Canucks prime for Cup contention

Vancouver Canucks forwards Henrik Sedin (left) and Daniel Sedin will once again be counted on to...

Vancouver Canucks forwards Henrik Sedin (left) and Daniel Sedin will once again be counted on to carry the team's Stanley Cup hopes. (Getty Images)

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

The Vancouver Canucks are a team built to contend.

The Canucks have finished first in their division standings each of the past two seasons but have come up short in the playoffs, getting knocked out the by the Chicago Blackhawks on both occasions.

With the Blackhawks having been forced to unload a number of key members of their Stanley Cup championship team because of salary cap restrictions, the door has been opened for the Canucks to step through.

Whether they're able to will depend, again, on the play of their all-star goaltender, Roberto Luongo, and super twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

Those three stir the drink in Vancouver, and carry the team's hopes into another season.

They'll be surrounded by a strong supporting cast that includes newcomers Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis on defence.

A third consecutive Northwest Division title isn't out of the questions for the Canucks, but they¹ll have their sights set higher this season, looking to go deeper into the playoffs.

Forwards

Reigning league MVP Henrik Sedin proved he didn't require brother Daniel to ride shotgun with him all season in order to be effective.

That said, the twins always have been strong individually, but they are dynamic together.

If the Sedins are able to stay healthy this season, the Canucks potentially have two 100-point forwards in their ranks.

However, it won't be up to the Sedins to do all the scoring.

Also returning up front are Ryan Kesler, Alexandre Burrows, Mikael Samuelsson and Mason Raymond, so Vancouver should have plenty of offensive options.

They'll be a tough team to contain on offence.

Defence

Having been exposed by a dynamic Blackhawks team in the playoffs, the Canucks went out to bolster their blue line with the acquisition of Keith Ballard from the Florida Panthers.

The Canucks gave up some of their future to get the 27-year-old defenceman, who registered 28 points and averaged over 22 minutes of ice time with the Panthers last season. But if the trade helps the Canucks achieve playoff success, it'll be well worth it.

Hamhuis, also 27, was signed as a free agent and will strengthen a blue line that also features Alexander Edler, Christian Ehrhoff, Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa.

Goal

When he is on his game, Roberto Luongo is unquestionably one of the best goaltenders in the world.

However, having signed a big contract extension last off-season, Luongo uncharacteristically struggled with his consistency during 2009-10.

In the past, Luongo has had to go at it alone, prompting speculation he may have been fatigued by playoff time. The emergence of Cory Schneider this season should take some of the load off Luongo during the season, leaving him ready to go when it really counts.

Coaching, management

The Canucks are close to being an elite team and general manager Mike Gillis is hoping the new additions push them over the top before their window closes. With Vancouver near the top of the salary cap, management might need to shed salary at year's end.

The pressure is on coach Alain Vigneault to get the most of out his club and steer the players toward playoff success. If the team struggles during the season or falls short in the playoffs, it'll be Vigneault who takes the heat.

Intangibles

When you build a team to win the playoffs, the hope is they stay healthy during the long season.

Last year the Canucks proved they could get by without one Sedin twin, but they could be in big trouble if they happened to lose both for an extended period.

The same goes for Luongo, who has struggled with groin issues in the past.

The Canucks just want to be healthy and ready to go by the time the post-season rolls around. The likelihood is slim of the stars not being there.

It seems that only injuries could derail a campaign with such high expectations.

Fantasy pool hero

Henrik Sedin

Unsung hero

Ryan Kesler

Tough guy

Darcy Hordichuk

Sleeper

Dan Hamhuis

Rookie to watch

Cory Schneider

On the decline

Sami Salo


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