How does a team get over the heartache of losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in its own building?
It plans and trains for the next season. There is no other way.
The hurt may not have totally worn off yet, but maybe that's the motivator the Canucks need heading into the 2011-12 season, which by all accounts should be another memorable one for this now 41-year-old franchise.
The big guns are all back in blue and white, and odds are they're hungrier than ever because they now know what it's like to play and lose with the Stanley Cup in the building. Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Roberto Luongo, Ryan Kesler and Co. have vivid memories of another team celebrating on their own ice, so they can probably imagine what it's like to play and win with the Cup in the building.
The Canucks know it won't be easy. Their path is already littered with obstacles.
Kesler is likely going to miss the start of the season after having hip surgery in late July. His optimistic recovery time is 10 weeks, but that would put him right at the start of the season. Unless he heals and rehabs quicker than the medical experts predict, he will not take part in training camp, which could set him back until November.
Mason Raymond is not expected to join the Canucks' lineup until November at the earliest, but that's an optimistic estimate. Raymond suffered a vertebrae compression fracture when Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk drove him backside into the corner boards in Game 6 of the Cup Final. The club announced then that he could be out anywhere between four to six months.
The news appears to be better for defenseman Dan Hamhuis and winger Mikael Samuelsson, both of whom missed the end of the playoffs last season with injuries. Hamhuis and Samuelsson will likely be ready to start training camp.
However, provided Kesler and Raymond are able to make seamless returns to the lineup, the Canucks appear to have the same amount of talent and depth that led them to 117 regular-season points and Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last season. Now they can add experience to the overall team resume.
CANUCKS: 3 QUESTIONS FOR 2011-2012
1. Can Cody Hodgson earn a regular spot in the Canucks lineup? Hodgson is a top-tier prospect with tons of talent. However the No. 10 pick of the 2008 Entry Draft hasn't earned a regular spot in the NHL yet because of two things: He's been plagued with injuries and Vancouver is loaded with depth at center, Hodgson's natural position. With a good training camp, though, Hodgson could be ready to finally take the next step.
2. Will Cory Schneider fight for playing time? Roberto Luongo's struggles in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season were well documented. And every time Luongo blundered, Schneider stepped up and was solid in relief. Schneider is an excellent backup-- but let's not forget that Luongo was a 2011 Vezina Finalist, and was outstanding all season long. For now, the job is Luongo's to lose.
3. Can the Canucks bounce back from their disappointing loss in the Stanley Cup Final? Yes. The 2010-11 Presidents' Trophy winners are a veteran team, and they're bringing back all of their key pieces. Sure, a loss in the Stanley Cup Final is always disappointing, but Vancouver will use it as motivation to get back there -- and win the Cup -- next season.
Ehrhoff is by far and away the biggest loss, especially because he was a solid point man on the power play and played 24 minutes a game. As soon as Canucks GM Mike Gillis realized he wasn't going to be able to sign Ehrhoff, he traded his negotiating rights to the New York Islanders for a fourth-round draft pick in 2012.
At least Gillis was able to get something in return.
Ehrhoff, who had 50 points in 79 regular-season games as well as 12 points in 23 playoff games last season, wound up getting dealt to Buffalo and signing a whopping 10-year, $40 million contract. The Canucks instead chose to re-sign Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo and Andrew Alberts to keep some of their blue line intact.
Torres is another important but replaceable part gone from last season's roster. He played left wing alongside Maxim Lapierre and Jannik Hansen on what was at times an impressive and productive third line. Torres signed a two-year contract with the Coyotes.
Tambellini, Glass and Bolduc were in and out of the lineup during the playoffs. Tambellini moved on to play in Switzerland while Glass signed with Winnipeg and Bolduc landed in Phoenix on a one-year, two-way contract.
The Canucks' most notable addition isn't guaranteed to be on the team after training camp. Owen Nolan, the 39-year-old right wing and veteran of 18 NHL seasons, will try to make a comeback with the Canucks on a professional tryout contract, which only guarantees him a look in training camp.
Nolan spent last season playing in Switzerland, but he had 33 points in 73 games with the Minnesota Wild in 2009-10. If he makes the roster, he could spell Raymond until the young winger is able to return to the lineup. If he doesn't make it, Nolan could try to latch on with another club to continue his NHL career.
Marco Sturm is another option for the Canucks as a second-line winger. Sturm signed a one-year contract after splitting last season between Los Angeles and Washington. His speed is questionable as he has had both of his knees surgically repaired, but Sturm is experienced and as recently as 2009-10 scored 22 goals with the Boston Bruins.
Keith Ballard, D -- He doesn't quite meet the up-and-coming criteria in this category, but Ballard is nonetheless the guy to watch if you're a Canucks' fan. With Christian Ehrhoff gone to Buffalo, Ballard will have every opportunity to get himself back into coach Alain Vigneault's good graces and earn his spot in the top six again. He is making $16.8 million over the next four seasons, so he better.
Cody Hodgson, F -- The Canucks made Hodgson the No. 10 pick in the 2008 Entry Draft and hope he's ready for a full-time role in Vancouver. Ryan Kesler might start the season on injured reserve, which should give Hodgson a chance to shine early in the season. Kesler will return and be the Canucks' No. 2 center, but if Hodgson is good enough Vigneault won't be able to take him out of the lineup.
Chris Tanev, D -- The 21-year-old earned praise from Vigneault last season and even got to skate in five playoff games, including Game 7 against Boston. He has competition for a role in the Canucks' top six, but Vigneault said last season he liked the way Tanev and Ballard played together. Tanev is the promising youngster of the group of four blueliners, including Ballard, Aaron Rome and Andrew Alberts, who are competing for two spots in the opening night lineup.
As long as Henrik and Daniel Sedin are around, the Canucks will contend. Save for Ehrhoff, the core of last season's team is still in place and now they know what the grind is all about and what it takes to get through it.
However, there are some lingering questions that will need immediate answers or Gillis could be left scrambling by the trade deadline? The most pressing involves Keith Ballard. Can the maligned yet well-paid defenseman be the answer in the wake of Ehrhoff's departure?
Ballard has to find his way onto coach Alain Vigneault's good side and earn a regular place in the top six. He's making $4.2 million in each of the next four seasons, so he has to show Vigneault that he can be responsible enough to play important minutes. He couldn't do that last season and wound up as a healthy scratch for most of the playoffs.
The Canucks have to give Ballard every opportunity to succeed because they're paying him big money and trading him could prove to be impossible. They don't want to dump him in the minors and eat that contract.
It's up to Ballard to prove he can play for this team without making the costly mistake at the worst time. He will have competition as Chris Tanev, Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome are also vying to earn top-six minutes behind Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler and Sami Salo.
Vancouver's brass is also wondering if Cody Hodgson is ready to step up and play a bigger role. The young center might have to with Kesler likely starting the season on injured reserve.
Despite not having those answers yet, the Canucks still look good and they should be considered the odds-on favorite to win the Northwest Division for the fourth straight season.