Injuries could force trades

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

National Hockey League history will be made Thursday with the first trading deadline under the new salary cap system. It'll be a whole two weeks earlier than previous years, which means it'll cost marginally more to rent a player for a playoff run.

It'll also be one of the early defining moments in Vancouver Canucks' general manager Dave Nonis' career. How much buying the rookie executive does will send a signal to fans on whether ownership believes in the Canucks' dozen-year cycle. The team, which joined the NHL in 1970, played in the Stanley Cup finals in their 12th (1982) and 24th (1994) years. Will the hockey gods smile on Lotusland in 2006?

Nonis undoubtedly will be shopping for defence. The team is notably thin on the blue line and could use reinforcement on the goal line.

Sami Salo (shoulder strain, week-to-week) and Mattias Ohlund (rib, day-to-day) returned from the Torino Winter Olympics with medals and maladies.

Ed Jovanovski couldn't go because of abdominal surgery. He's listed as indefinite, just like Rick Rypien (leg) and Dan Cloutier (knee).

Goaltender Cloutier hasn't played since November and was branded "gone for the rest of the regular season" in December when he underwent surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Canucks chose to stick with understudy Alex Auld, who entered the season content with back-up status. Canucks have been cagey about Cloutier's progress. With veteran Wade Flaherty seemingly stuck with the Manitoba Moose and Maxime Ouellet a stopgap puck-stopper, Nonis will certainly be offered either a backup or a proven veteran.

Canucks are probably wishing they still had Brent Johnson, the journeyman who came to camp last summer but ended up in Washington as Olaf Kolzig's sub. "Olie the Goalie," a career Capital, signed a new contract this winter but that doesn't mean he couldn't end up a Canuck, closer to his parents' home in Union Bay on Vancouver Island.

Manny Fernandez is the Minnesota Wild's No. 1, making Dwayne Roloson convenient trade bait. Wayne Gretzky might also give Phoenix Coyote Curtis Joseph one more chance to win the Stanley Cup elsewhere. A hefty price would have to be paid for either Roloson or Joseph for an intra-conference trade. Florida Panther Roberto Luongo is the prize catch. Panthers' GM Mike Keenan, however, wouldn't be charitable with the Canucks for obvious reasons. That leaves Buffalo Sabre Martin Biron or Garth Snow of the New York Islanders more likely to fit in Nonis' budget.

On the blue line, the Canucks could use Brent Sopel again. He was traded to the Islanders last summer for a conditional second or third round pick this year. Columbus might want to unload Bryan Berard, but the Blue Jacket's marketability was hurt by the revelation that he spent the lockout bulking up on steroids. That canceled his ticket to Torino. Perhaps Nonis could extract big blue-liner Christian Backman from St. Louis. Backman dealt the Canucks a final blow Sunday night with a booming slap-shot goal.

What can Nonis offer in return? Not a heckuva lot.

The Sedin twins and Anson Carter are the only untouchables. Injuries have tested Vancouver's depth, leaving Alexandre Burrows and Ryan Kesler among the most desirable developing players. Burrows was signed as a free agent in November and Kesler is the Canucks' No. 1 pick in 2003. Vancouver has a history of giving up early on young players (lest we forget Cam Neely.) Will Nonis follow the tradition?

Nonis doesn't have any grizzled veterans to deal. Todd Bertuzzi's lacklustre season and Olympics have harmed his value. He's still among the league's most unpopular players outside Vancouver and isn't likely to sell tickets elsewhere.


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