VANCOUVER – For three veterans the Vancouver Canucks’ training camp might be the last chance to salvage an NHL career.
Forwards Owen Nolan and Todd Fedoruk plus goaltender Manny Legace all skated Sunday with the hope of proving they still have the talent to play professional hockey.
Fedoruk, 32, and Legace, 38, admit their tryout with the Canucks is also a showcase to other teams around the league. Both would be willing to sign minor league contracts.
Nolan, 39, said he’s focused on staying in Vancouver.
“This is the team I want to play for,” said the native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, who still looks as fit as many of the 20-year-olds he’s competing against for a job. “My main focus is to stay here.”
Nolan, who played last year with Zurich of the Swiss league, shrugged when asked if he would go to Vancouver’s American Hockey League team in Chicago.
“Let’s cross that bridge when we get there,” said the veteran of 1,200 NHL games with six NHL franchises.
Nolan would bring leadership and some scoring touch to the Canucks.
Fedoruk is best known as a fighter who might add some toughness to a team that has been pushed around in the past. In 545 NHL games with six teams he has 32 goals and 1,050 penalty minutes.
The Canucks already have goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. Legace, who has a 2.41 goals-against average in 365 NHL games with four teams, could help tutor young Eddie Lack in the minors.
Fedoruk comes with baggage. He has suffered concussions and has titanium plates in his face to repair injuries suffered during a 2006 fight with Derek Boogaard, then of the Minnesota Wild.
Fedoruk also has battled alcohol and drug problems. He didn’t play hockey last season but said he comes to Vancouver clean, sober and excited about the chance to get back into the game.
“That’s why the year off was a blessing. . . getting my priorities right and really taking care of some things I need to take care of,” said the amiable native of Redwater, Alta.
“That year away from hockey I could just focus on the thing that was dragging me down for years. There were so many people behind me in the decision to come back and play.”
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said Fedoruk has a clean slate with the Canucks.
“You have a young man that faced his issues head on and took care of them,” said Vigneault. “Now he wants a shot at playing hockey.
“It shows a lot of maturity in his case. He’s healthy now. He’s a physical player. We will give him the opportunity to do that and play on our team.”
This summer the hockey world was shaken by the death of Boogaard, plus fellow enforcers Rick Rypien (a former Canuck) and Wade Belak. The tragedies have renewed the debate over fighting in the NHL.
Fedoruk thinks enforcers will always have a role.
“I don’t think it’s disappearing,” he said. “It’s changed a lot.
“You have to be able to skate and keep up. You have to be dependable defensively. Your coach has to be able to play you eight, 10 minutes a game. The fighting before might have been your reason to stay. Now it’s like a bonus. You have to do two or three things before you can do that.”
Fedoruk knows this could be his last chance for an NHL job.
“When you decide to come back to playing, it’s got to be your last chance,” he said. “You can’t have another comeback after failing.”
Nolan has scored 422 goals and 855 points since the Quebec Nordiques picked him first overall in 1990. He knows the sands of time are running out on his career but believes he can contribute.
“If I didn’t believe in myself and believe I can make a team and help a team, I wouldn’t take this opportunity,” he said, arms folded across a barrel chest.
“I still love competing, what ever the coach wants me to play. Kill penalties, stand in front of the (net) during power plays, I am willing to do anything.”
Nolan had seven goals and 19 assists in 24 games in Switzerland last year.
“It’s a good skating league,” he said. “I think I proved to myself and everyone else I can still skate and keep up with those guys.
“It’s different hockey. It’s not the same as here. I like the smaller rinks, banging and crashing.”
Nolan could earn a spot with the Canucks to start the year.
Centre Ryan Kesler might miss the start of the season recovering from hip surgery. Forward Mason Raymond isn’t expected back until November after suffering a vertebrae compression fracture in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final against Boston.
Centre Manny Malhotra—who suffered a career-threatening eye injury in mid-March—underwent two more procedures on his left eye during the summer. He has been cleared for light contract during training camp.
Legacy spent last year playing in Germany. He’d like to stay in North America because his wife won’t fly and he doesn’t want to spend another six months away from her.
Being a team’s insurance policy in the minors would suit him.
“I’d sign a two-way deal, no question,” said the Toronto native who won a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2002.
“Hopefully something works out. I still love playing. It’s not a chore for me. I have nothing better to do.”
Vigneault said all three players will be given a chance.
“We brought those guys in to give them an opportunity to play and show they can still play at this level,” he said.
“That’s why we have exhibition games. We’ll let those guys do their talking with their play on the ice.”