Tuesday April 15th, 2008

The Vancouver Canucks had their share of problems this year. I'm just not sure general manager Dave Nonis was one of them.

Team owner Francesco Aquilini thought otherwise, however, and in the wake of the Canucks missing the playoffs, decided it was Nonis' head he wanted on a platter. After just four years on the job -- one of which was the lockout season -- Nonis was canned on Monday.

Not that Aquilini has to provide a rational explanation for the move -- it's fun being the owner, eh? -- but he would be hard pressed if called upon to do so. The Canucks were certainly a disappointment this season, especially coming on the heels of the franchise-record 105 points in 2006-07. But honestly, can anyone look at Nonis and say his poor construct of the team was to blame for the step back it took this season?

Sure, he could have made a stopgap move here or there while the team was struggling, and he certainly deserved criticism for failing to add at least one more cannon at the deadline to supplement the league's 23rd-ranked offense. There were also complaints from the fans that outside of Roberto Luongo and Ryan Kesler, this wasn't a particularly likable club.

But these Canucks certainly had a chance to do well, and would have been in the playoff mix were it not for a catastrophic series of injuries that decimated the blueline and robbed them of their hardcore defensive identity. Both Kevin Bieksa and Lukas Krajicek missed more than half a season, and the other four members of the top six missed between 10 and 29 games each. Not many teams could have stayed in the hunt as long as these Canucks did, or missed out by just three points, while facing that kind of manpower shortage.

And even if you were inclined to criticize Nonis for the last few months, he'd chocked up plenty of items on the positive side of his ledger during his tenure. The trade to acquire Luongo not only ranks as one of the most lopsided in NHL history, it set up the franchise for the next decade at the most important position. It's also worth noting that the young blueliners who performed so admirably during the blitz of injuries, prospects such as Alexander Edler and Luc Bourdon, were acquired on Nonis' watch.

And if the rumors are to be believed, Nonis was on the verge of signing the most coveted European free agent of the offseason -- 23-year-old Swedish winger Fabian Brunnstrom. A natural fit for a first-line slot alongside the Sedins, he might have provided the offensive boost the team needs next season. We'll have to see now whether Nonis' departure changes his plans.

A top tier GM? Maybe, maybe not. But Nonis certainly had built up enough equity that his leash would have been extended at least another year by most franchises.

There's already speculation about a potential replacement. Brian Burke, whose vacant office Nonis filled, is the subject of much of it. The timing of this move, however, suggests that it will be someone else, someone who can step in immediately as opposed to Burke, who is occupied as GM of the Anaheim Ducks for at least another couple games.

Who might it be? Joe Nieuwendyk's name is floating out there. A well respected hockey mind, he's certainly qualified to fine tune what already looks to be promising team.

Whoever gets the call, he'll likely be named soon, possibly in the next week or so.

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