A Luongo way to go

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

Last fall, all the talk was about the "new NHL." This fall, the scuttlebutt is the "new Canucks."

During a week in June, general manager Dave Nonis put his stamp on the team he inherited from Brian Burke.

Former Montreal Canadiens' bench boss Alain Vigneault was promoted from the Manitoba Moose to replace Marc Crawford.

Then Nonis engineered the only blockbuster deal of the NHL offseason when he traded controversial forward Todd Bertuzzi, goaltender Alexander Auld and defenceman Bryan Allen to the Florida Panthers for goaltender Roberto Luongo, defenceman Lukas Krajicek and a draft pick.

The Western conference's ninth-place team finished 2005-2006 three points behind eventual Stanley Cup finalist Edmonton Oilers. Canucks also ceded four more goals than the Oilers, who solved their net woes with a deadline deal for Dwayne Roloson.

Roloson stole games in the stretch and in the playoffs, which is why Luongo is being paid $27 million US over the next four seasons. The 27-year-old expects to play 65 games and is aiming to make his playoff debut.

"Getting a goaltender like Roberto gives a lot of confidence to the rest of the team," Vigneault said. "That should enable us to play that high-tempo, puck-possession, puck-pursuit game."

Wade Flaherty is in as Luongo's backup.

While there's more stability in net, the picture is fuzzy on the blueline. Veteran Ed Jovanovski signed with the Phoenix Coyotes and Nolan Baumgartner was picked up by the Philadelphia Flyers.

Canucks' 2005 first round draft pick Luc Bourdon is expected to stick this fall. Nonis brought home Willie Mitchell of Port McNeill, B.C. Veteran Sami Salo will make a comeback after a shoulder muscle tear at the Turin Winter Olympics ended his season. Mattias Ohlund becomes the defensive general.

Up front, the West Coast Express is no more. Markus Naslund managed 32 goals and 47 assists, but linemates Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison were hampered by injuries. Morrison, who hasn't missed a regular season game in five years, had off-season hip surgery and will play despite not being 100 per cent.

"We might not be able to score as much as we used to," admitted captain Naslund. "On the other hand hopefully we can play a better defensive game. If we're going to have to win games 2-1 or 3-2, we'll take that."

Twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin aren't called "sisters" anymore because of their impressive play last season. Question is who will they play with? Naslund and ex-Montreal Canadien Jan Bulis auditioned in the preseason, with Naslund getting the final look.

Ryan Kesler got a one-year, $1.9 million US contract after Nonis matched a Philadelphia Flyers' offer sheet. He'll be pressed to put up numbers that match his salary.


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