Amid the four games in which the San Jose Sharks swept the Vancouver Canucks out of their NHL Western Conference quarter-final, in a series where two Sharks – Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski – scored as many goals, eight, as the entire Vancouver roster, two moments stood out.
In the first game, on a power play in the second period, Henrik Sedin received a cross-ice pass in the faceoff circle to the left of San Jose goalie Antti Niemi. Sedin had acres of room and time. He later admitted to being surprised how much time. He stood, he stared. The moment evaporated. The game remained 0-0.
In the last game, in the third period, the Canucks against the wall and down by one, a rebound bounced to Daniel Sedin. He had an open net and was within two metres. He one-timed a slap shot and hit the post. In the blur of it, his brother hoisted his hands in celebration, briefly.
A year from now, the Sedins – the two highest scorers in the club's history – will be unrestricted free agents. Each has a season left at $6.1-million (all currency U.S.). While they perform well in the regular season, a primary reason why the Canucks did not lift the Stanley Cup two years ago, or compete with the Sharks this week, was the Sedins' inability to lead their team when it mattered.
General manager Mike Gillis, in his season postmortem, preached the need to get bigger and younger if the Canucks are to battle in future playoffs – citing two things the soon-to-be 33-year-old twins are not. His tenure as GM has been marked by loyalty to his coach and to players such as Mason Raymond and Manny Malhotra. What Gillis decides to do about the Sedins is likely the biggest challenge he faces as he tries to retool his team to keep it in contention for the Stanley Cup.
The Canucks, still feeling relatively close to a Cup run, eschew the bloodletting the Edmonton Oilers suffered through. The Oilers have been lucky with three consecutive No. 1 overall draft picks, but have missed the playoffs seven consecutive years. Instead, the Canucks choose something of a Calgary Flames route: keep the core, try (again) to complement it, and put the head down for another season. It did not work in Calgary, where the team held on to Jarome Iginla too long, believing he and Miikka Kiprusoff could carry the Flames. The situation is not precisely the same in Vancouver, but it is a danger that the Canucks will fork off on Calgary's road to nowhere.
When asked about the core of the team on Thursday, Gillis rattled off a list of names from Cory Schneider to Ryan Kesler – even Jannik Hansen – before saying: "When we get to Daniel and Henrik, they've played an awful lot of hockey, but I still feel they're competitive, they want to play, they're excellent players, they're top players in the league. We have to support them better."
It is unclear whether support means a beefier, younger squad that complements the Sedins for one more season, or whether the Sedins are central for several more years in Vancouver. They are past their scoring-title wins. Moving them seems tough. It is hard to imagine other teams want a pair that make $12.2-million a year and can't score in the playoffs, in a straight-up trade, or even at next year's trade deadline. So, then, a contract extension, at lesser, cap-friendly rates?
Asked about re-signing the Sedins this summer to a contract extension, Gillis said, "We're going to formulate a plan," a slight dodge, speaking about the plan for the roster and club as a whole.
When team captain Henrik Sedin was asked if he and his brother would sign an extension this summer, he was unequivocal: "Yes, absolutely."
Ron Bremner was president of the Calgary Flames from 1996 through 2001, dark years when the team missed the playoffs five times. That hard slog is part of the reason that the Flames, after finally cracking through to near-glory in the 2004 Stanley Cup final, kept at it, feeling that going for it year after year was wise, pushing until it was too late.
"I don't think there is one blue pill, so to speak, that answers all the questions," Bremner said. "There's different roads to get to Rome."
When asked how close Vancouver is to competing for the Stanley Cup, Henrik Sedin pointed to the Sharks, who have faced many questions about their ability to win a championship.
"If you look at the team that beat us, that swept us, they've had these questions for the past eight years," Sedin said. "I'd rather be changing a few things, trying to get better, losing out in the first round, than other teams being at the bottom, trying to fix everything. With a few tweaks, we have the team to be a contender."