Bob Ryan

The pieces are in place here

Canucks are built for the long run

Roberto Luongo (right) earns a salute from Alexandre Burrows after shutting out the Bruins. Roberto Luongo (right) earns a salute from Alexandre Burrows after shutting out the Bruins. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / June 2, 2011

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — You might say these guys have been banging on the door for a decade.

They’ve been in the playoffs all but once every year there was playoffs since the 2001-02 season. They’ve finished first in their division five times, including the last three in succession, and second twice. They have broken the 100-point barrier six times in that span, including the last three seasons, their point total escalating from 100 to 103 to a league-leading 117 this time around.

Playoff frustrations? Oh, yeah, they’ve had their share, and if they don’t win it all this time, with this team, there will be monumental angst throughout British Columbia. The people around here are not geared for failure in this Stanley Cup. They expect to win, all right.

But if they don’t? Perhaps it takes an outsider to remind them that they are definitely set up for long-range success. There will be other opportunities, and that’s because they appear to be in very good hands.

Now, you can say that Mike Gillis walked into a pretty good situation when he was named president, general manager, and alternate governor of the Canucks on Aug. 4, 2009. The team had won its division with 100 points before being sent home from the playoffs by Chicago. But no one can deny that the team fortunes have taken a significant swing upward in the last two seasons, with much of the credit going to Mike Gillis.

Start with the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel. They were unrestricted free agents as of July 1, 2009. Gillis didn’t mess around. He knew what he had to do. He flew to Ornskoldsvik, Sweden — the mountain going to Mohammed, if you will. And when he returned, each Sedin had been signed to a five-year, $30.5 million contract. No muss, no fuss.

“Everything we’re doing now starts with signing the twins,’’ Gillis said. “Otherwise, we’d have to go in a completely different direction.’’

He took a similar aggressive stance with goaltender Roberto Luongo.

“I just feel that Roberto — and this is no disrespect to Tim Thomas, who is a great goalie — was the best goaltender in the league,’’ Gillis said. “I watched him practice every day and saw the dedication. I felt we had the best goaltender.

“I don’t know how you can win in this league without great goaltending. I don’t know how you can get into the playoffs without great goaltending. I just felt we had to sign him because he was the best goaltender in the league.’’

So that, too, was done. Again, no muss, no fuss.

Some will say, yeah, well, does it take a PhD in Puckology to know it’s good business to sign a pair of twins, one of whom (Henrik) is the reigning MVP, and the other of whom, is the heir apparent? Or to recognize that if Roberto Luongo was good enough to be in goal for a gold medal game, he might be good enough to be in goal for a Stanley Cup contender? Fair point.

But Mike Gillis has done a lot more. He has brought in free agents such as Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres, and Jeff Tambellini. He has also traded for Keith Ballard, Maxim Lapierre, and Chris Higgins. His stamp is definitely on this club.

Mike Gillis brings a very distinct background to the job. He was a player — a Bruin, in fact. He played in 284 NHL games for Boston and Colorado before calling it quits in 1985 because of injury.

Then things got interesting. He got his law degree at Queen’s University and even taught sports law for a while. He became a player agent in 1992 and zoomed to the top of his profession, handling the affairs of such NHL luminaries as Pavel Bure, Markus Naslund, Geoff and Russ Courtnall, Mike Richter, and Bobby Holik. It appears he is making a relatively seamless transition into management.

He seems to be quite comfortable in his own skin. Vancouver media regard him as tight-lipped and perhaps even media-phobic, which doesn’t seem to concern him in the least. He was measured, precise, and quite matter-of-fact in front of the international media as he explained just what his M.O. has been since taking control of the franchise fortunes a little less than two years ago.

He reiterated the importance of signing the Sedins, as well as securing Luongo, Ryan Kesler, and Sami Salo.

And then?

“We had to make some decisions,’’ he explained. “We managed to sign every player we wanted to sign and keep every player we wanted to keep. But it started with Henrik and Daniel, or else we would not be in the position we’re in.’’

And now Vancouver is in a position to cash in on its elevated status. Why wouldn’t a quality free agent want to come here?

“Players all along have wanted to come here,’’ confirmed Daniel Sedin. “It’s a beautiful city.’’

Beautiful city. Hockey atmosphere. A team with a great core group of players who aren’t going anywhere for a while. That sounds like a strong inducement for a player looking to find a team fitting his personal needs. No matter what transpires in this series, the Canucks won’t be finished.

Bob Ryan can be reached at

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