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Gillis, Canucks agree to contract extension

by Kevin Woodley

The Vancouver Canucks reaffirmed their faith in Mike Gillis on Monday, signing their president and general manager to an undisclosed contract extension.

Coming off the fourth season of the five-year deal he signed in 2008, Gillis met with ownership 15 days after the earliest playoff exit of his tenure, and emerged later in the day with a renewed commitment to his vision for the franchise.

Despite the recent disappointment of being knocked out in five games by Los Angeles, it was a logical continuation of a tenure that includes Northwest Division titles every season, the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top regular season team the last two, and a trip to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last summer.

"Since we began this we accomplished 98 percent of what we set out to do, and in those circumstances most people continue on and continue with the plan and continue to finish off the last two percent," Gillis said on a conference call before boarding a plane for a sports leadership conference at Stanford University. "I feel very proud of what’s been accomplished by the organization on and off the ice. It's the right thing to carry on and continue to try and accomplish our goals."

It sounded like coach Alain Vigneault, who was in place when Gillis arrived and also has just one year left on his current contract, will continue as part of it.

Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis, who agreed to terms on a contract extension Monday, received the General Manager of the Year Award at the 2011 NHL Awards.
(Photo: Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Gillis, who was also named NHL General Manager of the Year in 2011, wouldn't talk contract specifics. But just as he did in a press conference two days after the Canucks were eliminated, he praised Vigneault, who he'd talked to Monday, and said they were "going to work together towards creating an agreement."

"I feel very comfortable with Alain as a coach," Gillis said, adding the decision is his to make. "He's done an excellent job, and I don't know why you wouldn't want somebody back that has done an excellent job and has the results to show for it."

Gillis admitted there have been times he wondered if the energy required and scrutiny were worth staying, but said Vigneault wants to come back to coach.

"We both feel it's a very good hockey team and a unique situation we face," Gillis said. "A good team, how to get over that last little hurdle and we're determined to work together to try and get there. … I intend to continue talking to him to try and keep our group together and have an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup."

Gillis downplayed the fact Vigneault had yet to talk to reporters since the playoff disappointment, which also played a role in delaying his own evaluation.

"To make sure everyone was level headed and not emotional about what had happened when we had such high expectations," Gillis explained.

Despite the delay, a quick pronouncement on his future was important given all the other things that need to get done this summer. In addition to a coaching decision that is "the first thing on my agenda," Gillis must address a goaltending situation changed when Vigneault chose to start backup Cory Schneider ahead of incumbent Roberto Luongo for the final three playoff games.

Luongo, who has a decade left in the 12-year, $64-million contract he signed with Gillis, said after the season that he was willing to waive his no-trade clause, and has indicated it is time to move on after six seasons in Vancouver. But Schneider is set to become a restricted free agent July 1, and without an extension of his own could become the target of offer sheets from other teams.

Gillis didn't have any updates on Luongo's status, indicating he hadn't talked to him about his future since their meetings two days after the season, but knows he can't afford to lose both goaltenders.

Keeping his own key players has been a strength under Gillis, who joined the Canucks after 15 years as a player agent, and re-signed core players like Ryan Kesler, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Kevin Bieksa, Alexander Edler and Alexandre Burrows, many below market value. Given the future likely includes trading a goalie, Gillis will have to improve on some of his past deals, including separate ones to acquire forward David Booth and defenseman Keith Ballard from Florida despite long-term contracts worth more than $4-million a season, and expectations they've so far failed to live up to.

They are part of player procurement history under Gillis that has as many misses (Steve Bernier, Pavol Demitra, Mats Sundin and Marco Sturm) as hits (Chris Higgins, Dan Hamhuis and since-departed Christian Ehrhoff).

"We have an awfully busy summer ahead of us," Gillis said. "We have a number of situations that we need to resolve. Now that I've resolved my situation we should be able to act on opportunities in front of us."

It will start with the coach, and continue with the goaltending, all with the goal of not having to undergo a similar year-end evaluation this early next summer.

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