Score it a stand-up double to the gap. Nothing more. Nothing less.
By addressing pressing needs for a genuine grinding fourth-line centre and a versatile veteran winger, Mike Gillis made solid contact Monday at the NHL trade deadline. The Vancouver Canucks general manager acquired Maxim Lapierre, 25, and Chris Higgins, 27, without messing with the roster of the league's top team and without lingering doubt that the newcomers will alter the dressing-room chemistry and on-ice karma for a Stanley Cup contending club that's right at the salary cap ceiling.
Banking on the familiarity that Canucks coach Alain Vigneault had with Lapierre in his QMJHL lineup for three seasons — and what assistant coach Lorne Henning and associate coach Rick Bowness have had with Higgins in the past — the Canucks believe they are better by addition than subtraction.
"Higgins can move up and down the lineup and Lapierre is a third or fourth-line player who can play with some grit and sandpaper and add a different dimension that we currently don't have," said Gillis. "If you think you're close, you have to support it the best you can and these trades make us a little bit better.
"We were determined to not remove anybody from our room on a first-place team and not our core guys. We worked hard the last couple of years to assemble this and it's hard to replace parts with other parts."
By parting with minor-league centre Joel Perrault, 27, and a 2012 third-round draft choice, the Canucks landed Lapierrre and minor-league centre MacGregor Sharp, 25, from the Anaheim Ducks. In Lapierre, they get a loud-and-proud agitator would must learn to zip his lip and stay out of the penalty box on Tuesday in his expected debut between Tanner Glass and Jeff Tambellini. Cody Hodgson and Victor Oreskovich were assigned to the Manitoba Moose on Monday to signal a more veteran presence on a team that has used a dozen fourth-liners.
By parting with minor-league defenceman Evan Oberg, 23, and a 2013 third-round pick, the Canucks acquired Higgins from the Florida Panthers with the hope that the well-travelled winger can offer lineup options and isn't that far removed from three-straight 20-plus goal seasons with the Montreal Canadiens. Higgins has a thumb fracture and won't play Tuesday.
Still, there's a gamble in both acquisitions because in trades, you sometimes acquire a problem and not a solution. Lapierre laps up getting under the other teams' skin, which is a departure from the mandate that Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows have followed in letting their play do the talking. Lapierre had three assists and nine penalty minutes in 21 games with the Ducks this season and eight points and 63 penalty minutes earlier this season in 38 games with the Canadiens. He's a restricted free agent next season and is earning $900,000 this season.
"They will learn to comply with what we need," said Gillis. "Alain has good relationship with him [Lapierre] and he's coachable wants to win. That was one of the major reasons we made that transaction. In the playoffs with Montreal, he was agitating and got the other team unfocused. We like his speed and his size and he hits."
For his part, Lapierre wasn't concerned about the culture in Vancouver where trash-talking is no longer tolerated.
"If they want me to shut up, I'll do it," said Lapierre, a second-round pick by the Canadiens in 2003, who has 83 points and 293 career penalty minutes in 314 career games.
For Higgins, the knock of opportunity has never been louder. With 23 points in 48 games this season with the injury-riddled Panthers, the unrestricted free agent could start on the fourth line and wind up on the second. Gillis again did his best to back the slumping Mason Raymond — he has just 10 goals this season and two in his last 26 games — but a motivated Higgins could get a long look in the top-six mix.
"You want a player who can move up and it wasn't predicated on Mason's play at all," said Gillis.
Higgins has played for four NHL teams and the 14th overall pick in the 2002 draft by the Canadiens believes he brings a dimension that can make a good team great.
"I'm a pretty versatile player — hard-working energy guy," said Higgins, who's making $1.6 million this season and played three seasons with Lapierre in Montreal. "I'm a smart player and reliable in different situations."
The Canucks could have a made a bigger impact Monday. Teams called about Cory Schneider and Hodgson, but the backup goalie won't be a tempting trade chip until the summer. And it's too early to get a real read on Hodgson.
"We weren't going to lose anybody out of our lineup, regardless of what we did unless there was a way to have a dramatic improvement," said Gillis. "Cory is a key guy and there's a [trade] time to re-visit that and that's what you have to do. With Cody, I just don't think it's a fair proposition and the pressure is too much to have a player sitting for a month and then when he does play, the expectation gets even higher.
"He'll be in Manitoba and play big minutes there and help us when needed."