VANCOUVER, B.C. – It’s become an annual rite of spring on the West Coast: media and fans lamenting another Vancouver Canucks exit from the playoffs and speculating on what changes need to be made.
Monday’s 7-5 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated Vancouver from the Western Conference semifinal in six games – making it 38 years and counting without a Stanley Cup for the Canucks.
“It’s all over but the blaming,” read the front page headline in one of Vancouver’s newspapers. “Blown away,” shouted the headline on the sports section in the other newspaper.
Once the heat of emotion fades, Canucks general manager Mike Gillis has some cold, hard decisions to make. His first challenge will be trying to resign Swedish twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who become unrestricted free agents July 1.
Whether or not he reaches a deal with the twins could impact Gillis’s ability to retain goaltender Roberto Luongo, who will make US$7.5 million next season in the final year of his contract.
Many frustrated fans pointed the finger of blame at Luongo after he gave up four goals on nine shots during the third period of Monday night’s loss. Others believe the twins should be shown the door. Many think the Canucks need an infusion of young talent.
“Luongo is highly overrated,” said one comment posted on a sports news website. “I hope the tears don’t stain the inside of his mask.”
Callers to a radio station were split.
One didn’t want the Sedins resigned.
“I think it would be a mistake,” he said. “I don’t think they put out the effort.”
Others came to Luongo’s defence.
“I can see why this town is a goalie graveyard,” said Ron from Burnaby, B.C., who argued the netminder is the biggest reason the Canucks got as far as they did.
Other fans were more accepting.
“It’s what happens,” said Brian Feron, as he lined up at a hot dog stand along Robson Street. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
“The Canucks have a great team. Sometimes the other team gets it clicking faster.”
Gillis, a former player agent, was hired last spring after Dave Nonis was fired. He made a big splash by signing Mats Sundin to a $5.6-million, free-agent contract in December. He also added players like Pavol Demitra, Kyle Wellwood, Steve Bernier, Ryan Johnson and Darcy Hordichuk to the lineup.
But the Canucks’ success during the regular season – Vancouver finished first in the Northwest Division with a 45-27-10 record – was due mainly to a core of players signed by Nonis. That included Luongo, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Willie Mitchell and Kevin Bieksa.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin were a bargain this year at US$3.575 million each. Daniel led the team with 31 goals while Henrik had 60 assists. They both contributed 82 points.
Keeping the twins could cost a combined $12-14 million.
Luongo, considered one of the top goaltenders in the world, has often said he wants to play on a Stanley Cup contender.
In his three seasons in Vancouver, the Canucks have twice been knocked out in the second round of the playoffs, and last year didn’t even make the post-season.
If the Canucks want to keep Luongo they will probably have to pay him around US$8 million a season. His salary, combined with the Sedins, could be a strain on a salary cap that is expected to drop by the 2010-11 season.
Gillis could decide to spend money somewhere else and trade Luongo.
Veteran defenceman Mattias Ohlund, the longest serving Canucks player, becomes a free agent in July. It’s unlikely he will be resigned.
Forward Taylor Pyatt, who was paid US$1.5 million this season, also becomes a free agent. Gillis may decided to let him go as well.
Sundin will probably decide this summer if he wants to play another season. If the Canucks want him back, it will have to be for less money.