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Sunday, September 27, 2009

OGA SPR: The Vancouver Canucks - by Big Tex

Last season, the Vancouver Canucks battled through a significant injury to franchise cornerstone Roberto Luongo and what will go down in the history books as "The Mats Sundin Distraction", only to bow out in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Canucks enter the 09-10 campaign (mostly) healthy and distraction-free, and with upgrades along the blueline and on the wings. This can't be good for the rest of the Conference.

Last Season versus the Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC): Called Chasing Stanley at Game 20/20 November 2008. After an up-and-down (5-5-0) start to the 2008-09 season, Vancouver surged to a 7-1-2 record in Games 11-20 to earn On Goal Analysis’ Chasing Stanley (IN the playoffs) call. From that point, the Canucks’ season rapidly morphed into a roller coaster ride: Through Games 21-30, Vancouver played at -1.5 against the Playoff Qualifying Curve as they struggled to adjust to life without (All-Star Goalie Roberto) Luongo, who suffered a groin injury just five minutes into Game 21. They continued to lose ground over the next furlong (Games 31-40), playing at -.5 below the PQC.

Luongo returned to action in Game 46 (15 January 09), but he struggled to find his rhythm on an already-struggling team and Vancouver bottomed out, going 1-5-4 in Games 41-50. At the same time Luongo was returning to form, the newest Canuck – free-agent signee Mats Sundin – was playing his way into game shape. They both hit their stride in Game 51 and the Canucks were back in the race, going 8-2-0 in Games 51-60. The team stayed hot, playing at +2.5 vs. the PQC over Games 61-70 and +.5 down the homestretch to finish the regular season 1st in the Northwest Division, 3rd in the Western Conference.

Post Lockout Average versus the PQC: Vancouver has averaged 4.81 vs. the Playoff Qualifying Curve since the Lockout. Over the past four seasons, most clubs have a discernable pattern of play…at least where OGA’s Chasing Stanley or Tee Time calls are concerned. Vancouver, however, is all over the map: In 2005-06, the Canucks began the first post-Lockout season as one of the hottest teams in the NHL, going 8-1-1 and Chasing Stanley as of 25 October 2005. Unfortunately, they ran hot and cold after Game 10 and were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs following their loss in Game 81 (13 April 2006). By virtue of that elimination, Vancouver became a (rare but frustrating) Shot Off the Post for On Goal Analysis – a blown call.

The 2006-07 season was Vancouver’s best (post-Lockout), as they finished at 5.25 vs. the PQC. Due to their struggles through the first 30 games, however, they weren’t called Chasing Stanley until 20 February 2007. In 2007-08, the Canucks dealt unsuccessfully with multiple injuries along their blueline (Vancouver used eleven different defensemen in 07-08), and reached Tee Time on New Years’ Eve. And, as mentioned previously, last season saw Vancouver Chasing Stanley on 20 November 2008.

Like I said, they’re all over the map. Will next April find the Canucks Chasing Stanley, or chasing golf balls?

How does Vancouver look heading into the 2009-10 season?

Team Play: ISSUE – A lack of excuses. Over the summer, Vancouver parted company with Mats Sundin, Taylor Pyatt, Mattias Ohlund and Jason LaBarbera. Those roster spots were filled (and then some) by Mikael Samuelsson, Mathieu Schnieder, Brad Lukowich, Christian Erhoff and Andrew Raycroft (and in all likelihood, Sergei Shirokov, as well). Overall, there’s no denying the fact that the Canucks improved over the summer. They now face the enjoyable dilemma of having eight NHL-caliber defensemen, while only needing seven…though Schneider’s recovery from shoulder surgery will allow Head Coach Alain Vigneault to postpone that d-man decision.

Among the forward corps, Samuelsson’s 19 goals last season equal Sundin’s and Pyatt’s combined tallies. Meanwhile, rookie Sergei Shirokov has demonstrated a nose for the net in preseason, and should be good for 20+, provided he spends the entire 2009-10 campaign in Vancouver. Thus, putting biscuits in baskets shouldn’t be an issue for the Canucks this season.

Much has been made of the Canucks’ “epic odyssey” – a “fourteen-game road trip” made necessary by the presence of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Some have gone so far as to suggest the Canucks’ season hinges on this road trip. That was my initial thought, too…until I analyzed the trip and saw that it’s not as bad (or as "epic") as it’s made out to be. Conclusion: No excuse.

The Vancouver Canucks enter the 2009-10 campaign an improved team over last season. Despite the improvements, expect the Canucks to battle the Calgary Flames all season long for supremacy in the Northwest, as the Flames have upgraded, too. Look for the loser of that battle to finish no lower than sixth in the West…and don’t be surprised if these two clubs meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs next April. Can you say, “fireworks”?

Fantasy Value: Earlier today, I participated in a fantasy draft in which goalie Roberto Luongo (33-13-7, 2.34 GAA, .920 Sv%, 9 SO) was taken fourth overall, right after Ovechkin, Malkin and Crosby…and that may very well turn out to be a brilliant pick. Now, I’m not suggesting that Luongo is worthy of the fourth overall slot in your fantasy draft, but he should definitely be the first goalie on your list, and he’s the Canucks’ top fantasy pick.

After Luongo…Pick a Sedin – any Sedin. As if being identical twins playing on the same team, on the same line, wearing numbers 22 and 33 isn’t creepy enough, Daniel (82GP, 31-51-82, +24) and Henrik Sedin (82GP, 22-60-82, +22) both put up 82 points last season. Unless you’ve got back-to-back draft picks, chances are good that the Chang and Eng of the NHL will end up on different teams in your fantasy league (and chances are good that only in hockey fantasyland will we ever see these two play on opposing teams).

Should you fail to get either Chang or Eng…I mean, Daniel or Henrik in your draft, rookie winger Sergei Shirokov (56GP, 17-23-40 with (KHL) CSKA Moscow) has been quite impressive in September and could be the surprise of the season if he ends up skating on the Sedin’s line. Vancouver’s fantasy forward prospects don’t end there: Ryan Kesler (82GP, 26-33-59, +8) and Alex Burrows (82GP, 28-23-51, +23, 150 PIM) are both solid picks in the later rounds.

Along the blueline, Kevin Bieksa (72GP, 11-32-43, -4, 97 PIM) immediately comes to mind. Alexander Edler (80GP, 10-27-37, +11) is another d-man to consider, but the additions of Schneider and Erhoff might cut into Edler’s Power Play time, which will undoubtedly impact his point totals.

Schedule Analysis: ISSUE – Home Sweet Home. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the NHL made up for the Canucks’ fourteen-game roadie by giving Vancouver 10 of their final 15 games at home. Playing at home will be even nicer for the ‘Nucks this year, as their recently-remodeled dressing room complex is unparalleled. Will the dressing room creature comforts translate to success on the ice? If so, the Canucks will be the NHL’s trendsetters.

Tomorrow, tune in as the On Goal Analysis Season Preview Reports train pulls into the station at the end of the line: Washington! On Wednesday, stop by and check out the OGA Report Card for the 2008-09 season, in which we puff out our chests and explain to you just how much we truly rock. Thursday, come back again before the puck drops in Toronto, Boston, Calgary and Denver, as we’ll have an article about measuring a previously un-measurable stat: The Game-Winning Save. Then, it’s GAME ON, BABY!!!

Take me back to On Goal Analysis.

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