VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks headed into an off-season that could see significant change Tuesday with goaltending and coaching among the most pressing decisions facing Mike Gillis.
The Canucks general manager says he’s unsure about what he’s going to do with his goalies, but both Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider are clearly capable starters.
The difference is Luongo has 10 years left on his contract, while Schneider can become a restricted free agent on July 1st. Schneider also replaced Luongo as the team’s No. 1 netminder two games into the Canucks’ stunning five-game first round exit to the Los Angeles Kings.
Luongo says he won’t stand in the way if the Canucks want to move him.
“I don’t want to be one of those guys that is going to stand in the way of anything,” he said as players cleaned out their lockers. “I always want to put the team ahead of me first, and I don’t want to be one of those selfish guys.”
Luongo added he will do what’s best for the team.
“Even though I have a no-trade (clause), it is not my decision,” said Luongo. “Obviously, we’ve got a guy here that’s going to be a superstar in this league for the next 10, 12, 15 years.
“So I’m okay with that as well.”
Luongo posted a 31-14-8 record during the regular season with five shutouts for the Presidents Trophy winners. He recorded a 2.41 goals-against average and .919 save percentage as he and Schneider (20-8-1, three shutouts) ranked four in the NHL in team goaltending.
The 33-year-old is a three-time all-star and ranks as Vancouver’s all-time winningest goaltender. He also has a Williams Jennings Trophy to his credit after he and Schneider led the league in goaltending in 2010-11.
The 26-year-old Schneider feels he has earned the right to be a starter in Vancouver or elsewhere, but disagreed he has displaced Luongo with the Canucks.
“It can’t just be me pounding my fist demanding things,” he said. “It has to be whatever they decide to do and that has to be in accordance with what I feel is good for me as well. At this point, I don’t know what’s best for me.”
Meanwhile, Gillis expressed confidence in Alain Vigneault. Vancouver’s all-time winningest coach is entering the final year of his contract, but the GM said he would not discuss Vigneault’s future until he sits down with the team’s ownership group.
“Alain’s record speaks for itself,” said Gillis. “He’s a professional coach, he’s extremely hard-working, he’s a bright guy. We’ve gone through an awful lot in the last four years that have been really difficult things for all of us, and we’ve done it together.”
Vigneault did not attend a season-ending news conference with Gillis, but Gillis indicated the coach’s absence had nothing to do with their relationship.
Gillis also must make decisions on winger Mason Raymond, a pending restricted free agent, and defenceman Sami Salo, who is due to become unrestricted. The GM said Raymond will have to get back to being the player he was before he suffered a career-threatening back injury in the sixth game of the Stanley Cup finals last spring, which sidelined him until December.
“I believe I can still be that player,” said Raymond. “I know I can still be that player.”
Raymond chalked up his difficulties to his late start to the season, shuffling between all four lines and out of the lineup sometimes.
Salo, the team’s oldest player at 37, said he will take time to decide whether he wants to keep playing in the NHL or return to Europe.
Gillis attributed his team’s premature demise to a league-wide shift to more defensive style and the Canucks’ inability to recover from an emotional mid-season victory over the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
He also defended his heavily-criticized decision to trade centre Cody Hodgson to Buffalo at the trade deadline. Vancouver’s power play struggled down the stretch and in the playoffs without Hodgson on its second unit.
Zack Kassian, 21, a prototypical power forward who was the principal acquisition in the four-player deal, could not match the shifty Hodgson’s offensive output and was scratched for Sunday’s pivotal Game 5.
Gillis all but confirmed that Hodgson, a 2008 first-round draft choice (10th overall) who suffered a back injury in off-season weight-training supervised by the Canucks in 2009 and missed most of his final junior season in 2009-10, requested a trade out of Vancouver.
“I spent more time on Cody’s issues than every other player combined on our team in the last three years,” Gillis said. “We made a determination that he didn’t want to be here (and) built him into something that we could move.”
Kassian is the type of player that is usually impossible to get, he added.
“I think Zack is going to be a more influential player for us going forward,” said Gillis, who is entering the final season of a five-year contract.
Contending that Vancouver’s core players are still in their prime, he said the Canucks have to get younger and stronger.
“That’s the plan, and we’ll see how well we can execute it.”
Notes: Gillis and Ryan Kesler revealed the centre played with an undisclosed injury since February. Refusing to use the injury as an excuse for a lack of production, Kesler said he will have tests done before commenting further. … The Canucks banned still photographs in the locker-room Tuesday on the basis of a new league policy not to allow photographers into locker-rooms during the playoffs.