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Canucks paid for offensive woes

by Roger Phillips

Despite Roberto Luongo's strong play in goal all season, the Canucks' lack of scoring caused them to miss the playoffs.
Roberto Luongo 2007-08 season highlights
A premier goalie is a key ingredient for any contender once the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. But here's a reminder the Vancouver Canucks don't need: You have to score enough to make the playoffs before worrying about winning the Cup.

After maintaining a playoff berth almost all season — thanks in large part to the play of goalie Roberto Luongo — the Canucks wound up missing the postseason, largely because they couldn't put the puck in the other team's net.

Had the Canucks reached the playoffs rather than falling three points short, they would have been the lowest-scoring Western Conference team in the postseason. The lack of offense was nothing new: The Canucks had the second-weakest offense among Western Conference teams in 2006-07, when they won the Northwest Division, but were eliminated in the second round.

Clearly, this is a franchise that needs an offseason offensive transfusion in order to become a serious postseason contender. The Canucks were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs in their next-to-last game — a 2-1 loss on home ice to an Edmonton team that already had been ousted from postseason contention.

"We've got no one to blame but ourselves," captain Markus Naslund told the Vancouver Province. "We had a chance to win a must-win game and just didn't find a way to do it. And if you don't win these games, you don’t deserve to be (in the playoffs). We haven't been a sharp team when it counted, and we haven't been a good team."

Luongo's play deteriorated down the stretch, as a lack of offense and the absence of a competent backup took their toll. One thing that's safe to say is that the Canucks will be a much different team next season as they try to provide Luongo with some offensive support.

Despite winning the Northwest title in 2006-07, the Canucks knew coming into this season that offense would remain at a premium, especially considering that salary-cap constraints prevented any significant veteran additions last summer that might have bolstered the attack. They hoped their deep defensive corps and the play of Luongo would be enough to carry them into the postseason.

Instead, the depth disappeared because of a remarkable string of injuries. Kevin Bieksa missed 48 games, and Lukas Krajicek (43), Mattias Ohlund (29), Aaron Miller (25), Sami Salo (19) and Willie Mitchell (10) also were sidelined for long stretches.

Given all these injuries, perhaps it's a notable accomplishment that the Canucks allowed only 14 more goals this season than last — with seven of those coming in the meaningless season finale against the Flames.

But there is no way to spin the offensive doldrums. Daniel Sedin dropped from 36 goals and 84 points to 29 and 74 in 2007-08. His twin, Henrik, had 81 points in 2006-07, 76 in '07-08. Naslund had only 55 points, his lowest output in a decade.

Bieksa's lengthy absence was a big factor in Canucks' offensive struggles. After producing 12 goals and 42 points in 2006-07, he spent most of the season recovering from a serious skate cut and had only 12 points. Salo was the leading scorer among Canucks defensemen with an anemic 25 points.

What little offensive depth the Canucks possessed was absent for much of the season, as second-line center Brendan Morrison battled two significant injuries and missed 43 games.

We lost every way possible. It's too bad because we set ourselves up for a chance at the playoffs, and the last few weeks we kind of lost that. - Kevin Bieksa
"We lost every way possible," Bieksa told the Province. "It's too bad because we set ourselves up for a chance at the playoffs, and the last few weeks we kind of lost that."
The good news is the Canucks won't be constrained by the salary cap this year the way they were in 2007-08. Naslund's $6 million salary in 2007-08 comes off the books, as does Morrison's $3.2 million. The Canucks might re-sign one or both, but not for anywhere near that kind of money.

The team will have to cope with the offseason death of up-and-coming defenseman Luc Bourdon, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in June. Bourdon, 21, was the Canucks' top pick in the 2005 Entry Draft and was expected to compete for a full-time job on the blue line.

On a positive note, 21-year-old Swedish defenseman Alex Edler made big strides this year, and speedy 22-year-old left wing Mason Raymond also had some impressive moments. He would have been valuable during the final weeks of the season, which he missed with a knee injury.

Iconic Canucks veteran Trevor Linden retired, meaning if Naslund departs he won’t be the only longtime Vancouver standout not returning.

Somehow, the Canucks are going to have to find a way to lift the burden from Luongo. Perhaps missing the playoffs will turn out to be a good thing. A playoff berth might have allowed them to continue deluding themselves. Instead, they've received the painful news that they can't live on Luongo's brilliance alone.

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