Alain Vigneault certainly sounded cocky and confident Friday. As this shortened training camp begins, the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks is evidently pretty certain his team will be getting a centre back in an impending deal most everyone in this city is anticipating soon.
Vigneault patted himself on the back for developing every player on his roster who has had any level of success, including the Sedins.
The man many of his former Montreal Canadiens players used to call Mr. Gant — short for arrogant — and who has GM Mike Gillis’s undying loyalty, certainly projected the good feeling a team needs heading into what the coach terms “uncharted waters.”
Nobody would feel that confident unless he felt he knew something, because if you look at the roster as it presently stands, there are nothing but question marks everywhere. Unless there are some subtractions and additions, there’s no doubt A.V. faces perhaps his most difficult challenge since taking this very demanding job seven years back.
Unless the Canucks do get that centre, there aren’t many attractive options to a team which alleges — verbally at least — that it wants to play an exciting, uptempo style. After the Sedin line, no matter how the lineup might be augmented, it’s a pretty murky task trying to put together three more lines that might actually produce. And let’s be clear here: With games coming as quickly as they will in this condensed schedule, having an effective fourth line will be increasingly important as the season wears on.
Consider A.V.’s task as the roster stands. Try to make lines that you know have a good chance to succeed and you’ll find it’s as Harry Neale always described: like trying to carry three pounds of bleep in a two-pound bag.
There are a number of lines that might work, that could be effective short term, but none that has even the most remote chance of taking any team’s defensive focus off the twins. So get that centre in here quickly and pray it’s not Sami Pahlsson.
Either that or get Ryan Kesler to Lourdes, and hope his recovery pace quickens once he sees his teammates in action.
It’s not just the forward lines that threaten to cause difficulty as the roster is presently listed. After what is expected to be the No. 1 defensive pairing of Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis, it gets a little more tricky. Do you move Chris Tanev up to the second pairing, by virtue of the fact he shoots right, and pair him with either Jason Garrison or Alex Edler? Or does Tanev slide down to the third pairing alongside Keith Ballard? The latter is most likely. So you’ll have Garrison on the right side with Edler, to get mountains of ice time, and that third pairing starting out will also get lots of work, but their time will diminish as the need to win games increases. That’s always the pattern with this coach. That’s why they always start out trying to limit Kesler’s ice time, and why he often ends up playing more than 20 minutes a game.
Then we come to the twins, where this team may have literally become addicted to brilliant goaltending. That is precisely what Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo provided almost every night last season, particularly during the second half and in the playoffs.
One presumes Luongo will be gone, and the job will be turned over to Schneider who, as good as he has been in this town, has played just 68 NHL games and still has not yet proven he can be a No. 1 guy. Of course, Schneider’s done everything but multiply loaves and fishes here, including getting this team its only win in last year’s playoffs, but until he has shown that he can backstop a team in the vast majority of its games, there will still be an element of risk in a Luongo deal.
There are more risks if they keep Luongo here for any length of time, but there will be just that bit of angst about the goaltending when Lui boards that eastbound plane. Remember, Dan Cloutier was thought to be the next Marty Brodeur when he came from Tampa — and he had played 42 more NHL games than Schneider has when he arrived.
So is this team really a Cup contender? We’ll have a revised answer when Kesler returns, particularly if he regains top form, but until then your answer would not be words people in this town want to hear.
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