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Naslund's jersey to be retired, players honoured as Canucks celebrate 40 years

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

VANCOUVER - Former captain Markus Naslund will have his jersey retired and Orland Kurtenbach will be the first player named to the Ring of Honour as the Vancouver Canucks celebrate their 40th NHL season in 2010-11.

The Canucks will also wear their original sweater from the 1970 season with the stick-and-rink logo for this year's opening night on Oct. 9. The team will wear the throw-back jerseys in four other games during the year.

The announcements drew a cheer from 2,000 season-ticket holders invited to attend the Canucks' Summer Summit Wednesday night.

Mike Gillis, the Canucks general manager, also said he plans to meet with Roberto Luongo to discuss if the goaltender will continue to be team captain next year.

On another matter, Gillis said there are no immediate plans to trade defenceman Kevin Bieksa.

Gillis said the decision to retire Naslund's No. 19 was ''a no-brainer.''

''We looked at a number of criteria,'' he told the audience. "Contributions to the team, to the community, all sorts of different things.

"We found that Markus was in the higher categories of all of them. I know he's thrilled about being able to come back here and have his sweater retired.''

Naslund, a native of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, played 12 seasons with the Canucks. He recorded 346 goals and 756 points with the club.

His best season was in 2002-03, when he had 48 goals and 56 assists for 104 points and won the Lester B. Pearson Award, which is now known as the Ted Lindsay Award. The award goes to the league MVP as voted by the players.

Naslund's jersey will be raised Dec. 11. He will join Canuck legends Trevor Linden and Stan Smyl as the only players with their numbers retired.

The Ring of Honour is intended to celebrate Canuck players who have made a lasting impact on the franchise. Four players will be inducted this year.

Kurtenbach, the team's first captain and a former head coach, will be the first player to have his name included on the ring during an Oct. 26 game.

"It's an honour, as it was to be the first captain," said Kurtenbach, who attended the event. "I love the city and I love the hockey club."

The Canucks used the feel-good night to introduce defenceman Dan Hamhuis and centre Manny Malholtra, a pair of free-agent signings, to the crowd.

Hamhuis, a former Nashville Predator, seemed surprised so many people would gather inside the Rogers Arena on a warm, summer night to get their hockey fix.

"This would be the middle of November at a home game," he joked about playing in Nashville.

Gillis seemed mildly perturbed by some of the questions fired at him by retired Canuck broadcaster Jim Robson and current play-by-play announcer John Shorthouse, who acted as the evening's co-hosts.

"Are you guys part of the media," Gillis snapped. "You are retired and you work for me.''

Robson asked if Luongo would be captain next season.

Gillis and coach Alain Vigneault plan to discuss the issue with Luongo later this summer.

"We are going to discuss whether or not he will continue,'' said Gillis, reiterating a point he made at the end of the season.

"There is tremendous pressure in this city. If we are doing everything to allow this team to win, we will take into consideration his (Luongo's) feeling and our feelings about whether or not the expectations are simply too high and whether he can meet them in that position."

Gillis looked irritated when Shorthouse asked if former Canuck Pavel Bure would have his number retired.

"The decision hasn't been made yet," Gillis replied stonily. "We will continue and try to honour players that were meaningful and contributed to the community in a great way.

"If he meets the criteria, his sweater will be retired. We have a little way to go before that."

Bure is one of the most exciting players to ever wear a Canuck uniform and holds theteam record with 60 goals in a season. He left Vancouver under a cloud when he backed his demand for a trade by sitting out part of a season.

So far this summer the Canucks have been busy in the free-agent market. They signed Hamhuis to a US$27-million, six-year deal, and Malholtra to a $7.5-million, three-year deal.

Vancouver also acquired top-four defenceman Keith Ballard as part of a five-player trade with Florida at the draft last week.

That gives Vancouver nine defenceman, six of whom will earn over $3 million next season.

That has led to speculation the Canucks will trade Bieksa and his $3.75 million contract to make room under the salary cap.

Gillis denied any immediate plans to move Bieksa.

''We are going to do what is best for this team,'' Gillis told reporters later.

''Kevin Bieksa is a high-level player in the NHL, a top-four defenceman. You just don't suddenly come to a conclusion you want to eliminate those kind of players from your team.''

Gillis also took questions from the floor.

One fan asked if he would shy away from drafting Russian players over fears they may decide to play in the KHL instead.

"I think it's risky,'' Gillis said. "It's dependent on the player and his personality.

"I think we are going to try and stick with more Western Canadian kids than Russian kids."

Another fan asked if defenceman Willie Mitchell, who missed the last half of the season with a concussion, would play for the Canucks again.

Mitchell is an unrestricted free agent.

"We are hopeful he is going to be able to give us an indication over the next month or so if he's healthy enough to participate in NHL level practices and NHL level games,'' Gillis said. "Until that happens, we are going to be very patient."

Since going the NHL in 1970 the Canucks reached the Stanley Cup final twice. For many Vancouver hockey fans, the Canucks losing Game 7 of the 1994 final to the New York Rangers is the team's greatest achievement.

In recent history, the Canucks have won the Northwest Division three times in the last four years. This year's team had a 103 points and set a franchise record with 30 wins at home.

Centre Henrik Sedin won the NHL scoring race with 112 points and became the first Canuck to win the Hart trophy as the league's most valuable player.

Despite regular season success, the team has not advanced past the second round of the playoffs since 1994.

The Canucks lost this year's Western Conference semifinal in six games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.


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