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The last of five core players that adorned the cover of the Vancouver Canucks' yearbook only four years ago is gone.

Right winger Alexander Mogilny was dispatched yesterday at the National Hockey League trading deadline to the playoff-bound New Jersey Devils for younger (seven years) and less expensive forwards Brendan Morrison and Dennis Pederson.

Mogilny's exit came after former Vancouver stars Kirk McLean, Trevor Linden, Jyrki Lumme and Pavel Bure left for various reasons as team composition kept changing.

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The Canucks cleared an expensive contract that pays Mogilny $4.6-million (U.S.) this season and calls for a base salary of $5.2-million next season. Morrison and Pederson will earn a combined $1.325-million this season.

Mogilny, now 31, was the prize catch for the Canucks before the 1995-96 season, plucked from the Buffalo Sabres in a draft-day deal for prospects Mike Peca, Mike Wilson and a first-round draft choice (Jay McKee).

Buffalo made it to the Stanley Cup final last year with Peca and McKee playing key roles. The Canucks? They didn't make the playoffs for the third consecutive year -- and may experience the same fate again following the departure of Mogilny, who once scored 76 goals in one season for the Sabres.

Vancouver deal-maker Brian Burke, team president and general manager, insisted yesterday the Canucks have not given up on the playoffs. They trail the eighth-place San Jose Sharks by six points with 12 games remaining in the regular season.

Burke's trade-day spin was that the Canucks will still have playoff ambitions -- minus the team-leading 21 goals of Mogilny -- when Vancouver plays tomorrow against the Sabres.

"It's not raising the white flag in any sense," Burke said from the Los Angeles suburb of Marina Del Rey, where the trade was completed. "We are going to miss at times Alex's knockout punch.

"I'm not going to say it's a better lineup because that would be unfair to Alex. But I do think it provides a different look. These two youngsters [can]provide different aspects and a different look that will keep us just as competitive."

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The Canucks are 8-4-4-2 since the all-star break, with Mogilny supplying six goals in the past seven games, including the tying goal in the third period Monday when Vancouver lost in overtime to the Los Angeles Kings.

Mogilny, born and raised in Russia, scored 139 goals for the Canucks in less than five full seasons. But, after 55 markers in his first Vancouver season, his production declined to 31, 18 and 14 goals before this season.

Mogilny joked last week that it was he, not Mark Messier, who should be traded as rumours swirled. Messier has a no-trade clause in his contract and Burke declined to ask the 39-year-old captain for permission to move him.

"I had a chance to play with Mess and am really fortunate to play with probably the greatest leader in sports," Mogilny said after the trade. "I hope he will play [in Vancouver next season]and show this young hockey club how to win, what it takes to win. He's still got plenty of hockey left."

Burke conceded it would be extremely difficult for the Canucks to re-sign Messier for next season under current terms. His contract can be extended for $6-million, or he can collect a $2-million payout and become an unrestricted free agent again.

The Canucks did attempt to extend Mogilny's contract through agent Mike Barnett, but were rebuffed, probably because Mogilny can become an unrestricted free agent after next season.

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Burke would not comment on the suggestion the Canucks might be picking up some of Mogilny's salary in New Jersey.

Vancouver received inquiries about Messier's availability before the trade deadline, but rival GMs were told Messier was remaining with the Canucks.

"The reason we're in the playoff hunt, in my opinion, is due largely to No. 11 [Messier]and shows a lot of character on his part to not ask for a trade and hang in there with us and continue to lead the charge," Burke said.

He admitted the Canucks continue to watch the bottom line, but money was not a major factor in trading Mogilny.

Pederson and Morrison have played minor roles in New Jersey's rise to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Morrison was unsigned at the start of the season, eventually agreed to a one-year deal for $500,000 and can become a restricted free agent again after the season. He has five goals and 21 assists.

Pederson is known more for his checking and penalty-killing than offensive skills. He's also adept at taking face-offs. Pederson had two assists Monday during a 3-2 Devils win over Pittsburgh, giving him only six points for the season.

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A touted first-round draft seven years ago from the junior Medicine Hat Tigers -- 13th overall-- Pederson has one year remaining on his contract.

Morrison was particularly attractive for the Canucks because he played minor hockey in suburban Pitt Meadows before attending the University of Michigan.

"I'm a little bit shocked, but I just look at it as a tremendous opportunity with a young team," Morrison said from his New Jersey residence. "I grew up right in the back yard [of the Canucks] It's exciting to know they plan to throw us in there right away."

The Canucks have stockpiled younger forwards after drafting the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, last year. The Swedish teenagers are expected to play in the NHL next season.

"These players are both useful additions to our hockey club," Burke insisted about the former Devils before adding that Mogilny did not request a trade. "Brendan Morrison has a chance to be a top-six guy [among Vancouver forwards]

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