VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Vancouver Canucks are playing their best hockey of the season so rookie general manager Mike Gillis saw no reason for pricey minor upgrades at the NHL’s trade deadline.
They have climbed to fifth in the competitive Western Conference, are the healthiest they’ve been all year and won 11 of their last 13 games.
“There was nothing that was out there that was a big upgrade on what we currently have,” Gillis said Wednesday. “That’s how we went into (trade deadline day) and how it played out.
“We went into this being perfectly content if we did nothing.”
The Canucks’ fortunes have changed since they lost eight in a row in January and a club-record nine straight at home.
All-star goalie Roberto Luongo has recovered from a serious groin injury and free agent acquisition Mats Sundin has six goals and 15 points in 22 games and wins key faceoffs.
“Based on the last month we feel like we’re a playoff team here and we feel like we’re strong and we have depth,” Gillis said. “We didn’t have that pressure to try and get into the playoffs at this point and we didn’t have injury pressure.”
Gillis, who had about US$2.5 million in salary-cap room, said the major move came in December when he signed Sundin, the former Toronto Maple Leafs captain and career scoring leader for $5.626 million.
That deal came without losing a roster player or a draft pick.
Gillis said many key deadline deals involved second-round draft picks which the Canucks did not want to surrender.
“We talked to a number of teams about a number of possibilities but giving up second-round picks for players that weren’t long-term players was something that I agreed and decided not to do as long as eight months ago and I wasn’t going to change today,” he said.
“Second-round picks were the flavour of the month and they went for players that are short-term players either to teams to recover from injuries or try to get into the playoffs.” The Canucks’ shopping list included more depth at centre where third-liner Kyle Wellwood has been stuck on a career-high 14 goals for 19 games but the price tag was a second-round pick.
“There’s great players that come out of the last half of the second round and for me to do that would be a mistake in my mind,” Gillis said.
He also talked to Florida Panthers GM Jacques Martin at 5:45 a.m. PST about defenceman Jay Bouwmeester but it was a short conversation.
“I asked him what he needed in return, he told me and it was undoable,” Gillis said. “It was a brief discussion and it didn’t go any further.”
Division rival Calgary added centre Olli Jokinen and defenceman Jordan Leopold and could be a potential first-round playoff opponent but Gillis didn’t seem concerned.
“They made some moves for good players but in one instance it was to make up for an injured player,” he said. “We’ve played well against every conference team so if that’s the (playoff) match-up, that’s the match-up.”
Gillis said this Canucks team has more depth than last year’s edition which had a defence corps decimated by injuries, lost seven of its last eight games and missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
Forward Jannik Hansen is about two weeks away from recovering from a finger injury and Alex Bolduc and Jason Krog are playing well for AHL Manitoba.
The Moose farm club also has Nathan McIver and Nolan Baumgartner with NHL experience on defence. Ossi Vaananen was a recent waiver pickup from Philadelphia to increase the blue-line corps to eight.
“I think it’s a very different scenario than last year,” Gillis said. “To make change for the sake of making change wasn’t something I wasn’t eager to do.”
But there were temptations during the former player agent’s first trade deadline day.
“There becomes a time when it’s really difficult to resist the pressure to do things that in the short-term are high-risk and in the long-term are total risk.
“I occasionally felt today that perhaps we were not on top of every situation. We were looking at very specific areas and it’s hard to resist the urge to try and get involved all over the place in these other things.”
NOTES: The Canucks didn’t make a deal for the eighth time in 29 NHL trade deadline days … their most active deadline day came in 2006 when they acquired five players and a draft pick … Gillis says he’s getting closer to re-signing twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who become unrestricted free agents July 1: “We’ve discussed all of the issues, I think we have a very clear idea … and I think both sides are optimistic that something will get done.”