After the Canucks were trumped by the Kings on Sunday night, questions will begin to be asked in Vancouver. It's difficult to call this season one of promise, but it was filled with optimism and thoughts of redemption for last year.
The year began slowly but picked up steam. The Canucks played well down the stretch and found themselves in the race for the President's Trophy to enjoy home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. That did not turn out to help them however, as they went 0-3 on home ice in the post-season.
So as the off-season approaches, there are likely three main questions that will be asked in Vancouver.
1) Who will be the main man in the crease next year?
Roberto Luongo had a typical season: a sluggish start and a strong finish. For the first time in a while though, fans were not all over him for his playoff performances. That didn't stop Alain Vigneault to substitute Cory Schneider for Luongo in an effort to jump start his team's lackluster performances early in the series.
Cory Schneider was solid if not spectacular in Games 3-4 and found himself starting Game 5 as well on home ice. He was great once again but now questions will be asked about management's choice to go with the back-up over perennial all-star Roberto Luongo.
Certainly a curious move by Vigneault considering goaltending was not the issue, and that Luongo has a huge contract still on the books. The move will force the Canucks to trade Schneider or Luongo in the off-season.
Schneider has been a consummate team player and put his contract on the backburner, but he deserves to be a starting goaltender. Assuming Schneider asks for a starting goaltender's wage and opportunity, the team will have to pick between him and Luongo heading into next year.
Roberto Luongo is a perennial all-star goaltender who lends instant credibility to any team, but carries some baggage of not being a 'big game' goaltender despite a gold medal and shutouts in the Stanley Cup Final. That criticism is not unwarranted though, as he has been incredibly inconsistent at times in the post-season.
Luongo's contract may be difficult to off-load, but there should be suitors for both him and Schneider. The question is, can the Canucks get a return of value for either one? What would they be looking for? A scoring forward or a top defenceman? We will learn as the off-season moves along.
2) Will Vigneault be back as Canucks Head Coach?
Alain Vigneault has arguably been the Canucks best coach ever. Clearly in the conversation with Pat Quinn and Marc Crawford, it would seem unthinkable to remove him from his post after a second straight Presidents Trophy. Many in the Vancouver media (and their fans) are calling for his head or assuming he'll be returning to Montreal for next season, but coach's like this do not come around every day.
Mike Babcock in Detroit has endured early exits in the past few years, but a blip on the radar does not put him on the unemployment line.
Make no mistake, letting Vigneault go would be an error in judgment. He's a solid coach and he is not the problem. The team struggled with injuries, had a listless power play, and struggled to create offence down the stretch.
The team did not lack for motivation and they did not lack for preparation. A more reasonable explanation for their loss is the personnel on this team. There are too many perimeter players on this group, and a noticeable absence of a number one defenceman.
3) Which forwards and defencemen will go?
After their elimination, Sami Salo indicated that he would like to keep playing for another season, if the Canucks want him back. You'd have to figure they'd offer him a contract unless they are exceptionally deep on the back end.
Their defense will likely consist of Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler as the three anchors, with Keith Ballard, Chris Tanev, and Sami Salo as likely returnees.
The past few playoffs have seen the Canucks face Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Zdeno Chara - among others. Obviously these defenders do not grow on trees, but the Canucks surely are a bit envious of these huge minute munchers that can control the flow of a game from time to time. The Canucks have a deep blue line, but it's difficult to call any of them 'elite'. A number one defenceman will be on their wishlist, but unless it comes in a blockbuster deal for Luongo or Schneider, do not expect anything on that front.
At forward, the team attempted to acquire some size and scoring with David Booth, but he and Kesler were pretty ineffective in the post-season, and did not click as planned. When Daniel Sedin was out with a concussion, the team looked toothless on offense.
Mason Raymond was under the microscope for most Canucks fans. Typical of his season, he was inches away from a wrap-around winner in Game 5. His fly by on Anze Kopitar in Game 4 was also not endearing. He's a frustrating talent who seems to be far removed from his promising season two years ago.
The Canucks will likely not have a lot of room on their payroll, but a Luongo or Schneider trade might also see a scoring winger come on board. The loss of Cody Hodgson via trade does reduce the club's offensive strength for a couple of years, as the Canucks top prospects including Nicklas Jensen simply will not be ready to be relied upon heavily in the coming season.
There is a window of opportunity in Vancouver while the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, and Luongo/Schneider are in their prime. There will be a lot of pressure on Mike Gillis in this off-season to make the team more of a contender and generate interest.
GM Mike Gillis is in a tough spot. He had a team two years ago that won every trophy possible but fell one game short. This year has to be considered a step back. The team traded finesse for some toughness but it largely went unused, with Kassian and Gragnani sitting most of the playoffs.
What angle will Gillis take for next year? Will the team get tougher? bigger? more scoring?
Look for Gillis to reload rather than rebuild.