It's hard to look back and believe that the team that caused riots in the streets back in 2011 fell so far by 2014. Again to put the blame squarely where it deserves to be on the back of GM Mike Gillis. Gillis found a way to screw up the best tandem in goaltending, alienate his best two way player in Ryan Kesler and sign the Sedin twins to expensive extensions that preceded a terrible coach, changing around all the things that had made the team the best overall team the previous five years not to win a Stanley Cup. They needed tweaking, not fundamental change.
I said prior to last season, it wasn't Alain Vigneault that needed to be replaced but Gillis as Vigneault was only as good as the players and contracts that he had to work with. Then Gillis hires the most acidic coach in hockey to coach the team with the most moody thoroughbreds. Gillis then unloads the Goalie of the future to the Devils that is pushing out the best goalie of the last 20 years. I would have fired Gillis right then and there myself. Then you have John Tortorella with the most moody and and untradeable goalie and a pair of elitist Swedish forwards that need constant succoring trying to find defensive identity. I don't blame Ryan Kesler for getting fed up with the management and the locker room.
Well a new year has dawned! Trevor Linden has stepped in and done what needed to be done by clearing out the acidic coach and incompetent GM. He brings in a very cerebral Jim Benning to GM and a new coach that has paid some hard dues in the AHL in Willie Desjardins to tweak a team that went off course. Canuck fans are going to be pleased with the steady hand of Benning as he guides and evaluates this team back in to prominence in short order. This will be a transition year that rights the ship and next year will be the team that makes a serious push back at the Cup. Desjardins will slowly evaluate the team chemistry and bring about a change that makes this team compete the entire 200 foot length of the ice. Kudos to Linden. On to the team!
Goaltending: Ryan Miller was signed as a free agent with experience by Benning the original scout that brought him to Buffalo. For the first time in several years Miller will come to camp and play for a new system that will play to his strengths and play well in front him. Eddie Lack the next goalie of the future will find Miller to be an excellent mentor and sharer of the pipes. They'll be a true tandem and be a top 10-15 Jennings pairing. The depth of Jacob Markstrom in case of either being injured is a good fit.
Defensemen: Alexander Edler, Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis will anchor the blue line and allow for the mix of youth to start maturing in all situations with Chris Tanev, Luca Sbisa and Ryan Stanton. Injuries as the top three gracefully age may become an issue but better all around play by a more balanced group of forwards should help.
Offense: The Sedin twins need to recapture their point a game scoring touch and should be better by doing less drastic defending that Tortorella had them doing last year. Desjardins has plenty of quality forwards to do the many role playing jobs so that no one has to be asked to do something they can't. The addition of Nick Bonnino should finally stabilize a second line that should be balanced with new comer free agent Radam Vrbata. Splitting up both these pairs of forwards should be the basis of two different but successful power play squads. Linden Vey, Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen should provide high energy and some scoring depth to a third line. Zach Kassian should round out the second line giving Alex Burrows an opportunity to refind the chemistry with Daniel and Henrik. Other than Brad Richardson, I expect intense competition for the wing spots on the fourth line.
Outlook: I feel after a slow start this team will gain momentum and confidence as the season goes on. I pick them for fourth in the Pacific Division, but wouldn't be surprised if they finished third and in the playoffs. They have the horses and coaching, but it's a growing together season and Benning might shrewdly find them some help come trade deadline time.
Until Next Time!