Expectations are high as they have ever been for the Canucks. A number of publications and prognosticators believe this is the season they can win a Stanley Cup Championship that has eluded them throughout the franchise's 39-year history.
"We love what we have in the locker room and we feel we can do great things," goaltender Roberto Luongo said.
There is reason for optimism after the Canucks signed much-sought free agent defenseman Dan Hamhuis (7.2 GVT last season for the Predators) and traded for another quality defenseman when they acquired Keith Bullard (5.2) from the Panthers. The Canucks also bolstered their third line considerably by signing Manny Malhotra (7.4 for the Sharks) and Raffi Torres (5.4 for the Sabres and Blue Jackets) on the free agent market.
While the Canucks should score plenty of goals, defense remains the big question mark despite the additions of Hamhuis and Bullard. The Canucks will be without Sami Salo (8.3), who tore his Achilles tendon playing floorball over the summer and isn't expected back until at least January, with the fear the 36-year-old could be forced to sit out the entire season.
Regardless, the Canucks have enough to win a weak Northeast Division. However, the expectations are much greater than that, including getting past the second round after being eliminated at that stage of the playoffs by the Blackhawks last season.
"It's nice to hear those things and the talent is definitely there, but we all know in this game it takes more than talent to win a Cup," Luongo said of the hype. "Things have to fall together at the right time. We have to be playing our best hockey as a team come playoff time, and that's what it's all going to be about, I think, once we get into April."
Meanwhile, Luongo will not be the Canucks' captain this season. He relinquished the role in the offseason because of the perception that anytime he criticized the defense as captain that he was serving his best interests as a goalie.
Luongo will also have to adapt to a new style of play. Roland Melanson takes over for Ian Clark, Luongo's close friend, as the Canucks' goaltending coach and wants his goalies to play deeper in the crease against end-zone pressure. That will be tough for Luongo, who has always preferred to play outside the blue ice and challenge shooters.
"It is a big deal. It's a huge change," Luongo said. "It's all fine and dandy in practice, but you don't know how it works out during a game. Obviously, it's going to be a process to get used to some of those things, but I'm willing to learn and willing to give it a shot and hopefully it will improve my game."
Rebuilding In Florida
On the other side of the coin from the Canucks are the Panthers. After finishing last in their division for the first time in the franchise's 16-year history, they have decided to make major changes that have left them seemingly far from being a contender.
Dale Tallon took over as general manager for the fired Randy Sexton just as the Blackhawks, the team he built, was making a run to their first Stanley Cup since 1961. Tallon wasted little time remaking the roster as he traded Nathan Horton (7.9), Gregory Campbell (minus-0.4), Victor Oreskovich (minus-1.8) and Ballard while stockpiling a fistful of first-round draft choices.
"I envision a day when we have 20 of our own drafted players taking the ice," Tallon said.
The Panthers had three first-round picks this year and added a total of 13 players during the draft. While that seemingly sets the Panthers up for a bright future, the present isn't so good as they have already tied the NHL record for most consecutive seasons without qualifying for the playoffs with nine.
The Panthers scored the third-fewest goals in the league last season and offense should be a weak point again. While the defense also lost Jordan Leopold (2.2) and Dennis Seidenberg (8.1) in addition to Ballard, the Panthers have an excellent goaltending duo in starter Tomas Vokoun (24.3) and Scott Clemmensen (4.0). The Panthers will need to play well in front of Vokoun and Clemmensen, which is part of the reason why they have had a physical training camp.
"The message here is we don't care how old you are, where you are drafted," coach Pete DeBoer said. "If we think they can help us win games, there will be a spot. There's no better opportunity than here in Florida. Guys are taking that approach. We're not the Stanley Cup champions where it's a love-in. We were the third-worst team in the league last year. There should be physical play."
Blackhawks Going For Back To Back Cups
The Blackhawks will raise their Stanley Cup championship banner and then the 2009-10 season will be officially behind them.
There has not been a repeat winner in the NHL since the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Few are giving the Blackhawks a chance of pulling off that feat, especially after they were forced to do some major summer remodeling of their roster because of salary cap restrictions. However, the underdog role motivates the Blackhawks.
"As far as I heard, no one is picking us to win this year, which is something I think will work in our favor," captain Jonathan Toews said. "Our No. 1 goal is to get back to the playoffs. As you see, it doesn't matter where you finish, No. 1 through No. 8. As long as you make the playoffs, you got a chance."
The Blackhawks lost 11 players from last year's championship squad, including playoff heroes Dustin Byfuglien (2.1) and Antti Niemi (9.6). Veteran Marty Turco (8.8) was signed to replace Niemi as the No. 1 goaltender. Turco is noted for his puck-moving skills and the Blackhawks spent much of training camp adjusting to his style of play.
"There is a lot of talk about the way (Turco) plays the puck and how good he is with it," Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith said. "Getting used to that at the start, communicating is the way to do it."
Caps Put 2009-10 Behind Them
No team had a more bitter ending to their season in 2009-10 than the Capitals. They won the President's Trophy with a league-high 121 points in the regular season then were upset by the Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs.
However, the Capitals say they have put the disappointment behind them and are ready to make another run at winning what would be the first Stanley Cup in the franchise's 36-year history. The Capitals led the league in scoring last season behind the one-two punch of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and owner Ted Leonsis couldn't be more optimistic about the future.
"I believe that if the Caps can qualify for the playoffs 10 or 15 years in a row, and we have a really good team that's young and has upside, that with continuity and that knocking on the door enough, we'll get our fair share of Stanley Cups," Leonsis said. "That's what I believe and I have to believe."
John Perrotto is an author of Puck Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.