30 in 30: Defensemen strength of Canucks lineup
Not only did they lose in the first round to a lower-seeded team for the second straight year, they've lost 10 of their past 11 playoff games after being swept by the San Jose Sharks. Not much has gone right in Vancouver since the Canucks had a chance to win the 2011 Stanley Cup on home ice in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins.
Last season was particularly wacky because of the ongoing goaltender saga. General manager Mike Gillis finally traded one of them, but it was Cory Schneider, not Roberto Luongo, who had long ago made peace with leaving Vancouver and finding a new home.
Gillis did receive a top prospect in return -- the Canucks took Bo Horvat with the No. 9 pick acquired from the New Jersey Devils -- but Horvat might not be ready to help in 2013-14. Vancouver's offense has stagnated and could use a boost up front.
Mason Raymond wasn't retained, and Maxim Lapierre signed with St. Louis. Brad Richardson was signed away from the Los Angeles Kings and will replace Lapierre as a bottom-six center. On defense, Keith Ballard was bought out and Yannick Weber was signed as low-cost depth.
Here is the projected 2013-14 lineup for the Canucks:
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
David Booth - Ryan Kesler - Zack Kassian
Chris Higgins - Brad Richardson - Jannik Hansen
Benn Ferriero - Mike Santorelli - Dale Weise
Tom Sestito - Zach Hamill
Alexander Edler - Kevin Bieksa
Dan Hamhuis - Jason Garrison
Frank Corrado - Christopher Tanev
NOTES: Let's start with the strength of the team: The defense will again be one of the top groups in the League, provided restricted free agent Tanev is signed. Beyond that, there are some serious questions for the Canucks, who could be hard-pressed to win their division for the sixth straight season.
Booth has to prove he can stay healthy and be productive again, and Kassian has to prove he is worthy of a top-six spot in the NHL. Kesler had multiple health issues last season and needs to show he is still an elite player. If any of those three aren't healthy or productive, Higgins or a young player likely would see second-line minutes.
There might not be a lot of offense from the bottom six either. There are a few young players -- namely Horvat, Jordan Schroeder and Brandon Gaunce -- who could drastically alter the look of the forwards if they are ready for full-time roles.
Then there is the goaltending. If Luongo is content and healthy, the Canucks could be fine. If he's not, Schneider isn't around anymore as maybe the League's best insurance policy.
The competition in the division improved a lot this summer, and not just because the Edmonton Oilers might have the best collection of young talent in the League. Realignment moves Vancouver into a division with the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks, and the California teams look like strong playoff contenders again.
If a few things don't break right for the Canucks, it isn't just the division title streak that could be in jeopardy, but reaching the postseason for a sixth straight time could be in peril.
Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter: @cmasisak22
2013-14 FANTASY PREVIEW: CANUCKS
Under-valued: Alexandre Burrows - Despite a disappointing 24 points in 47 games last season, Burrows still had a plus-15, 54 PIMs and nearly three shots per game, proving his overall fantasy value. He'll likely play with the Sedin twins, which means a return to the 30-goal, 60-point marks seem very possible.
Over-valued: Kevin Bieksa - After recording a career-high 44 points two years ago, Bieksa totaled just six goals and 6 assists in 36 games last season. His 21:56 of ice time per game were his lowest in four years and his offensive game seemed lost -- keep an eye out for how he's utilized under new Canucks coach John Tortorella.
Sleeper: David Booth - It feels like forever since he's been a valuable fantasy player, but at 28, Booth still has the speed and skill to have a solid year. If he can hold down second-line duties alongside Ryan Kesler, Booth could be a great draft pick late in the final round of fantasy drafts.
Follow Matt Cubeta on Twitter: @NHLQubes