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09-17-2011, 09:51 AM
  #4
Stor
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No team would have been as devastated about the end of their season than the Vancouver Canucks, who ran way with the Presidentsí Trophy only to fall one win short of the Stanley Cup. Ryan Kesler is coming off a Selke Trophy and emerged as the heart and soul of the team, while the Sedins will continue on as Hart Trophy candidates for the foreseeable future. The only substantial loss was Christian Ehrhoff, who went to Buffalo, but the Canucks defense was so deep to begin with the hole should be patched up as long as injuries donít play into the season as much as in 2010-11. Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen are two young players the team would like to see take a step up this season, but the hottest spotlight will shine on Roberto Luongo, who fell out of favor with the faithful as Cory Schneider breathes down his neck.
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Much of the roster that carried Vancouver to the Stanley Cup finals will return, with the notable exception of defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. There are a couple caveats, of course. Ryan Kesler could miss the start of the season after undergoing hip surgery this offseason. In addition, Mason Raymond might also miss the start of the season with his vertebrae injury sustained in the Stanley Cup finals. What all this means is that there could be some moving parts in the lineup at the outset of the season as these two get their legs back under themselves. Ö At this point, everyone in the galaxy knows about the top line of the Sedin twins with Alex Burrows, and there's no reason to think the Sedins won't be good for 90-100 (or more) points again this season. Burrows' performance in 2010-11 (48 points, 77 PIM, plus-26) is probably closer to what we should expect out of him this season as opposed to what he mustered a season prior (67 points, 121 PIM, plus-34). Still, he can fill the fantasy categories across the board, so that's certainly a plus. Ö It's no surprise when peering at last season's final statistics that most of the Canucks were on the plus side of the plus/minus category. With most of the strong defensive corps returning -- including backstop Roberto Luongo -- this is once again a team that can be targeted for help in that column.
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Kesler joins the Sedins on the Canucks' overloaded No. 1 power-play unit, in case you weren't already thoroughly sold on any of them as fantasy assets. But there are some other useful forwards on the team in this area, particularly Mikael Samuelsson, who netted five goals and 14 assists with the man-advantage in 2010-11. Ö The loss of Ehrhoff will be a big one on the blue line, but it also provides an opportunity for someone to step up. Samuelsson logged some minutes as a point man this past season, so he's an option, as is Sami Salo, if he can stay healthy. Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa are not the dynamite options that Ehrhoff was, but both have worked extensively on the power play in past seasons. One long shot is Alexander Sulzer. He has not been a power-play weapon in the past, per se, but he has some of the skills required (including a powerful shot from the point). If he makes the team out of camp -- no certainty, given the Canucks' depth -- he might get an opportunity.
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There are two feast-or-famine forwards for Vancouver this season: veteran Marco Sturm and 2008 No. 10-overall draft pick Cody Hodgson. Both have a shot to claim top-six spots with strong camp performances and give coach Alain Vigneault some tough decisions upon the return of Kesler and Raymond. If they don't, both will be relegated to fantasy irrelevance. Ö Cory Schneider's name was a popular one in the NHL rumor mill leading up to the trade deadline and again just prior to the draft. The reason? He appears to be ready to take his shot at being a No. 1 goalie at the NHL level, and Luongo is acting as a blockade in front of him. Schneider did himself a big favor over the course of the postseason, proving adept in a relief role when Luongo struggled. The Canucks may be under some additional pressure to deal Schneider at some point this season, as he'll hit unrestricted free agency next summer. Until then, he's one of the best backups worth owning in fantasy, as he can deliver the goods on Luongo's nights off.
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Ryan Kesler will not score 40 this season. Donít get me wrong, I love Ryan Kesler, I just donít think he will score 40 or more goals this season. Opposing teams now know what he is capable of and they will zero in on him more to make sure he doesnít get the chances he had last season. Itís worth noting that he is coming off hip surgery, so he will likely take some time before returning to his old self. I still think Kesler will have a productive season, but I think expecting another 40+ goal season is unrealistic.
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Last season Hansen proved that he is capable of producing when given top-six minutes Ė especially in the playoffs. With Mason Raymond struggling to find his game, Hansen could find himself with a permanent spot in the Vancouver Canucks top-six. If that is the case, that means that he will be playing with one of Ryan Kesler or Henrik Sedin at all times. Add it all up and you have yourself a 40+ point player.
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There was lots of criticism up and down the Canucks roster after the team came oh so close to winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, but failed to close the deal. It is hard to argue with the regular season numbers of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, but many question their ability to win the big game come post-season. With three straight seasons above the 25 goal mark, Alex Burrows has proven that his success was no fluke, and the Canucks will be very happy to bolster their offense through the return of a healthy Mikael Samuelsson. The team managed to retain trade deadline acquisitions Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre, both of whom played large roles in the playoff run, but there were no real significant acquisitions (no offense intended to Marco Sturm, but he appears to be on the downside of his career).

Vancouver's defense - despite being ravaged by injuries all year long - was amongst the league's best last year, and they still present a formidable group despite the loss of Christian Ehrhoff. Other than the eternal question of Sami Salo's health, the other one to watch will be how the team handles Keith Ballard. Considered a steal of an acquisition when he was brought over from the Florida Panthers, Ballard began last season with injury issues and never regained his form. He fought for ice time on the club's blueline and was even often a healthy scratch. With 4 years remaining on his deal at $4.2M per season, the team will have to do what they can to extract the best value out of him starting this year.

I don't think it's time for Vancouver to push the panic button on Roberto Luongo's post-season struggles, as he did put up several big money performances. Still, he has not yet shown himself to be a big game goalie, and those who point to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics forget that he was quite poor in the gold medal game, and Team Canada won almost in spite of his play. The question becomes, with Corey Schneider's emergence as a solid NHL netminder, how will the club split games? This is certainly still Luongo's team, but perhaps we will see a larger role for his back-up in 2011/12.
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