Gillis Gets Defensive in Vancouver


Written on 8/28/2009 by Jim Cerny

When word was out that the Vancouver Canucks had a pair of press announcements to make today, it seemed that the inevitable was finally taking place: that the club had come to terms with franchise goalie Roberto Luongo on a long-term contract extension.

Thing is, neither announcement was about Luongo. Though you could argue that both were made with Luongo in mind.

Canucks GM Mike Gillis instead sent out word that he had acquired three veteran defensemen to bolster what had been considered a problem area in front of Luongo.

The long-rumored signing of 40 year-old Mathieu Schndeider (left) was made official; and Gillis also announced the acquisitions of 27 year-old Christian Ehrhoff (right) and 33 year-old Brad Lukowich from the San Jose Sharks for prospects Patrick White---a former first round pick---and Daniel Rahimi.

Today's moves brought the Canucks to the absolute tip of the salary cap, though Gillis cautioned that "a lot of things can happen" to sort out available---and unavailable---dollars before the cap is enforced on October 1st

More importantly, the three additions to the blueline will surely provide Luongo---as well as head coach Alain Vignault---a sense of relief. Prior to today the Canucks were looking at four solid NHL-caliber defensemen---Willie Mitchell, Sami Salo, Alex Edler, and Kevin Bieksa---and many question marks. Now the club is seven deep, not including the rugged Shane O'Brien who led the club in penalty minutes a year ago.

"In the West, what we have found is that you can never have enough good defensemen," stated Gillis. "It'll be a very competitive camp, which I like. We want to be as deep as possible."

While Schneider and Lukowich arrive with one Stanley Cup ring each, it is Ehrhoff who was the most important addition today for the Canucks. He is a big (6'2", 205) defenseman who averaged just under 22 minutes of ice-time per game last season. Ehrhoff is also coming off a career-best 42 points, 25 of which were produced on the power play. He will be a quality replacement for the departed Mattias Ohlund, younger and with much more upside, as well.

The question of why San Jose would choose to move Ehrhoff is simple to answer. He is due to make more than $6 million in total salary over the next two seasons, and the Sharks wanted to free up some money to chase a top-six forward before the regular season gets underway. It will be interesting to see if the main object of their desire---Ottawa's disgruntled Dany Heatley---will be more difficult to trade for now that Ehrhoff is no longer a chip in the mix.

Nonetheless, the Sharks search for a goal scorer is not of concern to Gillis, who needs only to lock-up Luongo long-term to finish his off-season to-do list, now that he has bolstered his defense corps.

To that end, Gillis said today that he has "no concerns whatsoever" about a pending deal with his star goaltender and team captain, and that the two sides were "still on course" to finalize the new contract.

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