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The 'Real' Season Begins Now

by Jeff Paterson / Vancouver Canucks
Congrats to the Red Wings - deserving Stanley Cup champions. And a salute, too, to the Penguins for their part in putting on a terrific show in the final.

But enough about them.

The fact the hockey season is over means just one thing to Canuck fans. The focus can now return squarely to the only hockey club that matters to West Coasters and the clock is now ticking on 30 of the most-important days this franchise has ever been through.

In many ways, the nine months of on-ice action in the National Hockey League only serves to fill the time between the most exciting three months of the year. And the most important of those months is upon us.

Between now and the first week of July, new general manager Mike Gillis and his assembled staff will shape this franchise for years to come. For any true Canuck fan, these next four weeks should be met with equal parts of anxiety and enthusiasm. The unknowns are great and the stakes are certainly high. But, at the same time, the possibilities are endless and the payoff could be as good as it gets.

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

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Gillis and his crew have conducted their organizational meetings and been through the NHL draft combine meaning it's full speed ahead now with the business of building a hockey club for next year and beyond.

Somewhere some classified documents must exist plotting the club's strategy for what lies ahead and oh, what a fascinating read those would be.

Between now and the end of June, the Canuck faithful will find out if Markus Naslund's 12-year run here has reached it's end. If it has, it obviously means there'll be a new captain for this hockey team. But that could still be the case even if Naslund is back for another season.

Brendan Morrison is in the same boat as Naslund. Not only teammates, but linemates, for their best years in Canuck colours and both could be shopping for new area codes soon.

And despite the emotional send-off he received on the final night of the regular season and the fact most figure it a foregone conclusion; Trevor Linden still hasn't officially indicated his plans for next season. At the same time, the legendary Canuck has expressed a desire to resolve his situation sooner rather than later so as not to let his future drag on into the summer. That answer should be coming soon.

Does the new management regime have any interest in bringing either or both Byron Ritchie and Brad Isbister back? What about Aaron Miller or Mike Weaver?

And will the Canucks offer Curtis Sanford a contract and the opportunity to be Roberto Luongo's understudy again or will the hunt be on for a third back-up for their star netminder in the three seasons he's been here. Sanford expressed a strong desire to Team 1040 last week that he certainly wants to return, but his fate may lie in the hands of Alain Vigneault who gave every indication he liked Sanford as a person and a teammate, yet didn't give him a start after a tough January 29th outing against Dallas.

Those are merely the main contractual concerns facing the Canucks over the next 25 days before all of those players are free to shop their services elsewhere. The Canucks also have some tough decisions to make about the June 20-21 National Hockey League entry draft.

They head into the event holding on to the 10th overall pick. If they use it, they may be able to address their scoring needs with Kyle Beach, Zac Boychuk, Mikkel Boedker or Colin Wilson. Or, given the tragic passing of Luc Bourdon, perhaps the club will look to address the future of its blueline in a defense-heavy draft (Bourdon was the only defenseman the Canucks have selected in the first round since Bryan Allen ten years ago).

Of course, trading the 10th pick for immediate help is an option, too. And remember, this is an organization with a history of making a splash at the draft ? acquiring Alexander Mogilny (1995), the necessary picks to draft Daniel and Henrik Sedin (1999) and Roberto Luongo on the eve of the draft two years ago.

And once Mike Gillis presides over his first NHL draft as a general manager, he gets to wade into the free agent waters with a considerable bankroll. Much of what he does between now and July 1st will set the table for the pitch he'll make to potential unrestricted free agents looking for a place to play.

Will the Canucks make a big splash on July 1st or a handful of smaller moves to bolster their roster? Will they roll the dice on an offer sheet to a restricted free agent or perhaps pull the trigger on a sizeable swap of players already under contract?

Oh sure, the Red Wings and Penguins put on a hockey display that absolutely entertaining and was breathtaking, at times. But that action will likely pale in comparison to what's about to happen here over the next few weeks.

You thought hockey season ended on Wednesday night. No way.

The 'real' season is only about to begin. It should be fascinating.
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