So what do Canucks fans have to look forward to this season?
Vancouver's only star is aging, injury-prone center Mark
Messier, whose uninspired play has contributed to consecutive
last-place finishes. The club's best offensive prospects,
19-year-old Swedish twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who were
drafted second and third overall in June, won't join the team
until next season. Moreover, the club's No. 1 goaltender, Garth
Snow, finished 1998-99 tied for the most losses (31) in the
league. His backup, Kevin Weekes, who was acquired in last
January's infamous Pavel Bure trade, has tons of potential but
has yet to win an NHL game in 15 starts.
Still, general manager Brian Burke insists that Vancouver, which
finished 23-47-12 last season, will fight for a playoff spot.
"We went out and signed [center Andrew] Cassels and [defenseman
Doug] Bodger," Burke says of those two free agents. "I don't
think it's fair to ask our season-ticket holders to wait until
the Sedin twins arrive."
Whom is he kidding? Cassels, who scored only 12 goals for the
Flames last year, can hardly be expected to revive the league's
fourth-worst offense. In fact, the Canucks' forwards were the
lowest-scoring group in franchise history. One good sign is that
former scoring whiz Alexander Mogilny, who had 76 goals for the
Sabres in 1992-93 but who slumped to only 14 in 59 games last
year, said he is motivated and ready for a big comeback. Another
positive is the preseason play of 21-year-old rookie wing Steve
Kariya, whose big brother, Paul, is among the NHL's elite.
As for Bodger, he's a 15-year journeyman who will not make much
of a difference on an inexperienced defense that relies too
heavily on 23-year-old star-to-be Mattias Ohlund. Vancouver is
hoping that defensemen Ed Jovanovski, 23, the centerpiece of the
Bure deal, and 26-year-old Adrian Aucion, who scored 23 goals
last season, a franchise record for a blueliner, can at least
take care of their own zone.
Vancouver has a better shot at making the playoffs next year.
Coach Marc Crawford, who replaced Mike Keenan last January, won
the Stanley Cup with the gifted Avalanche in 1995-96, but can he
work magic with players who, for the most part, have middling
talent? Next summer the Canucks may have plenty of cash to go
shopping with if Messier, who is finishing a three-year, $20
million contract, departs as expected. Then there are the Sedins.
"Our goal is to get better right away and make the playoffs,"
says Burke. "But everything I've done in the draft and with the
Bure trade is oriented to the future. We'll definitely be better
when the twins get here."
Last year Vancouver became the first team in NHL history to have
as many as eight players score multiple shorthanded goals in a
season; nine Canucks did so.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
OFFENSE 24 Is Mogilny finished as an elite player?
DEFENSE 24 Unit needs to tighten its down-low coverage
GOALTENDING 26 Snow and Weekes have much to prove
SPECIAL TEAMS 22 Penalty killers must get more help from
COACHING 14 Crawford had the touch with ultratalented