Canucks in search of leadership

MATT SHORTT, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 11:54 AM ET

TORONTO -- Heading into the 2010-11 season, the Vancouver Canucks will be looking to defend their Northwest Division crown. That objective appears much easier to reach than it would have been a few years ago.

With Calgary's front office decision-making a topic for debate, Minnesota trying to find an identity under new management and Colorado and Edmonton both going through a youth movement, the Canucks can almost safely say they are lock for the playoffs.

Getting to the postseason is not something that has been a struggle for Vancouver since the lockout. It's getting past the second round that has put an obstacle in the Canucks road to the Stanley Cup.

Since the "new" NHL era began in the 2005-06 season, the Canucks have made the playoffs in three of five seasons only to be defeated in the conference semi- finals all three years, including losing to the Blackhawks the past two.

But the team feels it addressed its need for a stronger defense this summer by signing B.C. native Dan Hamhuis and trading for the hip-check master, Keith Ballard. These acquisitions added to the solid depth of Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Christian Erhoff, and Shane O'Brien, plus the oft-injured Sami Salo, give the Canucks a much better blue line than they have had in previous years.

Now that the defensive corps has been attended to, the next item on the Canucks' to-do list is to find a reliable leader to help this team over the hump and into the Cup Finals, a destination many experts have felt they should have already reached.

Roberto Luongo recently relinquished his duties as team captain, which was a very smart move on his part. A goaltender already has enough pressure being the player responsible for allowing as few goals as possible, and is often the first player that gets blamed for a loss or playoff exit. Who's usually the second person that gets blamed for such failure? The captain.

That's not to say goaltenders can't be leaders. In fact, Patrick Roy served in the role for the Canadiens and Avalanche during his star-studded time in the league, while Martin Brodeur does it for the Devils now. But they do it unofficially, because they have so much on their plate that being the person to motivate and be held responsible for an entire team is a tall order.

Luongo did the right thing by passing off the 'C' to someone else, and can now focus on being that last line of defense for his team and the same goalie that helped Canada win the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics this past year.

The question now becomes who will be named the Canucks' next captain. One obvious choice would be to slap the 'C' on the shoulder of reigning Hart Trophy winner Henrik Sedin, who became the first Canucks player to win the Art Ross Trophy and MVP.

With his brother Daniel injured for almost 20 games last year, Henrik showed the critics that he can play with other players not named Sedin. His on-ice skill and quiet, lead-by-example-style of play is reminiscent of one of the greatest Swedish captains of all time, Mats Sundin.

The only other legitimate candidate for the vacant captaincy is Selke-nominee Ryan Kesler, who has become a huge fan favorite due to his aggressive style of play. Kesler is another player who shows leadership on the ice by putting his body on the line in order to get the win for his team. Kesler does not seem like a player who is afraid of the media and will say what needs to be said to get results from the Canucks, important attributes one would want in their captain.

It would be smart to have the Canucks do what the Sabres did post-lockout and that is to have dual captains, one for home and one for away, allowing both a quiet Swedish playmaker and a hard-nosed American winger to be the new leaders of the team.

The team is an obvious favorite to win Lord Stanley's Cup after having one of the best goalies protecting their net, the reigning Art Ross winner providing offense, and a new-look defense that can help offer Bobby Lou a little help so he doesn't have to be the lone ranger in the defensive end.

Regardless of who's named their next captain, it's something that needs to be settled before the start of the season, or the issue will become the newest hurdle in bringing the first Cup to the city of Vancouver.


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