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Luongo, Kassian among six questions facing Canucks

by Dan Rosen

Roberto Luongo is still with the Vancouver Canucks, but the general assumption is that he won't be for too much longer because Cory Schneider is ready to take over as the No. 1 goalie.

Canucks general manager Mike Gillis is shopping Luongo, the gold-medal-winning goalie who has 10 years left on his contract, and hopes to ship him out of town soon. Gillis wants a fair return, but his options are limited because A) there aren't too many teams in need of a No. 1 goalie at this late date; B) Luongo is owed $40 million over the next six years of his deal; C) Luongo has a no-trade clause.

Luongo has already said his time in Vancouver is done, but he's not about to go somewhere that doesn't appeal to him. The Florida Panthers are considered his choice destination because he used to play there and his wife's family is from the area, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the market for a goalie and Luongo also publicly expressed an interest in the Chicago Blackhawks.

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Dealing Luongo is the one pressing offseason issue still on Gillis' summer docket. It's also the one issue that is preventing the Canucks from ironing out their depth chart for the start of training camp because it's not clear what Gillis would get in return, and if any of the players coming his way would be NHL veterans or even NHL ready.

Beyond the Luongo saga, there are other questions that the Canucks will have to answer over the course of the season if they want to stay atop the NHL and remain a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Here are six worth pondering right now:

1. Will Cory Schneider be a better No. 1 than Roberto Luongo?

That's the plan. The Canucks wouldn't be shopping Luongo if they didn't believe Schneider, 26, has all the goods to be one of the best goalies in the NHL, as Luongo has been for years.

Schneider has to prove he's worth all the fuss, and worth the three-year, $12 million contract he signed this summer. He was performing well in Luongo's shadow before finally breaking away from it in April thanks to his strong showing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he posted a .960 save percentage and 1.31 goals-against average in three appearances.

It's just too bad Schneider couldn't help the Canucks score, because maybe then they would have given the Los Angeles Kings a scare.

Schneider went 36-12-3 in two seasons as Luongo's backup. He recorded career-bests across the board last season, including wins (20), save percentage (.937), goals-against average (1.96) and shutouts (3).

2. When will Ryan Kesler make his season debut?

Perhaps the better question is will Kesler ever be the same player he was two seasons ago, when he scored 41 goals and won the Selke Trophy? It's a fair question considering for the second straight offseason he is rehabilitating from an invasive surgical procedure.

However, Kesler's season debut is first and foremost on the Canucks' minds now. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder in May and the initial diagnosis was that he would be out for six months, meaning a mid-November return at the earliest.

Kesler isn't about to push himself to make opening night because of what happened last season. He missed only five games after rehabbing from hip surgery, but wasn't himself until after Christmas. By the time Kesler finally got going, he hurt his shoulder and wasn't the same for the final two-and-a-half months of the season.

3. How will B.C. native Jason Garrison fare after signing a big contract?

Garrison cashed in on his big season with the Florida Panthers by signing a six-year, $27.6 million contract with the Canucks. Now he'll have to live up to the money for the first time in his career. His $4.6 million salary-cap hit matches that of Kevin Bieksa, who was the highest-paid Canucks defenseman.

Garrison, who will replace Sami Salo, improved in all three of his seasons with the Panthers and topped out at 16 goals and 17 assists for 33 points in 77 games last season while earning $700,000, according to He scored nine goals on the power play.

"We have a lot of confidence that he's going to be a stabilizing, solid contributor," Gillis told "Expectations here are high. He understands that. He's from the area. This is his hometown team. I think he's going to respond really well."

4. Is Chris Tanev ready for a full-time role?

Christopher Tanev
Christopher Tanev
Defense - VAN
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 2
SOG: 15 | +/-: 10

Tanev has played in 54 games along with 10 playoff games in the past two seasons. He has only three assists, but has served as a capable stay-at-home defenseman. He's entering the final year of his entry-level contract and the Canucks have him tabbed, at least right now, as being a part of their top six along with Garrison, Bieksa, Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard.

There is a very real possibility that Tanev and Ballard start the season as the Canucks' third pair. That may make some fans uneasy, but Tanev has the ability to be a breakout performer because he's still young enough (22) and developing his offensive game.

"They were a very good pair for us last year when they played together," Gillis said of Tanev and Ballard. "They feed off one another really well."

Tanev is not going to light the lamp often for the Canucks, but he can become at least a threat if he improves his shot. He's not flashy, but his first pass is known to be quite good. He'll be given every chance to be a regular on the Canucks' blue line.

5. Can David Booth produce like a top-six forward?

Booth scored 31 goals in 72 games for the Panthers four seasons ago. He has scored 47 goals in 172 games since then, including 16 goals in 56 games with the Canucks last season.

If Booth plays a full season, scores 20-plus goals and produces 50-plus points, the Canucks would be happy. They need to see some consistency out of a player who is signed for three more seasons with a cap hit of $4.25 million.

If he performs well, the Canucks will be a much more dangerous team when Kesler returns and the pressure won't be nearly as high on other wingers Mason Raymond and Alex Burrows.

The Canucks would likely prefer to have a second line of Kesler, Booth and Raymond behind a top line of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Burrows. That would give them the flexibility to have Jannik Hansen, Zack Kassian, Dale Weise and Chris Higgins in the bottom six.

6. Will Zack Kassian develop into the rugged winger the Canucks need?

Vancouver traded for Kassian hoping he would become the bruiser it was missing in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. If he turns into Milan Lucic, well let's just say the Canucks wouldn't complain.

Kassian will be given a chance to earn a spot in the Canucks' top six to start the season. Vancouver will need to see him become the gritty, tough, crash-and-bang player he was in junior hockey. He was drafted No. 13 by the Sabres in 2009 because he has those attributes.

The problem Kassian will have in Vancouver is the pressure to become that intimidating forward right away, because Canucks fans won't have to stay up late to see how Cody Hodgson is doing with the  Buffalo Sabres. Hodgson was the promising center and former first-round pick Gillis sent to Buffalo in exchange for Kassian, so fans will likely measure the trade by tracking the career paths of the two players.

Kassian needs to intimidate all the time, not just every once in a while. And he needs to be a threat to score.

"We've monitored his training very, very carefully this summer, had him at a bunch of different places and doing a bunch of different things," Gillis said. "He's in great shape physically."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

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