VANCOUVER – It took 12 years, three general managers, and many playoff disappointments to build this Vancouver Canuck team.
The foundation was laid more than a decade ago when then-general manager Brian Burke wheeled and dealed so he could draft Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
The trade that brought Roberto Luongo to Vancouver in June 2006 gave Vancouver the all-star goaltender the Canucks had lacked.
The final pieces were added last summer when general manager Mike Gillis signed free agent defenceman Dan Hamhuis and centre Manny Malhotra.
Defenceman Kevin Bieksa, centre Ryan Kesler and speedy winger Mason Raymond were all draft picks. Scrappy forward Alex Burrows was a free-agent signing. Defenceman Christian Ehrhoff and Sami Salo came in trades.
Heading into the 1999 draft, Burke was determined that the brothers from Ornskoldsvik would come to Vancouver. He made three deals with Chicago, Tampa Bay and Atlanta so he could take Daniel second overall and Henrik third.
“I didn’t want to draft them separately,” Burke said in the book “Canucks at Forty.” “The money shot that day had to be the twins, on stage, together.”
The twins were delighted.
“That was a big surprise for us. We didn’t expect that,” Daniel Sedin said in a recent interview.
In the years since taking the twins, Vancouver has made the playoffs in eight of 10 seasons but this year marks the only time the Canucks have made it past the second round during that stretch. The Sedins actually made their first appearance in the 2000-01 season.
The Canucks used the draft to add other key players.
Bieksa was selected 151st over in 2001 while Kesler was taken 23rd in 2003. The 2004 draft, saw the Canucks select goaltender Cory Schneider 26th, defenceman Alex Edler 91st and forward Jannik Hansen 287th.
Raymond was chosen 51st in the 2005 draft, while centre Cody Hodgson was the 10th pick in 2008.
Dave Nonis succeeded Burke as the Canucks general manager in 2004 and played a big role in Kesler continuing to play in Vancouver.
Kesler was a restricted free agent heading into the 2006 season. Bobby Clarke, who was then general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, signed Kesler to a one-year, US$1.9-million offer sheet.
Nonis had negotiated a deal that would have paid Kesler around US$900,000. Sensing Kesler’s potential, Nonis matched Clarke’s offer.
Nonis’s biggest deal was trading for Luongo on June 23, 2006. He send forward Todd Bertuzzi, defenceman Brian Allen and goalie Alex Auld to the Florida Panthers. In return he got Luongo, defenceman Lukas Krajicek, and a sixth-round draft pick.
“When you have an opportunity to get arguably one of the best goaltenders in the game, you try to do it,” Nonis said at the time.
Nonis was fired in April 2008 after the Canucks missed the playoffs twice in three years.
When Gillis was hired as Nonis’s replacement, he tried to add more playoff experience to the Canucks. He signed Mikael Samuelsson, who had won a Stanley Cup with Detroit, in 2009.
Last summer he improved the Canucks defence by signing Hamhuis as a free agent. Malhotra was brought in to help on the penalty kill and take defensive zone faceoffs. Raffi Torres, a member of the Edmonton Oilers team that lost the 2006 Stanley Cup in seven games, added toughness.
Gillis was also able to work within the confines of the NHL salary cap to keep the Canuck stars.
Luongo was signed to a 12-year, $64-million deal. It was a contract that satisfied Luongo while counting as a $5.33 hit on the Canuck books each year.
Gillis also convinced players like the Sedins, Burrows and Kesler to re-sign for less money than what they might have got from other teams. At the trade deadline, he acquired centre Maxim Lapierre and forward Chris Higgins.
Critics point out Gillis inherited a Canucks team built by Burke and Nonis.
“Lots of people go through life and inherit different things,” said Gillis. “You make a choice. You either screw it up and lose it or you don’t.
“I feel comfortable we have made good decisions. We have put our footprint on this team.”