Don't Panic, Canucks Fans. There Are Still Plenty of Reasons to Panic.
Welcome to the stretch drive, the unpredictable and unstable back half of the NHL regular season. With All-Star weekend now in the rearview, the next break in the schedule is the part where it ends, and the looming conclusion to the campaign is enough to send teams and their fans into a tizzy. A win streak or an untimely losing skid can alter one's position faster than drawing a character card in Candyland. With so much on the line, the questions can come fast and furious. Are we good enough? Are we tough enough? Do we have enough depth? It's a nervous time.
Canucks fans should be used to this by now: we go through it every year. But, this year is different. This year, the Canucks appear to be in good standing, and there are seemingly few reasons to panic. Longtime fans could be forgiven for not quite knowing what to do with themselves. PITB is here for you. In the past, we've tried to inject perspective into the fanbase by Babcocking the Canucks, but this time, we need not dream up doomsday scenarios willy-nilly. These are real concerns. Here, for your masochistic pleasure, are a myriad of reasons to caress that familiar panic button--enough worries to make this whole situation feel delightfully familiar. Pure, abject terror after the jump.
Can the Canucks really win the President's Trophy? Vancouver has never finished on top of the league. Despite sharing the top spot, for the moment, with Philadelphia, they'll likely have to close out the season in record-setting fashion to keep it. The Canucks are currently on pace for an 112-point season. So are the Flyers. Can they hold them off? If not, can they win the Western Conference? Neither have the Canucks ever accomplished this feat. They currently hold a respectable 5-point lead over the second place Detroit Red Wings, but the Red Wings have won the West six times in their history, and twice in the last three years. When it comes to winning the conference, they have experience the Canucks don't.
How about that fourth line? This season alone, 12 separate guys have started a game in one of the three spots on the Canucks' fourth line. Some of these guys don't even play in the NHL anymore. The line has yet to develop any consistency or identity. The team has effectively gone the entire season without a fourth-line center. At times it's seemed like the Canucks have no idea what they want from the position at all.
Rick Rypien remains on leave for personal reasons. Will he come back? Will he come back in playing shape? Does the team even want him back? Will Alex Bolduc return? If he does, can he stay healthy? Is Aaron Volpatti ready for the playoff grind? In last year's playoffs, coach Alain Vigneault basically benched the entire fourth line in favour of a three-line rotation. The Canucks have said they don't want to repeat this, but with the questions surrounding their fourth line, one has to wonder how they'll suddenly become comfortable with the guys they've got. Apart from Tanner Glass, nobody appears to have the coach's trust.
The organization has called up Cody Hodgson. Is he going to play? Are they going to try him as the fourth-line center? I wonder if this is a bit of a gambit to see if the Canucks have an internal candidate before Mike Gillis targets a fourth-line center at the trading deadline. Every other guy on the farm who might be capable of filling the spot has seen a look, and nobody's stuck. Hodgson's really the last possible option down there. If he doesn't pan out this season, what's next?
What about the rest of the forward corps? The third line hasn't scored since the Jurassic period, and Ryan Kesler's linemates from last season have not been able to duplicate their success. Mason Raymond has gone cold, and Mikael Samuelsson has been spotty, leaving Kesler without a real scoring threat on his wing. He'll be an easy target in the playoffs if, when he's on the ice, he's the only forward teams have to worry about.
There are questions surrounding Kesler too. Kesler has a tendency to improve drastically in the back half of NHL seasons. The Canucks would dearly benefit from a continuation of this trend, but Kesler's really in uncharted waters here. He's an All-Star center now. He's third in the league in goals scored, having already surpassed his career-high in this regard. He and Daniel Sedin have scored nearly one-third of the Canucks' goals. The success of the team depends on Kesler continuing his torrid pace. Can he? Will Gillis make a splash at the deadline and perhaps acquire another scoring forward as insurance, or to complement him?
And once we're doing worrying about the forwards, let's look to the defense, where one could be forgiven for thinking things look somewhat bleak. Alex Edler has undergone a microdiskectomy and is projected to miss somewhere between eight weeks and the rest of the season. Will he return? If he does, will he return to form? What if he doesn't come back at all? A primary ingredient of the Canucks' success this season has been the consistency of their top two defensive pairings. Can the Canucks overcome the shake-up?
Can Keith Ballard fill in while Edler's away? Is either Chris Tanev or Lee Sweatt an NHL regular? They say Sami Salo is making strides, but he's still not strong enough to return. Nobody's certain he ever will be. Will Salo play this season at all? If Gillis feels that neither Salo nor Edler are going to return this season, does he trust the other guys to get it done or does he turn his attention to acquiring another depth defenceman?
HAVE YOU PRESSED THE PANIC BUTTON YET?
If not, good for you, because I think we're gonna be okay.