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The last address

by Jeff Paterson / Vancouver Canucks
In a city like Vancouver with knowledgeable and passionate hockey fans, everyone has an opinion. But at the end of the day and the end of the season there are two opinions that matter more than all others.

And the men to whom those opinions belong – Canucks general manager Mike Gillis and head coach Alain Vigneault -- met the media Thursday afternoon at General Motors Place to reflect upon the 2008-09 season and to look ahead to the areas that need addressing to ensure the Vancouver Canucks are playing into late May and beyond a year from now.

In a session that ranged from discussion about contract negotiations with the Sedins, Roberto Luongo and Ryan Kesler, to the announcement of a new two-year deal for winger Steve Bernier, to plans for Vigneault and his entire coaching staff to get extensions, to the depth of talent within the organization, Gillis calmly answered all questions including what he thought of his team’s overall performance in the GM’s first year on the job.

“It wasn’t a success because we didn’t win the Stanley Cup,” Gillis said. “I didn’t take this job to feel complacent and comfortable getting to the second round. I felt and still feel completely comfortable saying we should have won the second round of the playoffs and moved on to the third round. If winning is the objective, then it has not been a successful season for me. And winning is the objective for me. In terms of trying to make a mark in the organization and create something that I feel really strongly about, I think we’re on our way to that.”

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

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Like his boss, Vigneault was trying the positives of a disappointing end to the club’s second round series with Chicago.

“I think right now we’re all disappointed because we feel we should still be playing, but I think in the long run this will make us better,” the coach said. “It will make me a better coach, it will make my staff better, it will make our players better. We had a lot of players in that series that have said they could get better. And when I think of great players that have won Cups in the NHL, a lot of times they didn’t get it done the first time they had that first opportunity. They learned, they got better and they got it done and I think that’s what is going to happen with this group. As hard as this is right here, right now, we’re all going to learn from it and be a better team.”

In his first public statements since Monday’s Game 6 elimination at the hands of the Hawks, Gillis offered his thoughts on why the Canucks season came to the abrupt end it did.

“I just don’t think we ever got in synch in the Chicago series,” he explained. “I think a couple of things that could have gone our way, didn’t go our way. I think there were a couple of critical points in the games where we made a couple of mistakes and we didn’t recover as well as we would have liked to. They (the Blackhawks) are a good young team, they played well, they played hard and they stuck to their game plan, but I also think they might have got some breaks that we might not have gotten.”

As is so often the case once the playoffs are over, the truth about injuries is revealed. During their address, Gillis and Vigneault stated that Pavol Demitra needs shoulder surgery, Taylor Pyatt will have his knee scoped, Alex Burrows will have bone chips removed from his wrist and Ryan Johnson will have surgery on a finger he broke earlier in the year which continued to give him problems.

Looking to the future, Gillis will have plenty on his plate before the team reconvenes in September. At the top of the GM’s ‘to do” list is trying to get new deals done for Daniel and Henrik Sedin before they hit the open market on July 1st. Gillis made it clear on Thursday that he has every intention of keeping the twins in the fold.

“I thought they were excellent players when I got here and I have an even greater opinion of them today,” he said. “As people, they are exactly what we want to have in this organization. They conduct themselves in an exemplary manner all the time. They show up and they play. They don’t complain. Our objective – and our objective for some time – was to get them signed long term so that they can be the players that we build around and that hasn’t changed.”

Once July 1st rolls around, Gillis is free to speak to the agents for both Roberto Luongo and Ryan Kesler who will enter the final years of their current contracts next season. And Gillis hopes he can find enough common ground with both players to get them signed to extensions. But Gillis also made it clear that he has no issues with Luongo playing here next season without an extended deal.

“I’ll approach it internally with Roberto the way I think is best. That will come some time over the next few weeks,” he said. “I think that if we continue to work at creating the right environment here and having a team that is competitive, I have no issues with that. But we need to do a lot of stuff still and see where we sit in a few weeks.”

Before July 1st, Mike Gillis will try to get his coaching staff resigned, he’s looking forward to being better prepared for June’s entry draft (where the Canucks currently have six selections) than he was last season weeks after he had assumed control of the club. Gillis spoke highly not only of Cody Hodgson’s chances of sticking with the Canucks next year but also singled out Michael Grabner and Cory Schneider as the type of young prospects successful NHL teams need to inject into their line-ups to compete in the salary cap era.

The hockey season may be over, but the work for an NHL general manager is never done. And in many ways in today’s National Hockey League the off-season is every bit as interesting as the season itself and that certainly appears to be the case for Mike Gillis and his Vancouver Canucks.
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