VANCOUVER – One of the issues any team faces when they go deep into the playoffs is a condensed offseason, with less time to prepare for the draft and free agency. Canucks GM Mike Gillis, in just his third season at the helm, will have some significant decisions to make in the coming weeks.
A total of 17 players who spent at least some time with the Canucks this season can become either unrestricted or restricted free agents on July 1. Topping the list are unrestricted free agent defensemen Kevin Bieksa and Christian Ehrhoff.
Bieksa, a Grimsby, Ont., native, was a fifth-round selection of the Vancouver Canucks back in 2001. Many believe he will be the easier of the two to sign, and he's indicating he wants to be a Canuck next fall.
"There's loyalty for sure, this is where I started my career, the team that gave me my first opportunity, without making my agent's job too hard I'm optimistic we're going to get something done," he said.
The 30-year-old had 22 points and a plus-32 rating in 66 games during the regular season, then seemingly took his game to another level during the playoff run adding 10 points in 25 games during the post-season.
"The core guys are guys I've grown up with, our kids have grown up (together), our families," Bieksa said. "Obviously there's some strong friendships there -- that factors into the decision making process."
Ehrhoff, who was acquired two years ago in a trade from the San Jose Sharks, led Canucks defensemen in playoff scoring with 10 assists and 12 points in 23 games. On a defensive corps that was decimated by injuries during the regular season, Ehrhoff was one of the team's most durable players, missing just three games.
He also sounds interested in staying.
"I like it here, I like the city, I like the fans, I like my teammates and hopefully we can find something that makes sense for both parties. I'd like to be back," said the 28-year-old. "Obviously I want to be part of a winning team, I want to win the Stanley Cup and I'd like to win it here.
"I think (my agent and the Canucks) will have some discussions and we'll see where it goes."
Gillis, a former player agent, was confident on Friday that he'll be able to come to terms with the pair before July 1.
"Well if I put my agent hat on, we've got tons of time," he said. "You can get a hockey deal done in five minutes. I've done hundreds of them. I'm not concerned about the time frame. Right now I'm very confident, but we just ended.
"We didn't talk to any player during the season about their contract for a reason because we didn't want it to become a distraction, we didn't want anyone to feel like they were being treated differently."
Other notable unrestricted free agents include Sami Salo, Raffi Torres and trade deadline acquisition Chris Higgins.
Gillis, and his team, will also have to deal with six restricted free agents, including Maxim Lapierre and Jannik Hansen.
"We're going to take the next week and make sure we do the right things," Gillis said of qualifying his restricted free agents. "That's my intent today, some things may change over the next five days. We have to get past the draft. Those things always have an opportunity to change in this business."
Many believe one of Gillis' biggest assets when it comes time to making a trade during the off-season is backup goaltender Cory Schneider. The 25-year-old Marblehead, Mass., native went 16-4-2 during the regular season and appeared in five playoff games.
However, Gillis said Friday that he's not too keen on the idea of using Schneider as trade bait.
"I really like Cory Schneider, I like having him on our team and I would be more than happy to have Cory Schneider on our team for the next five or six years," Gillis said. "If something comes our way, that's going to help us improve, of course we're going to look at it. If it doesn't, Cory Schneider is going to be on this team next year."
Given the fact that much of the core is intact heading into the 2011-12 season and the team came just one win shy of capturing the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup, it would appear only minor tweaking may be needed.
"We're intent to try and keep this team together as best we can with the core assets that we have and that's what I'm going to try and do, and I think I can do it," Gillis said. "We're going to try and address our needs (and) I'm going to do my best."