Despite winning the Presidents' Trophy in back-to-back seasons and going to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, the Canucks are expected to have a major change at arguably the most important position on the ice this season. Schneider, 26, likely will take over for Roberto Luongo as the No. 1 goalie in Vancouver after signing a three-year, $12 million contract this offseason.
Season Preview: Northwest Division
Questions facing Northwest teams
By NHL.com Staff
NHL.com presents six questions for each of the five teams in the Northwest, as the Vancouver Canucks look to hold on to their division title. READ MORE ›
The fate of Luongo, who is 33 and has 10 years left on his contract, is up in the air.
"Every chance I got to play in the past, I handled it as a No. 1," Schneider said when he signed his contract in June. "Every game in the NHL is pressure. Just being in the NHL is pressure. I don’t think the contract or the dollars or your role on the team adds more pressure."
The shift to Schneider is not a surprise considering his increased playing time last season (33 appearances, 25 wins), culminating with him taking over for Luongo in the Stanley Cup Playoffs starting in Game 3 against the Los Angeles Kings.
The Canucks' season lasted only another three games as the Kings dispatched them in five, but despite losing twice, Schneider posted a 1.31 goals-against average and .960 save percentage -- stats comparable with his regular-season numbers (1.96 GAA and .937 save percentage).
Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis' next task is to deal with the Luongo conundrum. His first and best option is a trade, but that hasn't happened. Gillis is looking for what he believes is a fair market deal, and he told NHL.com this summer that any trade involving Luongo will change the Canucks' depth chart at both the NHL level and the prospect level.
"We're listening," Gillis said. "We have been listening to teams that are interested in acquiring him. If we get what we think the value is there, we'll trade him. I don't have a timetable. In fact, in hockey things can change in five minutes with one phone call. It's unrealistic to put a timetable on it."
Luongo reportedly has a preference to return to the Florida Panthers, for whom he played from 2000-06.
Gillis has confidence that Eddie Lack can be the backup to Schneider if (or, more likely, when) the GM trades Luongo. Lack spent the past two seasons in the American Hockey League after playing three professional seasons in Sweden. He's 24 years old and by all accounts ready to make the jump.
Lack is 7-4-1 with a 3.00 GAA and .899 save percentage for the Chicago Wolves this season.
"We like to be patient with our young players, but I think another organization would have already given him a chance to play at the NHL level," Dave Gagner, Vancouver's director of player personnel, told NHL.com. "With our goaltending situation the way it's been we didn't really have to rush him. Now I think he's ready."
Center Ryan Kesler won't be ready to start the season after undergoing shoulder surgery in May and left wrist surgery in June. Kesler's absence leaves a huge hole on the Canucks' second line, one Gillis said could be filled by Jordan Schroeder, their first-round pick in 2009.
Gagner said Schroeder was one of the Canucks' most improved prospects at the AHL level last season. He has 19 points in 30 games for the Wolves this season.
There are other questions about the Canucks' second line, which would play behind the usual top line of the Sedin twins and Alexandre Burrows.
It was hoped David Booth would return to being the scoring threat he was with the Florida Panthers -- he scored 31 goals in 2008-09 and 23 goals in 2010-11. But Booth injured his groin during physical testing at training camp Sunday and will miss 4-6 weeks.
Left Wing - VAN
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 20
SOG: 125 | +/-: 4
So, is Mason Raymond, who overcame a serious back injury, ready to return to being a 50-point player?
"At the end of the season we had some discussions with him where we were very, very frank," Gillis said.
Will Zack Kassian be good enough to crack the top six, as Gillis suggested is a possibility?
"He's got a complete skill set -- it's about him maturing and using it to his advantage," the GM said.
Even with the change in net, Kesler's rehab situation, and the questions about the potential second-line wings, the Canucks appear in fine shape to again be a serious contender in the Western Conference.
In small snippets, Schneider has shown an ability to be a top-end No. 1 goalie. Leadership is not an issue with the Sedins, Kesler, Manny Malhotra and defenseman Kevin Bieksa. Gillis feels he upgraded on the blue line by signing Jason Garrison to a six-year, $27.6 million contract. Vancouver is expecting to see exponential growth from defenseman Christopher Tanev, who is likely slotted for the third pair with Keith Ballard, and Cam Barker was signed to add depth.
"[The Canucks] present a great opportunity to win and that was more of a factor than anything," Schneider said. "I've really gotten to know my teammates and the staff and the city, and I really enjoy it."