Naslund struggled through his worst year as a Canuck in a season where goaltender Roberto Luongo became the face of the team and Daniel and Henrik Sedin finally made good on the promise of their potential.
There were many nights Naslund, 33, looked like a passenger on a train driven by Luongo, fuelled by the scoring of the Swedish twins, and kept on the rails by the Canucks commitment to tight defence.
“I know I can play better,” Naslund said as the Canucks cleaned out their lockers and said goodbye for the summer. “It wasn’t a lack of effort, I wanted to do well. It just wasn’t there.”
“I know I can do better, that’s the bottom line. I’m proud of what I do. I want to show I can still perform. I’m going to come back and prove that I can play better.”
The Canucks were still feeling the sting of losing their Western Conference semifinal series in five games to the Anaheim Ducks. Even with the loss, most of the players agreed the foundation has been laid for future success.
“Anytime your season ends you don’t view it as being a success,” said centre Brendan Morrison, who may need surgery to repair a sports hernia. “I think when everything settles down we can really build off this year.
“At the beginning of the year I don’t think many people anticipated us doing this well. From Christmas on, when we really started to find our groove, we proved we could win and be a competitive team. Overall, as year, as a team, it was successful.”
Vancouver set franchise records with 49 victories and 105 points to win the Northwest Division. They leaped into a 3-1 lead over Dallas in the first round of the playoffs, but needed a seventh game to finish off the Stars.
Against the Ducks, Vancouver struggled against a bigger, faster, stronger team. Despite some brilliant goaltender from Luongo, the Canucks were eliminated from the playoffs in a 2-1, double-overtime loss Thursday night.
One of the issues general manager Dave Nonis will address over the summer is Vancouver’s lack of scoring. The Canucks managed just 222 goals in the regular season, the least of any of the Western Conference playoff teams, and struggled to score in the playoffs.
“The lack of offence was probably the difference in the playoffs,” said Naslund. “We’ve got to be able to muster up more than two goals a game.”
Finding the money to pay for that scoring could be a challenge. The Canucks have a dozen players under contract next season for a total of US$37.3 million. With the salary cap expected to rise to between US$46 and US$48 million, that doesn’t give Nonis much to spend.
Of the 11 free agents on the team, Nonis will be most interested in getting a deal done with Taylor Pyatt. The six-foot-four, 220-pound Thunder Bay, Ont., native had a career year with 23 goals and 37 points, playing mostly with the twins, while earning US$700,000. He may want to see his salary jump up to around US$1.5 million.
Veteran Trevor Linden, 37, was strong down the stretch and one of the best Canucks in the playoffs. He earned US$600,000 and is a free agent, but hasn’t decided if he will retire or play another season.
“Being so quick after the season I can’t give you that answer right now,” Linden said. “It will take some time to digest the season.”
“There were a lot of positives for this organization. Right now I want to take some time and reflect and make that decision down the road.”
It’s doubtful whether free agents like Jan Bulis, Bryan Smolinski and Tommi Santala will be back.
Neither Nonis or coach Alain Vigneault were available Sunday.
Luongo earned his US$6.75 million paycheque by winning 47 games and having a 2.99 goals against average. He’s been nominated for the Hart and Vezina Trophies, plus the Lester B. Pearson Award.
The Sedin brothers had their best seasons.
Daniel led the team with 36 goals and 84 points. Henrik set a franchise record with 71 assists and had a career 81 points.
The brothers’ scoring touch disappeared in the playoffs. They refused to use a flu that affected them in the second round as an excuse.
“We are totally disappointed the way we let our team down,” said Henrik. “To lose game after game, close games, and you don’t score, that is tough to take.”
Between them Naslund and Morrison were paid US$9.2 million last season and were second-line players at best.
Naslund, who earned US$6 million, managed 24 goals and 36 assists. It was his least production since 1997-98.
He admits losing long-time linemate Todd Bertuzzi in the Luongo trade, and being bounced around on lines, took their toll.
“I was used to playing on a line for a long time with guys that you got used to,” he said. “It affected me more than I expected.”
“It took me a long time to really find my groove. I never played the type of hockey I’m capable of.”
Morrison had 20 goals and 51 points. It was his worst season since being traded to Vancouver in 2000.
The 31-year-old Pitt Meadows, B.C., native underwent surgery last May to repair a torn labrum in his hip.
Morrison’s name is often mentioned in trade speculation.
“If they feel they can move me and get an upgrade they are going to do it,” he said. “Do I want to go anywhere? Obviously not.”
“It could happen, it could not.”