Canucks ponder uncertain offseason

Associated Press
Vancouver Canucks' general manager Mike Gillis, right, and head coach Alain Vigneault look on during a news conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Friday June 17, 2011. The Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in hockey's Stanley Cup final earlier in the week. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The Vancouver Canucks were still dealing with the pain of falling one win short of a Stanley Cup on Friday.

They knew as they returned to the scene of Boston's Cup celebration to clean out their lockers and say goodbye — some for the summer, others perhaps for the last time as teammates — that it would eventually subside.

But it hasn't yet.

"It's been a rough 48 hours, it hasn't really wore off yet," goalie Roberto Luongo said. "You work hard all year to get to your ultimate goal and to fall short by one game is tough. It's something that's going to make our team better, but it's too early to analyze now. It's going to take awhile."

"It's still pretty raw," defenseman Christian Ehrhoff said. "But made it to the final game, so hopefully in a couple of weeks I can say it was still a good season."

The injuries suffered to get that far will take even longer to heal — in some cases probably well into the start of next season.

Still, an extensive injury list is one reason General Manager Mike Gillis isn't planning radical changes to a team that won its first Presidents' Trophy and made the finals for the third time in 40 years.

"The final wasn't reflective of the team we had during the season," Gillis said. "It's part of playoff hockey. It's a war of attrition."

It's a matchup they lost. But as the city cleaned up from the riot that followed Wednesday's Game 7 loss, Gillis said the priority was to get his players healthy for next season. It will be quite a task.

Speedy winger Mason Raymond's fractured vertebrae, suffered on a hit by Boston's Johnny Boychuk 20 seconds into Game 6, may keep him out through November. Top defenseman Dan Hamhuis will have surgery next week for abdominal tears from throwing a hit in Game 1.

Second line winger Mikael Samuelsson had abdominal surgery during the playoffs, and center Ryan Kesler, so dominant earlier in the playoffs, played for the Cup slowed by groin and hip injuries from the Western Conference finals. The hip may also require surgery this summer.

Defenseman Alex Edler played Game 7 after breaking two fingers on a slash in Game 6, Ehrhoff's shoulder, hurt during the conference finals, was "shot up before every game and he couldn't make or take hits."

Fellow defender Kevin Bieksa played through a bruised MCL in his knee in the final, Chris Higgins injured his foot blocking a shot in the second round, and captain Henrik Sedin had a back problem after a cross check in the same round against Nashville.

Manny Malhotra made an inspirational return from a career-threatening eye injury in the finals, but hadn't skated in months.

And Aaron Rome, who replaced Hamhuis, was suspended for a late hit that also knocked top-line Boston winger Nathan Horton out the rest of the series with a concussion.

"It's not an excuse, the better team won, the better team on the ice won the series," Gillis said. "But to go out and say we need to do 50 different things, I don't feel like we do. We led the league by a significant margin, we had the Jennings Trophy winners, we have multiple guys going to Las Vegas for (NHL) awards (next week). I think this is a competitive Stanley Cup team."

Gillis will have work to do just to keep the current group intact.

Bieksa and Ehrhoff will both be unrestricted free agents on July 1 and both could command significant raises from current salaries of around $3.5 million.

Veteran Sami Salo, who missed the first four months recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon, is also a free agent. All expressed an interest in returning, and Salo and Bieksa realize it might mean making less.

"Without making my agent's job too hard I'm optimistic," Bieksa said. "It's a great team, and it's going to be a great team for a long time, so you want to be part of something like that."

The team also faces unrestricted free agency for depth forwards such as Tanner Glass, Raffi Torres, Higgins, and Jeff Tambellini; and restricted free agency for Maxim Lapierre and Jannik Hansen.

Gillis didn't think it would be a problem to get the deals he wanted done, even with the NHL awards, where he is up for executive of the year, and the draft before free agency in two weeks.

"You can get a hockey deal done in five minutes," Gillis said. "We're intent to keep this team together as best we can with core assets we have and I think I can do it."

Gillis also made it clear he wasn't going to react to the Cup finals — and specifically to the perception the Canucks lost because they couldn't match the physical play of the Bruins — with roster changes, saying the series was called differently than the rest of the season and even earlier in playoffs.

"There were points where it may have reflected a different era in hockey," he said. "We designed our team around the current rulebook and the current method of playing and we were the best team in the league this year. I am not going to plan a team around competing with one specific team.

"We're going to make sure we continue to build depth that is playoff hockey depth, and retain our core players and try to replicate exactly what we did for 98 percent of this season."

And hope they find that extra 2 percent needed to finish the job next year.

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