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Shocked by trade to Vancouver, winger Steve Bernier hopes to improve his game

VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Canucks added some size and scoring potential by acquiring big winger Steve Bernier in a trade Friday and still haven't given up on the idea of luring hesitant free-agent forward Mats Sundin to the West Coast.

General manager Mike Gillis also said more deals could be in the works.

The Canucks obtained Bernier from the Buffalo Sabres for second and third-round draft picks.

Bernier, who split the last NHL season between Buffalo and San Jose, learned of the trade while playing golf in his native Quebec City. The restricted free agent was surprised by the deal but sees the move as a chance to establish himself as a top-six forward in Vancouver.

"When I got the call I was shocked," he said during a telephone conference call while still on the golf course. "I didn't see this coming.

"My job is going to be to play with passion, try to hit, try to create space for my linemates doing the simple things. I see a chance and I don't want to leave it. I don't want to get nervous but it is always fun to see an opening like this."

The 23-year-old had 32 points (16-16) in 76 games last year with the Sabres and Sharks.

Gillis said Bernier's combination of size, age and skill fits into the blueprint the Canucks are building from.

"We were looking for a large forward, a right-handed shot that was younger," said Gillis. "When his availability came to my attention we jumped on it really quickly and got something done."

On the Sundin front, Gillis said he's willing to give the Toronto Maple Leaf captain more time to consider Vancouver's US$20-million, two-year offer.

The 37-year-old Swede said this week he was "simply not close to being ready to make a decision about resuming my career at this time."

Gillis hasn't taken Sundin's hesitation as a rejection of Vancouver's offer.

"There are a lot of things going on that are not in the public domain that I'm not going to speak about concerning Mats," said Gillis. "I think the only public statement he made it's easy for the media and public to take it a certain way.

"We're confident we made a significant offer to a really top-notch player. We are prepared to maintain our position to get it done."

The Canucks are content to give Sundin "a little time" to make his decision, said Gillis. The team could also tweak its offer.

The trade for Bernier comes one day after former captain Markus Naslund, Vancouver's career leader in goals and points, signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers.

Gillis said the Canucks never made an offer to Naslund because he wasn't the right fit.

"I have said from the outset that if we didn't have the right fit here for Markus it didn't make sense for him to be here," said the general manager who used to be Naslund's agent.

"It's unfortunate. I have nothing but the highest regard for him and his family and what he's done here. I didn't want him to be unhappy playing."

Even with the addition of Bernier, plenty of questions remain about Vancouver's ability to score goals this year.

Daniel Sedin led Vancouver last year with 29 goals, Naslund had 25 and Ryan Kesler 21.

Fans were hoping Gillis would make a splash in the free agent market. He made headlines with Sundin offer but his other moves have been pedestrian.

Among the other forwards Vancouver has signed are physical player Darcy Hordichuk, defensive specialist Ryan Johnson and playmaker Kyle Wellwood.

"There are still a lot of things left to play out," said Gillis. "There still are a lot of things on the burner.

"We are going to be patient and make smart moves and not put ourselves in the position where we are boxed in with long-term contracts with players that might not fit with the profile of where we are going."

The six-foot-two, 227-pound Bernier was taken 16th overall by the San Jose Sharks in the 2003 draft. The Sharks traded him to Buffalo in February for all-star defenceman Brian Campbell.

In 177 career NHL games Bernier 45 goals and 90 points.

Despite showing flashes of talent Bernier shuffled back and forth between the NHL and the minor leagues.

"What I am going to try and do is always be at the same level, always play at the highest level I can play," Bernier said.

"Maybe I was up and down too much. I want to change that and be a very effective player for 82 games."

The Sabres get Vancouver's second-round pick in 2009 and third-rounder in 2010.

The Canucks missed the playoffs this spring for the second time in three years. That resulted in the firing of general manager Dave Nonis, who was replaced by Gillis.

Gillis smiled when asked how the league's other GMs were treating the front office rookie.

"I think I am being treated like any other new GM would be treated," he said. "I don't think I am being challenged any more or less than anybody else.

"We are being patient. We are trying to make the right moves for the long-term viability of the competitiveness of this club."



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