30 in 30: Luongo among questions facing Canucks

Wednesday, 08.07.2013 / 3:00 AM
Mike Battaglino  - NHL.com Staff Writer

There was one question that lingered over the Vancouver Canucks since the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: What are they going to do with Roberto Luongo?

Turns out, it was answered in a way no one -- especially Luongo -- expected.

The 34-year-old is the Canucks' No. 1 goalie again after the team traded Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils at the 2013 NHL Draft.

That resolution brings a new question, one of six the Canucks face heading into the 2013-14 season:

1. How does Roberto Luongo feel about all this? -- The poker-playing goalie never could have expected the hand he's been dealt. He's kept his cards close to the vest since, going without public comment.

Luongo hired new agents in July, an interesting move when you consider he has nine years remaining on his contract. It raised speculation that perhaps he wanted someone to negotiate a way out of Vancouver for him. His high-priced condo reportedly remains on the market.

But if Luongo's Twitter account, @Strombone1, is an indicator, he might be warming to his situation. In a message to his expected backup, he wrote, "Hey Eddie Lack, I'm warning you now! Don't get any ideas this upcoming season!!! Got it???"

The plight -- demoted behind Schneider two playoffs ago, on the trade market since, unable to be dealt because of his contract, given back his starting job -- compelled owner Francesco Aquilini, general manager Mike Gillis and new coach John Tortorella to each visit Luongo in Florida.

"I have talked to Roberto after the deal was made. I think I needed to," Tortorella said. "And I hope what will help him is that you have new guys coming in as far as a coaching staff, and how they feel."

2. Can John Tortorella get along with the media? -- Imagine if the Canucks' new coach, famously adversarial with reporters, had to answer questions about his goalies every single day. With that off the docket, Tortorella can try to make good on his vow to be more approachable and forthcoming under what's sure to be perpetual scrutiny.

"It's a huge part of my job here, I know that," Tortorella said during his first round with the local press. "… I have certainly made my own bed in the situations I've put myself and other people in. And I'm going to cultivate a relationship here with the media.

"I think that's a huge part of any job in the National Hockey League, but coming to a market, Vancouver, province of B.C., basically, that's who you're serving; I want this to work. … I do come with some baggage with that, I readily admit that and I am not going to hide from that. I made some mistakes along the way, but I am compelled to make this work and cultivate that type of relationship, where we're working together."

3. Can Tortorella adjust to the demands of the Western Conference? -- Other than two seasons as an assistant with the Phoenix Coyotes, the 55-year-old's entire NHL coaching career has been spent in the Eastern Conference, where travel isn't nearly the burden it will be now.

Moving to the realigned Pacific Division, the Canucks will travel 48,510 miles this season, according to OnTheForecheck.com. By comparison, Tortorella's former team, the New York Rangers, will log 29,839 miles.

"That's something that really concerns me, because I don't have enough knowledge of what goes on with our travel, as far as how it takes a toll on the athletes," Tortorella said. "I believe this team here … it's some of the worst travel you can possibly have in the League as far as coming out of here, where in the East, you're on the bus."

The Canucks, five-time Northwest Division champions, also are now among a much tougher group. Teams in their new division combined for 16 playoff berths in those five seasons; the other teams from their old division had two.

4. Can Canucks players adjust to the demands of Tortorella? -- Forward Dale Weise played under Tortorella for 10 games as a rookie with the Rangers in 2010-11. Here's what Weise told the Vancouver Province before the coach was hired:

"I think you can kind of look around and see that his style is kind of fading out of coaching," Weise said, via Sportsnet. "There's a way to be hard on guys and to push guys. But I think nowadays you've got to be a little more of a communicator. You can't just put guys in the dirt and expect guys to get out of there themselves."

Forward Ryan Kesler was a member of the 2010 U.S. Olympic team when Tortorella was an assistant and has a different view.

"He likes compete, he likes work ethic, doesn't like mistakes," Kesler said. "He's going to play the guys that are going, and he's going to keep everybody accountable, and that's what I like."

Tortorella has vowed to ask more of Canucks players and has made sure to specifically mention the team's biggest stars, Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin.

"You can be fiery and have an in-your-face type of attitude, which is totally fine if it makes sense," Henrik said. "You can't just come in and scream and yell at guys if they don't believe it makes sense. I never had him before, but I don't see a problem with him doing that."

5. How many shots will the Sedin twins block? -- One of the things Tortorella will ask the Sedins to do is block shots. Last season Henrik blocked nine, while Daniel blocked seven.

"I'll tell you right now, they're going to kill penalties, and if they're going to kill penalties they're going to block shots," Tortorella said. "Do I expect to turn them into an ex-player of mine, a Ryan Callahan (66 blocked shots last season)? Absolutely not. But if you're going to play proper defense, that has to be part of the equation."

As a team, the Canucks blocked 566 shots, ranking them 27th in the NHL; the Rangers were sixth with 773 blocks.

"I think shot blocking is part of playing good defense," Tortorella said. "I think it's part of play to get the puck back. So it's not just the Sedins. … I think a team takes on a whole mindset of being a harder team to play against, a team that'll play along the boards, a team that'll give themselves up to get the puck back, defend the proper way. It does, it permeates through your team.

"So that is going to be asked, of not just the Sedins, but everybody, because I think that's the proper way to play the game when you don't have the puck."

6. Can Ryan Kesler stay healthy and start scoring goals again? -- Kesler sustained a broken foot blocking a shot last season. That came after he got a late start after recovering from wrist and shoulder injuries, and he wound up playing 17 games.

A 41-goal scorer in 2010-11, the Canucks certainly need Kesler, who had four goals last season, to rediscover that touch; since 2006-07, Alexandre Burrows (35 in 2009-10), Mikael Samuelsson (30 in 2009-10) and Daniel Sedin (three times) are the only Vancouver players to score 30 goals in a season.

"[Tortorella is] going to expect more from everybody, and we're going to need more," Kesler told the Vancouver Province. "The way things ended last year, I don't think anybody looks at themselves as a top dog anymore. We've got to find our way and battle every night."

Kesler, who missed the opening five games of 2011-12 after offseason hip surgery, said he is healthy.

"Right now I'm enjoying life," Kesler told the newspaper. "It's great. I can focus on training and not having to deal with being injured and doing rehab and everything that goes along with it."

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