Analysis: Roberto Luongo was a Vezina Trophy finalist and led the Canucks within a game of the Stanley Cup, but already there are questions about whether he can be the guy that finally gets the franchise over that last hump, largely because of his porous play in Boston. With impressive backup Cory Schneider a year older and more experienced, some would like him to get a shot at the No.1 job, but Luongo's lifetime contract and no-trade clause make that unlikely. As for being trade bait, barring an injury that creates desperation from another team, Schneider makes more sense to stay as a backup and insurance policy to Luongo, allowing him to again pay fewer games in the regular season and rest up for the playoffs, while also being a legitimate option should things start to go sideways once they start.
Analysis: With the free-agent departure of 50-point defender Christian Ehrhoff to Buffalo, the Canucks will rely even more on a balanced, deep defense rather than having a dominant No. 1 blue liner (not that Ehrhoff really was that guy). They have a solid shutdown pair in Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa that, if the latter's playoff was any indication, should also be able to chip in at the other end. Aging Finn Sami Salo is healthy (for now) after missing most of last season with a torn Achilles' tendon, and partners nicely with Alex Edler, who should be allowed to play a more offensive role now that he no longer needs to be the defensive conscience to a wandering Ehrhoff. Both will fill in for Ehrhoff on the point of the power play. Keith Ballard, coming off a miserable first season in Vancouver, should get a chance to eat some of Ehrhoff's 24 minutes at even strength and possibly shorthanded, while Aaron Rome, Andrew Alberts and unflappable sophomore Chris Tanev will compete with him for time on the bottom pairing, a defensive depth that could relegate the impressive Tanev to the AHL simply because he can move back and forth.
Projected first line: LW Daniel Sedin, C Henrik Sedin, RW Alex Burrows.
Projected second line: LW Marco Sturm, C Ryan Kesler (when healthy), RW Mikael Samuelsson.
Projected third line: LW Chris Higgins, C Manny Malhotra, RW Jannik Hansen.
Projected fourth line: LW Marc Mancari, C Maxim Lapierre, RW Victor Oreskovich.
Analysis: Injuries will affect the looks of the lines early in the season, but even when Ryan Kesler (hip surgery) is ready to resume his role as one of the NHL's better second-line centers -- presumably sometime in late October or early November -- there will still be questions about, and competition among, his wingers. That is especially true once last year's wingman Mason Raymond returns late in November from breaking his back in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. Until then, the Canucks are expected to give highly-touted Cody Hodgson, the 10th overall pick in the 2008 draft, a shot to replace Kesler, while free-agent addition Marco Sturm and back-from-surgery Mikael Samuelsson are the favorites to play on the wing despite expected competition from Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen, a wealth of options the Canucks hope will be enough to overcome the fact none of them are dominant enough choices capable of matching Kesler's game-breaking skill set.
That depth and wide-open competition for top-six minutes will also trickle down to how a third line that should get Manny Malhotra back from two more offseason eye surgeries in time to open the season. If Hodgson, a natural center, acquits himself well enough, he could get a shot as the full-time pivot on the third line, with Malhotra sliding over to the left wing and back into the middle for key face-offs (he has been one of the league's best on the draw the last five years). And while there are legitimate questions about whether Canucks have enough wingers suitable for the top two lines, there's little question they have more than enough that are capable of forming an excellent third line, one that should be able to match up defensively against top lines and still be able to score as well. As for the fourth line, the hope is that Maxim Lapierre's return and playoff emergence gives head coach Alain Vigneault enough confidence to use it more during the regular season, and despite losing grit to free agency, the Canucks have enough candidates -- including 39-year-old former All-Star Owen Nolan, in camp on a tryout -- to fill that role.
--C Ryan Kesler (hip surgery) was injured in the Western Conference finals, played through it in the Cup finals, but and could be out as late as mid-November.
--LW Mason Raymond (fractured vertebrae) was hurt by an awkward hit in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals in mid-June and may not be back until late November.
--C Manny Malhotra (eye) had two more surgeries on the eye hurt seriously in March, but after playing in the Cup finals should be ready for the season opener.
--D Dan Hamhuis (abdominal tears) was held out of early preseason action after offseason surgery but expected to be ready for the start of the regular season.
--RW Mikael Samuelsson (abdominal tears) has fully recovered from May surgery.
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