Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canucks' exit should inspire Moose

Possible shakeup bodes well for AHLers

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The great goaltender, in whose gifted hands the future of the Vancouver Canucks was entrusted, was rendered speechless.On the verge of tears.

"I think I let my teammates down tonight," Roberto Luongo told reporters Monday night, before apologetically brushing past the assembled mob when his voice began to crack. "It's something that's going to take a while to get over."

Yes, it was a Black Monday for the Canucks. More like a Blackhawk Monday, in fact, as the favoured Vancouver team was unceremoniously vanquished by the upstart young lads from Chicago in Game 6.

Indeed, there were probably plenty of smiling faces in Winnipeg as Chicago exploded for a 7-5 come-from-behind victory over Vancouver -- yes, seven goals past a befuddled Luongo -- most of them belonging to the family, fans and friends of rising NHL stars Jonathan Toews and Cam Barker, both born and raised in this other Windy City.

As for other folks in Winnipeg -- namely employees of the Canucks AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose -- we're not so sure about their private reactions to their parent club's stunning demise.

They'd probably say all the right things if asked. You know, it's too bad. We're one big family so we feel their pain. And maybe some of that would actually be true. But the harsh reality of professional hockey is this: Failure for some means opportunity for others. You can look it up.

Concern

Because the Canucks exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs in the short term is obvious; that Manitoba's current Calder Cup playoff run will not be affected by potential call-ups to the West coast, which was always an unspoken concern while the Canucks were still alive.

But that is all moot now. It's the long-term ramifications of the Canucks dashed Stanley Cup aspirations that will, eventually, have a trickle down affect on the Moose. Or should we say trickle up?

You see, for all the anguish being felt out in Vancouver, let's face some facts. The Moose, who are almost all aspiring Canucks, are still playing. And very well, we might add. So immediately, the focus of the Canucks brain trust should focus on their employees in Manitoba. At least, for now.

Because we're pretty sure that had the Canucks survived the Blackhawks and proceeded to the Western Conference final, any accomplishments of the Moose, individual or otherwise, would have been afterthoughts at head office. Not anymore.

Especially given the many weighty decisions facing Vancouver GM Mike Gillis that could create far-reaching ripples throughout the organization -- from the fate of Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault to Luongo's future in Vancouver, to the pending free agency of the Sedin twins, and to the possible retirement of Mats Sundin.

Let's start with the later first: Sundin's lucrative return to the Canucks this season must certainly be over. The aging Swede cost the 'Nucks $7 million (pro rated), and didn't come close to having an impact. Done.

Next is Luongo, who is entering the final year of a four-year, $27 million deal. Luongo is widely considered one of the finest goaltenders on the planet and he's compensated accordingly. But the Canucks have a choice: Either lock up the 30-year-old to a richer, longer-term deal or risk losing him as a UFA next season. There's an option, of course. Trade Luongo this off-season (Luongo has a no-trade clause, but what happens if talks stall?) for a load of high picks and prospects, even a proven veteran and promote Schneider to No. 1 for a fraction of the cost. It frees up cap space and restocks the cupboard for potential future Cody Hodgsons.

This would be a gamble, of course, since the Canucks are built around Luongo. He was to be their Stanley Cup messiah. Well, the messiah gave up seven in his last playoff game and the Canucks didn't even make it to the Western Conference final. We're just sayin'.

And what if Cory Schneider, the Moose MVP, leads Manitoba to a Calder Cup and collects a playoff MVP trophy, too?

Meanwhile, dumping Sundin's and Luongo's hefty contracts would free up a whopping $14 million (or so) in cap space, which would allow the Canucks their pick of the free agent market, along with freeing up cash to keep the Sedin twins. That is, if they want to keep the Sedin twins, who will be looking for a significant pay bump from $3.5 million apiece.

Then there's Vigneault, who will have to survive the whispers already circulating about his job security, despite a relatively solid season and a first-round victory. But, again, if the Moose continue their playoff march in June, the name of Scott Arniel in the rumour mill is only going to gain more traction.

Bottom line: Changes could be coming in Vancouver. Huge changes. So it would bode well for anyone in a Moose uniform -- even those wearing suits -- that advancing to the Calder Cup final, at least, would have a direct impact on Gillis's decision-making process.

Too bad about the Canucks.

But there should be no pity whatsoever in the land of the Moose.

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2009 C1

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.

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