Canucks eye post-season

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:45 AM ET

Usually, when a team undergoes a two-thirds overhaul, the benefits take a while to appear -- if they ever do.

In the case of the Vancouver Canucks, the mandatory waiting period is likely to be waived, if only because one of the many changes involves the starting goaltender.

Roberto Luongo came over from the Florida Panthers in a package deal in which he and Todd Bertuzzi were the headliners.

Over the years in Florida, Luongo kept the Panthers competitive. He routinely faced a barrage of shots, but often managed to singlehandedly earn the team a point or two.

The Canucks missed the playoffs last year by three points, so some observers make the case that Luongo needs to make the Canucks only three points better to prove his worth.

It's an idiotic assertion, of course, because these Canucks are so much different than last year's.

If you're going to evaluate the Canucks, you have to start fresh. For the most part, what happened last year is irrelevant.

But we do know that two of the returning players, Henrik and Daniel Sedin emerged last year as a serious force. For much of the year, those two, along with Anson Carter, comprised not only the best line in Vancouver, but the best line in hockey.

Carter departed because management was not convinced that the role he filled -- as finisher for the twins -- could not be done by someone else for less money.

So in came Jan Bulis, one of those waterbug types who has quickness to get to loose pucks, and a lightning-fast release to score from in close.

Of the 14 new faces on the Canucks this year, probably the two mentioned thus far -- Luongo and Bulis -- are the most important.

If the former can keep pucks out, and the other can put them in, the Canucks can be expected to show significant improvement.

But another new face, that of coach Alain Vigneault, will also have its effect. Marc Crawford had more than worn out his welcome with the Vancouver players and the mutual bitterness was taking its toll.

Vigneault is much more reserved, and for a while at least, that should reap some benefits from a team that had grown increasingly tired of temper tantrums.

But the Canucks are not a team without questions. When a team has a stack of new faces, some old faces must be missing.

Bertuzzi, for all his problems, had won a lot of games for the Canucks over the years, and the defence will miss the rock-solid presence of Ed Jovanovski.

In theory, it is Willie Mitchell's job to make the fans forget Jovanovski, but in fact, the whole defence corps is going to have to take on a different role.

Mitchell is solid defensively, having played in Minnesota for Jacques Lemaire, and if Sami Salo and Mattias Ohlund stay healthy, the Canucks have a solid defensive base.

The Canucks will not likely be a high-scoring team, even though their second line has some explosive quality. Matt Cooke will probably fill what was once Bertuzzi's spot with Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison. If that doesn't work, then perhaps Ryan Kesler, who general manager Dave Nonis snatched back from the Philadelphia Flyers, will probably get a shot.

But how will the Canucks do? With them having undergone such a major makeover, that's not an easy question to answer.

But we know this much about hockey. Success starts in goal, and if you've got an elite goaltender, you can go a long way with a less-than-elite supporting cast.

The Canucks' goaltending is excellent, and the rest of the team seems fairly good.

So expect the Canucks to be back up there with the big boys.


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