From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.
1. It wasn’t all Torts’ fault
No, his philosophy wasn’t a good fit for the Canucks. No, they didn’t respond to his methods. Yes, they looked shockingly confused at times. Shockingly disinterested, too.
And let’s face it, John Tortorella makes for a pretty great scapegoat.
But it’s pure fantasy to think the new guy, Willie Desjardins, will be able to just waltz in, wave the “we want to play uptempo hockey” wand, and recapture the magic of a few years ago.
Already Desjardins is experiencing some of the same issues that Tortorella did. For example, the players not playing a full 60 minutes.
“I didn’t think we were good enough,” said Desjardins after Vancouver’s 3-2 win over the depleted Oilers on Saturday. “I thought we had a real good start and carried the play early but that’s not the team we want to be. We want to be able to sustain it for 60 minutes and we didn’t. So we have some work to do.”
Almost sounds like a “mindset” problem.
In 2013-14, Vancouver lost five games, the third most in the NHL, that it led after two periods. (Remember the seven third-period goals the Canucks gave up to the Islanders?)
So the players can talk all they want about the improved atmosphere in the room compared to last year…
…but that needs to show up on the ice.
2. This core is old
And in a young man’s league like the NHL, that’s a concern. The Sedins just turned 34. Kevin Bieksa and Alex Burrows are each 33. Dan Hamhuis and Chris Higgins are 31.
Meanwhile, despite the obvious need to get younger, the Canucks may have just one rookie, Linden Vey, in the lineup on opening day. Bo Horvat, currently injured, could still end up back in junior. Hunter Shinkaruk and Nicklas Jensen will both start the year in the AHL.
That Vancouver’s veterans are getting a do-over on last year is no surprise. When general manager Jim Benning was hired to replace Mike Gillis, he professed his confidence in the Canucks’ core.
“We need to get back to what we’re good at,” he said. “This organization needs to play an uptempo, fast, skating, skilled game. Before last season, this team had almost an attitude, a relentless attitude where they were going to skate, wear teams down and score.”
Except, it’s a lot easier to relentlessly attack and “wear teams down” when you’ve got young legs.
It’s also easier when you’ve got…
3. Ryan Kesler
Which the Canucks don’t anymore. He’s in Anaheim now. And he’s left a massive question mark in the middle of the second line, which the team is hoping can be filled by Nick Bonino, a 26-year-old with exactly one good NHL season on his résumé.
And the funny thing is, Bonino might actually be the surest thing on that line. Zack Kassian and Alex Burrows, the two wingers that were penciled in pre-training camp, are complete wildcards and didn’t show much in the preseason. Already Desjardins has been forced to bump Higgins up from the third line, where he probably belongs. Canucks fans can only pray it doesn’t get to the point where Jannik Hansen gets another try in the top six.
When Kesler was at his best, he was a Selke Trophy winner that, combined with Henrik Sedin, gave the Canucks one of the best one-two punches at center in the NHL. True, he could’ve passed the puck a bit more. And yes, he was injury prone, not to mention a bit testy.
But Kesler was one of the major reasons Vancouver nearly won it all in 2011. A year that — just ask Torts — it isn’t anymore.