VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The NHL season has not begun yet, but Alain Vigneault's plans are already in danger of being tested, tweaked and, possibly, scrapped.
Heading into the lockout-shortened campaign, the Vancouver Canucks coach wants to keep his players fresh by monitoring their ice time closely. Ideally, he would like to roll four forward lines and six defensemen.
But the absences of injured center Ryan Kesler (shoulder, wrist) and winger David Booth (groin) have created two holes on the club's second line that could dictate otherwise.
"We're going to have to do a good job, especially at the beginning, of spreading the ice time around and making sure that the minutes our players are giving us are quality minutes," Vigneault said.
Under the extraordinary conditions of a 48-game schedule, last witnessed in 1994-95, it's impossible to predict how things will go, Vigneault said. But the club's research shows that a similar roster is needed in a 48-game schedule as in the regular 82-game version.
Accordingly, Vigneault plans to stick with what he knows — a veteran lineup — and make adjustments going forward as the Canucks attempt to win a third straight President's Trophy as the top regular-season team and get back to the Stanley Cup finals after losing to Boston in 2010-11.
"I'm going to, obviously, start with things that have worked in the past," Vigneault said. "But I firmly believe that talent has no age. If anybody can step in and contribute to this team, they will be here."
Journeyman Andrew Ebbett and Jordan Schroeder, Vancouver's first-round draft choice in 2009, are vying to fill Kesler's spot. Second-year pro Zack Kassian, acquired from Buffalo in the controversial Cody Hodgson trade last February, appears to have the inside track on replacing Booth.
Vancouver's other three lines remain largely intact.
The most significant long-term change is in goal with Cory Schneider tabbed to become the starter after displacing Roberto Luongo in last year's playoffs. Luongo, who is notorious for slow starts to the season, has looked sharp in workouts after honing his game with Quebec goaltending guru Francois Allaire during the lockout.
Luongo will provide goaltending insurance until his long-expected trade is finally completed and the club acquires a veteran backup.
With much of the attention on Luongo's future and the second line, Vancouver's major offseason signing — defenseman Jason Garrison — has begun his tenure with little fanfare. But there's no doubt Garrison, who signed with his hometown club after playing his first three NHL seasons in Florida, will play a prominent role.
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