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Northwest: Canucks trying to avoid twin distractions

by Roger Phillips
It's difficult to avoid the distraction that goes with having two top players on the same team preparing to become unrestricted free agents July 1.

It's a twin headache for the Canucks -- literally -- given that stars Henrik and Daniel Sedin could be headed in that direction a few months from now.

It would be one thing if the Canucks weren't almost certainly heading toward the playoffs with the belief that they can do some serious damage once they arrive. If they were heading to the golf course once the regular season ended, then it wouldn't much matter if there was a distraction.

But right now, the Canucks believe they can catch Calgary, win the Northwest Division, gain home-ice advantage at least in the first round and go from there. And that means the Sedin distraction had to be dealt with.

And so, the Canucks have chosen to deal with it by not dealing with it. Management has decided to suspend negotiations with the twins until after the season.

"We're in complete agreement on some issues, and on others there is some disagreement," Canucks Assistant General Manager Laurence Gilman told the Vancouver Province. "We're not going to have a deal until we are in agreement on all the issues. At this point, we're focusing on the playoff run and so are they. These are not time-sensitive issues."

Not yet, anyway. But if the Canucks happen to go on a long playoff run that carries them to June, they might be down to less than a month to work out a deal with the Sedins. And if the Canucks go that deep in the playoffs, you only can assume the Sedins' asking price will have risen.

According to the Province, the Sedins are seeking identical long-term deals of at least four years. The Canucks reportedly would like to sign the twins to shorter contracts.

Of course, many teams would like to have the Canucks' problems. Vancouver, which earlier in the season dropped nine straight home games, lately has been invincible at GM Place.
"It's crazy," Canucks forward Alex Burrows said. "We couldn't buy a win a month and a half ago. We always found a way to lose every game. But we turned it around, and right now we have a lot of confidence in our own building. That's a good thing heading into the playoffs."

Flameout -- By all rights, the Flames should be cruising to the Northwest title. But they tripped up on their recent seven-game road trip, and of greater concern than losing four of their last five on that journey is how they've been losing.

The skid actually began the last time the Flames were home, when they dropped an 8-6 decision March 1 to Tampa Bay. They then hit the road and won the first two games before going into collapse mode.

They allowed six goals in a loss at Carolina and five more the following game at Atlanta. They picked up a shootout victory at Detroit, but only after allowing five goals during regulation. The Flames concluded the trip with their second 8-6 loss in less than two weeks to a non-playoff team, this time at Toronto. A three-goal, five-point effort by Olli Jokinen was little consolation.

What in the name of Miikka Kiprusoff is happening?

"Obviously, we have to go back to the drawing board and do lots of video here in the next few days," forward Curtis Glencross told the Calgary Herald. "We're allowing way too may scoring chances, and that's our biggest problem."

Another part of the problem might be fatigue. The seven-game trip was only part of the story. The trip-ending loss at Toronto ended a stretch in which 12 of 16 games were played on the road.

"First of all, we've got to get some rest," defenseman Robyn Regehr told the Herald. "Then we've got to get back and make sure we get back to practicing hard.

"We're way too inconsistent of a team. Sometimes you come out with a good defensive effort, and sometimes we don't play that way at all. It makes it really tough to play, because you never know how this team is going to react."

They better figure it out soon. If they don't, the Flames might not win their division, which probably would mean opening the playoffs on the road -- something that would have seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago.

An April 7 game at Vancouver -- the only remaining game between the top two Northwest teams -- looks as if it will loom very large.

Mild no more? -- Considering their historically conservative offensive approach under the only coach they've ever had, perhaps they should be called the Minnesota Mild. Through the years, the Wild as coached by Jacques Lemaire have seldom lived up to their actual nickname.

Well, the 63-year-old Lemaire's time could be winding down in the Twin Cities. The Wild are iffy as far as making it into the playoffs, it's been a turbulent and inconsistent season, and there are signs Lemaire may be planning to retire.

"In my personal opinion, I think he won't come back," Lou Nanne, a Lemaire confidant and former North Stars defenseman and general manager, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Jacques is a very intense guy. He's a tremendous teacher, and it's all-encompassing to him. He's been here longer than he's been anywhere else. He's enjoyed it, loved it, but he gets to the point where he thinks, 'I've spent a lot of time in hockey and I might want to enjoy some of my life.'

"He's got a place in Florida and a place in Montreal and here he is, in the rink all the time. Just what I've seen this year, watching and listening to him, in my mind, I think his attitude is going to be that he's had enough of hockey."
-- Lou Nanne discussing Wild coach Jacques Lemaire

"He's got a place in Florida and a place in Montreal and here he is, in the rink all the time. Just what I've seen this year, watching and listening to him, in my mind, I think his attitude is going to be that he's had enough of hockey."

Of course, things might have been different this season if star forward Marian Gaborik had been healthy rather than sidelined for all but six games. Entering this week, the Wild had dropped 10 one-goal games in regulation this season, and eight more in overtime or the shootout. How much of a difference might Gaborik have made in those games?

If there’s a silver lining, it's that his injuries might make it easier to re-sign Gaborik, at least in the short term. GM Doug Risebrough told the Star Tribune he's considering offering Gaborik a short-term contract, the type of offer Gaborik never would have been forced to consider if he'd had a big season.

"I envisioned signing him this year. It didn't work out. Now maybe this is a way to make it work out based on the existing circumstances," Risebrough told the newspaper. "Now, what will (Gaborik's) reaction be to this? I don't know. What I'm saying is, do I think there's a chance for us -- for us -- to consider that? Yes. Then, it's up to Marian.”
Oil skid -- If the Oilers wake up a month from now on the outside of the playoffs, it won't be hard to figure out why they failed to live up to their expectations.

They will look back on a recent series of failed opportunities against teams that won't be going to the playoffs. There was a 4-2 loss March 5 at Ottawa. There was a 4-3 overtime loss at home to Atlanta on March 12. There was a 3-2 overtime loss to Colorado at home two nights after the Thrashers disaster.

That's four points that got away in early March -- points that could prove to be the difference between the postseason and an early golf season.

Another source of recent pain has been overtime. From March 3-14, the Oilers lost four games in overtime -- to the Predators (a team Edmonton is battling with for a postseason berth), Canadiens, Thrashers and Avalanche. In all, they've lost five straight overtime games.

"What have we lost, four over our last six games in overtime? That's four points. What would four points do for us right now in the standings?" defenseman Sheldon Souray told the Edmonton Journal.

At this point, the Oilers' goal when games head to overtime probably should be simply to survive until the shootout. The Oilers are 4-4 in the tiebreaker.

"When you're not scoring in overtime, you have to at least shut them down to get to a shootout," Kyle Brodziak told the Journal. "We've had plenty of opportunity to put ourselves in a much better position than we're in now. We could comfortably be in a playoff position, but we haven't done enough to earn it."
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