Those Vancouver Canucks fans looking for a wholesale overhaul of their NHL team were disappointed Friday.
Canucks general manager Mike Gillis made it clear that a team that got to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final will be kept intact - as much as possible - for the 2011-12 season. Gillis and head coach Alain Vigneault believe their championship window is still open, and injuries and lack of depth derailed the team's Cup quest this spring.
"In the final, it wasn't really reflective of the team we had all season," Gillis said. "When you begin to lose players, it's part of playoff hockey. It's a war of attrition. And I don't think it's necessarily fair to say we failed."
The GM acknowledged the Boston Bruins were the better team, and not because they excelled at after-the-whistle intimidation. Gillis said the series "reflected a different era in hockey," but his squad would "learn to compete" and he wouldn't go about designing the club to compete against the big, bad Bruins or any one rival.
Meanwhile, during their end-of-year press conference, Vigneault played dumb about his team's growing reputation for diving and embellishing. He said he was caught off-guard that referees didn't enforce the rules more strictly when it came to after-the-whistle antics, but added he didn't feel more policemen in the lineup was the appropriate solution.
The coach rightfully noted that Vancouver's dangerous power play acted as a deterrent for the regular season, and that the same unit underperformed in the playoffs.
As for personnel, Gillis went through a laundry list of injuries that were concealed during the Cup run.
Most seriously, defenceman Dan Hamhuis suffered a significant abdominal injury in Game 1 of the final, and is scheduled for surgery some time in the next two weeks. Christian Ehrhoff never recovered from a shoulder injury sustained in the Western Conference final against the San Jose Sharks, but shouldn't require surgery.
Ryan Kesler played with an injured hip, Henrik Sedin fought through a back injury, Kevin Bieksa had a bruised knee ligament, Chris Higgins plowed through a worsening foot injury, and defenceman Alexander Edler played Game 7 last Wednesday with two broken fingers.
"We're intent to try and keep this team together as best we can with the core assets that we have," Gillis said. "That's what I'm going to try to do, and I think I can do it."
Many are wondering what his future is in Vancouver, but they're uninformed. Luongo has a long-term contract and a no-trade clause, and the Canucks have a policy that they will not ask players with said clauses to waive them.
That policy exists because Gillis was formerly a player agent, and believes asking players to waive no-trade clauses is tantamount to renegotiating terms. So unless Luongo wants out, he'll be back. And Friday, he made it clear that he wants back.
"Listen, we came one game away from winning the Stanley Cup," Luongo said. "As an athlete, I can't ask for anything more than that. … The Canucks give me the best chance [to win] so yeah, I'm committed."
Asked about Luongo's future with the Canucks, Gillis said: "We had a great season, and he was a huge part of it. … I'm going to do what it takes to get him to the level where he is a champion."
The Canucks would like Cory Schneider back to serve as Luongo's oft-used understudy, although Gillis allowed they would look at trading the young puck-stopper if the right deal materialized.
The pending unrestricted free agent said he would take less money to stay in Vancouver, and was confident a deal would get done before July 1.
"There's loyalty, for sure," he said. "I think everybody takes less to play here. I think it's such a great organization that you want to be here. So, if you want to be here, you've got to take less. That's just the culture. It's like Detroit [Red Wings] If you want to win, you've got to take less. So, without making my agent's job too tough, I'm optimistic."
Bieksa earned $3.5-million (U.S.) in 2010-11, but could probably stand to make about $5-million if he hits the open market, thanks to a strong season and a better playoffs. The Canucks already have a dollar figure in mind, and negotiations are set to begin next week.
He might be the most difficult free agent to re-sign, because he has only been in Vancouver two years, and because his value on the open market is immense. He's a 50-point defenceman who can quarterback a power play, and is effective joining the rush and manufacturing offence from the back end. Ehrhoff isn't the most responsible defensively, but players with his skill set are rare, and at 29, he's in his prime.
"They've started talking [about an extension]" the German rearguard said. "It's not easy to put up 50 points, and, obviously, there is a good market for guys like me, but saying that, it's got to make sense for both sides. It's a [salary]cap world, and you've got to fit everything in. I just want something that's fair, and obviously, if I end up staying here, it's natural that you have to come their way a little bit."
The veteran defenceman, who can become a free agent on July 1, made one thing perfectly clear. He isn't retiring, and he plans to play in the NHL next season.
"There's a lot of hunger left," Salo said.
The 36-year-old said he is motivated by getting so close to a Cup, and by coming back strong off a career-threatening heel injury last summer. He laughed he would no longer play floor hockey in his native Finland, where the injury occurred last summer, and did not suspect money would be an issue in terms of his desire to re-sign with the Canucks. In his last contract, Salo left some money on the table to remain in Vancouver.
"This is one of the top candidates, for sure," Salo said. "I like playing here, so I didn't think money is going to be an issue."
Gillis said the Canucks "would love to have Sami back" but that "we'll have to design his play around his age and his injury history, and try to get the most out of him."