So based on expectations heading into Monday’s National Hockey League trade deadline, it appears the Canucks were able to accomplish exactly what they set out to do.
The club now marches toward the Stanley Cup playoffs with far more NHL-calibre depth among its bottom six forwards than it had prior to the deadline. And now it’s up to the assembled players -- the existing players and the newcomers who’ve joined the mix -- to live up to expectations set out for them.
When an injured thumb heals up and allows him to play again, Chris Higgins gives the Canucks another Ivy Leaguer (Yale) and another former NHL first rounder (14th overall in 2002 – and the 11th on the Canucks current roster).
Three times a 20-goal scorer in his career with Montreal, New York Rangers, Calgary and most-recently Florida, the 27-year-old New York native won’t be asked to score a lot of goals with the Canucks, however he does bring with him 11 goals in 48 games on an offensively-challenged Panthers team. So he knows where the net is and could be used in a pinch as a top-six forward.
But what the Canucks have to like in Higgins is the fact that he’s a low-maintenance player who has been to the second round of the playoffs, has six goals in 22 career playoff games and is a guy who rarely spends time in the penalty box.
That’s important because in years past Alain Vigneault has had trust issues with fourth line players at playoff time. Higgins should be able to give the Canucks minutes without worrying about his discipline.
Maxim Lapierre, however, is a different story. Although he and Higgins were teammates for a couple of seasons in Montreal, that seems to be where the similarities in their games end. Discipline has been an issue at times with the Canadiens’ 2003 second rounder.
Traded by the Habs to Anaheim on New Year’s Eve, Vancouver becomes the 25-year-old’s third NHL stop of the season. And that certainly begs some questions about his value as a teammate and a key contributor. But with the experience of going to the third round of the playoffs last spring, Lapierre has something that is in short-supply on the current Canucks roster – first-hand knowledge of what it takes to play deep into the post-season.
Where recklessness and poor on-ice decisions may have been part of Lapierre’s game in the past, there are a couple of factors that should help keep him in check with the Canucks.
Alain Vigneault knows him well after coaching him for two seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. And there appears to be accountability in the Canucks dressing room that hasn’t been there in the past.
Lapierre is joining the top team in the NHL standings and he’ll have to figure out in a hurry what he can add to the mix if he wants to be in the line-up on a nightly basis. When he’s on, he can be aggressive and abrasive and bring the types of fourth-line elements the Canucks can use.
But the Canucks have enough depth up front now, that if Lapierre begins to stray, the team will have no problems finding someone to take his spot in the line-up.
In analyzing the additions of Higgins and Lapierre, both fit the mould of what the Canucks are trying to build in Vancouver.
They are in that 25-30 age range which is consistent with most of the Canucks core players. And even though the hockey club had been linked to a handful of seasoned NHL veterans, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Canucks opted not to roll the dice on players at or near the end of the line.
Instead, the Canucks obtained a pair of players who have seen their careers dip a little in recent years, but guys the Canucks believe have plenty of hockey left in them.
The Canucks are a better, more playoff-ready team after the deadline than they were before. And from that standpoint, the team’s activity on the trade front was a success. But the players acquired by the Canucks Monday are complimentary players at best. And so in the big picture, very little has changed.
While Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins will be expected to jump on board and join the team’s push toward the playoffs, the names Canucks fans have watched set the pace in the NHL all season are the ones that will ultimately determine how far this team goes.