There are high expectations in Vancouver this season. With the nucleus of the team signed long term (with the exception of Ryan Kesler), the thinking is now is the time for the Canucks to take the next step and become true Stanley Cup contenders.
The only problems with that are the Olympics and the NHL schedule.
The Canucks annually put on over 50,000 air miles each season, usually the most in the league. Making matters worse is the compressed season due to the Olympic break. With more stretches of 3 games in 4 nights this season than last, the fatigue factor will be hitting the Canucks hard.
Then the Canucks have to go on a 14 game road trip while GM Place is stripped of all corporate advertising and renamed Canada Hockey Place. Now true, it is actually two separate road trips, 8 and 6 games respectively, as the Olympic break interrupts the trip. Vancouver players will get to go home for a week and a half.
Yet nearly half of the Canucks roster will not be resting and relaxing. It is possible that the Canucks will send as many as 9 players to the Olympics, possibly the highest total in the league.
Roberto Luongo (Canada), Ryan Kesler (USA), Sami Salo (Finland), Pavol Dimetra (Slovakia), Christian Erhoff (Germany) and Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Mikael Sameulsson (Sweden) are all likely to play, with Alex Edler (Sweden) also having an outside chance to go.
The heart of the Canucks roster will get no rest at all. My thinking is this is not a good year to bet on the Canucks because come playoff time, they are going to be pooped.
Detroit, Pittsburgh, Anaheim and Calgary are looking at similar Olympic commitments.
Maybe this will be San Jose's big year, finally, as much of their roster will be resting. They are looking at 5 key players, although there had been some speculation that Joe Thornton has played his way off the Canadian Olympic team.
With the compressed schedule and all the travel, it would probably be a good year to bet on an Eastern team to win the Stanley Cup. How about Boston? While Zdeno Chara, Marco Sturm and Tim Thomas will be busy at the Olympics, the rest of the team, including star center Marc Savard and power forward Milan Lucic, will likely be at home resting.
San Jose vs. Boston in the finals? The bottom line is in any Olympic year the Stanley Cup race opens up wide and is subject to some surprise teams making some noise. Whoever is healthiest come April will be in a good position to go a long ways.