Just over 41 years ago -- May 22, 1970, to be exact -- the National Hockey League awarded franchises to Vancouver and Buffalo, and the Canucks and Sabres were born.
In less than a week, the Canucks will compete in their third Stanley Cup Final when they host Game 1 next Wednesday at Rogers Arena against either the Boston Bruins
or Tampa Bay Lightning
. Their goal: to bring home the franchise's first championship.
Appearing as a guest on Thursday night's season finale of "NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman," third-year Vancouver General Manager Mike Gillis was asked if this level of success had come sooner than he might have expected.
"We had a plan and there wasn't any time frame attached to it," Gillis said. "It was really whether or not we could get Daniel and Henrik (Sedin) signed -- if we could get them signed, we had one distinct plan; if we couldn't get them signed we had another plan and a number of contingencies that flowed from that.
"The real key for us was our ability to sign those guys at a contract level that would allow us to do other things. When they agreed, we knew we were going to be in pretty good shape, so we went about making sure we got the rest of the core players signed at numbers that we thought respected values that could allow us to grow as a team. Once that came together, it advanced our plan pretty rapidly."
The Canucks have come a long way from the past few postseasons -- and even made big strides in the past month. After allowing the Blackhawks to rally from a 3-0 series deficit to force a Game 7 in the first round, they finally vanquished their demons against a team that had eliminated them two years in a row and then defeated the Predators in six games and the Sharks in five to make the Final.
Gillis was able to make improvements to the Canucks over the summer, following their six-game loss to Chicago in the 2010 Western Conference Semifinals -- notable additions included center Manny Malhotra
and defenseman Dan Hamhuis
. Vancouver benefitted greatly from those moves over the course of the season. They also added solid support players like Chris Higgins
at the trade deadline.
"First, I thought the better team won that series, undoubtedly," Gillis said in reference to the 2010 Blackhawks, who went on to become Stanley Cup champions. "I felt for us to be at the level Chicago was at last year, we had to improve in a couple of areas. One was down the middle at the center ice position and the other was on defense. They weren't in any specific order; we just wanted to improve in both those categories.
"We were lucky, we were able to go to the trade market and free-agent market to address those areas. I felt that if we could support our top players with other players that were good and defensemen that could handle the puck and skate and move the puck, it fit into the style of play I wanted our team to have, which is an up-tempo, offensive, transitional type of game. We were lucky to do that in the offseason and get those types of players, and our success this year is definitely attributable to adding those pieces."
Gillis wasn't going to play favorites and pick an opponent he'd rather face in the Final, but he discussed the challenges the Canucks will face depending on whether they play the Bruins or Lightning.
"Boston is a big team that plays a very up-and-down game, very deliberate type of game, great goaltending, pre-eminent defenseman in (Zdeno) Chara and big, solid forwards who can score," he said. "Tampa's a quicker team. Again, their goalie's been exceptional through the playoffs and the latter part of the season. Tampa's a little bit more -- they fool you a little bit with this so-called 1-3-1 -- but they're a transitional, up-tempo team that likes to score. I think it's a great series, it's going to be a fantastic seventh game, and I think both those teams are deserving of moving on to the Final."
Bettman didn't let Gillis go without asking one of the more pressing questions surrounding the Canucks over the past decade: "You look up quickly and either Daniel or Henrik Sedin
is walking toward you. How do you tell them apart?"
"It's taken me three years, and I have an idea now," Gillis said. "I'm still a little bit unsure depending on the circumstances around them. When I see them now I have a pretty clear idea. Daniel has a thinner face than Henrik, and that's my main criteria. Other people think that their eyes are a little different or the shape of their head is a little different, but I kind of look at the thinner face.
"I was in great shape when -- I can't remember which one of them had a chipped tooth. Then I had them straight all the time. It's challenging, but when you're around them a little bit more, you get to see some of the subtle differences."