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Despite ‘step in the right direction,’ do Canucks need to alter core?

Phoenix Coyotes v Vancouver Canucks

Phoenix Coyotes v Vancouver Canucks

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Should the Canucks stick with the same core of veterans that hasn’t been past the first round of the playoffs since nearly winning the Stanley Cup in 2011?

That was the big question today in Vancouver, as said core was grilled by reporters following a six-game loss to Calgary.

“When you don’t win, everything’s probably up for questioning,” said veteran defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who, like d-man Kevin Bieksa, has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent.

“It seems to be a popular question we keep getting all the time. I think our core’s been good. It’s a solid group of guys. I still think there’s lots of years ahead of us.”

Hamhuis, 32, and Bieksa, 33, were each asked if they’d be willing to waive their no-trade clauses.

Hamhuis, appearing somewhat taken aback by the question, replied, “That’s not something I’ve ever really thought of. I’m not really prepared to give an answer on that. That’s something I’ll think about if that were to happen, but probably more something to talk with [general manager Jim Benning] about.”

Bieksa said the same went for him: “I’ve never had to cross that bridge before, haven’t heard it brought up by anybody in the organization. I know you guys are poking around; that’s your job.”

Benning will face the media on Wednesday, and will likely say many of the same things that the players did today -- that the Canucks still have a solid core, but like any team, they need younger players to keep stepping up, like rookie Bo Horvat did this year.

“You always need young players to come in and surprise,” said winger Chris Higgins. “Next year, who knows who’s going to be the young guy to show up in camp and have a great camp and make an impact on this team? You look at every team that’s successful; they have young guys that come in and surprise every year. This team’s looking for guys like that as well.”

As for the Sedins, who turn 35 in September, they still anticipate having a big role for years to come.

“We have no plans of getting any worse,” said Henrik Sedin. “We’re not young anymore, but I think we showed this year that we can still be a big part, and we can be productive, and we can play well. I don’t see that changing in the next couple of years. With the young guys coming up, it looks good for this organization.

“I haven’t planned to get any worse, as a team. I think our focus is to make the playoffs each and every year and giving ourselves a chance to win.”

The Canucks do have some intriguing forward prospects in the likes of Sven Baertschi, Jake Virtanen, Cole Cassels, Jared McCann, plus a handful of others. At least one or two should be able to push for a spot next season, without rushing those that need more time to develop in the minors.

But it was the defense group that came under the most fire in the playoffs, with turnovers becoming a major factor against an aggressive Flames’ forecheck.

Everyone knows that a team that can’t move the puck out of its own end is a team with little of hope of success in the NHL.

The conundrum for management is that the Canucks do not have a blue-chip defensive prospect waiting in the wings. In fact, Vancouver hasn’t drafted a d-man in the first round in over a decade. That 25-year-old Luca Sbisa was given a three-year commitment at a cap hit of $3.6 million was testament to the club’s lack of young options on the back end (Adam Clendening and Frank Corrado are the most NHL-ready.)

Certainly, the blue line is an area that Benning will need to address if the Canucks are going to build on what was actually a surprisingly successful season, save for the playoff disappointment.

“I think we took a step in the right direction this year,” said Henrik Sedin. “It’s a small step, but a good step in the right direction.”