Hopes high for Canucks

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

Another new season but the same old questions surround the Vancouver Canucks.

For a few years now, the West Coast crew has iced a team that appeared among the best in the NHL.

Yet, here we are again in the fall wondering whether this will finally be the campaign for Vancouver to celebrate Stanley Cup success.

Or will it be yet another season of disappointment thanks to a premature departure from the post-season party?

Hopes are high for the defending Northwest Division champs this coming season but, as first-line centre Brendan Morrison points out, the real test is six months from now.

"We know we've had some good regular seasons but we know we're going to be judged by the post-season," said Morrison.

Actually, the judging will be in force long before the post-season heats up.

Hockey fans aren't just interested in how the Canucks fare in the win-loss column. They'll want to know how winger Todd Bertuzzi performs physically and emotionally coming off his suspension for attacking Steve Moore.

Morrison knows his hulking linemate will have plenty of rust to knock off before returning to the 46-goal, 97-point form he displayed in the 2002-03 season but believes it's just a matter of time.

"He looks good out there to me," Morrison said. "It's obviously different between practising and in the games. It's going to take a few games to adjust but he's going to be there.

"With the new way of calling the rules, he'll be a force out there."

Ah yes, the new NHL and its impact.

If there is a trio that could absolutely dominate should the obstruction clampdown hold true, it's the line of Morrison, Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund.

Even amid the mauling that was on display in 2002-03, they combined for 119 goals.

Should the trio be allowed to skate without being tackled, especially since Morrison and Naslund aren't in the power forward category, the sky would be the limit.

"I notice it more in the neutral zone," said Morrison, a player built for run-and-gun hockey. "When there's a turnover in the offensive zone and you're breaking up the ice for a pass, instead of fighting through somebody checking you can turn it on and go."

Throw in a second line that includes the Sedin twins, with Anson Carter apparently the newest skater to try riding shotgun, and it's a good bet Canuck fans will be watching a fourth straight 40-plus win season.

But, then again, the questions will return.

Are they finally going to be good enough?

Will Dan Cloutier put up a playoffs worthy of his regular-season performances?

Is there enough forward depth? Quality defencemen?

And the biggest of all: Why should anyone believe the Canucks will finally take the next step?

"Because of another year of going through the playoff process and losing in a tough game," Morrison answered immediately. "We played well but certain things in our game let us down. Our penalty kill was really good all season but we didn't do a good enough job in the playoffs.

"You have to be clicking on all cylinders for it to work. We have that ingrained in us."

Even with the playoffs the big test, don't doubt the Canucks are looking forward to simply getting back in action.

Aside from losing a year, the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season allowed Vancouver to get over the sting of losing to Calgary in overtime in seven games in the first round of the '04 playoffs.

"It's been a long year and a half and it was a tough loss," Morrison said.

"We had high expectations and still do and that's going to drive us."


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