The time is now for these Canucks
CHICAGO -- There are eight teams left in the NHL playoffs. Only one of them has the uncertain offseason of the Vancouver Canucks.
Depending on how it goes, their top two scorers, one of their top blueliners and even their superstar netminder could be gone this summer. Or they could all stay. Or it could be a bit of both. The fact is, no one knows.
The Sedin twins (Daniel and Henrik), Mattias Ohlund and Roberto Luongo all understand that, because they don't know what will happen this summer, the time is now for this edition of the Canucks. This might be their window with this current roster.
"I think that's fair," said Ohlund, who is widely expected to move on July 1. "And I think you realize after you've played a few years in this league that you don't get these opportunities very often when you feel like you've got a great chance. You never know how the summer is going to play out."
The Sedin twins have garnered much of the attention for their contract status, in large part because they've once again been so dominant this season, and one wonders how in the world Canucks GM Michael Gillis could even find a way in free agency to replace their 160-odd points a season.
But just as big a question Gillis will need to answer this summer is the future of his captain and franchise goalie. The 30-year-old Luongo has one year left on his deal at $7.5 million. Gillis will want to inquire this summer whether there's any interest in extending his deal. The collective-bargaining agreement allows you to extend a player one year from the expiration of his deal. Just like Pittsburgh did with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Luongo, understandably, doesn't want to talk about that with the media right now. But he knows after the season is over, he'll have to sit down with his family and figure out his future. You have to think the last thing he wants to do is go into next season in the last year of his deal and be asked every single day about his future. He'll want to settle it either way: sign a long-term extension to stay in Vancouver or invite a trade by not signing one.
Gillis would have to think long and hard, as crazy as it sounds, about shopping the superstar netminder if he can't get him to sign an extension. You have to protect assets in this league. Letting him walk away on July 1, 2010, without getting any compensation is not an option.
Of course, Luongo will no doubt want to see what happens with the Sedins before he makes up his mind, as well. With all this in mind, we asked the goalie Wednesday about all the roster uncertainty and whether that was reason alone for making sure to make the best of this playoff opportunity.
"You know what, the last part of your question is bang on, but it has nothing to do with contracts," said Luongo. "You never know when you're going to get an opportunity to win. For me, this is my ninth or 10th year in the NHL and I haven't had a lot of opportunities. When you have an opportunity, you want to make sure you take advantage of that and give it all you have and enjoy it. Not many players get a chance to try and win a Cup."
Veteran forward Mats Sundin is an unrestricted free agent July 1. But like Luongo, he downplayed the potential offseason implications with the Canucks, and pointed out no matter the contract situations with players on any team, a chance at a title run doesn't come around every season.
"I think you're asking the right guy," said the former Leafs captain. "I've been playing 17 years and I've only been to the conference finals twice. So I understand how rare and how hard it is to be on a team that has a chance to go far in the playoffs and do well. There's no doubt that it's a good group of guys here. It's very exciting for sure."
The Sedins would have preferred to enter these playoffs with a nice extension already signed. Every single Canucks observer will tell you the twins love it so much in Vancouver, it would be hard to imagine them leaving. But contract talks between Gillis and their agent, J.P. Barry of CAA Sports, did not go well at all this season. Talks were shelved until the playoffs are over and there's a wide gap to narrow once they start up again. And the clock is ticking to July 1.
The twins insist they're not losing any sleep over it right now.
"The whole season, we focused on playing hockey," Daniel Sedin said Wednesday after practice. "These kinds of things take care of themselves if you play good. You focus on hockey instead of other things. We'll see what happens after the season."
Henrik said much of the same. One thing is for sure, they will definitely be playing together no matter what happens. They won't split up.
"We've played together for so long now, I doubt any team would pick only one guy," said Daniel.
Unfortunately for Gillis, the price keeps going up as the Sedins continue to bring it in these playoffs. They were by far the best two Canucks on the ice in Tuesday night's Game 3 victory.
"They've been extremely consistent, they come to play every night," said Ohlund. "I'm sure if you ask other teams' defensemen, they would tell you they're awfully hard to play against."
Strangely, though, the twins don't seem to get the same kind of league-wide attention as other players of their caliber.
"They are, in my opinion, very underrated," said Sundin. "There's no doubt they're as good as the [Henrik] Zetterbergs and ... I would rank them [among] the best Swedish forwards in the league right now, there's no doubt about that. When you have two guys at that level and the way they've been performing consistently and doing it in the regular season and the playoffs, it's been very impressive to watch. And they're in their prime with their age. They keep becoming better players and it's been a lot of fun playing with them here."
Ohlund wonders if maybe one of the reasons the twins don't get their due is because of the way they play.
"Maybe it's because they don't play the Canadian way, they play a European style," said Ohlund. "They cycle the puck and sometimes it's not very exciting to watch, but it's effective and they put up points every year."
Gillis has some leverage in the fact he knows how much the twins don't want to leave Vancouver. But on the flip side, Barry knows how difficult it would be for the Canucks' GM to replace that kind of high-end production.
"Who knows what will happen this summer, but if they do leave, to find two guys like that would be awfully, awfully hard," Ohlund said. "They're as good as anybody and as consistent as anybody in this league."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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