Over and out
By Derek Jory
Is less than 48 hours enough to ease the pain of losing in the Stanley Cup Final?
Not even close.
The Vancouver Canucks met with the media for the final time this season and the mood was just as somber as you’d expect. Although many players said they’ve put things in perspective following a 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Cup Final Wednesday night, it’s going to take more than a few days to get over the disappointment of coming in second.
Alex Burrows was too emotional to talk following the loss, but he and Roberto Luongo were the first to speak outside the Canucks locker room Friday.
“It’s still shocking a little bit, I haven’t really had a lot of time to think about it or reflect on it, but obviously it’s disappointing to be one game short of the ultimate goal that we worked so hard for all season long,” said Burrows.
“We still haven’t gotten to our main goal, I think it’s going to take some time to heal this summer.”
A summer of change?
Despite the players having no control over what general manager Mike Gillis decides to do to this team in the off-season in hopes of getting it back to the Stanley Cup Final next season, they all acknowledged that this group likely won’t be together in its entirety come September.
For such a tight-knit unit, that’s a big blow, but it’s part of the business.
“We felt that we had all the ingredients necessary, but that being said, there’s always ways to improve and what those are I don’t know,” said Roberto Luongo.
“We were very happy with our group and this is by far the best team I’ve ever been on and it was the most fun I’ve ever had coming to the rink this season.”
Changes could come as early as next Friday, June 24, when the 2011 NHL Draft takes place in Minnesota. The good news for Vancouver is that the core of the team will remain together for the next few years as players like Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Burrows and Luongo aren’t going anywhere.
Kevin Bieksa becomes an unrestricted free agent come July 1 and while he wants to remain in Vancouver, he sees both sides of the coin.
“We’ll talk soon, we’ll talk in the next little while and I’m pretty optimistic that we can reach an agreement,” said Bieksa, adding that change can be a difficult process.
“We’ve almost earned that opportunity to come back and get another shot, there’s so many things that went right this year and we won a lot hockey games, but at the same time you can always get better. We can always find out what went wrong in the Boston series and address some things, you can’t be complacent, you’ve got to keep trying to get better in this league and I’ll sure they’ll do a good job this summer doing a few tweaks.”
Christian Ehrhoff, Andrew Alberts and Sami Salo are also defensemen slated to become unrestricted free agents, while upfront Chris Higgins, Tanner Glass, Jeff Tambellini and Rick Rypien are facing uncertain futures.
For Salo, a 36-year-old veteran of eight seasons with the Canucks, retirement crossed his mind when he was injured last summer, but now he’s got more fire in his belly than ever before. He’d love to return to Vancouver for another kick at the can.
“It’s been a really good fit here, it’s a top class organization and I’ve been treated well here,” Salo said. “I’ve been long in the league and I’m happy here, so we’ll see obviously in a couple of weeks what’s going to happen.”
Salo said he is motivated like never before after the most successful season he’s ever been a part of, one that saw him battle back from a devastating injury to become a trusted performer on the blueline.
“It felt really good to be in the Western Final, then obviously the Stanley Cup Final, it was a great feeling, very exciting and not just for me, but for my family too. They enjoyed the time and it brings you a lot more hunger for next year and you want to keep playing.”
Of the many things general manager Mike Gillis touched on during his end of season press conference with Alain Vigneault, the list of injuries the Canucks battled through this post-season was eye-opening.
Strap yourself in…
-“Dan Hamhuis suffered a serious abdominal injury.” (TSN reports Hamhuis will have surgery next week)
-“Mason Raymond has a broken back.”
-“Alex Edler has two broken fingers from a slash.”
-“Kevin Bieksa has a bruised MCL from a slash.”
-“Ryan Kesler has a hip problem that we don’t know the extent of yet.”
-"Mikael Samuelsson, as you know, had an operation on an abdominal muscle tear.”
-“Manny was a warrior out there, but he was operating at less than 100 per cent, he hadn’t skated in I think six to seven weeks after his injury because of the treatment he had to have.”
-“Chris Higgins had a foot injury that continued to get worse throughout the playoffs.”
-“Christian Ehrhoff had a shoulder injury that didn’t recover from the third round onward. We don’t think he’ll need a procedure, but he’ll need some fairly serious rest and rehab.”
-“Henrik had a back injury from getting cross-checked in the second round.”
“Is that enough for everybody?” Gillis asked.
Yes is the only answer, it was more than enough to make the Canucks a shell of themselves on hockey’s biggest stage.
The final word
One of the final things Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said to the media was perhaps the most impactful. It’s something I’ll keep in my back pocket this summer and I suggest you do the same.
“It was difficult, it was a grind and it was fun,” said Vigneault on the 2011 Playoffs. “As much right now as I think we’re all disappointed, Mike and my coaching staff and our players, I think we’re going to come back a more motivated, more focused group than we ever have.
“We know what it takes and I think everybody coming to training camp next year is going to be real fired up about getting back to this place and making it right.”