When sports editor Jonathan McDonald suggested gazing into the crystal ball for the last column of the year, it seemed like a risky proposition.
Predictions of any kind are difficult, particularly with respect to the NHL’s collective-bargaining negotiations with their players and, assuming there will be a season, what might happen beyond that in a shortened season. That is totally uncharted territory for any modern-era team, given it hasn’t happened since ’95.
Looking into said ball is clear enough early on and the vision is no different than it’s always been.
There will be a deal because neither side can possibly endure a “no deal” scenario. It’s entirely too destructive for either side and, in fact, may already have been, so they’ll stumble their way to some kind of agreement and get the game back on the ice in some form.
And that’s where it gets interesting for fans of the Vancouver Canucks who aren’t strong enough to keep their resolve to stay away from the product the Aquilini family is peddling down at Rogers Arena.
There are all kinds of pressing questions about this team, the obvious and the not-so-easily-identifiable issues that have been quietly festering.
One would expect Keith Ballard to be bought out to liberate $4.2-million US cap space for the Canucks to get into position for next season.
However, in the meantime, he’ll likely still be around labouring under a coach who has essentially sapped most everything anyone remembers from what was once a very good and exciting player.
Ballard, of course, shares some of the blame for not asking to be traded, but the pathology is likely to continue for another season anyway.
Obviously, the health of Ryan Kesler will be front and centre along with the off-loading of Roberto Luongo, but then we come to the real puzzler.
It is a question that hasn’t been fully resolved in any obit over what happened last year; nor has it been much speculated about other than in discussions about the Canucks’ “window” to win a Stanley Cup.
We speak here about what happened to the Sedin twins in the second half of last season.
As many have conveniently forgotten, after that ridiculous roughhouse game in Boston, the Sedins essentially took a break from being the dynamic scoring duo they’ve been for most of their careers here and became window dressing.
Yes, Daniel Sedin suffered that concussion and missed the last 10 games, and Henrik was absolutely everything you could ask of a captain in that series against the Kings with five points in five games, splitting a gut to try to prevent the team’s early ouster.
But their magic was absent and, worse yet, they began mumbling about not having to score every night as long as the team wins — and other such perplexing nonsense.
Was that a temporary slump that could happen to anyone after a long 2011 run to the final from which they will recover?
Was it a function of a stumbling power play that had run out of energy and creativity, or was it the beginning of an inevitable decline for older forwards?
A couple of weeks back, Canucks GM Mike Gillis — in his never-ending quest to establish that this team does have a “window” to win — suggested the programs the Canucks have initiated will keep their players “healthier and keep them playing longer.”
He also thinks that, because of the way the Sedins live and train, they may not necessarily drop off as quickly as some might expect.
And there has always been this dominating perception that, when a player in his 20s goes dry, it’s a bad year, but when he’s in his 30s, he’s finished. And that is and always has been ridiculous.
But until they get back into the saddle and start pumping pucks into the net at their traditional pace, that question is going to be hanging over this team as much as any other issue.
And the riddle may not be fully solved until Kesler gets back up to speed to provide a genuine second-line threat.
The way things stand to start at least, any second line centered by the likes of Max Lapierre, Chris Higgins or any of the other candidates suggested may not induce open laughter from opponents, but it certainly won’t be classified as Stanley Cup material.
If all these issues go wonderfully well, this team could get back for a run at the Western final. If they get a poor start and these issues go sour, they could miss the playoffs.
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