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Gillis made signing Sedins a priority; Luongo next

Saturday, 08.29.2009 / 3:00 AM / 30 in 30

By Todd Kimberley - NHL.com Correspondent

This is the 29th installment of our 30 Teams in 30 Days feature, focusing on the Vancouver Canucks  franchise. In it, we look at the franchise as a whole in the State of the Union section, focus on the team's up-and-coming reinforcements in the Prospect Roundup section and recap this season's selections in the Draft Recap section. NHL Network also gets in on the fun with a block of Canucks programming Saturday night from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

STATE OF THE UNION

Drama. Intrigue. Even a dash of bromance, thanks to that now-famous red-eye flight to Stockholm.

And in the end, Vancouver General Manager Mike Gillis has authored a thriller of an off-season for the Canucks.

Gillis was met with a fair degree of skepticism in mid-May when he insisted at a season-ending news conference that he would be able to keep pending free-agent twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, along with superstar goalie Roberto Luongo, with the team, and still be able to balance the club's checkbook.

"It's up to me to find ways to make this work," said Gillis, who added the title of team president Aug. 4. "We think we have a way to make it work, and we intend to do that. In the clear light of day, we don't have financial issues here on this team."

There was outright panic on the Left Coast about a month later when the Sedin twins -- the twin faces of the franchise and two of the NHL's most dynamic and consistent scorers since the 2005-06 season -- tabled a proposal that called for identical 12-year, $63-million contracts.

But with time ticking down on the annual July 1 free-agent frenzy, Gillis and Assistant GM Laurence Gilman flew to Sweden on June 28 for a heart-to-heart with the brothers from Ornskoldsvik.

And just hours before they were set to become unrestricted free agents, Daniel and Henrik agreed to matching five-year, $30.5 million deals.

"To see Mike and Laurence come over here, it meant a lot to us. It made our decision easier for sure," said Henrik.

"I felt it was imperative that they heard from me how much we wanted them," said Gillis, "and what we felt about them, and the direction that we were going to go ... and the problem was solved."

Meanwhile, Luongo -- considered one of the top goaltenders in the world -- has one year left on his four-year, $27 million contract.

"I felt it was imperative that they heard from me how much we wanted them, and what we felt about them, and the direction that we were going to go ... and the problem was solved."
-- Mike Gillis

Doubts about his future in Vancouver were raised after Luongo's ordinary second-round series against Chicago, particularly his Game 6 meltdown that gave the Blackhawks a series-clinching, 7-5 victory.

Some pundits are insistent that the defending Northwest Division champions should deal Luongo now, while his trade value is high, should they be unable to sign him to an extension over the summer. Others questioned the theory that a team can win it all in the NHL's salary-cap era when the goalie is its highest-paid player.

Gillis seems to have smoothed those waters too; he recently said that he’s close to locking up Van City’s puckstopping ace to a multi-year contract. The two sides have set a Sept. 13 deadline for negotiations, since Luongo does not want talks to be an ongoing distraction after the start of training camp.

“I think, philosophically, we’re very close, and I think to get top players signed it usually does take a longer period of time,” said Gillis. “We’re getting there, and we’re confident that we’ll get something done.”

The silly season has also changed Vancouver’s complexion rather dramatically at the back end.

Gone is the longest-serving Canuck, shut-down defenseman Mattias Ohlund, who left via free agency for Tampa Bay and a seven-year, $26.25M deal with the Bolts.

Arriving are Christian Ehrhoff, 27, and former Stanley Cup winner Brad Lukowich, 33, via an Aug. 28 trade with San Jose that sent prospects Daniel Rahimi and Patrick White to the Sharks.

Also destined for blue and green is veteran blueliner Mathieu Schneider, who joined the Canucks on Aug. 28 by inking a one-year, $1.55M pact. Vancouver will be the 40-year-old’s ninth outfit in his 19th NHL season.

Up front, top-six forward Mikael Samuelsson, a Cup winner in Detroit, arrived via free agency and inked a three-year, $7.5M pact. Forward Kyle Wellwood, who potted a career-high 18 goals with Vancouver last season, went to arbitration and earned a 20 per cent raise.

Former Toronto stalwart Mats Sundin, brought back out of retirement to much fanfare by the Canucks in December, is not expected to return for another year. 

PROSPECT ROUNDUP

The crystal-ballers already are calling for Cody Hodgson to win the Calder Trophy next June.

Hey, no pressure, right?

Hodgson, the captain of Canada's 2009 World Junior Championship gold medalists, recently was chosen by The Hockey News as the odds-on favorite to be named the NHL's next top rookie, beating out John Tavares and Nikita Filatov.

So it's not much of a secret that the Vancouver Canucks expect the 2008 first-round pick (No. 10) to get comfortable at GM Place this winter.

"Whatever level of play he's confronted with, he adjusts to the speed of the game and the players he's playing with," said Scott Arniel, the coach of the Manitoba Moose, the Canucks' AHL affiliate, which welcomed Hodgson for its final 11 playoff games last spring.

"If everybody ... (has) patience, he'll be a bit like (Tampa Bay's Steven) Stamkos, in that it might take him a little bit to get going, but once he gets comfortable, he'll be good."

Hodgson (6-foot, 185 pounds), who had 92 points in 53 regular-season games last season with the OHL's Brampton Battalion, followed by 31 points in 21 OHL playoff games, is being eyed as the third-line center heading into training camp.

Here's a look at the Canucks' other top prospects:

Cory Schneider -- The AHL's reigning goalie of the year is expected to battle with free-agent pickup Andrew Raycroft for the backup netminding job in Vancouver. The 23-year-old backstopped the Moose to the Calder Cup final in his second AHL campaign, going 14-7 in the playoffs with a 2.15 goals-against average and .922 save percentage, after compiling a superb 28-10-1 mark during the regular season. He also made his NHL debut in last season, posting a 3.38 GAA in eight games while Roberto Luongo recovered from a groin injury.

Michael Grabner -- One of only two Austrians to hear his name called in the first round, this 6-foot, 170-pound right wing began to turn into more of a playmaker during his second full AHL season, scoring 30 goals for Manitoba. The 2006 first-round pick (No. 14) has great speed and a heck of a shot. "I'm not sure whether (Schneider) and Grabner are full-season ready for the NHL, but they're really close," said Arniel.

Yann Sauve -- The 6-3, 220-pound defenseman, taken in the second round in 2008, was once considered a terrific prospective two-way blueliner, but his offensive skills have not developed along with the rest of his attributes. After a 30-point season in 2008-09 with the QMJHL's Saint John Sea Dogs, Sauve will return there for another winter, and then likely move on to minor pro for further development.

Taylor Ellington -- Big, tough and ornery, at 6-foot and 200 pounds, Ellington patrols the blue line with a chip on his shoulder. The 2007 second-round pick (No. 33) finished his time with the WHL's Everett Silvertips last season, and will cut his teeth in minor pro for a season or two before trying to sell his stay-at-home style to Canucks brass.

DRAFT RECAP

The Canucks entered the 2009 Entry Draft counting on character. They think they got it in spades.

"We spent a great deal of time and effort," said Vancouver Assistant General Manager Laurence Gilman, "looking at who these young men are, and what they're like as individuals, (in addition to) looking at their skill sets on the ice."

Here's a look at the seven draftees who constitute the Canucks' Class of 2009:

Jordan Schroeder -- The Canucks were delighted that one of the draft's most prolific scorers was available for them at No. 22. An undersized center at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, Schroeder was the WCHA's rookie of the year after posting 45 points, including 32 assists, in 35 games for the University of Minnesota. Schroeder is blessed with creativity and playmaking skills, but also shows grit and character.

Anton Rodin -- The club went small again in taking this 5-11, 174-pound Swedish forward in the second round (No. 53). A pure goal scorer, Rodin had 29 in 37 games with Brynas' SuperElit junior outfit. He's said to have great puckhandling acumen, but also has a knack for scoring highlight-reel goals. The big question is whether he'll hold up against men's-caliber competition.

Kevin Connauton -- This 6-1, 185-pound defenseman, taken in the third round (No. 83) earned an honorable mention on the CCHA's all-rookie team after a decent debut season with Western Michigan. An offensive-minded blueliner, Connauton is said to exude poise, patience and tremendous playmaking vision. "He might be the biggest sleeper, even though he was our third pick," said Canucks associate head scout Thomas Gradin.

Jeremy Price -- The Canucks used their fourth-round pick (No. 113) to take this 6-1, 175-pound blueliner from the Nepean Raiders of the Central Junior 'A' Hockey League. Price, who committed to Colgate, was a giant piece of his club's power-play puzzle, and has potential as an offensive defenseman, although he needs to continue building muscle.

Peter Andersson -- The club's second selection from Sweden, Andersson already is 6-3 and 194 pounds, and has potential to get bigger. Taken in the fifth round (No. 143), this steady defenseman is said by scouts to have a nifty point shot, but still needs to concentrate on his own end and get more aggressive.

Joe Cannata -- In the sixth round (No. 173), the Canucks made Cannata the first Merrimack goaltender drafted since 1991. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, Cannata possesses confidence and a calm demeanor in the crease, and turned in a .918 save percentage and 2.35 GAA through 23 games last season.

Steven Anthony -- Anthony represents the Canucks' lone Canadian major junior pick. A 6-1, 205-pound power forward with the QMJHL's Saint John Sea Dogs, scouts say his work ethic and consistency need serious attention. "He scored incredibly high on our intelligence testing and our character assessment," said GM Mike Gillis. "We felt he was most definitely worth a seventh-round pick."
Quote of the Day

He seemed to thrive on his own and didn't really need any push from me. I certainly don't want to get in the way of the coaches. You see how that goes sometimes. I never really worried about it and just enjoyed the ride.

— David Ekblad on his son's [Aaron Ekblad] journey to the NHL, signing with the Florida Panthers