What now for Canucks?
ERIC DUHATSCHEK/The Globe and Mail May 12, 2009 at 11:03 AM EDT
A few days ago, Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo was asked about the team's playoff prospects, in the context of possible changes that lay ahead for the franchise.
The question was posed in a non-threatening manner - on the morning of the fourth game of a series against the Chicago Blackhawks, in which they led 2-1 and were more or less in control of their own destiny.
And while Luongo didn't want to explore his own future per se, he did note: This was the best Canucks team he'd ever been on and compared to two years ago, when they fell in the second round to the eventual champion Anaheim Ducks, he thought the Canucks had a deeper, more experienced team, with a chance to do some real damage in this post-season.
Shows you how quickly things can change in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
That night, the Canucks nursed a one-goal lead through 57 minutes, only to see it evaporate in regulation and disappear altogether in overtime.
Four nights later, they were done - answering questions about an opportunity that had slipped through their fingers, against a Blackhawks' team that continued to find ways of pulling rabbits out of assorted hats.
In this way, the series was startlingly similar to the one Chicago played in the opening round against another Canadian contender, the Calgary Flames.
Jarome Iginla, like his Canucks' counterpart Luongo, insisted this was the best team he'd ever been on - and lamented all the missed opportunities the Flames frittered away against the upstart Blackhawks, the first team to advance to this year's Final Four.
The Canucks, meanwhile, go home to ponder a future that could see a remarkable number of changes for an organization that saw its front office dramatically remade last summer, with Mike Gillis replacing David Nonis as the general manager and chief ideas' guy in the organization.
Much of what Gillis found in place, Nonis - or his predecessor Brian Burke - was responsible for putting there in the first place: Luongo in goal, an offence led by the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, a secondary cast that featured Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows- two players who had excellent breakthrough seasons - and a defence corps built around some skilled puck-moving Europeans.
It is difficult, in today's NHL, to effect immediate and massive changes in a short period of time, which is why Gillis's moves were restricted to a handful of changes on the periphery.
He signed Pavol Demitra as a free agent, away from the Minnesota Wild. He wooed and eventually coaxed Mats Sundin to sign with his team mid-season. He claimed Kyle Wellwood off waivers.
The rest of the improvements – from out of the playoffs to the third seed in the Western Conference standings and the fourth best record overall and putting the receipts for five home playoff dates into the coffers of owner Francesco Aquilini - came mostly from the holdovers, including coach Alain Vigneault, who he inherited and ultimately retained.
From now on, however, Gillis's managing skills will be put to the test, with the Sedin twins poised for unrestricted free agency, the same as Sundin and the same as Mattias Ohlund.
Negotiations to sign the twins to an extension continued all season and Gillis repeatedly struck an optimistic tone – publicly, they've said they want to stay; he wants them back; and that when two sides approach a negotiation this way, solutions can usually be found.
What makes testing the open market so difficult for the Sedins is that they travel as a pair - and thus, any team interested in securing their services needs to be in a position to make an offer to both.
Considering how many teams are pushing up hard against the salary cap, the idea that somebody has an extra $13-million (all currency U.S.) lying around in available cap space limits their options to a handful of choices - staying in Vancouver, possibly moving to Minnesota or most likely, reuniting with their former boss, Burke, in Toronto.
The Leafs have the available cap space and presumably the interest to bid for the Sedins, if they ever get to July 1 without new contracts in place.
Burke is an unabashed supporter of the Sedins - he moved mountains to draft them in the first place - and what's make Toronto so intriguing a possible destination is that they've had a chance presumably to pick Sundin's brain about the experience for these six months or so, or ever since the ex-Leaf captain turned up in Vancouver.
No one understands the pros and cons of playing in the centre of the hockey universe better than Sundin, their fellow Swede. One would think that on one of those long post-game airplane rides, the Sedins would have debriefed him thoroughly about the experience - one which Sundin has long said publicly was a wonderful thing, even with the unique demands associated with playing in Toronto.
Gillis will likely try to use the Detroit Red Wing strategy of getting the Sedins to accept a home-town discount so there'll be dollars left over to spread in other directions.
Question: Can he get them to play for $5.5-million apiece per season? That would be a bit of a bargain for two consistent point-per-game players, who have grown leaps and bounds as NHLers, on and off the ice.
And for the Sedins, the decision may come down to this: if the open market could provide an extra $1-million per season or slightly more, would that make enough of a difference in their overall quality of life to disrupt a situation which they feel decidedly comfortable in?
Seeing them, this past fortnight or so, it seems unlikely that they will try to get every last possible dollar out of the negotiation. It doesn't seem their style.
Instead, it looks as if their affection for the city and the franchise is genuine and provided the offer isn't too much of a lowball contract that it seems as if their contributions are being taken for granted, it is likely that they'll stay.
As for Luongo, he has a year to go on his contract and indications are that he will try to give the Canucks an answer about his intentions before the start of next year.
Luongo famously said in an interview with Hockey Night In Canada's Scott Oake during the year that even after the Canucks made him the captain, he wanted to take his time and examine the direction the franchise was going before committing there long term.
And if the signal that he sends is that he is unsure about Vancouver's chances of legitimately competing for the Stanley Cup, then Gillis - who looks as if he'll be the type of manager keen to protect his assets - may need to see what Luongo could perhaps get the Canucks in return as possible trade bait.
In a year when a team is just as likely to advance deep down the Stanley Cup trail with a Jonas Hiller or a Simeon Varlamov as its goaltender - or even the much-abused Chris Osgood - the notion that you need a Luongo, a Martin Brodeur or a Miikka Kiprusoff to bar the door may be re-examined around the NHL.
About the only safe prediction about the new Canucks' managerial team is that hard-headed business decisions are not beyond their abilities; and that if they need to remake a team for financial reasons, they will do so, without reservation.
And if that's how it plays out, by the time they reconvene in September to push forward for the 2009-10 season, it could be a whole different gang wearing blue and green.
Last edited by davetherave on Fri Jul 03, 2009 1:49 pm; edited 2 times in total