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Original Issue

16 Vancouver Canucks

In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Canucks
instead had 90 points in 2000-01, only the third time in their
31-year history that they reached the 90-point plateau. They
were then swept in the first round of the playoffs by the
Avalanche, the eventual Stanley Cup champion, but played tough,
with three of the four losses decided by one goal. Vancouver
still has only three players who are older than 30, and its
general manager, Brian Burke, felt pleased enough with the
Canucks' improvement--and sufficiently peeved at what he
considers outlandish free-agent salaries--that he made few
changes during the off-season. Maybe he should have done more.

Most important, no playoff contender is as thin in the net as the
Canucks. Vancouver is gambling that 25-year-old Dan Cloutier, who
was acquired last February and won only seven games in 40
appearances for the Lightning and the Canucks last season, can
regain the promise he showed as a rookie keeper with the Rangers
in 1998-99. With only 26 career victories, he's still a work in
progress, but the job is now his because Vancouver released
36-year-old Bob Essensa, who had 18 wins last year.

The Canucks' top sniper, Markus Naslund, has recovered from the
broken right tibia and fibula he suffered on March 16. Despite
missing Vancouver's final 14 games, Naslund scored 41 goals last
year, and he's one of the few wingers with the stop-and-go speed
and the quick release to generate his own scoring chances.
Vancouver looked lost without its go-to scorer and desperately
needs Naslund to recapture his touch. If he doesn't, Daniel and
Henrik Sedin, the 21-year-old twins from Sweden whom the Canucks
chose in the first round of the 1999 draft, must improve on their
respective 34- and 29-point seasons.

Crafty defenseman Mattias Ohlund, a 1999 All-Star, also appears
to be O.K. after a lengthy rehabilitation from an injury to his
right eye. Ohlund underwent three operations, suffered some
deterioration in his vision and missed 57 games over two seasons
after taking a puck to the eye in September '99. His help is
needed to fortify a defense that is led by rugged All-Star Ed
Jovanovski. Rarely has a team seemingly on the rise needed so
many pieces to fall in place just to get back to where it


COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Markus Naslund, Canucks

Fast Fact

With Markus Naslund in the lineup last season (playoffs
included), the Canucks were 34-23-8-7 (.576). When he was
sidelined by injuries, Vancouver went 2-8-3-1 (.286).



FORWARDS 12 Naslund's strong return from broken leg crucial
DEFENSE 20 Too many odd-man rushes; down-low coverage weak
GOALTENDING 30 If Cloutier doesn't progress, Canucks will fall
SPECIAL TEAMS 17 Quarterback Ohlund must increase PP scoring
MANAGEMENT 11 G.M. Burke has cut costs and made team better