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Signing Sedins, extending Luongo's contract are priorities

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The Canadian Press
5/14/2009 9:41:25 AM
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VANCOUVER - They packed their bags, shook hands, and for some Vancouver Canucks, walked out of the dressing room for the last time Wednesday.

It was the final gathering at GM Place for the Canucks after a 7-5 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated them from the Western Conference semifinal in six games Monday night.

"We're still very disappointed," said goaltender Roberto Luongo. "As a team we didn't play well enough."

The Canuck captain said next year's team could look different.

"In the salary cap world there is always going to be changes," said Luongo. "We don't know what is going to happen."

The Canucks have nine unrestricted free agents and four restricted free agents. Luongo, hard-nosed defenceman Willie Mitchell, and gritty forward Ryan Kesler are all entering the final year of their contracts.

Luongo, who signed a US$27-million, four-year deal in 2006, was asked if he would consider a contract extension this summer.

"That's something I'm going to have to sit down with my agent and my family to discuss this summer," he said. "There is a lot of things to think about.

"I do love Vancouver and the city, and I do love to play for the Canucks."

One of first priorities for general manager Mike Gillis will be resigning Swedish twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who become unrestricted free agents July 1.

"We said before the season, this is where we want to play," said Daniel Sedin, who led the team with 31 goals. "This is where we raised my two kids.

"We are happy here and we'll see how it goes."

The fate of the Swedish twins could also impact Luongo.

The brothers come as a package deal, meaning they could cost between $12 million and $14 million a season. Committing to the Sedins would show Luongo the Canucks are serious about winning a Stanley Cup and convince him to stay in Vancouver.

If the Sedins -- who combined for 63 goals and 164 points this season -- are allowed to walk away, Luongo might decide to become a free agent next July.

Luongo said he has no control over the twins' decision.

"I've said all along my main goal is to win a Cup," he said. "As long as there is a chance here to win a Cup, there will be some serious consideration."

J. P. Barry, the Sedins' agent, said he hasn't spoken to Gillis about the twins since the trade deadline. He said a deal is possible before July 1.

"There is lots of time to negotiate," said Barry. "Right now we would have to resume our negotiations and we haven't done that yet."

Gillis might decide the $8 million a year he'd have to pay to keep Luongo would be money better spent somewhere else. He could trade the all-star goaltender for a proven goal scorer and draft picks. That would free up money to pay the Sedins.

"If they want to trade me, they can come and ask," said Luongo.

The Canucks have young goaltender Cory Schneider playing in the American Hockey League. Gillis has also admitted being interested in Swedish free-agent goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.

Among the free agents not expected to return are defenceman Mattias Ohlund, 32, the longest serving Canuck, and forward Taylor Pyatt, 27.

Ohlund has spent his entire NHL career in Vancouver but Barry thinks he will be wearing a different uniform next fall.

"We really haven't gotten very much traction in the negotiations since last summer," said Barry. "Unless something changes in their approach, I think that is likely the case."

Ohlund, who earned $3.5 million last year, said he isn't bitter about not being offered a deal in Vancouver.

"I had a great 11 years here," he said. "If it's meant to be, I'll be here.

"Life is too short to be sad. I had a lot of fun here. Who knows what will happen."

Veteran Mats Sundin also must decide if he's going to play next year.

"I am going to take my time to make a good decision this summer," said the 38-year-old former Toronto Maple Leafs captain. "Right now, I wouldn't know what my future is going to be, whether I am going to play or not."

Sundin had just 28 points in 41 games after signing with the Canucks in December for $5.6 million. He played some of his best hockey in the playoffs, where he had three goals and eight points in eight games.

The Canucks rode a roller-coaster this year.

When the season began, some people picked Vancouver to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row.

More dark clouds gathered when Luongo missed 24 games with a groin injury. Even after Luongo returned, and with Sundin new to the lineup, the Canucks struggled through an eight-game losing streak in January.

The team turned itself around to finish the season on a 23-7-2 run. Vancouver won the Northwest Division with a 45-27-10 record for 100 points.

Vancouver swept the St. Louis Blues in four games during the opening round of the playoffs. That prompted callers to sports radio programs to begin comparing this year's team with the Canuck clubs that reached the Stanley Cup final in 1994 and 1982.

Luongo said the team isn't far away from challenging for the Cup.

"I thought we could do it this year," he said. "There is no doubt in my mind we have the pieces."

Roberto Luongo (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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