Despite missing the postseason for the first time in six years, Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa believes there will be playoff hockey in Vancouver in 2014-15.
“Obviously people aren’t going to have the same expectations for out team they’ve had in the past,” Bieksa told The Province. “But our expectations are making the playoffs. We feel we have a team that can compete.”
It’s been a busy offseason in Vancouver.
Gone are Mike Gillis and John Tortorella. On the ice, center Ryan Kesler was dealt to Anaheim and defenseman Jason Garrison was sent to Tampa Bay. Additionally, Mike Santorelli, who showed signs he could contribute at the NHL level last season, signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Canucks did not retain the rights to Jordan Schroeder, who signed with Minnesota as a free agent.
Newly appointed president Trevor Linden has brought in fellow rookies in general manager Jim Benning and head coach Willie Desjardins, but Bieksa is confident in his former teammate.
“I think just having Trevor around eases everyone’s minds,” he said. “We trust Trevor. We have confidence in him. We know he’ll be there making the right decision.”
Bieksa also believes in the core, which remains in Vancouver despite getting up in age. Daniel and Henrik Sedin will turn 34 before the season begins, Dan Hamhuis will be 32 in December and Alex Burrows turns 34 in the new year.
“I still believe in our group. I trust the twins are going to come here and be ready,” said Bieksa, 33. “(Hamhuis) will be hungrier than ever. We have a lot of pride on this team, a lot of integrity, and we’re not happy about what happened last year. I think we’re all going to look in the mirror and come back motivated. I’m excited about this year.
“You can look around the league and I don’t think you’ll find a group of guys our age who are in the shape we’re in.”
The Canucks play in the tough Pacific Division with Anaheim, LA and San Jose, and missed the second wild card spot in the Western Conference by eight points last season.
Vancouver finished 2013-14 averaging 2.33 goals per game, which ranked 28th in the league ahead of only Florida and Buffalo.
The additions of Derek Dorset (career-high 12 goals in 2011-12), Nick Bonino (career-high 22 goals in 2013-14) and Linden Vey (0 career NHL goals) doesn’t exactly scream ‘help is on the way’ when it comes to goal scoring.
There’ll be pressure on newcomer Radim Vrbata to return to the form he showed in 2011-12 scoring a career-best 35 goals, but will his addition be enough? Only time will tell.
Bieksa’s confidence is nice, but seeing the Canucks making the playoffs in 2014-15 is tough to picture.