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What key questions face Northwest Division teams?

Wednesday, 16.01.2013 / 1:21 PM / Features
By Dan Rosen
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What key questions face Northwest Division teams?
What questions does each Northwest Division NHL team need to answer to be successful, and do they have the resources to provide said responses?
1. Will Cory Schneider be a better No. 1 than Roberto Luongo?

That's the plan. The Canucks wouldn't be shopping Luongo if they didn't believe Schneider, 26, has all the goods to be one of the best goalies in the NHL, as Luongo has been for years.

Schneider has to prove he's worth all the fuss, and worth the three-year, $12 million contract he signed this summer. He was performing well in Luongo's shadow before finally breaking away from it in April thanks to his strong showing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he posted a .960 save percentage and 1.31 goals-against average in three appearances against the Los Angeles Kings.

2. When will Ryan Kesler make his season debut?

Perhaps the better question is will Kesler ever be the same player he was two seasons ago, when he scored 41 goals and won the Selke Trophy? It's a fair question considering for the second straight offseason he is rehabilitating from an invasive surgical procedure.

However, Kesler's season debut is first and foremost on the Canucks' minds now. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder in May and wrist surgery in June. Originally expected to be ready by November, the rehabilitation process has been slow and he won’t be ready for opening night.

Candidates to replace him as the No. 2 center include Andrew Ebbett, Maxim Lapierre and Jordan Schroeder, or possibly someone who joins the team in a Luongo trade.

3. Who is going to score other than the Sedins and Alex Burrows?

Vancouver's scoring depth is certainly going to be tested, at least early in the season.

Kesler is out indefinitely and David Booth has a groin injury that will keep him out for the first four to six weeks of the season. The only player left from the Canucks' original second line is Mason Raymond, who had 10 goals in 50 games last season after returning from a back injury he suffered in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

Not only do the injuries to Kesler and Booth affect the Canucks' secondary scoring, but it allows opponents to load up on the top line of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Alexandre Burrows.

The Canucks will need Raymond to return to his form from 2009-10, when he scored 25 goals in 82 games. Ebbett, Schroeder and Zack Kassian may not exactly be Murderer's Row, but they can all score. They combined for 50 points in the AHL this season.

However, it's also possible the answer could come from outside the organization. If Gillis is going to trade Luongo, he's going to want a proven second-liner in return -- preferably a center.

4. How will B.C. native Jason Garrison fare after signing a big contract?

Garrison cashed in on his big season with the Florida Panthers by signing a six-year, $27.6 million contract with the Canucks. Now he'll have to live up to the money for the first time in his career. His $4.6 million cap hit matches that of Kevin Bieksa, who was the highest-paid Canucks defenseman.

Garrison, who will replace Sami Salo, improved in all three of his seasons with the Panthers and topped out at 16 goals and 17 assists for 33 points in 77 games last season while earning $700,000, according to CapGeek.com. He scored nine goals on the power play.

5. Is Chris Tanev ready for a full-time role?

Tanev has played in 54 games along with 10 playoff games in the past two seasons. He has only three assists, but has served as a capable stay-at-home defenseman. He's entering the final year of his entry-level contract and the Canucks have him tabbed, at least right now, as being a part of their top six along with Garrison, Bieksa, Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard.

Jason Garrison
Jason Garrison
Defense - VAN
GOALS: 16 | ASST: 17 | PTS: 33
SOG: 168 | +/-: 6
There is a very real possibility that Tanev and Ballard start the season as the Canucks' third pair. That may make some fans uneasy, but Tanev has the ability to be a breakout performer because he's still young enough (22) and developing his offensive game.

Tanev is not going to light the lamp often for the Canucks, but he can become at least a threat if he improves his shot. He's not flashy, but his first pass is known to be quite good. He'll be given every chance to be a regular on the Canucks' blue line.

6. Will Zack Kassian develop into the rugged winger the Canucks need?

Vancouver traded for Kassian hoping he would become the bruiser it was missing in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. If he turns into Milan Lucic, well let's just say the Canucks wouldn't complain.

Kassian will be given a chance to earn a spot in the Canucks' top six to start the season. Vancouver will need to see him become the gritty, tough, crash-and-bang player he was in junior hockey.

The problem Kassian will have in Vancouver is the pressure to become that intimidating forward right away, because Canucks fans won't have to stay up late to see how Cody Hodgson is doing with the Buffalo Sabres. Hodgson was the promising center and former first-round pick Gillis sent to Buffalo in exchange for Kassian, so fans likely will measure the trade by tracking the career paths of the two players.

-- Dan Rosen