The past is tense, and the present isn’t perfect.
The carnival of a truncated NHL season is about to get under way and, in Vancouver, it will begin the way the last one ended: whither Roberto Luongo?
“He was,” Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said of Luongo, his teammate of the past six seasons, before shifting tenses, “he is a big part of this team and he’s been a great teammate.”
Luongo is set to be traded, the predominant theory goes, just as soon as the ink is dry on a new labour pact and the various sides have pored over its nuances. But perhaps Vancouver plays a slower hand, which means training camp could open with the loved-and-loathed goaltender in a jersey with a killer whale on its front for one last spin – potential distractions be damned.
Sedin was ever-the-diplomat Monday, after an informal practice at the University of British Columbia, the standard regime of the past four months for a small group of NHL players to stay fit and on the ice. He parried the question of unneeded stress, should camp begin with a veteran goaltender who was unceremoniously benched last April.
And if camp does open with both Cory Schneider (20-8-1, 1.96 goals-against average in 2011-12) and Luongo (31-14-8, 2.41 GAA) in Canucks blue, Sedin said: “It’s no problem at all.”
The Luongo saga is just the headline stress that shrouds the two-time Presidents’ Trophy winners, an aging team that was within 60 minutes of the Stanley Cup in 2010, and forcefully ejected from the playoffs in five fast games last April.
Whether Vancouver remains a top contender or scrapes through this shortened season like many other teams remains decidedly unclear. Scoring punch is the biggest question, with the 32-year-old Sedin brothers (Henrik and Daniel) off their peaks, and Ryan Kesler (22 goals in 2011-12) hurt. And Schneider will play more hockey than he ever has before in his turn as an NHL starter.
The short season will be unforgiving, Henrik Sedin said.
“It’s going to be like playoffs right away,” he said. “You can’t go through a four-, five-game losing streak – that means you’re out of the playoffs.”
On Monday, Henrik and Daniel Sedin were two of nine Canucks players on the ice, plus another dozen or so UBC Thunderbirds (including a couple goalies). It wasn’t exactly pro, but the players were moving.
Among them was a primary new addition: Vancouver local Jason Garrison, a defenceman who had previously plied his trade for three seasons in Florida and was signed in the off-season to a six-year, $27.6-million (U.S.) deal. Garrison spent part of the locked-out fall on the Canucks payroll in rehabilitation, working through a groin injury. On Monday, he raced alongside other Vancouver defenceman, including Dan Hamhuis.
“It was pretty simple,” Garrison said of getting the green light to get off the injured list. “I felt I was good to go and told [the Canucks] I was good to go.”
The bearded 28-year-old betrayed no worry of being hindered by the compressed schedule. “I’m not too concerned. I’m no different than any other player.”
Kevin Bieksa, a 31-year-old defenceman who is coming off his best offensive season (44 points), expressed confidence that the decision of many Canucks players to stay home and work out in Vancouver rather than tramp to Europe is a smart one. “… We feel like we’re ready,” he said.
Sedin said any advantage others may have gleaned from playing overseas during the lockout won’t be a major factor as the NHL season unfolds. And it could indeed ebb to disadvantage, Bieksa added, as the calendar turns towards spring and the playoffs.
“You could look at it,” he said, “as us being fresh for the stretch run and the playoffs.”