LOS ANGELES — The magic number for Mike Gillis might be 10.
That's how many games the Vancouver Canucks general manager may need to get the right read on his team that is minus two injured forwards and has one front-line goaltender that will remain in the spotlight until Gillis completes that trade deal he's hinted at. When the Canucks complete their second road trip on Feb. 7 in Minnesota, they will hit the 10-game mark and hope to get a better indication when Ryan Kesler will return from offseason shoulder and wrist surgeries and when David Booth will recover from a groin strain.
In the interim, it's about winning games.
In a compacted schedule that saw the Canucks just play four games in six days, early victories are more imperative in a 48-game sprint to the playoffs than trying to exact maximum return for Roberto Luongo.
A package that includes the vital need for a centre who can play on the second or third lines is probably out there but Gillis doesn't believe that trade leverage was lost after Booth went down in training camp testing. If his peers think he's desperate, they're wrong.
"I don't know why people refuse to believe the fact that we're comfortable with these guys (Cory Schneider and Luongo), given the circumstances we're in," Gillis stressed Monday before the Canucks faced the Kings. "There's a lot of hockey to be played in a short time and I don't know what next week is going to bring in this scenario or three or four weeks from now. We're happy with both of them.
"It keeps coming up because I keep getting asked about it on a daily basis and it doesn't seem like you can actually give the right answer to anybody. They're really critical about anything you may or may not say and maybe it would be best for me to not deal with that either.
"We need to be patient. Get our players back in the lineup and be healthy. We need to see what we have in a team when it's complete. We haven't seen that and won't see if for another five or six games. We're unsure."
In the interim, the short study on the Canucks has Gillis more wary of what may play out in March and April than January and February. He doesn't like the inconsistent periods or bad penalties — or a power play that went 3-for-9 one night and 0-for-7 the next — but believes the lockout is a factor. Veterans like Chris Higgins, who hasn't scored and didn't play in Europe during the work stoppage, may need more time to the find the timing and the net.
"Without any exhibition games, players usually have a significant number of games under their belts and they don't cost you any points in the standings," added Gillis. "Chris is like many other players. Some have hit the ground running for whatever reason and some are having slower starts. I think the most important thing is that we get through this segment and not have many injuries and get ready for game 10 and onward."
By that time, Gillis will know if Jordan Schroeder can play consistently at this level or whether he's just a short-term fix until Kesler returns. He played Monday despite tightness in the groin that so many players are experiencing with this season crammed into 99 days.
"He certainly looks quick enough and skilled enough to play at this level and his defensive play has been strong," said Gillis. "There are going to be multiple injuries throughout the course of the season and the possibility that teams that started really well, will not end well and those who haven't started great will end well. There are going to be a lot of fluctuations and you just have to see the process through."
That includes just when and where the Luongo domino falls.
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