The Canucks at the Deadline

Thomas Drance
February 28 2011 07:42PM

 

Photo of Canucks GM Mike Gillis courtesy the Vancouver Sun.

 

Gillis at the Deadline:

This wasn't Mike Gillis' first trade deadline as an NHL GM, but it was certainly his most revealing. In 2009, Gillis stood pat – Sundin had been his big midseason acquisition and Gillis was still restocking a feeder system left atrophied by the Burke/Nonis regime. (*) In 2010, Gillis had more pieces to play with; early in the day he moved disgruntled former client Mathieu Schneider, and swapped AHLers with St. Louis. In his biggest splash of the day – the word “splash” being applied generously in this case – Gillis exchanged a third rounder with Jim Rutherford for Andrew Alberts right at the deadline. Though it's a small sample size, there is a pattern that corroborates two things Gillis often reiterates to fans and the media – he prefers not to make large deals at the trade deadline, though he is comfortable waiting to the last minute, or as he ironically calls it: “working to a deadline.” 

(*) This fact is under dispute by seemingly every hockey media member who lives in Toronto.

Today Mike Gillis made two buzzer-beating, low-risk, depth acquisitions – former Habs forwards Maxim Lapierre from Anaheim, and Chris Higgins from Florida. It cost the Canucks AHL farm-hand Joel Perrault - who was forgettable in a short stint as the Canucks fourth line centre; quick Evan Oberg - who had been surpassed by a number of young defenders on the organizational depth chart; (**) and consecutive third round picks in 2011 and 2012. Though Gillis has proven that he is not risk-averse at the draft or on July 1st (the Sundin offer, the Ballard trade), one would be forgiven for characterizing his trade-deadline ethos as timid. But Gillis' deadline moves aren't timid at all – they're discerning – after all, everything at the deadline is overpriced. In his consumption habits, Gillis is shrewd like a Frenchman; willing to pay for quality, extremely reluctant to overpay for anything.

(**) Always quotable, here's Gallagher on Evan Oberg "[he] helped fetch a player and he was further down the depth chart than Jacque Cousteau..." 

The Florida trade:

Following weeks of speculation about Marty Reasoner – it's a curious circumstance that Gillis made a trade with the team Marty Reasoner plays for, but for a different player in Higgins. I wonder if Tallon and Gillis began talking about Marty Reasoner weeks ago, but as the Canucks began to scout the Panthers more intensively, they began to look more seriously at Chris Higgins. Perhaps the Canucks pro-scouts saw something, and when Reasoner's happy family situation made it clear that he would stay put; Gillis and Tallon were able to tweak the framework of the deal to apply to Higgins instead. The above narrative is pure speculation, but it will be interesting to read more about the negotiations that took place between those two GMs as details about the transaction leak out in a future 30 thoughts column.

The Anaheim Trade:

I tweeted earlier in the day – when it was rumored that Anaheim was the Canucks competition in the vaunted Zenon Konopka sweepstakes (***) - that you never want to be in a horse race with veteran Ducks GM Bob Murray. Though I like the Maxim Lapierre deal for Vancouver, this deal is a perfect example of why Bob Murray is good at his job. Murray acquired Lapierre for a fifth rounder, then turned that fifth rounder into a third round pick in the next draft and Evan Oberg – who I thought showed some flashes in his most recent, brief call-up. Certainly Oberg fits the mold of a speedy, puck moving defenseman that Murray clearly favours (Fowler, Visnovsky, Lydman). Further proof that Bob Murray is a formidable executive: do you think anybody wants to play the Ducks in the first round? If Hiller can get healthy and the Ducks can sneak into the show – both big ifs – Anaheim will be a nightmare first round matchup for whichever unfortunate team draws them. Their forward group is experienced, skilled and gigantic, they're loaded with forecheck busting Dmen, and Hiller – when healthy – is one of the best in the game.

(***) trade deadline hyperbole gets old in a hurry doesn't it? 

Immediate Benefits:

The addition of Lapierre and Higgins cost the Canucks very little, and they improve the versatility and depth of the team considerably heading into the stretch run and the postseason. I'm always concerned about acquiring a player from the Southeast and assuming they'll be as effective in the Northwest - simply because we've seen the likes of Alberts, Ballard and Bouwmeester struggle. Hopefully as a forward, the learning curve won't be as steep for Higgins. Even if Higgins doesn't play up to his potential, however, he still represents a nice insurance policy should a top-9 forward get hurt, and he's at least an improvement over the like of Oreskovich, Volpatti, Desbiens and Peter Schaefer. Maxim Lapierre comes with his own red-flags - traded twice in what is by far the worst statistical season of his NHL career - but there are other factors, like his personal relationship with Alain Vigneault - that help mitigate the potential risk. At best, he's an effective agitator and a playoff tested difference maker with a contract to earn - at worst he's still an improvement over Bolduc, even if his penchant for cheap-shots does embarrass the team at some point. 

The immediate benefit of these trades will be to manufacture some urgency in the locker room. As Damien Cox and others have observed - the Canucks have had issues over the past 10 games matching the compete level of their often desperate opponents. Players like Burrows and Raymond - perhaps feeling too secure in their top-six roles - have looked flat. (****) With the new additions - some players are going to begin to feel some added pressure to perform, otherwise they may find themselves eating triple Os in the press-box. An added benefit, starting Tuesday night, the Canucks should more ably roll all four lines. Both guys they've added also have experience playing on the penalty-kill. With these additions Alain Vigneault is better positioned to obsessively manage Kesler's minutes and make sure that #17 is feeling fresh when the games start to really matter in April.

(****) Though Raymond doesn't deserve all of the flack he is catching from Canucks fans.

Laurence Gillman: Salary-Cap Superhero:

 Finally, according to Capgeek – after acquiring Higgins and Lapierre, and demoting Hodgson and Oreskovich to Manitoba – the Canucks are less than $1000 dollars below the cap ceiling. Though Gillis rejected this figure as inaccurate at his presser – there is no doubt that Gillis and the Canucks resident capologist Laurence Gillman are expertly walking a comically fine line at this point. If Stan Lee had seen fit to draw an NHL Guardian for Capgeek – the guardian would have been Laurence Gillman, because that man is a salary cap super hero. It may be the twins and Kesler who are getting the Hart trophy buzz – but from my perspective – Gillman is the Canucks 2010-11 team MVP. If he doesn't get at least an interview in Ottawa this offseason – the Sens will have made a terrible mistake – though of course, Canucks fans would be more than happy to see Gillman continue to navigate the salary-cap in Vancouver.

 

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 Kent Wilson
February 28 2011, 08:23PM
Trash it!
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Higgins was full value for the Flames last year. In fact, he looked like the only piece worth a damn that Sutter acquired at the deadline (of course, he was the only one that walked as a free agent).

He didn't score a lot, but he did many of things a winning team needs: he's hard on the puck, he moves the play north, he can play against anyone and he can penalty kill. This is all the Canucks need for a depth get at the bottom-end of their rotation, so I think this is homerun for Gillis.

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