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January 10, 2013 | 5:44pm ET
Season Preview: Vancouver
By Spike Coffman, TheFourthPeriod.com

For Vancouver, there's only one thing acceptable to the players, management and their fans, and that is winning the Stanley Cup. After their devastating loss in Game 7 in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, the Canucks ended up running into the Los Angeles Kings last year in the playoffs. The silver lining with the Canucks is their core has stayed together creating a dangerous team that still has the ability to win.

Forwards

It's the same old cast when it comes to the offense in Vancouver led by superstars Daniel and Henrik Sedin. There isn't really too much teams can do to stop the dynamic duo as they continue to put up points. Alex Burrows should again rejoin the twins and be the final piece on the first line, Burrows hopes to continue his rise from being a pest, to a solid first line winger. Ryan Kesler's health is another key factor to the team, but unlike last season the Canucks should not be in any rush to get him back into the lineup. Even if that means waiting till the first round of the playoffs it's better for him and the team in the long run. David Booth and Mason Raymond will have to bring up their game and add additional scoring to the Canucks line up, as they unachieved last season.

Defense

Defensively, the Canucks added a big bomb that comes with Jason Garrison's shot. Garrison had 16 goals last season with Brian Campbell feeding him the puck, the assumption is that Garrison will be just as dangerous with Daniel and Henrik feeding him passes on the point. Garrison's addition also made the loss of Sami Salo a bit easier to handle for the Canucks. Dan Hamhuis will still be the anchor of the defense along with Kevin Bieksa and both are expected put up points, as well. Maybe the dark-horse of the defense will be Keith Ballard. Ballard has often fallen out of favor with coach Allain Vingeault and will have find the ability he had with the Panthers to regain his confidence, as well as his coach's.

Goalies

Once the lockout ends, the next big hockey story that will have everyone's attention will be: What will Vancouver do with Roberto Luongo? It has been rumored that Luongo will be traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs once the season resumes, but is there a possibility that Vancouver puts him on this apparent amnesty clause next season? Even though it is unlikely as the thought of losing Luongo for nothing is not a popular opinion of GM Mike Gillis. It will be expected that once Luongo is moved, Cory Schneider will become the cleat-cut No. 1 goaltender in Vancouver. It is a move everyone has seen coming after Vigneault put Schneider in for Game 3 in the playoffs against Los Angeles. Behind Schneider will most likely be Eddie Lack, Lack has put up solid numbers in a little over two plus seasons in the AHL between Manitoba and Chicago.

Projected Outcome

It's Stanley Cup or bust for the Canucks this season... just like it's been for the last few years. Losing Ryan Kesler to start the season will be rough, unless the team trades Roberto Luongo and adds a solid second-line center, but he'll be missed, regardless. Led by the Sedins, the Canucks are the favorites to take home top spot in the Northwest Division.

3 Players to Watch
 
Jason Garrison
It should not be a challenge for Garrison to adjust to the system in Vancouver, but it is possible it may take a while. Even if he struggles defensively, his offensive powerplay numbers will keep him as an important part of the team. Garrison did finish last season with plus-6.
Zack Kassian
Kassian will be an interesting story in Vancouver this coming season. With the shocking trade Cody Hodgson, Vancouver cut ties with the forward to bring in Kassian, who they believed would be their answer to the Milan Lucic's of the NHL. Kassian has spent time in Chicago during the lockout and he should be ready to step right into the lineup when the season begins.
Cory Schneider
How Schneider will react in his first full season as a starting goaltender will also be worth watching. The Vancouver media and fans pushed away Luongo for not being good enough, in their minds. Schneider will have to face this intense scrutiny now that he's the guy that will be expected to win. If Vancouver does win the Stanley Cup with Schneider in net, he'd become the third straight American-collegiate goaltender to lead his team to the Stanley Cup.

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