Bieksa injured.
But these are excuses. A Stanley Cup contending team can and should overcome injuries. The 2010-11 team had injuries galore. Just look at the games played totals for these key players: Salo (27), Edler (51), Hamhuis (64), Bieksa (66), Burrows (72) and Malhotra (72).
The Canucks were able to get by in 2010-11 with a whole bunch of injuries because they had better depth than this team. The Canucks are well positioned to withstand an injury to a goaltender (probably better than any other team in the league) or a winger, and to a lesser extent a defenceman. The problem the Canucks have right now is they are not deep at all at centre, and that’s where their injuries are most prevalent.
In 2010-11 the Canucks had Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler for the entire 82 game schedule. Malhotra played in 72 games, and when he was injured they had Maxim Lapierre to step in. Even when Malhotra was in the lineup this season, he was a shadow of his former self. Jordan Schroeder has shown poise at the NHL level, but he’s basically Kyle Wellwood (nifty plays, defensively responsible, but no offensive production despite power play time).
Is Alain Vigneault’s message falling on deaf ears? Is his message the right message? Should he be let go?
I’m not crazy about letting go a coach with only 24 games left to go in the season, and I think the Canucks need to let AV ride this out. They have made their bed, now they have to lie in it. Making a change now would be a tall order for the new coach. With 24 games left to go in less than 2 months, a new coach would have very little time to implement major changes. But it’s now or never for AV.
The Power Play
The Canucks’ power play is 22nd in the NHL right now. That’s remarkable when you consider how good their power play was for such a long time.
The biggest problem with the power play right now is that they don’t have enough shooters on it. What I mean by that is they don’t have enough threats to score from the outside with shots that blow a goalie away. The 2010-11 power play had three excellent shooting threats: Alex Edler, Christian Ehrhoff and Ryan Kesler (even though he spent most of his time in front of the net). For the moment, Kesler and Ehrhoff have been replaced with Burrows and Schroeder. That’s not the whole story, but it’s a big part of the story.
The Sedins need players with hard shots to keep the other team honest. If other teams are petrified of the big shot from the point, that will open up things down low for Daniel and Henrik.
They aren’t as good as we think they are
Probably the biggest problem with this team is that they aren’t as good as we think they are. Their defense is commonly thought to be one of the best in the NHL, but is that reality? It doesn’t seem like it this year. It certainly isn’t as good on paper as Boston, Chicago or Los Angeles. It’s arguable if they’re better than San Jose or New York. On paper, it’s a solid group.
The Sedins are excellent players, but they haven’t played like Art Ross Trophy winners in a couple of seasons. Even when Ryan Kesler returns, he probably won’t be the same Selke Trophy winning 40 goal scorer like he was in 2010-11.
I know that’s a scary thought for most Canucks fans and it scares me too.
So what’s wrong with this team? Well, a lot of things. They need to get healthy, they need their top players to play better, and they need their depth players to play to their potential. When all of those things don’t happen, you get a whole lot of mediocrity.