NHL

Gillis: Consistency is the key to Canucks returning to final

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The Canadian Press
9/1/2011 7:25:43 PM
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VANCOUVER -- When the Vancouver Canucks signed forward Marco Sturm on the first day of NHL free agency many people believed it was just the appetizer.

The main course, the impact player that would mend some of the tears shown during the Canucks' Stanley Cup loss, would be added during the summer.

With training camp just over two weeks away Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis doesn't see any major trades or signings on the horizon. He believes the team that lost Game 7 to the Boston Bruins has the talent and desire to win the Stanley Cup this season.

"We think we have a really strong team," Gillis said Thursday. "We don't really see a tremendous weakness.

"Of course there are certain players that you would love to have that are on other teams and (you) think they would fit in well here. They are impossible to get at this point. We are really confident in the group we have."

Gillis remains open to any deals that might come along.

"If something comes our way between now and the start of the season we are going to act upon it," he said. "You can't manufacture it.

"It's either there or not there."

Boston pushed Vancouver around in the final. The Bruins were the school yard bully while the Canucks were the A student having their lunch money robbed.

Gillis isn't prone to rash moves. He's analytical in his approach to making his team better, whether it's finding the right third-line centre or hiring a sleep doctor to determine the best travel arrangements.

That's why Gillis dismisses suggestions the Canucks need more grit in their lineup. Maybe a big, powerful forward that can bring a physical presence.

"We played the best teams in the league through the playoffs," said Gillis, who was named the NHL's top executive last season. "No one suggested we needed to have a different look.

"We got into a series with Boston. You can debate as long as you want. They were the better team. We had a lot of injuries and were unable to respond to certain situations."

Speed and skill are the foundation the Canucks are built on. Gillis doesn't plan on changing that.

"You don't build a hockey team to face one issue and think once you surmount it you are going to win," he said. "You have to have a complete balance in a lot of different ways.

"We are confident in our skill and toughness is there."

The Canucks signed Sturm to a one-year, US$2.25 million deal. The 32-year-old forward is a former 20-goal scorer who has undergone two major knee operations.

History isn't on the Canucks side when it comes to returning to the Stanley Cup final.

The last two teams to play in back-to-back finals were Pittsburgh and Detroit in 2008 and 2009.

Prior to that the last team to play for the Cup two years in a row was the New Jersey Devils in 2000 (beat Dallas) and 2001 (lost to Colorado).

The last Canadian team to play for consecutive Cups was the Edmonton Oilers who won in 1987 and 1988.

There are lessons to be learned, said Gillis.

"We've looked back at teams, especially Canadian teams," he said. "There have been things that occurred that we have tried to avoid and things we have tried to follow.

"For our team we have set it up so there is real consistency."

The Canucks have managed to keep their core players in tact. They lost high-scoring defenceman Christian Ehrhoff and rugged forward Raffi Torres to free-agency.

"We haven't lost many players," Gillis said. "We have tried to create more competition on our third and fourth lines.

"We still maintain the depth we had last year on forward, defence and goaltending. I think as we move along to training camp . . . we will have a couple of unique things we are going to try and do. We think we have a strong group and we think we are determined."

The Canucks will start the season without a couple key players.

Selke trophy-winning forward Ryan Kesler had hip surgery over the summer and is expected to miss training camp.

"Ryan is hopeful to be ready for the start of the season," Gillis said. "We'll see."

Speedy forward Mason Raymond is still recovering from a vertebrae compression fracture suffered in Game 6 against Boston.

Raymond didn't require surgery but isn't expected to return until sometime in November.

"I saw him two weeks ago," said Gillis. "He said he was feeling great. He was eager to do more stuff but the medical guys are holding him back a little bit."

Defenceman Dan Hamhuis and forward Mikael Samuelsson both had surgery but are expected at training camp.

Last year's journey to the final was a huge learning curve for both players and management. Gillis said those lessons can be applied this season.

"We learned different things every series, different ways to approach things," he said. Things like "being able to remain calm and think through issues.

"Hopefully, when we get back there, we will have that experience and we'll be able to utilize it."

Mike Gillis (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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