2013 NHL PREVIEW
QMI's NHL guys go in-depth on each of Canada's teams
Our hockey experts take you on a tour around the country, stopping each of Canada's seven NHL destinations along the way.
The Montreal Canadiens finished last in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12.
For a franchise that long represented the class of hockey, last season was a gong show, with general manager Pierre Gauthier firing coach Jacques Martin and promoting unilingual anglophone Randy Cunneyworth to the top job. The language issue was an immense distraction and a disservice to the classy Cunneyworth. Gauthier also traded star scorer Mike Cammalleri -- during a game.
Gauthier wound up being fired himself and Cunneyworth wasn't brought back.
The Canadiens have a new team off the ice in GM Marc Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien -- back for his second go-round with the Habs after posting a 77-77-23-13 record from 2000-2003 -- but the team the Canadiens will ice is not much different than last year's.
They added some badly needed grit in free agent wingers Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong and some depth on the blueline by repatriating defenceman Francis Bouillon.
Canadiens fans have to be hoping the difference this year will be the presence of top defenceman Andrei Markov and captain Brian Gionta, two key players who missed most of last season (Markov with recurring knee issues and Gionta with a torn bicep muscle).
With a healthy team and goaltender Carey Price playing the way he's capable -- neither are givens -- the Canadiens should be in the mix for a playoff spot.
Unsung hero: Ryan White
Tough guy: Brandon Prust
Sleeper: Lars Eller
Rookie to watch: Alex Galchenyuk
On the decline: Rene Bourque
Fantasy pool hero: Max Pacioretty
The Canadiens have a solid first line with power wingers Max Pacioretty (33 goals) and Erik Cole (35) flanking crafty little David Desharnais. Problem for the Habs is the fall off after that first line. To reach the playoffs, they need Gionta, Tomas Plekanec and Rene Bourque to produce and Lars Eller (16 goals last year) to continue his progression as an NHLer. Scott Gomez has been sent home and will be bought out next summer. The bottom six, with Prust and Armstrong along with Travis Moen and Ryan White, will make the Bell Centre a tougher place to visit.
If Markov can stay healthy -- he's played 20 games over the last two years after a pair of knee reconstructions -- the Canadiens' defence will be decent. His presence pushes the other guys down into roles they can handle. P.K. Subban -- providing he gets a new contract -- gives the Habs pop from the blueline. Josh Gorges and Alexei Emelin, who showed himself to be one of the league's biggest hitters as a rookie, give the Habs some grit and free agent Bouillon punches above his weight class. Yannick Weber, Raphael Diaz and Tomas Kaberle can move the puck.
Which Price will the Canadiens get this season? Will it be the one who put up 38 wins two years ago and brought the Habs to within a shot of upsetting the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins or the less-impressive performer who showed up last year? Price courted some controversy in the off-season by tweeting some photos of himself and a friend with a coyote they had killed. "Some people are hunters and some gatherers," wrote Price. He's going to be have to be a stone-cold killer if the Habs are going to make the playoffs. Peter Budaj will open the gate.
After years of Bob Gainey's influence on the Habs, with mixed and finally poor results, owner Geoff Molson has put his own stamp on the team front office with the dismissal of Gainey and his hand-picked successor, Gauthier. Bergervin was hired as GM and he's paid his dues in a number of management positions. He brought back Therrien for another go-round behind the bench and it will be interesting if Therrien has learned to soften his edges this time around.
There's some fresh air around the Bell Centre after last year's debacle. The firing of assistant coach Perry Pearn 90 minutes before a game, Martin fired on a game day and Cammalleri traded during a game all contributed to a circus atmosphere. The Cunneyworth language controversy was a distraction for the second-half of the season. It should be much quieter off the ice this season and that's a big step forward for the Habs.
When Bob Hartley scored his first big-league gig as head coach of the Colorado Avalanche in 1998, he inherited a roster that would make any bench boss drool.
Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote were in the prime of their fantastic careers. Patrick Roy was still among the top puck-stoppers in the game.
Now coach of the Calgary Flames, Hartley finds himself in a much different scenario.
For starters, nobody is mentioning this crew as a Stanley Cup contender. In fact, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas have listed only the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders -- dubious company, to be sure -- as bigger longshots to sip from the shiny hardware after this shortened season.
Acrobatic goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, the main reason the Flames stayed in the playoff hunt as long as they did last season, is 36. Calgary's perennial leading scorer, Jarome Iginla, is 35, plus he's in the final season of his current contract with the club.
Anxious to re-tool after a third straight playoff miss, Flames GM Jay Feaster traded for offensive-minded defenceman Dennis Wideman and signed free-agent forwards Roman Cervenka and Jiri Hudler, both known for their touch around the net.
With Olli Jokinen as the only notable departure from a team that missed the playoffs by five points last spring, it's reasonable to expect the Flames will once again be fighting for a playoff invite this season.
Just don't get this confused with the championship-calibre squad that Hartley had in Colorado.
Fantasy pool hero: Jarome Iginla
Unsung hero: Curtis Glencross
Tough guy: Tim Jackman
Sleeper: Roman Cervenka
Rookie to watch: Sven Baertschi
On the decline: Cory Sarich
If everybody plays up to their potential, this could be the most dangerous group seen at the Saddledome in recent memory. Jarome Iginla is still scoring at an impressive clip, although it'll be nearly impossible for him to run his streak of 30-goal campaigns to a dozen with only 48 games on the schedule. Iginla headlines the list of returnees, which also includes Michael Cammalleri, Curtis Glencross and Alex Tanguay.
Add a hat-trick of talented newbies -- free-agent addition Jiri Hudler, former KHL all-star Roman Cervenka and top prospect Sven Baertschi -- and new coach Bob Hartley has some options for his top lines.
Not much has changed for Calgary's blueline brigade. Despite a slew of off-season trade rumours, Jay Bouwmeester remains in Flames silks and you can expect the NHL's current ironman to log a ton of ice-time again this winter. The only addition is Dennis Wideman, who is coming off an 11-goal, 46-point campaign in Washington but was also minus-8. T.J. Brodie, who earned praise for his performance with the AHL's Abbotsford Heat during the lockout, continues to develop at both ends of the ice and the 22-year-old could be a candidate for an increased role.
No goalie has won more games since the last lockout than Miikka Kiprusoff, with 273, an impressive feat when you consider the Flames missed the playoffs in three of those seven seasons. If the Flames snuck into the post-season last winter, Kiprusoff might have been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. He was that good. At 36, Kiprusoff is the oldest guy on the Flames roster, but his age didn't show last season and he likely won't see many nights off during a shortened season. Leland Irving and Henrik Karlsson are competing for the backup job.
Flames GM Jay Feaster hired an old friend, Bob Hartley, to replace Brent Sutter as coach. They've been close since they teamed up to help the AHL's Hershey Bears win a Calder Cup in 1997. Hartley has done more winning since then, celebrating a Stanley Cup title with Colorado in 2001 and leading the Zurich Lions to a Swiss league crown last season. Feaster has joked that he'll be a goner if Hartley doesn't work out. With Jarome Iginla in the final year of his deal, Feaster's legacy likely hinges on the decision he'll have to make on the captain.
There are two ways to look at it. The addition of 20-year-old Sven Baertschi brings an injection of youth to the Flames lineup but they remain one of the NHL's oldest squads, something that won't exactly work in their favour with a condensed schedule. On the flip side, they return most of their key contributors from last winter and will try to capitalize on that continuity. Iginla, a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, has already announced he won't comment on his contract status during the season, and it will be important that he doesn't become a distraction behind closed doors, either.
That new car smell has faded into the background and the Winnipeg Jets are focusing on taking the franchise to new heights.
The excitement that followed the NHL's return to Winnipeg after a 15-year absence was something to behold, but there seems to be more of a sense of normalcy as the 2013 campaign approaches.
After missing out on the playoffs in the Eastern Conference by eight points last season, the Jets believe the acquisitions of Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky should upgrade their forward group.
Goalie Ondrej Pavelec will be counted on to carry the load after an eventful off-season that saw him sign a lucrative contract extension and get charged with driving under the influence in the Czech Republic. Pavelec is eager to put the incident behind him and reward the organization for their faith in his ability.
The Jets must also do a better job of defending, as they finished minus-21 in goal differential (225 goals for, 246 against) last season.
Many pundits have the Jets finishing near the bottom of the standings.
"I don't really pay attention to where our team is ranked," said Jets forward Evander Kane, who is coming off career highs of 30 goals and 57 points. "I know some people don't think we're too good a team. It's up to us to prove them wrong."
Fantasy : Blake Wheeler
Unsung hero: Jim Slater
Sleeper: Kyle Wellwood
Tough guy: Chris Thorburn
Rookie to watch: Mark Scheifele
On the decline: Antti Miettinen
Blake Wheeler led the Jets in scoring last season with 64 points and is determined to become a point-per-game player. Evander Kane led the Jets with a career-high 30 goals and could take his game to new heights if he clicks with free-agent addition Olli Jokinen. Captain Andrew Ladd combined for 57 goals during the past two seasons, while Bryan Little (24), Kyle Wellwood (18), Nik Antropov (15), Alex Burmistrov (13) and Jim Slater (13) all hit double digits in goals last season. Alexei Ponikarovky also adds size and depth.
Only Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson had more points among defencemen than Dustin Byfuglien, who had 12 goals and 53 points in 66 games and was named to the all-star game for the second straight season. He anchors a defence corps that includes the under-rated Toby Enstrom, Ron Hainsey and shot-blocker extraordinaire Mark Stuart. Zach Bogosian flourished under the tuelage of assistant coach Charlie Huddy last season, but is on the shelf for roughly another month after undergoing off-season wrist surgery.
Coming off a career-high 68 games (and 67 starts), Ondrej Pavelec is the clear-cut No. 1 and got the contract extension (five years, $19.5 million) to prove it. Although his statistics were ordinary (29-28-4 with a 2.91 GAA, .906 SP), the Jets were not nearly good enough defensively. Pavelec, who had four shutouts, was the obvious team MVP and allowed the Jets to stay in playoff contention until late in the season. Al Montoya is the new backup and should give the Jets a solid one-two punch.
Head coach Claude Noel is back for his second season behind an NHL bench and his strength lies in his ability to communicate with players and in teaching. Noel is passionate about hockey and his post-game press conferences became must-see-TV for many who follow the league. The Jets made a smart hire during the off-season, bringing Perry Pearn and his wealth of experience on board as an assistant. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is back for his second season and is in the process of putting his stamp on the roster.
Because of the intimate surroundings and energy provided by the 15,004 in attendance each and every game, the MTS Centre became one of the most entertaining buildings to play in for the home side and the visitors alike. During their first season back in the NHL in 15 years, the 2.0 version of the Jets were solid at home (23-13-5) but lousy on the road (14-22-5). If the Jets hope to move up the standings, improving the road record is an absolute must.
He broke into the league about as thick as a straw, and he still doesn't look as big as he claims.
But make no mistake, skinny Erik Karlsson stirs the drink that is the Ottawa Senators.
Goaltending issues were solved with the 2011 acquisition of Craig Anderson, a solid if not spectacular puck-stopper who, it seems, is now holding the fort until the full-time arrival of Robin Lehner.
The offence had suffered a series of serious hits over Jason Spezza's years and during that time the (Bryan and Tim) Murray management team decided the game had evolved such that the greatest need was for good-skating, puck-moving defencemen. They tried to sign Brian Campbell. They investigated bringing Dan Boyle home. They even moved a first-round pick to get Chris Campoli.
But they also traded up at the 2008 draft to get Karlsson, and they said "you'll see" when critics told them the then-157 pound Swede would never be able to survive.
They were right.
With Karlsson's outstanding speed, quickness and puck skills, not only were the Senators rarely out of a game, they also finished tied for fourth in the NHL with 249 goals. Much of their attack was generated from the back end.
Karlsson, who had 25 more points more than the next highest-scoring defenceman, won the Norris Trophy. Now 22, he is armed with a seven-year contract extension and determined to build on his legacy.
Fantasy pool hero: Erik Karlsson
Sleeper: Peter Regin
Unsung hero: Marc Methot
Tough guy: Chris Neil
Rookie to watch: Jakob Silfverberg
On the decline: Sergei Gonchar
The Senators could finally have the second line they've long sought. Taking heat off a pencilled-in first unit of Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and Jakob Silfverberg should be a Guillaume Latendresse-Kyle Turris-Daniel Alfredsson combination that has the potential to really shine. It's not a stretch to expect Latendresse, now healthy, to get his career back on track, the young Turris, a former third overall pick, to continue his progression, and Alfredsson to keep defying Father Time. For a physical line, Chris Neil-Zack Smith-Colin Greening will work well, especially if Greening starts using his large frame more.
As good as Erik Karlsson is, there are concerns about the blueline. It appears softer than most, with Jared Cowen out for the season. With Mike Lundin missing the first three weeks mending a broken finger, two spots in the top six will be manned by guys with eight or fewer games of NHL experience. Marc Methot moves into the spot alongside the Norris Trophy winner, replacing Filip Kuba. Veterans Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips likely will each take on a green partner, with Andre Benoit presumably having a leg up on youngsters Patrick Wiercioch and Mark Borowiecki.
Robin Lehner earned himself an invitation to camp by being the best player in the AHL. Now things get interesting. With a two-way contract, the team's goalie of the future will likely need to do something special to unseat Ben Bishop, who has a one-way deal like the ordained No. 1 man, Craig Anderson. If Bryan Murray is serious about making a significant trade, he can dangle one of the three, but it's unlikely he would deal the 21-year old Lehner, whose potential appears unlimited. Of concern is how Anderson starts after not playing since the playoffs last April.
Personable coach Paul MacLean was a Jack Adams Trophy finalist by being a good communicator and getting players to buy into what he was selling. GM Bryan Murray is in the second year of a three-year rebuild, owner Eugene Melnyk reminded all at camp's opening, and while he won't mortgage the future, he'll look to make a big trade if the team has a strong season and seems like it could do damage in the playoffs. First on his plate is adding a veteran defenceman -- and soon, if the young blueliners don't work out.
For the most part, the Senators avoided serious injury problems last season. Spezza missed two games, Karlsson missed one. The previously injury-riddled Michalek played in all but five and Alfredsson rebounded from back surgery to play 75. Chances are Anderson won't suffer another freak "kitchen" mishap that put him on the shelf for a month, but the rest of their key players also have to stay healthy. Past the upper-tier guys, they have a number of others who still need to prove they are able to perform to their expectations in the NHL.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Despite all the bluster he could muster, Brian Burke failed to breathe life into the Maple Leafs' playoff quest.
Four years was enough time to make a difference, so he should not have been surprised at being fired by new owners, no matter the timing or the method of execution. Hindsight may yet judge the deposed GM as the architect of a Stanley Cup contender, but for now, the Leafs lack depth to end a seven-year post-season absence.
They have scattershot scoring and too few horses on defence, both of which expose the inexperienced goaltending.
New GM David Nonis is very much a Burke acolyte, but will have a better fate if he avoids Burke's horrendous luck with injuries, starting with every goalie Burke brought in. That bug spread to key players such as Dion Phaneuf and Mike Komisarek on the blueline, Mike Brown and Colby Armstrong up front and the most untimely deletion, Joffrey Lupul at the peak of his career year in 2011-12.
Nonis will also benefit from James van Riemsdyk, the first impact forward acquired via trade since Mikhail Grabovski a few years earlier. If an upgrade in goal is decided upon, Nonis is on stronger ground to make the long-discussed Roberto Luongo deal with Vancouver.
Randy Carlyle has been in power for 10 months, but only had the team on ice for 18 games. He has big plans for improved conditioning and better team defence to keep shots outside and put less stress on whoever is in net.
Fantasy pool hero: Phil Kessel
Unsung hero: Carl Gunnarsson
Sleeper: Leo Kormarov
Rookie to watch: Ben Scrivens
On the decline: Tim Connolly
Tough guy: Mike Brown
Lupul didn't go pointless for more than one game a good chunk of the early going before injuries caught up to him. He ended with 67 points and will be out to help Phil Kessel get to 40-goal country. If James van Riemsdyk isn't on the first line, it could mean the break-up of Mikhail Grabovski between Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur. Then it's a dogfight between Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi and any number of eager Toronto Marlies such as Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin. Jay McClement and Leo Komarov are the new energy players.
The losses of Luke Schenn and Keith Aulie will be felt this year, with a blueline now tipping towards offensive types rather than stay-at-home brand. If captain Dion Phaneuf can't be on the ice 60 minutes, it's a good time for Mike Komisarek to start earning his big ticket and avoid a buyout. Will smooth-skating NHL all-rookie Jake Gardiner come back healthy? Will Mark Fraser and Korbinian Holzer be able to make the jump from the Marlies? Junior Morgan Rielly could stay five games -- or longer.
Time for James Reimer to morph from nice guy to nasty and take full command of the position. It will be hard for him in a 48-game season given his long break that preceded it. But the alternative is giving way to game-sharp Marlie Ben Scrivens, perhaps the rising Jussi Rynnas and, ultimately, the long shadow of Roberto Luongo.
Remember, Reimer was good when he was healthy and had the knack of winning close games by luck or guile. Scrivens was the AHL's best regular-season goalie in 2011-12, but the NHL is a different animal.
Few lamented the departure of Ron Wilson, yet there is pause to wonder whether this edition of the Leafs will be better off under Randy Carlyle. Many of the same warts are there. But Carlyle can expect more help from the farm and Nonis can extend the leash in the expectations department before any serious talk of playoffs. Patience in team building is where Nonis said he differs mostly from Burke, though the test will be at the trade deadline or in the off-season, where there will be chances to put his own stamp on the Leafs.
Simply put, the Leafs need a soul. Despite Burke and the greatest hype machine behind them, a huge media crew following every move and a fan base looking desperately for a touchstone, the Leafs have not developed an identity. At least they're young and have growth potential, especially with success on the farm.
In their heads is a 40-plus year Stanley Cup drought and a legion of critics waiting to pounce on more failures by the billion dollar team. But this is also a chance for the new owners, the new GM and the (almost) new coach to set a new course.
Expectations are high in the city of Edmonton this year.
After wallowing at the bottom of the standings for the past three seasons, the Oilers are poised to climb the ladder.
How high they actually get remains to be seen, but it's believed the days of the Oilers selecting first at the draft are over, due mainly to the group they've been able to assemble with those high picks. Having their young, rising stars play together in the American Hockey League for the first half of the year during the lockout should also benefit the club in a shortened NHL campaign.
Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz head into the year in mid-season form, having played together with the Oklahoma City Barons.
In a sprint to the finish, the Oilers are expected to get out of the blocks quickly after having the highest number of players in the league active during the work stoppage.
Added to the mix this season will be Nail Yakupov, who spent the lockout in Russia, where he earned KHL rookie of-the-month honours in his first month there.
Schultz is also poised to make a splash, having dominated at the AHL level, leading the league in scoring until Eberle caught up and passed him.
In goal, Devan Dubnyk is set to take the mantle, but with a healthy Nikolai Khabibulin also in the fold, the club's fortunes won't rely on just one puck stopper.
Fantasy pool hero: Jordan Eberle
Unsung hero: Sam Gagner
Tough guy: Darcy Hordichuk
Sleeper: Ryan Whitney
Rookie to watch: Nail Yakupov
On the decline: Andy Sutton
Having won the NHL draft lottery three years in a row, the Oilers boast a dynamic group of young forwards. Previous top picks Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are joined by Nail Yakupov. Combine them with Jordan Eberle and the Oilers should be able to fill the net this season. Ales Hemsky is heading into a season healthy for the first time in years and also in playing shape, having lit up the Czech League during the lockout. The changing of the guard will mean veterans Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth may be asked to take on a reduced role.
Justin Schultz came into the season as the best player Oilers fans had never seen. Schultz was dominant in the AHL during the lockout, with 18 goals and 48 points in 34 games. The University of Wisconsin product, who chose to sign with the Oilers over every other team in the league, should fit in well with a young and talented group. With Ryan Whitney and Jeff Petry, the Oilers should be able to chip in offensively from the back end. Ladislav Smid, Nick Schultz, Corey Potter and Theo Peckham will be counted on to do the brunt of the defensive work.
Devan Dubnyk has seemingly forever been touted as the Oilers goaltender of the future. The future has finally arrived for the Regina product, who was the highest goaltender ever drafted by the team. Dubnyk, 26, has worked his way up through the system and will go into the year as their No. 1 goaltender. Despite not playing during the lockout, Dubnyk helped alleviate any fears of possible rust, backstopping Canada to a Spengler Cup title. He will be backed up by veteran Nikolai Khabibulin, who is in the last year of his contract.
Ralph Krueger takes over as coach after two years as an associate coach. Krueger will have a young, talented squad to work with this year and should have the team challenging for a playoff spot. How Krueger deploys his young talent and what he gets out of his veterans will determine whether the rookie coach will be around long term. GM Steve Tambellini was allowed to let the Oilers bottom out in order to rebuild through the draft. If the Oilers finish near the bottom of the standings again, Tambellini likely won't be around to make the club's next pick.
Injuries have been an issue for the Oilers since making it to the Stanley Cup final in 2006. They've already had issues with Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, who had shoulder problems. They go into the year a relatively healthy group, although Ryan Jones was injured during the lockout after taking a puck to the eye, which hopefully isn't a bad omen for the club. The Oilers need to stay healthy in a shortened season in order to challenge for a playoff spot. They simply don't have the depth on their farm team.
The clock is ticking for the Vancouver Canucks.
Two years removed from a heartbreaking Game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup final, the back-to-back Presidents' Trophy winners will try again to bring home their first NHL title in franchise history. And much like the few seasons before, they enter the campaign as favourites to do just that.
Fortunately, the core of the Canucks has remained mostly intact.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin are still the go-to guys while Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler (albeit currently injured), Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler form the primary group that will make or break the team this season -- their 42nd in the league.
The biggest change, however, for Vancouver will be in net.
Signed to a new three-year, $12-million contract, Cory Schneider will take over the starting goaltending job from Roberto Luongo, hoping to make it a smooth ride to the ultimate prize.
Last season, a first-round playoff exit to the eventual Stanley Cup champs, the Los Angeles Kings, was far below the Canucks' expectations. This time around, the pressure remains high as fans in Vancouver are again wondering: Is this finally the year?
Fantasy pool hero: Cory Schneider
Sleeper: Jason Garrison
Unsung hero: Jannik Hansen
Rookie to watch: Jordan Schroeder
Tough guy: Aaron Volpatti
On the decline: Mason Raymond
With the Sedins leading the way, the Canucks will continue to be a threat offensively. But without Ryan Kesler, who is still recovering from off-season shoulder and wrist surgery, and David Booth, out 4-6 weeks with a strained groin, secondary scoring could be a problem early on. Expect the second line to go through different looks early in the year, affecting the rest of the forwards. Andrew Ebbett and Jordan Schroeder will compete for Kesler's vacant spot while Mason Raymond, Zack Kassian, Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen will have their shot playing on the wings.
What the Canucks lost in veteran Sami Salo they made up for in the younger Jason Garrison, who signed as a free agent. The White Rock, B.C. native will star in arguably one of the best top-four blue-line contingents in the league with Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler and Dan Hamhuis. The bottom four isn't too shabby either. Keith Ballard, Chris Tanev, Cam Barker and Andrew Alberts round out a deep defensive corps that should once again find themselves among the leaders when it comes to fewest goals allowed.
It's Cory's team now. After earning the starting job in last year's playoffs, Schneider will be the man in net for Vancouver this season -- even if Roberto Luongo doesn't get traded and sticks around. The 26-year-old brings a calmer and less-erratic presence to the Canucks, but with this being his first year getting consistent playing time, Schneider remains unproven in a regular role. As all eyes turn to him, the former Boston College boy must show he can handle the pressure in a hockey-crazed market -- especially if he struggles early.
Tinkering may be the best word to describe what general manager Mike Gillis has done to the Canucks roster since the end of last season. He added Garrison and some depth on defence, but left the forwards virtually untouched. All that could change though if he plays the Luongo card and makes a deal to add immediate improvement to the injury-hit lineup. With a contending team already in place, no big shakeup is needed for Vancouver. However, one might wonder how safe coach Alain Vigneault's job will be if there's another early playoff exit.
Familiarity and experience favours the Canucks in a season where teams won't play exhibition games and are limited to a short training camp. With little turnover in players, coaches and management, and a system that has brought success in recent years, the team heads into the condensed schedule brimming with confidence.
Additionally, the Canucks are rejuvenated, not coming off a short summer and fatigued from a gruelling playoff run like they were heading into last year. The Luongo situation though, if not resolved early, may become a distraction to the team.