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The big decisions

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Anyone else wondering what happened to summer?

It was played up as this wonderful few months of sun and fun, a time in which to unwind from the 2008-09 season and prepare for next year.

Don’t look now but some of the biggest decisions on what Vancouver’s 2009-10 squad will resemble will be made in the next 48 hours with NHL Free Agency set for July 1.

Throw the flip-flops aside and put that towel down, there are verdicts to come to on a wide range of players. Luckily Canucks GM Mike Gillis has the final say on what plays out because Vancouver fans from coast to coast and throughout the world aren’t likely to agree on much when it comes to who should and shouldn’t be re-signed.

Daniel & Henrik Sedin

The biggest priority for Gillis this off-season has been coming to terms with Daniel and Henrik Sedin on a new contract and depending on which news source you trust, he may or may not have been successful at that.

Only time will tell if the Sedins will be back in the only city they’ve called home during their eight-year careers.

There is hope that Vancouver’s Swedish first-liners, who each had 82 points last season, will be back playing for the Canucks because they have often said that they would give the team a hometown discount in contract negotiations indicating that they aren’t smitten with leaving the West Coast.

Earlier this month TSN ran a story that the Swedish website reported the twins are looking for identical 12-year contracts worth $63 million each.

By all accounts Gillis didn’t fire back a counter offer going back to as late as last Friday night when he met with the Sedin’s agent, J.P. Barry, after the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.

All hope was thought to be lost on bringing the Sedins back until ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun broke a story Monday morning that Gillis and Canucks assistant GM Laurence Gilman are in Stockholm planning to make contact with the twins “either later Monday or certainly Tuesday.”

It’s clear as mud as to what will play out between the two sides over the next two days so until then, the Sedin soap opera continues.

Mattias Ohlund

The 32-year-old steadfast defenceman, a staple on Vancouver’s blueline since his rookie campaign in 1997-98, has likely played his final game for the Canucks.

Despite Ohlund being the go-to guy on the back end for the Canucks in any and every pressure situation imaginable over the last 11 years and also putting up points like no other defenceman in Canucks history, this situation is playing out like a mutual breakup.

Ohlund has been adamant for some time that he’s not afraid of free agency and that the excitement that goes hand-in-hand with it is intriguing.

Gillis has responded to that, as recent as last week, by telling Ian Mendes of the following: “The way that was left, I think Mattias was going to explore free agency and see what's out there for him. We hope he does really well and accomplishes his goals.”

Ohlund’s veteran leadership, classy attitude and nose to the grindstone workmanship will surely be missed if he does go, but with Willie Mitchell, Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo and Alex Edler all under contract for next season, the core of the unit will remain intact.

Mats Sundin

Gillis and the Canucks are interested in bringing back Sundin next season, the question is if Sundin wants to play again.

The 38-year-old centre has already stated that he will not play for defending champion Sweden at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in February, yet does that mean he’s ready to hang up his NHL skates?

Figuring this out for a second time should be about as easy as it was the first (read that as impossible).

Sundin took his time deciding to come to Vancouver last December and he’ll surely eat up the clock making a decision again. If Sundin plays for anyone next season, you can bet it’ll be the Canucks, but this free agent might not ink anything for a while.

Sundin had 28 points in 41 regular season games before cranking his game up a notch in the playoffs with eight points in eight contests, including four in the last two games.

Taylor Pyatt & Jannik Hansen

Has the Pyatt experiment run its course in Vancouver?

After playing one season for the New York Islanders in 2000-2001, Pyatt went to Buffalo where he never quite hit full stride with the Sabres. The towering 6-foot-4, 230-pound winger was dripping with potential when the Canucks acquired him for the 2006-07 season and for two straight years he amassed 37 points.

This past year he got off to a slow start before he began to find his touch, just in time to break his foot missing eight games to start 2009.

He then had four points in 11 games prior to battling through another slump. The death of his fiancée rightfully turned hockey into an afterthought until he returned for Vancouver’s final four playoff games.

The potential is still there for Pyatt, but you’d have to think that bringing back restricted free agent Jannik Hansen, although undersized, would do more for the Canucks.

The Danish forward played a career-high 55 games for the Canucks in 2008-09 collecting six goals and 15 points. He’s part of the Manitoba Moose youth movement, which includes Mason Raymond and Rick Rypien, that is constantly improving and seems primed for a breakout season.

Kyle Wellwood

For the character, determination and fortitude Wellwood displayed throughout all that he went through in his first season in Vancouver, he deserves to be brought back to the fold.

Whether or not terms can be met on a new contract is another issue.

The 26-year-old was sixth in team scoring with a career high 18 goals and he had six points in 10 playoff games in his first post-season.

Wellwood displayed great chemistry alongside Steve Bernier and Mason Raymond on Vancouver’s third line and with all three players on the rise, that’s a potent combination.

Hopefully Wellwood is keen on returning to the Canucks to pick up where he left off – making believers out of all of us.

Shane O’Brien & Jason LaBarbera

O’Brien is another player that made big strides this past season going from a penalty taking pain to a responsible defenceman with a solid physical game.

The restricted 25-year-old matured before our eyes and watching him develop thanks to the right coaching has been rewarding for everyone.

He isn’t likely to be promoted to a top-four d-man, but there’s definite value in having him on the backend for next season and beyond.

Things aren’t so clear-cut with LaBarbera, the quiet backup netminder who realized a dream in becoming a member of the Canucks last season.

Whether he returns to the team likely won’t have anything to do with him, it’ll be the other three netminders that determine his fate.

Vancouver is believed to be close to signing Roberto Luongo to a long-term extension. TSN reported such last Friday and that story gained some significant speed when Luongo was alongside Gillis at the Entry Draft.

If Luongo does indeed return long-term, prospect Cory Schneider could either fill as his backup, return to the Manitoba Moose or be dealt.

One domino falling will tip the next and the logical play of events is Schneider being sent down to Winnipeg for the final year of his contract and LaBarbera being re-signed in favour of fellow unrestricted free agent Curtis Sanford.

Deciding the fate of Vancouver’s top lines, defensive pairings and backup goalies?

Yep, free agency is almost upon us.

Anyone else wondering what happened to summer?
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