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Canucks interested in LeBron?

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

Is Vancouver trying to land the biggest free agent available on July 1st?

No. The Canucks are not after NBA phenom LeBron James, but that’s about the only rumour that isn’t floating around with free agency around the corner.

Days of our Lives could fill a week’s worth of scripts with all the wacky storylines that are supposedly playing out for the Canucks on Canada Day: Alex Semin is coming to Vancouver, oh, so are Ilya Kovalchuk, Marty Turco and Evgeni Nabokov. Neat. Too bad none of it is true.

Mike Gillis appears primed to make a few moves to further sculpt his team into a contender and many of the legit rumblings out there have the Canucks general manager looking to bring in another defender.

The trade for defenceman Keith Ballard at the NHL Draft took some pressure off Gillis, according to Ben Kuzma of the Province, but more is needed on the back end.

“In the trade acquisition of Keith Ballard on Friday, the Canucks have solidified their top-four corps with a blueliner who will build on the 62 points he collected the last two seasons in Florida. More importantly, the fact that Ballard was third in blocked shots among league blueliners last season with 201, 26th in hits with 156 and didn't miss a game the last three seasons is of paramount importance.

“Gillis isn't done building his back end. A successful free-agent foray might make Bieksa and his $3.75 million US cap hit as a projected No. 5 blueliner expendable for a battle-tested forward. Hard to imagine that won't occur because durability might be the Canucks' biggest need next season. After all, health is wealth.”

The popular name out there right now is Dan Hamhuis, the former Nashville Predators blueliner who was recently traded to the Philadelphia Flyers only to then be shipped to the Pittsburgh Penguins after failing to agree to a contract in Philly. Should Hamhuis not sign with the Penguins before July 1, he’ll be up for grabs.

Both Brian Compton of and Peter James of the Canwest News Service believe Hamhuis is Vancouver’s top target.

“Don't be surprised to see Gillis make a strong push to sign defenseman Dan Hamhuis, a British Columbia native who has appeared in no fewer than 78 games for the Nashville Predators in each of the last six seasons,” wrote Compton.

“Hamhuis would be a tremendous addition for the Canucks both on and off the ice, and he surely would help Roberto Luongo improve off last season's numbers. Luongo's GAA was above 2.50 for the first time since 2005-06.”

Added James, who is concerned about Vancouver’s salary situation: “Hamhuis seemed destined to get a call from Vancouver Canucks until general manager Mike Gillis swung a deal for Keith Ballard on draft day. Hamhuis, of Smithers, B.C., and a former Prince George Cougar in the Western Hockey League, appeared to be a perfect fit for his home province team, but cap space could be an issue for the Canucks who have five defencemen under contract earning $3 million or more.”

With Vancouver’s top six forwards all but locked into place, there isn’t any major work needed up front, but tinkering with the third and fourth lines will surely take place.

Two names suggested by Hosea Cheung of 24Hours are Arron Asham (“After a strong postseason with the Philadelphia Flyers, Asham will look for a raise from the $640K he made in '09-10. He's a better version of Rick Rypien and fights more than Darcy Hordichuk. Enough said.”) and Glen Metropolit (“Metropolit is a hard-working two-way centre, who's offensive side came out with the Montreal Canadiens - 16 goals in 69 games.”)

Jason Botchford is swimming with bigger fish in hopes of the Canucks finding another diamond in the rough like they did last summer.

“The goal, then, is simple — find more Samuelssons.

“A key for the Canucks now is to get Kyle Wellwood replaced. Both the Stanley Cup finalists the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers had third-line centres who were difference makers in Dave Bolland and Claude Giroux, respectively. They won games and the Canucks third line did not.

“The best option out there could be Eric Belanger, a trade deadline acquisition by the Washington Capitals. He’s tough as nails, can win big faceoffs, would improve Vancouver’s penalty killing and he shouldn’t cost a fortune.

“Also, Matt Cullen, a former Gillis client, should be given a long look. Vancouver probably couldn’t give him the minutes he’s used to, but Gillis could sell him on being the type of piece, which could put the Canucks over the top.”

Everyone is currently having their say and only those in Gillis’ entourage know who the Canucks are targeting. That has Canucks fans, as Puck Daddy put it, “foaming at the mouth.”

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