First-year general manager Mike Gillis believed he had built a team capable of a long playoff run, but his Vancouver Canucks fell prey to the upstart Chicago Blackhawks in the second round. Let the re-evaluating begin.
Vancouver's six-game loss to Chicago in the Western Conference semifinals leaves Gillis, who replaced Dave Nonis as GM last April 22, with critical decisions to make — ones that will, almost certainly, have an impact on the team's ability to contend for the Stanley Cup in the immediate future.
"It will be interesting to see how Mike Gillis wants to put his stamp on it," Hockey Night In Canada colour commentator Craig Simpson said.
Gillis reportedly will hold a season-ending media conference on Friday.
"Listen, this is a great group of players, we proved it all year, and we're not thinking about any of that right now," said Canucks forward Henrik Sedin, who is eligible for free agency on July 1.
Roberto Luongo, the team's captain and franchise player, will earn $7.5 million US next season in the final year of his contract and, though he is considered one of the NHL's elite goaltenders, he has failed to reach the third round in three seasons with the Canucks.
"I think I let my teammates down," Luongo said. "It is something that is going to take a while to get over."
Luongo permitted four goals on nine shots in the third period of Monday's 7-5 series-ending loss at Chicago, prompting frustrated fans to wonder if he should be traded and the salary cap space used to re-sign Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
"They had a few chances early and I made a few saves," Luongo said. "But the rest of the way, I didn't help my teammates out."
"He didn't play well and he was their star," Hall of Fame journalist Al Strachan told Hockey Night In Canada Radio on Tuesday. "He was the one that was going to lead them to the Promised Land.
"I don't suppose anyone has given him more hate than Roberto himself. He was distraught after that.
"He knows what he can do, and I think he has got the kind of temperament that he wants to prove it. I would suggest next year, though, that he shouldn't be the captain … he has got enough to worry about."
'We're only interested in Vancouver'
The Sedins led the Canucks with 82 points apiece, with Daniel scoring 31 goals and Henrik chalking up 60 assists — both team highs.
Paid $3.575 million US apiece this season, the twin forwards will be eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 1, and expect to command a combined $12-14 million US annually.
"The agent [J.P. Barry] is going around telling people that Montreal, Toronto and Minnesota are all interested," Strachan said. "But the Sedins say, 'We're only interested in Vancouver and that we want to work something out here.'
"They enjoy it there, they enjoy the team, and [Vancouver] is where they have been their entire NHL careers. They know they get treated well there, so I would think they will sign there for $11 million."
Defenceman Mattias Ohlund, the longest-serving member of the Canucks at 11 seasons, and forward Taylor Pyatt will be free agents, too.
"I don't think there is any question that Mattias Ohlund won't be around," Simpson said. "I think it is pretty clear he is probably going to be gone."
'He doesn't seem to be committed'
Mats Sundin, signed Dec. 18 to a one-year, $10-million US contract pro-rated to the end of the season, will ponder retirement over the summer and, if he opts to keep playing, will be offered considerably less to re-sign.
Asked if he felt Sundin had played his final game, Strachan said: "I would think so. He doesn't seem to be committed."
The Canucks retain a strong core of players — Kevin Bieksa, Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Willie Mitchell to name a few — as well as Gillis acquisitions like Steve Bernier, Pavol Demitra, Darcy Hordichuk, Ryan Johnson and Kyle Wellwood.
"This team has come an awful long way over the course of a year," Strachan said. "This was a team that Brian Burke left in an complete shambles and now it is one of the best ones in the West."