The Vancouver Canucks have been ousted from the postseason by the Chicago Blackhawks in back-to-back seasons, so there is an obvious hurdle to clear, but while the Blackhawks were forced to shed pieces this summer, the Canucks bolstered their lineup with two veteran defencemen. Will it be enough to take them to the next level?
Acquiring Keith Ballard and Dan Hamhuis, while not much for fantasy impact outside of the deepest of leagues, ought to improve the Canucks' defense and, consequently, make life easier for goaltender Roberto Luongo.
Luongo won 40 games in 2009-2010, the second time in his career he's hit that plateau, but his .913 save percentage was his lowest since 1999-2000 and playoff struggles (3.22 GAA, .895 SVPCT) have increased criticism of the 31-year-old.
Whether Luongo comes up big at the biggest moments isn't particularly material for fantasy owners, however. He's a solid starter with a very strong team in front of him, so he's going to rank among the best options for fantasy.
It doesn't hurt to have some offensive support, too, and Luongo has that. Henrik Sedin led the league with 83 assists and 112 points last season and he ranks second among the Sedin Twins when it comes to fantasy value because left winger Daniel is nearly as productive (1.37 points per game for Henrik in 2009-2010, compared to 1.35 for Daniel) and he's at a position that has fewer bona fide scorers.
Playing alongside the Sedin Twins is a pretty sweet gig and it's helped Alex Burrows put up big numbers the last couple of years.
With 63 goals, 271 penalty minutes and a plus-57 rating over the last two seasons, Burrows is in a class of his own in terms of how productive he is across a variety of fantasy categories.
However, Burrows is coming back from shoulder surgery this year and isn't expected to be ready for the first month of the season, which will naturally hurt his overall numbers -- and who knows how ready he'll be to produce when he does come back? -- yet also provide opportunity for someone else.
Mikael Samuelsson could be due for some of that work, having scored a career-high 30 goals and 53 points last season and topping it off with eight goals and 15 points in 12 playoff games. If he plays with the Sedins for a good portion of the season, Samuelsson could reach those numbers again.
Second-line centre Ryan Kesler has evolved as an offensive force, earning more power play time and seeing his point totals dramatically increase from 16 in 2006-2007 to 75 last season. An aggravating player to play against, Kesler was one of just three players -- Evgeni Malkin and Corey Perry were the others -- to have at least 75 points and 100 penalty minutes last year.
Speedster Mason Raymond broke through with 25 goals and 53 points last year, his third season in the NHL. Can he take his game to a higher level, or is that production enough from a second-line left winger?
While Burrows is out, there will be an opportunity, albeit short-term, to play on one of the Canucks' scoring lines. Jeff Tambellini, Brendan Morrison and top prospect Cody Hodgson are among those in camp that could get a look in that role.
Christian Ehrhoff's first season in Vancouver was an unmitigated success; he set career-highs in goals (14), points (44) and plus-minus (+36). That kind of season means Ehrhoff is no longer a sleeper candidate on the blueline and the concern becomes whether he gets overvalued because it may be difficult to duplicate career-best numbers.
Steady progress has been the name of the game for Alexander Edler, the 24-year-old defenceman who tallied 42 points in 2009-2010. Edler's also capable of being much better than an even player (as he was last season), so could end up being just as valuable as Ehrhoff for fantasy owners.
Kevin Bieksa's offensive production has been up-and-down throughout his career and he has been a minus player for each of the last three seasons, yet when he is producing offensively, and accumulating penalty minutes at his typical rate (483 PIMs in 281 career games), he can be quite useful for fantasy owners.
It will be interesting to see how the Canucks sort out the ice time on their blueline. Sami Salo's offseason injury helps, at least in terms of dividing responsbilities, but fitting Ballard and Hamhuis into the mix means that someone (Bieksa?) could be on the outside looking in at the top-four ice time on the Vancouver defense.
Vancover Canucks Projected Depth Chart
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.