Whether the Vancouver Canucks return to the playoffs following a disappointing season remains to be seen, but they expect to put forth a collectively positive effort while trying.
With a new general manager and coach, the visiting Canucks look to open with an eighth straight victory over the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night.
Following two straight first-round playoff exits, Vancouver thought former Stanley Cup-winning coach John Tortorella could help it take the next step in 2013-14. Instead, his sometimes-abrasive and intense style failed to get the best out of his players and resulted in clashes with management.
The injury plagued Canucks (36-35-11) struggled throughout the season, enduring a 1-10-1 stretch in January and February and limping to a 2-5-0 finish. They were 12th in the Western Conference to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08.
Tortorella was fired after the one season and general manager Mike Gillis was also dismissed, replaced by Willie Desjardins and former Bruins GM Jim Benning.
It didn’t take long for the Canucks to feel more comfortable under the mild-mannered Desjardins, who makes his NHL head coaching debut after guiding Texas of the AHL to the Calder Cup last season.
"It’s not science, it’s not facts, but when you are positive around the locker room and guys are having a good time being with each other and having fun coming to the rink and competing, only positive results can come out of it," forward Alexandre Burrows told the Canucks’ official website.
"Everybody is looking forward to a bounce-back year. It’s going to be a lot different than last year."
Though the club’s attitude might be better, it must translate to improvement on the ice. Vancouver’s 191 non-shootout goals were the third fewest in the NHL and its power-play ranked 26th at 15.2 percent.
The 50 points from Henrik Sedin and 47 from brother Daniel were the lowest totals from each in the last eight full seasons.
Ryan Kesler scored a team-high 25 goals but was disgruntled with the organization and traded to Anaheim for forward Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Sbisa and two draft picks.
Bonino will be counted on to help replace Kesler’s offense after setting career highs with 22 goals and 27 assists last season.
The Canucks also acquired Radim Vrbata, who is expected to skate on a line with the Sedins after posting 20 goals and a career-high 31 assists for the Coyotes.
"We are going to be a deeper team, and I think that’s why we should be optimistic," Daniel Sedin said.
Having Ryan Miller in net should also be reason for optimism. The star goaltender, taking over after longtime starter Roberto Luongo was traded during last season, went 25-30-4 with a 2.64 goals-against average for Buffalo and St. Louis in 2013-14. Miller joined the Canucks with a three-year, $18 million contract in July.
Tortorella’s tenure in Vancouver was likely doomed Jan. 18 when he tussled with Flames forward Brian McGrattan while trying to get into the Calgary locker room during the first intermission of the Canucks’ 3-2 shootout home victory. Tortorella was furious with Flames coach Bob Hartley for starting a fourth line that included enforcers McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth, which resulted in a brawl off the opening faceoff.
The incident overshadowed the season series sweep by Vancouver, winner of nine of the last 10 meetings and three straight at Calgary.
Though the Flames (35-40-7) missed the playoffs for the fifth straight time, they went 19-13-0 down the stretch and won 25 of their NHL record-tying 49 one-goal games.
"We can have some strong points on our detail and our work ethic, but at the same time, our on-ice game has to obviously improve," Hartley said.
He will count on center Sean Monahan to build on a solid rookie season that resulted in 22 goals and 12 assists in 75 games.
Ex-Canuck Mason Raymond makes his Calgary debut after recording 19 goals and 26 assists last season.
Karri Ramo, who went 17-15-4 with a 2.65 GAA in his first season with Calgary, and former Duck Jonas Hiller look to provide a solid tandem in net.
"I think we took a good step last year," defenseman Mark Giordano told the Flames’ official website. "Our mindset has to be getting points now."