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Changes on the horizon

by Jeff Paterson / Vancouver Canucks
While many people are busy cobbling together a shopping list ahead of July 1st, most will be looking for things they can throw on the grill for a backyard barbeque to celebrate Canada’s 142nd birthday.

Canucks general manager Mike Gillis and many of his colleagues around the National Hockey League have somewhat different wish lists they plan to take to market in the early hours of Canada Day.

Depending on what happens with the Canucks’ last-ditch attempt to hammer out new deals for Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Gillis could find himself trying to load up his grocery cart with high-priced talent available in unrestricted free agency.

And there’s a pretty good chance Gillis has a couple of lesser-lights on his list, too -- the potatoes, if you will, to go with the meat of his line-up.

At the top end of the list, the Canucks are apt to be among the teams looking at players like Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik, Martin Havlat and Mike Cammalleri. All have shown a consistent ability to put up points over their years in the NHL, although both Gaborik and Havlat have a history of injuries which has to be taken into consideration by all potential suitors.

Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight.

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Others soon to be available on the open market include Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev, Alex Tanguay, Brian Gionta, John Madden, Steve Sullivan and Mike Comrie. Most of them are aging veterans who have had good years in the league, but in recent seasons have battled injuries or inconsistency.

Perhaps the toughest part of the job for any general manager is to figure out who still has enough game left to warrant the type of contract these players will be seeking.

As far as role players are concerned, the Canucks appear to have their fourth line -- Darcy Hordichuk, Ryan Johnson and Rick Rypien – back and intact from last year. And with a promotion of younger players from within the system, it’s unclear how much depth up front the Canucks will be seeking on the open market.

If the team feels it needs a veteran down the middle, it could consider Manny Malhotra, Samuel Pahlsson or Blair Betts. If the Canucks are seeking a winger with some experience perhaps Mikael Samuelsson, Chris Neil, Chad Larose, Ruslan Fedotenko or Travis Moen would fit the bill.

It does seem likely the Canucks will be adding to their defence corps in the days ahead. If they’re looking to make a splash in the free agent market and he’s still available, Jay Bouwmeester remains the biggest fish out there. Francois Beauchemin is another player who is bound to attract plenty of attention as is Rob Scuderi who became an attractive commodity with a very strong playoff run.

Beyond that, the Canucks may be looking for depth defensemen and there are appear to be plenty of those about to hit the market – Andrew Alberts, Greg Zanon, Matt Walker, Aaron Johnson, Steve Montador and Shane Hnidy just to name a few.

Regardless what the Canucks do with Cory Schneider next season, it seems clear the hockey club will need to sign at least one goaltender to strengthen the organization’s depth in net. That may mean the return of Jason LaBarbera or the Canucks may look for other options between the pipes. Among the goaltenders with NHL experience who may be of interest and who’ll be available on July 1st – Ty Conklin, Scott Clemmensen, Stephen Valiquette and Mathieu Garon.

In addition to unrestricted free agent signings, Mike Gillis could elect to try to bolster his roster through an offer sheet as he did last summer with emerging St. Louis power forward David Backes.

With a number of NHL teams already bumping up against the salary cap for next season, there are several clubs that have left themselves open to having their restricted free agents targeted by rivals. Of course, those teams have the right to match any offer, but may decide to take the required compensation instead.

Keep in mind, too, that in today’s NHL all teams are looking to find those diamonds in the rough – players who, for whatever reason, haven’t realized their potential in their current organizations.

With virtually every game at all levels of hockey heavily scouted and available on video, teams are keeping closer tabs than ever on what other clubs have in their systems.

So look for the Canucks to land a couple of players with limited NHL experience, but ones who’ve slipped through the cracks in some other organization but who may still develop into big leaguers on a full-time basis (Joel Ward, Alexandre Giroux). At best, those players could help the Canucks and at the very least, the will add depth and veteran leadership down on the farm in Winnipeg.

Like goals and hits, off-season changes are now a big part of life for every team in the National Hockey League. The Vancouver Canucks are bound to have a different look next season – that much is clear. And on July 1st, how the Canucks go about addressing those changes will also start to come into focus.
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