On paper, there's no arguing that the Vancouver Canucks have drastically improved their line-up over last season.
The additions of Mathieu Schneider, Christian Ehrhoff, Brad Lukowich, Andrew Raycroft and Mikael Samuelsson more than make up for the loss of Jason LaBarbera, Mattias Ohlund, Taylor Pyatt and Mats Sundin - and then some.
Vancouver had its most competitive training camp in recent memory and the true potential of the team came to the forefront with the Canucks winning six of its first seven exhibition games. Those wins came with the team far from icing the lines and pairings that will be together to start the regular season.
In conclusion, the Canucks are Stanley Cup bound.
To be fair, we at Canucks.com say that every year. We keep the faith, even in the murkiest of times, that's just how we roll. It's in our DNA or something.
Seeing as how we're biased to the core, we've been scouring the internet over the past few days compiling a list of what everyone else is saying about Vancouver's chances this season.
Some of it makes sense, some of it doesn't and some of it is so ludicrous that it begs the question of how the person writing it even figured out how to turn their computer on.
Let's start with the heavy hitters.
TSN.ca likes what the Canucks did in the off-season and that's a shared thought for the most part in previews. To TSN, the difference of whether Vancouver is able to advance past the second round of the playoffs for only the third time in franchise history depends on how they handle the bohemian 14-game road trip they'll endure while the 2010 Winter Olympics take over GM Place. Vancouver's six-week venture across North America begins on January 30 and goes until March 13.
"The month of February is generally considered the dog-days of the season, but the thought of not playing a home game for well over a month will unquestionably wear on the players," said TSN.
"To compound matters, the Canucks' three key players (Luongo and the Sedins) will likely play pivotal roles in the fortunes of their respective hockey nations."
Despite all of this, TSN believes the Canucks have finally emerged as contenders, largely because Roberto Luongo is happy and healthy. Not surprisingly, their forecast for Vancouver "rests on Luongo's broad shoulders."
"Expectations are enormous this season in Vancouver and the time is now for Luongo to not only reach those expectations, but to exceed them. If he does, then good things will follow."
Sportsnet's Mike Brophy is in the same boat. Of Canada's six Canadian teams, he feels the Canucks have the best shot of bringing the Cup North of the border for the first time since 1993.
First praising the job the team did on signing forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin to contracts, Brophy then tips his hat to GM Mike Gillis for adding important pieces to help hockey's greatest twins.
"Beyond that, general manager Mike Gillis has done an excellent job of surrounding the twins with a quality supporting cast. The Canucks boast a lot of depth up front with the likes of Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Pavol Demitra, Kyle Wellwood, Steve Bernier and defensive specialist Ryan Johnson.
Calgary and Montreal are the other teams mentioned in the article and their chances at ending Canada's drought are legit as well, but like Brophy points out, "This season, just like the past few years, it will be extremely tough to make it through the Western Conference to the Stanley Cup final, but the Canucks, on paper at least, appear to have what it takes."
Pierre LeBrun of ESPN revealed 10 things that should be known about the Canucks heading into the 2009-10 season and among them is how much the team has improved on the blueline.
"Just like managers in baseball say they can never have enough pitching, NHL coaches love having depth on defense. While the team did lose talented workhorse Mattias Ohlund to free agency, GM Mike Gillis added Mathieu Schneider, Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich to a group that already included Sami Salo, Willie Mitchell, Kevin Bieksa, Alexander Edler and Shane O'Brien."
LeBrun also loves the go-get it attitude the Canucks have and the youth movement going on with the team, although he questions Vancouver's schedule and their ability to improve on special teams and in shootouts.
All-in-all, LeBrun is putting his money on that Vancouver will "hang on for second place in the Northwest and sixth in the Western Conference and then be a very dangerous playoff foe."
See, we're not the only ones penciling the Canucks in to be a formidable force this season.
There are those still playing the hater card though, and that includes Joseph Gunther of the Minnesota Wild Examiner.
Clearly Gunther leans in favour of his hometown Wild and he is to make no apologies for that. What he needs to say sorry for is his disrespect towards Luongo. You'd have to look long and hard to find someone as out of the loop as this hockey scribe when it comes to the talents possessed by the Vancouver netminder.
Although he doesn't directly say that Vancouver's season in the hands of Luongo, Gunther has him ranked as the fourth best goalie - IN THE NORTHWEST DIVISION. Even non-hockey followers know that Luongo is third or better - IN THE LEAGUE.
Who made the cut ahead of Lui? Niklas Backstrom, Miikka Kiprusoff and Josh Harding…yep, Josh Harding.
Here's the explanation, or lack thereof: "The Vancouver Canucks' starter posted a 33-13-7 record while helping the Canucks win the Northwest Division last season. He had a 2.34 goals against average and .920 save percentage. He was once hailed as the NHL's next great goaltender, but an injury and inconsistent play have marred most of his career. He has 47 career shutouts, which leads all goaltenders in the Northwest Division. He is entering his ninth season in the NHL while playing for three teams."
Praisers, haters and now the confused. While I'm not one to take aim at personal opinions, I'll gladly tee up a poorly researched piece. Case in point, this gem of a preview posted by Sports Network.
Believe it or not, Mats Sundin is taking another kick at the can with the Canucks this season.
"Mats Sundin signed a big deal last December, but turned out to be a bust with nine goals and 19 assists in 41 games. Perhaps Sundin should have called it quits, but he's back for another shot at a title."
Wrong. Or maybe he's psychic and knows something we don't...
Sadly his Sundin faux pas almost makes more sense than the preview's prediction for who will factor into things on the Canucks blueline.
"Head coach Vigneault and Vancouver's front office hope that defensive prospects Nolan Baumgartner and Michael Funk make an immediate impact this season."
As you can see, opinions vary on how the Canucks will fair this season and what exactly will make the team tick. Everyone factors something different into the equation, but in the end no one really knows where the 2009-10 squad will end up.
Except us, of course. Did someone say undefeated?