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Canucks unable to hold onto Ehrhoff

by Dave Lozo
During a conference call Tuesday to discuss the signing of free agent defenseman Kevin Bieksa, Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis didn't sound optimistic about his chances to re-sign fellow free agent defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. About two hours later, the Canucks gave up any hope of re-signing Ehrhoff before July 1.

The New York Islanders gave the Canucks a 2012 fourth-round pick in exchange for the exclusive rights to negotiate with Ehrhoff in the days leading up to the start of the free-agent period, which gets under way Friday.

Bieksa took what was likely a discount to stay with the Canucks, signing a five-year, $23 million deal. When Gillis was asked about how the negotiations with Ehrhoff were going, he made it sound as though Ehrhoff was pricing himself out of Vancouver.

"We're still talking about different possibilities, but like I said earlier, playing on this team is more important than individual compensation," Gillis said. "That's our expectation with everybody. It works with some but it may not work with others. I can't tell you what I expect.

"We'll just see how it goes. If he's unwilling to accept what we think is fair and allows us to be competitive, we'll go in a different direction."

Hours later, the Canucks went in a different direction. Gillis even offered the possibility of dealing Ehrhoff's rights, although he never said anything specifically about there being a deal in the works with the Islanders.

"I think if we get to a point in the negotiations where we have an offer to trade someone's rights who won't be signed here, then we'll do that," Gillis said. "If we don't get anything done, we'll explore all our other opportunities."

Ehrhoff is one the game's best at adding offense from the blue line. The 28-year-old had a career-high 14 goals and 36 assists in 79 games last season. He had 2 goals and 10 assists in 23 playoff games, but struggled mightily during the Stanley Cup Final as he played through a shoulder injury he suffered in the Western Conference Final.

It might be tough to replace Ehrhoff, but Gillis offered a confident response when asked if he would try to replace the German defenseman with a free agent. He even mentioned Sami Salo, another free-agent Canucks blueliner, in his potential plans for 2011-12.

"I think Keith Ballard is going to be a good player for us next year," Gillis said. "I think Chris Tanev can step up and play more minutes and have a more active role. Sami Salo we'll have for all of next season hopefully, not what we just had. We'll take it as it comes. I'm not sure if there will be a defenseman out there that can help us. We'll see what's available."

The Islanders, meanwhile, have two days to work out a deal with perhaps the best offensive defenseman in the free-agent market before other teams can make offers. They are about $27 million under the salary cap for 2011-12, and this move could be a sign the Islanders are ready to spend more money than they have in years past.

The Islanders have six defensemen under contract for next season -- Mark Streit, Milan Jurcina, Mark Eaton, Mike Mottau, Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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