Vancouver Canucks' wish list topped by centre, defenceman and backup goalie
Look for Roberto Luongo to be traded before season starts
A backup goalie, a third-line centre and a depth defenceman are on general manager Mike Gillis's shopping list as the Vancouver Canucks prepare for a shortened National Hockey League season. File: Vancouver Canucks president and general manager Mike Gillis gets scrummed by reporters at the Jake Milford Charity Invitational on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012 at Northview Golf Course in Surrey.
Photograph by: Ric Ernst, PNG
VANCOUVER - A third-line centre, a depth defenceman and probably an experienced backup goalie are on general manager Mike Gillis's shopping list as the Vancouver Canucks prepare for a shortened National Hockey League season.
Roberto Luongo could have a big say on how those holes get filled.
Gillis could conceivably plug some of those holes by trading Luongo between now and the start of the season, which is expected to begin on or about Jan. 19 after the NHL and its players reached a tentative deal early Sunday to end the 113-day lockout.
There were media reports during the lockout that Gillis and Toronto general manager Brian Burke had a deal in place to trade Luongo to the Leafs. Both Gillis and Burke have denied that any deal is done, but Toronto or Florida seem like logical landing spots for Luongo.
Wherever Luongo ends up, Gillis will be looking for some assets in return to help plug the holes on his roster.
With centre Ryan Kesler still not ready to play after off-season shoulder and wrist surgeries, the Canucks are thin at centre ice. Henrik Sedin, Maxim Lapierre and Manny Malhotra are the only experienced NHL centres currently on the Canuck roster.
Not only would the Canucks like to upgrade their third-line centre slot, they also need someone to fill in as second-line centre until Kesler is ready to go.
In a conference call with reporters on Sunday, Gillis repeated what has become the company line regarding a potential Luongo trade. Gillis suggested the Canucks are prepared to keep both Luongo and Cory Schneider.
"I've said all along we've got two very good goaltenders, we are very happy with both of them and we'll have to wait and see what comes our way now that you can begin discussing things with teams," Gillis said.
The Canucks do potentially have enough cap space to keep both Schneider and Luongo, but that does not seem a palatable option for the team.
Any Luongo deal with the Leafs could include center Tyler Bozak, who had 18 goals and 47 points with Toronto last season. Bozak could conceivably fill in as second-line centre and then drop down to the third line when Kesler returns.
Prospect Jordan Schroeder, Vancouver's first-round pick in 2009, will also get a chance to make the team at what will be an abbreviated training camp. The 22-year-old centre has nine goals and 19 points in 30 games this season with Vancouver's AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.
"Jordan Schroeder has played very well the last three or four weeks in Chicago," Gillis said Sunday.
Andrew Ebbett, Zack Kassian, Chris Tanev and Kevin Connauton are other Chicago Wolves players expected to attend training camp.
Gillis cautioned that in a sprint-to-the-finish kind of season that is about to start, it might be more difficult for young, inexperienced players to crack the lineup.
"You don't have the luxury of a full season to experiment," Gillis said. "We were planning to introduce a number of young players, now I am not sure how that is going to work out with a shortened schedule.
"Obviously, with a 48-game schedule you don't have any room for experimentation or introduction unless the player is ready to play and ready to contribute. That is going to change the dynamics not only for us but for every team in the league. We are going to have to go with our best players every night no matter what to make sure we get into the playoffs and have an opportunity to advance."
If Luongo gets dealt and the Canucks don't receive a goalie in return, then the Canucks are going to have to find a backup goalie very quickly.
Veteran Dan Ellis, a 32-year-old whose NHL stops have included Anaheim, Tampa Bay and Nashville, has expressed interest in playing in Vancouver and could be a fit. Other free agents available include Cristobal Huet, Dwayne Roloson, Ty Conklin and Brent Johnson.
Eddie Lack is not an option. Lack has been out of the Chicago Wolves lineup since late November with a stubborn groin injury and is believed to be heading to Vancouver for further medical tests.
The Canucks seem to be in decent shape on defence where Tanev, who has spent the lockout playing with the Wolves, will join veterans Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Jason Garrison, Alex Edler, Keith Ballard and Andrew Alberts. The Canucks will be looking to sign or trade for at least one more depth defenceman.
Vancouver's first line with the Sedins and Alex Burrows remains intact. David Booth and Chris Higgins could start the season as second-line wingers, with Jannik Hansen, Mason Raymond and Lapierre on the third line.
Malhotra, Dale Weise, Kassian, Ebbett and Aaron Volpatti figure to compete for fourth-line spots.
Prospect Nicklas Jensen, who has been enjoying a solid season with AIK in the Swedish Elite League, will remain in Sweden and not attend training camp.
Gillis said his biggest concern about a shortened season is injuries.
"That is an element that you can't control and in a shortened season they are going to take on that much more emphasis," Gillis said. "Long-term injuries at this point in the year wold be devastating, but when you are starting up now the potential is probably greater for injuries that will perhaps keep a player out for the duration of the season. Our biggest concern is trying to keep everybody healthy and travel as well as we can and manage practice time as well as we can and try and ensure that we get guys that can stay as healthy as possible throughout the whole season and playoffs."
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