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Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) passes the puck as Nashville Predators defenseman Dan Hamhuis (2) defends during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010. Nashville won 4-3 in a shootout. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Don Wright

It's not what the Vancouver Canucks did Thursday, but what they will do from here.

Most importantly, will free agents Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malhotra, Joel Perreault and Jeff Tambellini get them past the stripped-down Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup playoffs next spring? And what more will general manager Mike Gillis conjure between now and training camp, because $8-million (all currency U.S.) in new salaries for 2010-11 will force cap adjustments, including the possibility that he trades away defencemen.

"The presumptions that [Kevin Bieksa]is going to be traded are premature," Gillis said. "We're going to cross that bridge after the dust settles here. There's lots of opportunity. Last year, we thought we had plenty of defencemen when we went into the season, and we ended up not having enough."

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The Canucks were big movers at the NHL entry draft last week, acquiring defenceman Keith Ballard from the Florida Panthers in the highest-profile trade, and were aggressive again on the opening day of free agency. The new quartet, three of whom have British Columbia ties, add depth along the blueline and more size.

Gillis identified those elements after losing successive playoff series to the cap-strapped Blackhawks, the defending Cup champions who have been purged of seven roster players this summer.

Hamhuis, 27, turned down more lucrative offers to sign with his home-province team. The native of Smithers, B.C., had his rights traded from Nashville to Philadelphia to Pittsburgh in June, but resisted the urge to commit until he heard from the Canucks.

He agreed to a six-year contract worth $4.5-million annually, including a full no-trade clause, and Gillis said he is ticketed for the top defence pairing.

"Some of the [competing offers]were higher in contract value, but we liked the fit in Vancouver from a hockey perspective and a lifestyle perspective," Hamhuis said. "It's a team I've always grown up watching and am certainly very excited."

Malhotra, 30, is married to Joann Nash, the sister of NBA star Steve, who was raised in Victoria. Malhotra signed a three-year pact that averages $2.5-million a year with a limited no-trade clause.

The 11-year veteran and former first-round pick fits seamlessly as a third-line centre, penalty killer and faceoff specialist, who won more than 60 per cent of his draws in both the regular season and playoffs. But the Canucks have also talked to the Mississauga native about playing wing, should top prospect Cody Hodgson earn a job down the middle.

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"We have room for our top prospects," Gillis said. "If they show us they are prepared to play in the NHL, then they'll be here."

Perreault, a 27-year-old with 89 NHL games on his résumé, received a one-way contract valued at $510,000. The Montreal native is the leading contender to become the fourth-line centre.

Tambellini was raised in suburban Vancouver and is the son of Steve Tambellini, the former Canucks executive who became Edmonton's general manager in 2008. He signed a two-way contract and would make $500,000 in the NHL.

Perreault (6 foot 2, 212 pounds) and Malhotra (6 foot 2, 220 pounds) also add brawn to Vancouver's group of bottom-six forwards, who will no longer include Kyle Wellwood (5 foot 10, 180 pounds) and Ryan Johnson (6 foot 1, 200 pounds).

"We wanted to get more size in our lineup at the forward position, we have a lot of skill," Gillis said. "Manny adds a dimension that we didn't have, and clearly based on our penalty kill last year [ranked 18th] we had to improve in that area."

The Canucks have roughly $57-million committed to 20 players, including eight NHL-calibre defencemen. That does not cover restricted free agents such as winger Mason Raymond and defenceman Shane O'Brien, so this isn't a finished product.

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But the team has sent its fans, and the league, a strong signal that it believes a championship window is wide open.

More on that this summer.

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About the Author
B.C. sports correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Matthew spearheads the Globe's sports coverage in B.C., and spends most of his time with the NHL Canucks and CFL Lions. He has worked for four dailies and TSN since graduating from Carleton University's School of Journalism a decade ago, and has covered the Olympic Games, Super Bowls, Grey Cups, the Stanley Cup playoffs and the NBA Finals. More

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