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Busy, bold Vancouver summer ahead

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

For the second straight year, the Vancouver Canucks were bounced from a conference quarterfinal by a California-based team.

Last year, they fell in five games by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings. This year, it was a four-game sweep by the San Jose Sharks, prompting expectation among Canucks followers of change on and off the ice.

Over 50 percent of respondents to a recent Vancouver Sun poll believe the Canucks should replace GM Mike Gillis and coach Alain Vigneault.

The Sun's Cam Cole believes Gillis' mistakes this season - gambling on Roberto Luongo's trade value to improve and adding “another smurf center” in Derek Roy at the trade deadline - were costly. He also feels there wasn't much Vigneault could do with the lineup Gillis provided him.

Cole's colleague Iain MacIntyre acknowledged that point, but believes Vigneault is more likely than Gillis to lose his job.

Despite Gillis' recent stumbles, he built the Canucks into one of the NHL's top teams. They were Western Conference champions in 2011, dominated the Northwest Division (five consecutive first place finishes) and won the President's Trophy in 2011 and 2012.

The fact Gillis addressed the media Thursday to discuss the club's off-season plans suggests his job is safe.

Vigneault, however, might not be so lucky. Gillis may have built the roster, but Vigneault was expected to win with it. Since the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, he's come under criticism from fans and pundits, and there's already speculation over his potential replacement.

Of greater concern for Canucks followers is a roster whose window of opportunity for Cup contention has closed.

The Canucks currently have over $64 million invested in 17 players for next season, putting them against next season's salary cap ceiling of $64.3 million. Salary must be shed to become cap compliant and free up dollars to bolster their depth.

Most of their problems against the Sharks originated from their forward lines, which lacked offensive depth, faceoff skill and checking line grit.

Tony Gallagher of The Vancouver Province called upon management to make bold moves to address these issues and avoid sliding into mediocrity.

Among Gallagher's recommendations is shopping defenseman Alexander Edler (whose new six-year, $30 million contract begins in July) to a team like the Philadelphia Flyers, who are deep in young forwards but lack skilled blueline depth.

He also suggested shopping winger Alex Burrows (before his no-trade clause takes effect in July) and promoting Zach Kassian to the first line with the Sedin Twins.

The future of the Sedins could also be determined this summer. Both become unrestricted free agents next summer, and while still the Canucks top scorers, the 32-year-old twins are entering the downside of their careers.

If Gillis can bring in scorers to help the Sedins carry the offensive load, they would be worthwhile re-signings, albeit to shorter and more affordable deals than their current $6.1 million per season salaries.

The biggest issue, of course, remains the goaltending.

Gillis spent nearly a year trying to move Luongo, whose hefty contract (which contains a no-trade clause) remains a significant trade impediment.

It's been suggested the Canucks might be better off shopping Luongo's heir apparent Cory Schneider, as his age (27) and affordable contract (two more seasons at an annual hit of $4 million) would be not only easier to move, but could fetch a better return.

Undoubtedly there would be interest in Schneider - much more at this point than in an ageing, expensive Luongo - but this scenario would cause the Canucks more harm than good.

Luongo was made the scapegoat for the Canucks failure to win the 2011 Stanley Cup, with the criticism reaching a crescendo last season when Schneider outplayed him. That led to last year's mutual agreement between Luongo and Gillis a trade would be best for both parties.

While Luongo and Schneider handled the situation well, this cannot last another season. Luongo has already put his Vancouver penthouse up for sale and seems ready to move on in his career and his life.

If Schneider were moved, Luongo would face intensifying scrutiny and ongoing comparison to Schneider, especially if the latter went on to stardom elsewhere. The last thing the Canucks need is an unhappy, unappreciated Luongo between the pipes.

Gillis appears determined to move Luongo, but he won't get much in return now, and might have to pick up part of the 34-year-old's salary to facilitate a trade.

The Canucks could use one of its compliance buyouts to remove Luongo's salary from their books for cap purposes, but they would still be paying out most of the remaining $40 million of his contract.

Winger David Booth and defenseman Keith Ballard would be more affordable compliance buyout candidates. Both have two years remaining on their contracts at a combined cap hit per season of $8.45 million.

Trading Luongo (and possibly Edler) and buying out Booth and Ballard would free up significant cap space for the Canucks, which could be used to address their immediate and long-term needs.

Throughout his tenure, Gillis made bold moves to make the Canucks a Cup contender. This summer, however, he faces his biggest challenge, as his decisions will not only affect the Canucks, but also his future as their GM.

Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website,, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).


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