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With lockout over, Canucks have work to do

After months of speculation, will Roberto Luongo finally be traded? (Getty Images)

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After months of speculation, will Roberto Luongo finally be traded? (Getty Images)

Leading up to the end of the NHL lockout, some Vancouver pundits speculated over the implications of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement on the Canucks roster, especially for 2013-14 when the salary cap will drop to $64.3 million.

Currently, the Canucks have more than $55.4 million invested in 13 players for 2013-14, leaving only around $8.9 million to sign 10 players.

Brad Ziemer of the Vancouver Sun, however, suggested the situation wasn't as dire as it seemed, noting goaltender Roberto Luongo and his annual average cap hit of $5.33 million is included among those 13 players under contract. Ziemer shared the opinion of most pundits that Luongo will be traded.

It remains to be seen when (and if) Canucks GM Mike Gillis will trade Luongo. It could be soon after the new CBA is implemented, later in the shortened 2012-13 season, or in the off-season. Much will depend on the market for Luongo’s services, as well as the quality of the potential return.

Fellow Vancouver sports pundit Ben Kuzma believes dealing with Luongo will be Gillis' first significant post-lockout move, either via trade or contract buyout.

Kuzma believes the Canucks need a third-line center, a depth defenseman and a backup goaltender. The Toronto Maple Leafs are believed to have the most interest in Luongo, leading Kuzma to suggest a return of center Tyler Bozak and blueliner Cody Franson could address two of the Canucks’ pressing needs.

Last fall there was speculation the Canucks and Leafs had a “deal in principle” which would've shipped Luongo to Toronto as soon as the new CBA was ratified. TSN's Bob McKenzie, however, reported Sunday there was no factual deal between the two clubs. McKenzie noted the Florida Panthers had some interest last summer and also noted the Edmonton Oilers might have an eye on Luongo.

Under the new CBA, NHL teams will be allowed two compliance buyouts, which will help them become salary cap compliant without the buyouts counting against the cap. The buyouts can only take place in the off-season over the next two years, leaving teams the option of using one per year, or both in one year.

As a result, Gillis could use one of them to buy out Luongo if unable to find a market for his services.

But, as Ziemer pointed out, even if the Canucks trade Luongo, they'll have to take back some salary in return, requiring more cap space to be freed up.

Considering that defenseman Alex Edler is eligible for UFA status next summer and will seek a significant raise, the need to find more cap space becomes urgent if Gillis intends to re-sign him.

Ziemer and his Sun colleague Iain MacIntyre suggested defenseman Keith Ballard ($4.2 million per season) and left winger David Booth ($4.25 million per season) are buyout candidates.

Both have struggled with the Canucks and ditching their salaries would free up a combined $8.45 million in additional cap space.

Those buyouts, of course, would have to wait until the end of this shortened season. Whether or not Gillis buys out both Ballard and Booth will obviously depend on Luongo’s status first, as well as the Canucks’ roster needs heading into this summer.

Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla's Korner.

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