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Canucks GM Dave Nonis won't be rushed into finding goal-scoring forward

What the Vancouver general manager may be more in a hurry to find is someone other than goaltender Roberto Luongo to play big when the NHL team needs it the most.

Nonis acknowledged Tuesday that Vancouver needs more speed and goal-scoring touch at forward but said he won't scramble to make a deal, either by trade or in the free-agent market.

"If we can improve our team in any area you look to do it," Nonis told a year-end news conference. "We are going to remain patient and make sure the moves we make help our team win.

"If there's not a deal there to be made, if there's not a free agent that helps us, you don't go chase him."

The Canucks were eliminated from the Western Conference semifinal by the Anaheim Ducks in five games. Vancouver's lineup was depleted by injuries and illness, but still some of players the Canucks depended on most didn't bring their best games.

"We need to find a way to make sure all our team can put their 'A' game out in the playoffs because that's the only way you can have success," said coach Alain Vigneault.

Nonis bristled when it was suggested the Canucks have a reputation of playing small in the big game.

"I don't think it's the culture or character," he said. "I don't think that is the issue.

"We do have to learn . . . when you have someone down you take care of it. That's where I think our players have learned that lesson."

Vancouver rode some workhorse goaltending by Luongo to a franchise record 49 wins, 105 points and first place in the Northwest Division. The wave of expectations grew when the Canucks leaped out to a 3-1 lead over Dallas in the first round of the playoffs, but needed a seventh game to finish off the Stars.

That lack of killer instinct left then exhausted heading into the conference semifinal. Vancouver looked dreadful losing 5-1 in Game 1 and blew a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 in overtime in Game 4. The Canucks played like a beaten team in Game 5. Some heroic goaltending by Luongo was the only reason the final score was 2-1 in double overtime.

Scoring was a problem all year for the Canucks. Vancouver managed just 222 goals during the season, the least of any of the eight Western Conference playoff teams.

Nonis hinted he may be willing to part with a defenceman if it means landing a forward with scoring talent.

"If we were to make a deal, more often than not, you are looking to bring back a forward," he said. "If we can make a deal that helps us bring some more high-end talent up front, that would be our first choice."

Vancouver has defencemen Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo, Kevin Bieksa and Willie Mitchell all signed. They also have young players like Alexander Edler and Luc Bourdon.

Nonis belted a couple of home runs with his moves last summer but also hit a couple of bloopers.

He looked like a genius for obtaining Luongo from Florida in a trade involving Todd Bertuzzi. Luongo was brilliant and has been nominated for the Hart and Vezina Trophies, plus the Lester B. Pearson Award. Bertuzzi missed most of the season after back surgery and was traded to Detroit.

Mitchell, signed as a free agent, has shown leadership skills that have already earmarked him as the next Canucks captain. Nonis also got Bieksa to agree to a US$525,000 contract.

A couple of deals didn't go as planned. Free agent Jan Bulis, signed for $1.3 million, went from a 20-goal scorer to a penalty killer. Forward Marc Chouinard was a bust and Rory Fitzpatrick is a sixth or seventh defenceman.

Nonis must deal with two unrestricted free agents this summer - forward Ryan Kesler and defenceman Lukas Krajicek - and make a decision on which of the 11 unrestricted free agents he will keep.

The Canucks have a dozen players under contract for next season for a total of $37.3 million.

The team can save some money by buying out two-thirds of the $1.2 million remaining on Chouinard's deal. The underachieving forward had just two goals and four points in 42 games with Vancouver and ended the season with the AHL's Manitoba Moose.

Next year's salary cap is expected to increase to between $46 million and $48 million but Nonis said he'd like to leave some room.

"I would prefer not to be that close to the salary cap," he said. "It's not a fun way to go through the year.

"We are not going to spend to the cap if it doesn't make sense."

One of the free agents Nonis will likely try to keep is Taylor Pyatt who had a career year with 23 goals and 37 points playing with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Pyatt will probably want to double the $700,000 he made this year.

"If those numbers make sense, would we sign him again? Yes," said Nonis. "I wouldn't rule out bringing someone else in and Pyatt still being here."

Nonis was forced to sign Kesler for $1.9 million last year. They were close to getting the restricted free agent for less until former Philadelphia Flyer general manger Bob Clarke put forth a $1.9-million offer sheet, which Nonis had to match or he would have lost Kesler.

Kesler had hip surgery Jan. 29 and missed the rest of the regular season. He returned for the first game of the Dallas series but broke his finger and was gone for the playoffs.

The Canucks will also want to hear if veteran Trevor Linden will retire or return for another season. The 37-year-old earned $600,000 this season and was one of the best Canucks in the playoffs.

"When I talked to Trevor at the end of the year I said take what ever time you need," said Vigneault, who has been nominated as coach of the year. "The organization is not going to influence him in any way or the other."



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