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(ANDY CLARK)
(ANDY CLARK)

Let the speculation begin Add to ...

Neither Canucks GM Mike Gillis, nor trusty lieutenant Laurence Gilman were at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game in Windsor on Wednesday. Both were at the Bell Centre in Montreal - spotted by Globe eagle-eye Sean Gordon- and that wasn't the plan a few weeks ago.

Gillis attended a personal matter in Kingston, Ont., his former home, earlier this week, but re-routed to La Belle Province rather than carrying on westward to Windsor and Vancouver.

By the standards of NHL GMs, Gillis despises travelling, so he wouldn't backtrack without good reason. He also summoned Gilman, who was supposed to mind the shop at GM Place before meeting him at the prospects game.

Officially, the NHL trade deadline is March 3, but in reality, it's Feb. 15. That's the day the league shuts down for the 2010 Olympics. League play resumes on March 1.

Something lured Vancouver's brass to Montreal to see a game between two teams below the playoff line. Here's a theory…

- In July 2008, one of Gillis' first acts as Canucks GM was to sign St. Louis centre David Backes to a three-year, $7.5-million (all currencies U.S.) offer sheet. The Blues, grudgingly, matched.

Backes, 25, earns $2.5-million next season before becoming a free agent. He scored 31 goals a season ago, but has just 10 this year.

The Blues are six points out of a playoff spot, and have 16 games remaining before the Olympic break. Plenty of time to catch up, but they would need to finish 23-11, according to our friend James Mirtle, to make the dance.

Minus some gained ground between now and the Olympic break, Backes becomes a one-year proposition for St. Louis. And if he proves closer to a 18-goal player than a 31-goal player, than he isn't quite a top-2 centre, and he's not quite a bargain at $2.5-million.

But with his combination of size (6-3, 225 lbs.), physicality and offensive ability, he'd be an ideal No. 3 centre on a playoff team. Indeed, he was one of the few Blues who demonstrated passion during a first-round sweep at the hands of the Canucks last spring.

The Canucks, meanwhile, could sure use a third-line centre. And for a team that seemed certain of its defensive depth in training camp, they could use - by golly - a depth defenceman.

Vancouver employed Pavol Demitra at centre Wednesday in a 3-2 overtime win over Edmonton. Demitra loathed playing centre in Minnesota under head coach Jacques Lemaire, and readily admits that he prefers the wing (regardless of coach). Alain Vigneault, conversely, told Vancouver's Team 1040 that he thinks Demitra is more suited to the middle.

Something is amiss there, and something is amiss with Mikael Samuelsson being demoted to the third line after 10 points in his last 11 games. Vigneault said he wanted to complement Demitra with an offensive player. Neither had a point against Edmonton.

Kyle Wellwood, regularly the third-line centre in Vancouver, would have been a healthy scratch Wednesday had Rick Rypien not been hit by the flu just hours before puck-drop.

Instead, Wellwood centred the fourth line. But it's clear that Vigneault is done with the former Maple Leaf. Wellwood has drawn too many stern words from the coach, and he has just 12 points this year.

***UPDATE***

Just came across more evidence, courtesy of Winnipeg Sun hockey writer Ken Wiebe, that suggests the Canucks and Blues are working on a trade.

Blues president John Davidson was in Winnipeg in early-January, and told a local radio station he was there to scout the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose, Vancouver's farm team, and the Hershey Bears, the Washington Capitals farm team. Both the Canucks and Caps are in playoff position.

Davidson, a former goaltender, surely watched Canucks prospect Cory Schneider, Vancouver's best non-NHL asset, and one of the best goaltending prospects in the world.

The Blues have been trying to get by with the tandem of Chris Mason and Ty Conklin, a pair of 33-year-olds who have been backups more than starters over their careers. Prospect Ben Bishop seems to have fallen out of favour, and long-range prospect Jake Allen proved that he is not nearly ready for prime time with an abysmal performance at the world junior championship in Saskatchewan earlier this month.

Schneider, meanwhile, won't ever become Vancouver's No. 1 goalie unless something tragic happens to Roberto Luongo, yet he is in his third year of dominating the AHL.

The Canucks were not willing to move Schneider, 23, earlier this season because they are thin, organizationally, in goaltending depth. That would matter less as the NHL trade deadline of March 3 approaches, so long as Luongo and backup Andrew Raycroft remain healthy.

We should also mention that Scott Mellanby, one of Vancouver's professional scouts, lives in St. Louis.

 

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