VANCOUVER – After helping to mould one of the best Vancouver Canuck teams in franchise history general manager Mike Gillis is cautious about making any changes to his lineup as the NHL trade deadline approaches.
If Gillis decides to do anything before Monday’s deadline it likely will be tinkering with the fourth line, not a major overhaul.
“I don’t think we have any glaring deficiencies,” Gillis said Saturday, watching from the stands at Rogers Arena as the Canucks practised for that evening’s game against the Boston Bruins. “We tried to address those deficiencies in the summer.
“We think we did a fairly good job and our record seems to indicate we’ve done a good job. Sometimes at the trade deadline you simply don’t have the opportunity to do things. If there is something we can do to improve our team now, it if comes our way and it makes sense, we’re going to do it.”
The Canucks are battling Philadelphia for first place overall in the NHL. They went into Saturday night’s game leading the league in scoring and having allowed the second least goals.
With just over a month left in the season Vancouver is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Goaltender Roberto Luongo doubts Gillis will make any deals.
“We’re not thinking that anything will happen,” said Luongo. “We are very happy with who we have in this locker-room.
“We think we have a team that can do something good in the playoffs.”
The Canucks have proven they can use speed and finesse to score pretty goals. The question is, does the team have the size and grit to score when the games become more physical in the playoffs?
Like most clubs, the salary cap will be a consideration in any Vancouver move. With limited space, and being reluctant to give up any of their top line forwards, Gillis may decide to add either a fourth-line centre or winger.
“The only reason would be for more experience,” Gillis said. “We’ll see it that comes our way.
“If it does, then we’ll think about it. If it doesn’t, we won’t.”
The Canucks fourth line has been a revolving door this season. Tanner Glass has been the one constant. He’s been paired with 11 different players as the season unfolded.
Players the Canucks may be interested in include Marty Reasoner of the Florida Panthers, Rob Niedermayer of the Buffalo Sabres, Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators and Cody McLeod of the Colorado Avalanche.
To get something, the Canucks would have to give something up. Gillis said Vancouver has draft picks and some assets in the system.
A couple of players Gillis won’t trade are centre Cody Hodgson or winger Mason Raymond.
Hodgson has battled injury problems since Vancouver took him 10th overall in the 2008 draft. This is the first season he’s played any games in the NHL.
The Canucks have put Hodgson, 21, on the fourth line for a handful of games, but he’s had only limited playing time.
“No one is giving up on him at all,” Gillis said sternly. “He’s come here and he’s done well.
“Like any young player there is a growth and development period. They all do it at a different pace. Cody has been injured, which has set him back a little bit in terms of his development.”
Raymond, 25, had career highs with 25 goals and 28 assists last season, earning him a US$5.1-million, two-year contract in the summer. He’s struggled this year and went into Saturday’s game with just 10 goals.
“We’ve not given up on Mason Raymond,” said Gillis.
When injuries depleted the Canucks blue-line, there was speculation Gillis may be forced to trade for a defenceman. With the return of Sami Salo from a torn Achilles tendon, and with Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard back in the lineup, those concerns have been eased.
Kevin Bieksa should return from a foot injury in March and Alex Edler is expected to have recovered from back surgery in time for the playoffs.
When Gillis took over as the Canuck’s GM three years ago he had a solid nucleus in players like Luongo, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows.
Last summer Gillis added Hamhuis, Ballard, centre Manny Malhotra and winger Raffi Torres to the lineup. The development of Cory Schneider has given the Canucks a reliable backup goalie for Luongo.
There’s no pressure on Gillis to make any deal.
“You have to find a player you want, who can come in here and fit in the right way and fit in a certain role,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t do that.”
Gillis isn’t sure how much playoff benefit a team receives from making a major move at the trade deadline.
“When you do the analysis, teams that make major moves at the trade deadline tend, for what ever reason, not to be able to translate that into the playoffs,” he said.
“Maybe it’s chemistry, maybe it’s luck. All sorts of things go into success in the playoffs.”
Forward Mikael Samuelsson has played on six NHL teams and won a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2008.
He shrugged when asked if a deadline trade can add the final piece in a team’s Stanley Cup puzzle.
“It depends on what guys you get,” said Samuelsson. “At the same time, will it make a huge impact? I don’t think so.
“We’re a pretty good team in here. Let’s see after the season if we needed one or not.”