A couple of weeks ago, Canucks GM Mike Gillis touched off a firestorm in this market when he said a potential deal was in place with a mystery team for one of his goalies.
The timing of this revelation was interesting. Gillis was starting to take heat for his failure to resolve the Canucks' crowded goalie situation. It was also the only time he's spoken about the issue with such candour, raising the question: Did such a deal exist or was Gillis creating a diversion?
It's one of those intrigues that makes covering the Canucks so much fun. But there was something else Gillis said that day that should have resonated more deeply with the faithful, something he threw out that was lost in all the noise about the goalie trade.
The GM said the current edition of the Canucks is as good as the 201011 Stanley Cup finalists, which, you have to admit, is pretty good. But what if he's wrong? What if this team is, in fact, better than the team that came within one game of winning the game's most cherished prize?
The notion, admittedly, might be far-fetched right now. But it's still worth examining because there's something stirring with this team, and it was there before their impressive performance in St. Paul, Minn., on Thursday night.
If you consulted The Province website on Thursday afternoon, you'll see this subject was explored before the Canucks' 4-1 win over the Wild. That's because, since their season-opening homestand, the Orcans have reawakened the ghosts of 2011 while raising the question, just how good is this team?
It goes without saying the Canucks of two years ago were something special. They won the Presidents' Trophy with 117 points, 10 more than the next closest team. They led the NHL in goals scored, fewest goals allowed and had the league's best power play. Daniel Sedin led the league in scoring. Ryan Kesler scored 41 goals and won the Selke. And, for all that, the most impressive thing about those Canucks was their depth and balance.
The current team still has 16 players from the Cup finalists. But there have already been some developments that make you think this team could be better.
Two of them were visible against the Wild. Chris Tanev has taken a huge step this season and his development gives the Canucks the equivalent of four-line depth on their blueline. Tanev and his partner, Keith Ballard, have been playing 17-plus minutes a game and their contribution takes huge pressure off the top four.
To me, the play of the Canucks' blueline has been the team's most pleasant surprise thus far.
Zack Kassian, for his part, brings a dimension the Canucks didn't have in 2011. Come to think of it, it's a dimension the team's seldom had in its 42-year history. Kassian was impressive in St. Paul, creating offence and establishing a physical presence from the fourth line. His emergence this season gives the Canucks multiple options on their first line, their power play and their top nine.
Are there questions about these Canucks? Aren't there always? Much of where they finish this season depends on Kesler. If Kes-2011 returns, watch out. He makes the second line go. He makes the power play go. He plays head to head against the top centres.
People forget how good Kesler was two years ago. It remains to be seen if that year was a one-off or that's who he is. Either way, three-quarters of Kes-2011 would have a huge impact on this team.
There are a few other minor concerns. You'd like to see the Sedins scoring more but that doesn't figure to be an ongoing problem. It would help if Jason Garrison stepped up. David Booth? Still not sure what the Canucks have there and we may be waiting a while to find out.
But the point is they don't need Garrison to win the Norris or Booth to score 40. They just need solid, consistent production, which brings us back to the goalie situation.
The Canucks have built their early season record on their goaltending but it doesn't figure the current job-share will last through the trade deadline. That will present some issues of its own but think of this team with another impact forward. Think of this team with a rejuvenated Kesler, with Kassian and Tanev getting better by the game, with four lines and six defencemen contributing at a high level.
Now think of what that team will look like. Maybe it's an illusion. Maybe they can be that good.
© Copyright (c) The Province
Canucks, left to right, Maxim Lapierre, Zack Kassian and Daniel Sedin celebrate Sedin's first-period goal Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Vancouver has seldom had a power forward like Kassian in its 42-year history.
Photograph by: Getty Images, The Province