VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – After five months of no hockey in Vancouver, the Canucks are officially back in action. The team is kicking off its exhibition season with split-squad games — one in Victoria, the other in Calgary.
Host James Cybulski with Sportsnet 650 says it looks like the team is moving in the right direction.
“This is the first time in a half-decade that this city is legitimately curious and excited about what the Canucks are up to, and I think they’re ready to take the next step to contend for a playoff spot based on the off-season moves they have made,” he says.
Just because the team appears to be moving along, doesn’t mean you can expect a Stanley Cup soon.
“Trying to win a Stanley Cup by 2020 probably feels a little ambitious, but the Western Conference is deep. There are a lot of really good teams, but the Canucks substantially improved themselves in the off-season. What does year two of Elias Pettersson look like? If Brock Boeser gets back into the line-up sooner rather than later, how much better can he be to grow? And the additions of J.T. Miller, Micheal Ferland, Tyler Myers, Jordie Benn — quality veteran players that will help this team be better.”
Cybulski says fans should definitely be excited about the upcoming season.
“You have a good young core of players. Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Bo Horvat, Boeser are guys that are legitimate players in the NHL and then you look at the veterans – are they a playoff team? They’re going to need some health on their side. They’re going to need [to] overachieve in some areas, but they have a lot of talent. For the first time in a long time you can say that.”
Having too many injuries is something that has plagued this team year after year.
“But the difference, I think ,compared to being able to handle the injuries this year, is there is legitimate depth in the organization this time around. There’s some depth, at least in the bottom six, where there’s NHL-quality players that you can call up or have step in to replace certain guys who are injured, both on the back-end and up front. And with goaltending, it looks like you got something with Thatcher Demko to push Jacob Markstrom as well,” Cybulski says.
This season may not be a test for GM Jim Benning who recently signed a contact extension, but it certainly is for everyone else.
“It’s a test for Travis Green. It’s a test for the organization to say they’re going in the right direction. I think every year is a test because you want to ultimately win and this team has not been in a position to win for the last five years. Now this team has finally taken a step forward to try and get themselves in the playoffs. Look, I’m not going to proclaim this a Stanley Cup contender but I will say this, teams are not necessarily all about trying to win the division or conference now — people are simply trying to get into the playoffs, roll the dice and let the chips fall where they may when they get in.”
Cybulski feels the Canucks are a threat to other teams, especially given the fact Pettersson is a franchise player.
“There’s a lot to be excited about. You look at the Pacific Division, there are some teams that have been heavyweights for a long time that are no longer in that position anymore. The LA Kings are in a rebuild, the Anaheim Ducks are suddenly in a mess, the San Jose Sharks took some hits in the off-season as well. The Pacific Division is suddenly ripe.”
Puck drop in Victoria is at 7 p.m. on Monday and you can listen to the game on Sportsnet 650.
The regular season kicks off on Oct. 2 in Edmonton against the Oilers.