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30 in 15: Luongo, Torts among Canucks' storylines

by Mike Battaglino continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

The Vancouver Canucks have so much going on that the contract status of not one but two franchise icons can seem like an afterthought.

Trying to move on from an all-consuming goalie controversy into training camp under a demanding and at times cantankerous new coach, with a cornerstone player coming off back-to-back declining seasons, a top-six forward who just can't stay healthy, after being swept out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs …

Well, the long-term future of captain Henrik Sedin and twin brother Daniel Sedin barely gets first-line treatment in the conversation.

Henrik said the sides are talking and want to strike a deal before the regular season begins, but nothing is guaranteed.

"It's been back and forth, but I think for us, if we're going to sign something here, it's going to be, hopefully our last contract, maybe," he said in early September. "So that's the way we see it right now."

Here are three other plots Canucks watchers are keeping their eyes on:

1. The life and times of Roberto Luongo -- Everything about the goaltender will be examined, from his body language, to how he answers questions, to what he puts on Twitter, to if he sells his old home and buys a new one.

A two-season saga involving Cory Schneider ended when the younger goalie was traded to the New Jersey Devils at the NHL Draft in June. Luongo remained, reluctantly.

Roberto Luongo
Goalie - VAN
RECORD: 9-6-3
GAA: 2.56 | SVP: 0.907
"You [have to] understand, after what's happened over two years, y'know, it's a process," Luongo said when training camp opened. "It's kind of got to feel it out, and see how it goes.

"I mean I'm not saying I'm unhappy, that's not what I'm saying. Right now I just want to be playing and then we'll see how things go. I mean it's tough to do a complete 180 turn on something like this, but I am excited to be around the guys and I want to play and I want to win hockey games for the Vancouver Canucks right now. So I think at the end of the day, that's all that matters.

"Who knows what the future holds? I mean, I can't predict it. Obviously, the last couple years, things that have happened are things that I never would have thought of, so I stopped trying to figure it out. And I just want to live day by day and play the game. I am playing hockey, I'm a starter in the NHL, so I mean you can't really ask for much more than that at this point."

It didn't start well. Luongo gave up four goals on 18 shots in his preseason debut against the Edmonton Oilers, but he did stop all but one of 22 shots against the Phoenix Coyotes on Sept. 24. Luongo is known to not be at his best early in the season (he's 21-23-3 with an .898 save percentage and goals-against average near 3.00 in the past five Octobers).

As with any veteran, a downward statistical trend is expected. Luongo's save percentage has gone from .928 to .919 to .907 the past three seasons, with his GAA rising from 2.11 to 2.41 to 2.56. He is 1-8 in his past nine Stanley Cup Playoff decisions.

It would be folly to think Luongo, at 34 years old, can recapture the form that allowed him to play 76 games and win 47 of them with a .921 save percentage in 2006-07. But without a backup who's ever appeared in an NHL game (Eddie Lack or Joacim Eriksson), he'll be asked to come close.

"At the end of the day, it's all about performing on the ice," Luongo said. "You can have all the support you want, but if you don't put your A-game on the ice and perform every night, things change."

Ryan Kesler
Center - VAN
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 13
SOG: 36 | +/-: -5
2. Ryan Kesler and David Booth are trying to stay healthy -- The Canucks' top six forwards will have a very different, and likely less effective, season, if either of the Americans miss extended time again.

Kesler played 17 games last season, limited by shoulder, wrist and foot injuries. In 2011-12, he played 77 games but dropped from 73 points to 49.

"I wasn't good enough the past two seasons; I know that," Kesler said. "I spent this whole summer getting back to the player that I was. I'm happy with my shot, where it's at, I'm happy with my skating. …

"It's really been a year since I've played a sustainable amount of games, and I'm looking forward to it. I know there's a ton of expectations on me, I know there's a ton of pressure from inside the organization, to you guys (the media), to the city. I know I have to play my best."

Booth appeared in 12 games last season, from Feb. 19 to March 16, returning from a groin injury then fracturing his ankle. He was not cleared to start training camp on time, was active, then was scratched prior to making his preseason debut after tweaking his groin during the morning skate.

"If given the opportunity, I can really be a force in this league," Booth told the Vancouver Province. "I can't change the way I play because injuries are part of the game. It's a man's game out there. I've still got to take pucks to the net and finish my hits, and that's the way I play my game. I don't want to get away from that. If you play the game afraid, that's when you get hurt."

3. John Tortorella is expressing himself -- It took until the sixth day of training camp before a cell phone rang during a Tortorella press conference.

"That's gonna be a major league fine, I tell ya," the appalled coach said when he heard it. "I'm gonna walk, I'll walk, if cell phones go off, I'll walk."

It was the first such conflict caught on video in Vancouver involving the man who could have his own YouTube channel of similar exchanges.

Tortorella also has called Twitter "the most narcissistic thing I've ever seen" and warned the Canucks that leaks from the locker room would not be tolerated, at all.

"I am not going to handcuff them and treat them like little kids," Tortorella told the Province. "I haven't banned it. … I think it's stupid."

Backup goalie Eddie Lack, a prolific Twitterer (@eddielack), got the message.

"We're going to have to wait and see," Lack told the Province. "I don't think I'm going to be the guy who breaks the ice, that's for sure."

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