Depending on who you talk to, the Vancouver Canucks are either going to exceed expectations and make the playoffs or crash and burn in the tank-race for Auston Matthews.
There’s no middle ground with partisans.
However, it’s easy to peer into a crystal ball and make a case for either scenario.
Hailing from the Lower Mainland, I was born into Canucks fandom, and as such, have experienced more heartbreak than Taylor Swift because of it.
I was eight years old in 1994, 25 years old in 2011 and I cried both times when the Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup finals.
The organization is still reeling from the failed Cup run of 2011 in the sense that they gave up a lot of draft picks and sacrificed their immediate future to win.
That’s one reason why they’ve had no young, early 20-something talent ready to crack the roster.
The club added former Calgary Flames first-rounder Sven Baertschi, along with Jared McCann, who was Anaheim’s first-round pick that Vancouver got in the Ryan Kesler trade last off-season.
Additionally, players like Jake Virtanen, Hunter Shinkaruk, Brendan Gaunce and Cole Cassels have breathed some life into the prospect pipeline.
They’ve shed some age in moving Kevin Bieksa and added some depth in Brandon Sutter, Brandon Prust and Matt Bartkowski.
So with that as a preamble, here’s why the Canucks will make the playoffs this season:
• Daniel and Henrik Sedin, along with Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows will continue to produce goals and assists at an elite level despite being in their mid-30s;
• Baertschi slots into a top-six role and thrives in his first full-time season in the NHL;
• Bo Horvat avoids the sophomore slump and builds on the second half of a stellar rookie season he had with the club last year;
• Frank Corrado graduates to the defensive corps and adjusts to the NHL game;
• Jake Virtanen makes the team and adds some much-needed sandpaper and offence;
• Ryan Miller stands on his head;
• Luca Sbisa sits in the press box.
If it was one thing that exposed the Canucks in their first-round playoff loss to the Calgary Flames last year, it was their lack of speed and toughness.
Micheal Ferland (or is that Ferklund?) single-handily terrorized Vancouver’s defence on the forecheck, while players like Sam ‘Did you know he’s only 18?’ Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan skated circles around a sluggish Vancouver squad.
Game Six was a throwback to the Alain Vigneault era, where Vancouver started strong with a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes and ran out of steam by the end of the third period to lose 7-4.
As for why the Canucks will miss the playoffs, it’s pretty much the opposite of the aforementioned:
• The Sedins can’t carry the team on their backs anymore;
• Baertschi, Virtanen and Corrado struggle to adjust to the NHL level;
• Sbisa plays;
• Miller and Jacob Markstrom struggle in net;
There are a lot of naysayers on the blogosphere surrounding the Canucks on the current roster makeup—specifically questioning GM Jim Benning on the acquisitions of Sutter, Prust and the contracts of Derek Dorsett and Sbisa—that feed the negative narrative for the upcoming season.
However, in the post salary-cap world, young (and cheap) talent is becoming more and more important to competitive NHL teams.
And the Canucks finally have some decent prospects to be just the pieces Vancouver may need to remain competitive in a brutal Pacific Division that is only getting better and better.
Training camp will be in Prince George this weekend and it’ll be interesting to see which prospects battle their way onto the roster.
Because there’s ample opportunity.
Trevor Crawley is a reporter with the Cranbrook Daily Townsman. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Trevor on Twitter via @tcrawls.