The Vancouver Canucks
had two cracks to clinch their first Stanley Cup championship in June, and failed to seal the deal both times. Without question, it led to a summer loaded with heartache and thoughts of what could have been.
But the club is confident it can get back to the Stanley Cup Final -- so much so that the 2011-12 roster is very similar to the one that lost Game 7 to the Bruins on home ice four months ago.
"To go through that with the guys that I've played with six or seven years, it was tough," Canucks forward Ryan Kesler
told NHL.com. "We were that close and with blood, sweat and tears we did it all and came up that short. It was an emotional time. We realized that nothing really needed to be said and nothing was said. We're going to come back hungrier. We have the group of guys that will."
While Vancouver's roster didn't experience much turnover this summer, the Canucks did lose one of their top defensemen as highly skilled Christian Ehrhoff
signed a 10-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres
. Ehrhoff, 29, had 94 points in his two seasons in Vancouver, and it will be interesting to see if anyone on the roster is capable of replacing that kind of offense from the blue line.
Four other players who appeared in that crushing Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins
also have gone elsewhere -- Jeff Tambellini
, Tanner Glass
, Raffi Torres
and Alexander Bolduc.
arrives in Vancouver after splitting last season between Los Angeles and Washington. Injuries limited the German forward to just 35 games, but Sturm is a seven-time 20-goal scorer.
If the Canucks are going to win the Western Conference again, they're going to need to be healthy. They've already hit some bumps in the road, as Kesler -- arguably the best two-way center in the game -- underwent hip surgery in July and is expected to miss at least the first few weeks of the regular season. The Canucks currently have him listed as out indefinitely.
suffered a vertebrae compression fracture during the Stanley Cup Final and isn't expected back until November.
And most recently, defenseman Aaron Rome
broke a finger on his right hand and will be out 4-6 weeks, while Nolan Baumgartner
will miss four weeks with a broken foot. Steve Pinizzotto also is out indefinitely.
"We had a lot of injuries last year, too," Daniel Sedin
said. "I don't think people realized that because we were winning all the time, but we went through the same thing last year and it just seemed like we had guys coming in and stepping up every time there is an injury. The same thing has to happen now with Mason (Raymond) gone and Kes maybe being gone for a while. That's why we have the kind of players we have."
Injuries will force the Canucks to have a slightly different look up front in the early going, but the first line remains intact. Henrik Sedin
, one of the top centers in the world, will flank his twin brother Daniel and Alexandre Burrows
, who had 17 points in 25 playoff games. With Kesler out, the pressure will be on the Canucks' top three to provide enough offense in his absence.
Kesler's injury likely will mean more playing time for Cody Hodgson
, who was Vancouver's first-round selection (No. 10) in 2008. Hodgson spent the bulk of last season in the American Hockey League, where he had 30 points in 52 games for Manitoba. He had 1 assist in 12 postseason contests for the Canucks, who are hoping the 21-year-old center is ready to take the next step.
IN: Byron Bitz
, RW (free agent, Panthers); Mike Duco
, RW (free agent, Panthers); Andrew Ebbett
, C (free agent, Coyotes); Mark Mancari
, RW (free agent, Sabres); Marco Sturm
, LW (free agent, Capitals); Alexander Sulzer
, D (free agent, Predators)
OUT: Alexandre Bolduc
, C (free agent, Coyotes); Guillaume Desbiens
, RW (free agent, Flames); Christian Ehrhoff
, D (trade, Islanders); Tanner Glass
, LW (free agent, Jets); Jeff Tambellini
, LW (free agent, ZSC Lions, Switzerland); Raffi Torres
, LW (free agent, Coyotes)
is back for a third season with the Canucks after being a major contributor to the club in 2010-11. Samuelsson, who turns 35 in December, had 18 goals and 32 assists in 75 games last season. He's likely to be joined on the second line by Chris Higgins
, who arrived from Florida last season and had 4 goals and 4 assists in 25 playoff games.
, who also arrived via trade last season, helped stabilize Vancouver down the middle and returns to the lineup as well. The gritty center racked up a League-leading 66 minutes in penalties during the Canucks' run to the Stanley Cup Final and is expected to provide a lot of energy. Jannik Hansen
did not miss a game for Vancouver last season and has developed into a solid two-way player, while Manny Malhotra
provides depth and the ability to win important faceoffs.
The Canucks were hoping Owen Nolan
could earn a spot on the club on a tryout basis, but the 39-year-old was released earlier this week.
Ehrhoff's departure leaves a significant hole on Vancouver's blue line that is unlikely to be filled by any one player. But the club did manage to retain Kevin Bieksa
's services after they signed the skilled defenseman to a five-year contract in June.
Bieksa likely will be joined on the top pair by Dan Hamhuis
, who is entering the second season of the six-year deal he signed with Vancouver last summer. Hamhuis spent the offseason recovering from sports hernia surgery, but should be ready when Vancouver opens the season Oct. 6 against Pittsburgh.
The remainder of Vancouver's blue line remains intact. Veterans Sami Salo
and Alexander Edler
will make up the second pairing, while Keith Ballard
and Andrew Alberts
vie for a good share of playing time.
CANUCKS 30 IN 15 RELATED STORIES
Rome will provide depth when he returns from injury, along with Christopher Tanev
and Alexander Sulzer
hit the 60-game plateau for a second straight season in 2010-11, but one has to wonder if he'll reach that mark again this season. After all, the Canucks boast one of the best backups in the game in Cory Schneider
, who won 16 times in 25 games last season while posting a 2.23 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.
Naturally, Luongo, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, will receive the bulk of the starts. But it will be interesting to see if coach Alain Vigneault
gives Schneider more playing time in order to keep Luongo fresh for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL