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Press Round-Up: FEB.25.08

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks
Recent surge has Canucks smiling again: Recent surge may have put off any urgency to make a deal at trade deadline
Elliott Pap discusses the difference a week makes in the NHL and especially for the Vancouver Canucks:

In a week's time, the Vancouver Canucks have gone from a questionable team to one with some answers.

In a week's time, the Canucks have withstood the bullying of the Edmonton Oilers and then disposed of Western Conference contenders Minnesota, Nashville and Detroit, the latter falling 4-1 on Saturday.

In a week's time, the Canucks have lessened the urgency for general manager Dave Nonis to shake up the troops with an impact deal by the NHL's trade deadline at noon Tuesday.

Nonetheless, anonymous sources back east -- perhaps unaware the Canucks are on a season-high four-game win streak and are 6-1-3 in their last 10 -- claim the Canucks are a big-time player in trade talks for the likes of Brad Richards, Olli Jokinen and even Mats Sundin if he does indeed waive his no-trade clause.

Nonis declined an interview request Sunday. However, he has maintained he is not likely to trade futures for rentals but would deal young assets for prominent players under contract.

Richards, 27, has three years remaining at a whopping $7.8 million. Jokinen, 29, has two years left at $5.25 million. Obviously a "hockey deal" involving either Richards or Jokinen -- Richards is a sobering minus-25 this season, by the way -- would involve something significant going the other way.

The Canucks would also have to create salary cap space for Richards's massive contract. With the Canucks again becoming healthy and playing well, do they want to tinker with their chemistry? Aaron Miller and Brendan Morrison are both due to return from injury in the next few weeks, further adding to their depth.

"You just never know what's going to happen to the room when you change the mix," noted veteran winger Matt Cooke following Sunday's open practice at GM Place. "You have to make sure people coming in are going to be supporting what's going on in here."

Willie Mitchell has twice moved at the deadline and says it isn't easy fitting in and having an impact so late in the season.

"It is tough and I don't think it's worked tremendously well a lot of times," Mitchell commented.

"You get a new system, the coach has to feel the players out, what their strengths are, how they match up and where they belong.

"I also think it's common for people, in general, to maybe get a little complacent when a GM makes a move. You know, all of the sudden, he's brought in a couple of better players and the game should come easier and you kind of lose focus. I think that's why you sometimes see a little setback off the start."

If Nonis does shore up his second line, it would likely be at the roster-spot expense of sophomore Ryan Shannon or even rookie Mason Raymond. Neither is proven although both have been making a case to stay based on recent outings.

The two speedsters were again outstanding Saturday on a line with the veteran Cooke.

"I'm new to the trade deadline," Raymond said. "I don't know much about it and, at the end of the day, none of it is really under my control. I guess you're kind of anxious to find out what's going to happen.

"For our line, we've played pretty well for a couple of games but I don't think we've proven ourselves enough to secure anything. It's something that will be figured out soon enough."

Shannon, who is constantly fighting a size issue, figures the trio has at least made management take notice.

"I hope we're making it hard for them," said the 5-9 centre. "Sometimes pucks don't go in but as long as we're creating scoring opportunities and we're sound defensively, I think we put more pressure on management to keep us here."

The Canucks do have nine players with expiring contracts and there is always the chance one of them might be on the move. Cooke is among that group.

"I don't think you are ever safe," admitted Cooke. "I'll worry about that day when it comes. I don't live my life fearing it. I mean, it could have happened three months ago. It just so happens Tuesday is the last day it could happen."

The other Canuck vets at the end of their deals are Markus Naslund, Morrison, Miller, Trevor Linden, Byron Ritchie, Brad Isbister, Curtis Sanford and Mike Weaver.
Win streak brings on smiles at open practice

Iain MacIntyre details the return of blueliner Kevin Bieksa:

Ben Kuzma said the Canucks put on a energetic show at Sunday’s open practice:

Willie Mitchell and Mattias Ohlund scored on shootout opportunities Sunday to cap an open Vancouver Canucks practice at GM Place.

The efforts left the faithful doubled over in laughter and wide-eyed in amazement. These are good developments.

Mitchell decided to add equal parts of drama and comedy to his attempt on Curtis Sanford. The blueliner dropped his helmet, pulled the jersey over his head, sped in and calmly snapped the puck home to the stick side.

This is what happens when your club has won a season high four straight games and has rediscovered its swagger.

"I kind of figured the all-star game and what they wanted from players was a little different -- so I figured I'd try it," chuckled Mitchell, who has one goal in 52 games and is far down coach Alain Vigneault's shootout wish list.

The fun extended to Trevor Linden scoring on Sanford with a deke off a fake shot -- remember that one for the next real shootout -- and Roberto Luongo spinning but failing to stop Ryan Shannon's forehand. Prior to that, Matt Cooke did the puck-on-blade-spin-a-rama-backhander effort past Sanford to steal some thunder.

Ohlund followed Mitchell by snapping a wrister past Luongo, a reminder that secondary scoring might not be a moot point with this bunch. Alex Edler and Sami Salo scored Saturday in a 4-1 win over Detroit, marking it six goals from the back end in the last five games.

Add goals by Mason Raymond, Alex Burrows, Brad Isbister and Cooke in the last five games and no wonder everybody was smiling Sunday.
Willing to pay for Richards?: Tampa Bay centre could come costly

The Province reports on recent trade rumors:

The Canucks held an open practice Sunday. It remains to be seen if their general manager is as open to making a major trade-deadline acquisition as is being reported.

TSN, citing league sources, said the Canucks have made an offer for Tampa Bay Lightning centre Brad Richards. So have the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Nonis couldn't be reached for comment Sunday, but the three-ring trade circus surrounding Lightning free agents Richards, Vaclav Prospal and Dan Boyle has everyone reaching for answers.

With Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Richards eating up $20 million US of salary cap space next season -- to say nothing of Prospal turning down a three-year, $10 million contract extension and Boyle trying to land a rich extension -- something has to give.

The first domino to fall may be Richards, who has been asked to waive his no-trade clause before Tuesday's trade deadline. And that's where the head scratching starts with a Canucks connection.

Richards is 27 and the '04 Conn Smythe winner could replace unrestricted free agent Brendan Morrison, who won't return until mid-March from wrist surgery and may not be in the club's plans. Teams have called about Morrison.

However, there's more at play here than just the $7.8 million Richards will earn each of the next three years. Lightning GM Jay Feaster wants a starting goalie to replace struggling free agent Johan Holmqvist. The Stars can offer ready-for-prime-time Mike Smith, and wouldn't Richards look good on a line with Mike Modano?

The Blue Jackets see Richards aligned with Rick Nash. Again, who's coming back the other way? Not Pascal Leclaire.

Richards had 51 points [18-33] through 62 games and was a league-worst minus-25. He'd cost the Canucks a roster player, if the Lightning feel they can land a starting goalie through free agency.

With a salary dump strategy, new owner Oren Koules would find Ryan Kesler tempting. At 23, the Canucks centre is having a breakout season with 16 goals and is under contract for the next two seasons at $1.75 million per.

Kesler's name has been linked to several rumoured deals, including a package for Mats Sundin, had he waived his no-trade clause.
"I'm the kind of guy who doesn't pay any attention to it," said Kesler. "I hear my name flying around, but there's nothing I can do about it. My job is to just go out and play and help this team win. I'm not going to believe anything until I hear it from management."

If Nonis misses out but still wants an impact centre, Plan B may be Olli Jokinen in Florida. At 29, he brings the cost certainty that Nonis seeks: $5.25 million next season, followed by $5.50 million.

Then again, the Canucks have won four straight, Roberto Luongo is on top of his game, they're getting healthy and even getting secondary scoring.

"I'm no GM but obviously the price is pretty high for rentals," said Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell. "As players, we feel we have enough in here to win. Last year we added a few players, [Bryan Smolinski, Brent Sopel] , but I think we're a stronger team. It's all about getting into the postseason."

And staying healthy and maybe being more conservative than bold. Sometimes the best trade is the one you don't make.

"Exactly," said Kesler. "You never know. It's really just a shot in the dark when you gamble like that."

"It's common for people in general to get a little complacent when a GM makes a move," Mitchell said. "You kind of lose focus."
GMs eyeing elite alternatives
Lance Hornby lists the elite players that could be moved at the NHL trade deadline and points out their respective suitors:

Brad Richards, Marian Hossa, Olli Jokinen and Brian Campbell will replace Mats Sundin as tomorrow's deadline headliners.

Now that the Toronto captain has refused once and for all to relinquish his no-trade clause, National Hockey League general managers are stepping over each other to get the remaining premier players ahead of the 3 p.m. EST deadline.

With Hossa deemed unsignable by Atlanta before tomorrow and news that Richards has agreed to hear offers despite his no-trade clause with the Tampa Bay, the final day and half countdown has become a mad scramble.

But Vancouver GM Dave Nonis, whose team won four in a row last week to get back in a playoff spot, said he would try and resist the temptation of swinging for the fences.

"It doesn't make any sense," he told Vancouver reporters. "You're up a point or you're down a point and you're going to blow your brains out? I agree it's exciting when you add players, but it has to make sense now and in the future."

Richards, immersed in a five-year $39-million US deal, is suddenly a hinderance to the cost-cutting new ownership of the Lightning, which could use the money to keep big-ticket teammates Vince Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and another potential trade gem, defenceman Dan Boyle.

Earlier lobbying for Richards by teams such as Columbus and Philadelphia might pay off (the Jackets could offer him a spot on a line with Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev), but expect stronger Cup contenders such as Anaheim to get involved by today. One or both of Ottawa and Montreal, which seemed set to face off over Hossa, could change gears and pursue Richards.

"We've had a lot of offers. We expect more," Thrashers GM Don Waddell said on the weekend. "If the best deal is no deal, we'll keep Marian and move on."

Montreal is certainly open to a rental player GM Bob Gainey says. "I think we had a pretty good experience with Alex Kovalev a few years ago," he understated.

Detroit GM Ken Holland has predicted that many clubs would wait until the completion of last night's games before committing to trades, given that 27, including the Leafs, were either in the playoffs or within seven points of the eighth-place clubs.

That's about eight more clubs than this time last year, with more than half the league still within range of a division title and home ice advantage for the first playoff round.

If Jokinen finally gives up on hapless Florida, Minnesota has been his frequent suitor.

The Flyers looked like solid playoff contenders until a spate of injuries and a 10-game losing streak put them in peril. Now, instead of just looking for a mobile defenceman (Leaf Tomas Kaberle was in their sights until he dug in on his no-trade clause), they could be looking for both forwards and rearguards.

Buffalo is trying to unload defenceman Campbell after contract talks fell apart, but while the Flyers have something to offer in Jeff Carter, there is bad blood between the clubs from the Daniel Briere signing last summer when the Sabres felt Philly jumped the gun in courting him.
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