The Vancouver Canucks shocked the hockey world by bringing in former player agent Mike Gillis to replace Dave Nonis as general manager.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at what the new man in charge could do in a summer of potential upheaval on the West Coast.
The first decision, and one which Gillis acknowledges will be his most important, deals with the future of head coach Alain Vigneault. If Gillis is comfortable with Vigneault's defence-first style, then the coach may have a chance to at least finish out the final year of his current contract. If not, the first big change could be behind the bench.
To begin with, Gillis gave a rather blunt assessment of his new team, telling the Vancouver Province, "I don't think this team is close at this particular point."
Not to take issue with the new GM, but the Canucks do have a number of good pieces around which to build, including a premier goaltender and one of the best groups of defencemen in the league.
Up front, the Sedin twins are the franchise players, but Gillis didn't give a ringing endorsement when he told reporters, "They are front-line players but I don't know if they're players that the team will be built around going forward." That doesn't mean that the twins are gone, but it's certainly within the realm of possibility.
Any deal of that magnitude would be massive and would increase the challenge that the Canucks face in trying to increase their offensive output, but the team needs are evident and need to be addressed.
"I think this team needs to get faster, I think it needs more grit and I think it needs to be more competitive," Gillis said in the Vancouver Sun. "If these get addressed well, this team won't be far off. A couple of very good decisions, or a couple of really bold decisions, might put this team in a position to win almost immediately."
If all it's going to take this summer is a couple of bold decisions, that puts a lot of pressure on the new guy -- Gillis -- to step into a job in which he has no experience and do the job well right away.
For those concerned about Gillis' loyalty to his former clients, including free agent winger Markus Naslund, Gillis made his objectives clear, telling reporters, "I don't plan on targeting ex-clients, I plan on targeting the best players available."
Targeting the best players is only half the battle, however. Landing them is what separates the league's best general managers from the rest of the class and that's the challenge facing Gillis as he endeavors to return the Canucks to the postseason.
Mike Gillis/Alain Vigneault
Top Prospects: Jannik Hansen, Michael Grabner, Sergei Shirokov
The future of the Sedin twins is a major subject for debate, as the undeniably productive brothers slumped down the stretch (Daniel: three goals, minus-8 in final 18 games; Henrik: three goals, minus-10 in final 18 games) when the Canucks needed them most in their battle for a playoff spot.
Henrik is the playmaker and has put up 232 points over the last three seasons while Daniel is the finisher and has 229 points over the last three seasons. Those are impressive numbers and, given their current contracts, good economic value, but if the Canucks are looking to increase toughness or simply change the make-up of the top lines, the Sedins could be pieces in a blockbuster deal.
Taylor Pyatt's goal total dropped from 23 to 16, but he still matched his career-best of 37 points and finished a career-high plus-9. Pyatt has the physical package to be a quality power forward, but has yet to bring it consistently in order to reach that potential. In the meantime, his size and strength is still valuable in the Canucks' forward ranks.
Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows were superb in their agitating and checking roles. Kesler is an in-your-face two-way centre who displayed some offensive potential, scoring 21 goals.
Burrows is even more of a pest than Kesler and he lifted his game to a new level, going from a minimal fourth-line role to being the only forward in the league to have at least 30 points and 170 penalty minutes.
Speedster Mason Raymond fared well enough in limited duty during his first pro season and therefore he warrants consideration for a second-line role in the future.
Acquired from the Capitals at the trade deadline, Matt Pettinger is a good skater and much better than his career-low six goals (four in the last 20 games with Vancouver) would suggest. He's a solid player who can be useful in a third or fourth-line role.
Jeff Cowan is a battler, and he led the team with a dozen fights despite playing just 46 games. He shouldn't be forced into tangling with heavyweights so often, but Cowan's grit is nice to have in spot duty.
Tiny speedster Ryan Shannon only has 24 points in 80 career NHL games, not enough to secure regular NHL employment, but he's okay to have in a depth role because of his latent offensive skills.
Grinder Rick Rypien has an aggressive mentality, but hasn't been able to stay healthy since turning pro, so anything more than sporadic fourth-line duty would be a surprise.
It's been no secret that the Canucks need more scoring up front, and they can seek solutions in both the trade and free agent markets. When looking to deal, the Canucks do have a surplus of quality NHL defencemen and could easily land a scoring forward like L.A.'s Mike Cammalleri, Buffalo's Maxim Afinogenov or Chicago's Martin Havlat.
On the free agent front, the Canucks have money to spend so they can shoot for the moon, with Marian Hossa, Mats Sundin, Ryan Malone and Kristian Huselius all attractive for a team needing more goals.
Former Gillis client Markus Naslund may be ready for a fresh start somewhere else, but if Gillis makes dramatic changes, it's still possible that Naslund would fit with the new regime.
Top Prospects: Taylor Ellington, Nathan McIver
When healthy, the Canucks have one of the best groups of defencemen in the league, but health was the group's undoing in 2007-2008.
Mattias Ohlund played only 53 games, but he's been a reliable piece on the blueline for more than a decade. Certainly, Ohlund's consistency would have value in trade but, like several of his compadres, the 31-year-old has a no-trade clause so any potential deal would require his approval.
Staying healthy has never been a strong suit for Sami Salo, who has played 70 games or more just twice in nine NHL seasons. When he's on, though, the Finn with the rocket shot is a real threat on the power play.
Pressed into service because of all the injuries to veterans, Alexander Edler emerged as one of the top rookie defencemen in the league. He plays a solid defensive game, moves the puck well and should get better as he gains more experience.
Willie Mitchell is a strong stay-at-home defenceman who frequently matches up against opponents' number one lines and is a handful because of his size and defensive conscience.
Limited to just 39 games by a shoulder injury, Lukas Krajicek is a 25-year-old who is already a solid NHLer, but has yet to reach his potential.
No Canucks defenceman endured a more challenging season than Kevin Bieksa. After a breakthrough campaign in 2006-2007, Bieksa had his calf lacerated by a skate and ended up playing just 34 games, going minus-11. Bieksa's combination of skill and toughness indicates that he could be a workhorse on the blueline, but he may also be the most valuable asset on the Canucks' blueline that doesn't have his movement limited by a no-trade clause.
With their current group of defencemen, the Canucks don't have a lot of room (or need) for impact newcomers, so any free agent signings will likely be of the veteran depth variety.
Top Prospect: Cory Schneider
Roberto Luongo's game slipped a notch, under a heavy workload and what appeared to be a lot of personal turmoil related to the birth of his child. Even so, he's an elite goaltender and could be better with a more reliable backup. It goes without saying that Luongo can play 70-plus games -- he's done it for four straight seasons -- but it's worth the Canucks having a more reliable veteran when Luongo isn't going to play.
Top prospect Cory Schneider came on strong after a so-so start to his first pro season and he could be ready for The Show, but the long-term value to the franchise may be for Schneider to stay in the AHL and log a starter's workload for another season.
10th - Tyler Myers, Mikkel Boedker, Colin Wilson
The Canucks have approximately $37-million committed to salaries for next season.
Needs: Three top nine forwards, backup goaltender
What I said the Canucks needed last year: Two top nine forwards, one defenceman
Who did they add? Mason Raymond, Ryan Shannon, Brad Isbister, Aaron Miller, Alexander Edler
Ohlund, Bieksa, Edler, Shannon, Raymond, Sedin twins
Scott Cullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org