Mike Gillis' record: Part V, 2012 strikes back

Patrick Johnston
June 07 2013 01:05PM

Following the heartbreak of 2011, the playoff failure of the Canucks vs the Kings highlighted a lot. Had the team forgotten its strengths? Was Ehrhoff really *that* important? Mike Gillis was faced with having two elite number one goalies, a probable lockout and huge expectations. 

Was the time right for a new approach?

Ultimately, GIllis still beileved his core could overcome and remain a top contender in the West.

Inventory - Forwards

The sheen came off the Sedins. They were still pretty good, and clearly first line players, but they weren't great anymore. Daniel's season was marred by Duncan Keith's elbow (hmm imagine that). Ryan Kesler came back from hip labrum surgery far too soon. It was unlikely that he'd score 40 goals again, but he struggled for most of the year.

David Booth, by his underlying numbers, should have produced more, but he didn't. Manny Malhotra's attempt to return from his eye injury didn't quite work. Coupled with his extreme defensive-zone deployment, no wonder his plus/minus looked terrible and his points total was depressed. He'd been a consistent 30+ point scorer, but starting 15 percent of your shifts in the offensive zone limits your opportunities...

Mason Raymond hadn't had a great season the year before, but his back injury meant that he didn't rebound, instead he went the other way. Was it a tough recovery from injury? Maybe. Was he lacking in confidence? Most definitely.

Cody Hodgson showed off his offensive prowess and then was shipped off for Zack Kassian. The Kassassin remains a project; in 2012-13 he spent time with the Sedins, on the fourth line and was demoted for a time to Chicago.

On the other hand, Chris Higgins continued to re-discover his past successes, as he was a key player on the second and third lines. He played some pretty good hockey in tandem with Ryan Kesler.

The deployment of the forwards was a pretty straight-forward division - scorers got their shifts  in the offensive zone; defensive players got their shifts in the defensive zone.

Andrew Ebbett turned out to be an interesting find; his shift deployment showed that not only was he was seeing more than the typical 4th line deployment, he was also a positive corsi player. It suggested he could be a useful talent further down the lineup. 

But we look at the bottom six in 2011-12 and we can't help but compare it with the lineup from the year before. Malhotra was a chicken or the egg question - was he being played wholly defensively because he couldn't score? Or was he not scoring because he was only playing defence? It's likely A came first. So, whereas a year before the third line was the killer Torres-Malhotra-Hansen combo, it was now Higgins-Lapierre-Hansen. Three solid players, but clearly a different mix.

(Yes, a glitch in somekindofninja's software spat Marc-Andre Gragnani out as a forward. In an odd way, this makes sense.)

Inventory - Defence

With the loss of Christian Ehrhoff, a hole on the blueline emerged. A healthier Sami Salo and a resurgent Kevin Bieksa filled in much of the gap; Dan Hamhuis chipped in too. But the lineup had a strange balance to it. In 2010-11, there was a fair bit of competition for places. In the 2011-12, not so much. The top four was set for much of the season, while the bottom pairing felt like a revolving door at times. 

Off-season Needs

Sami Salo wasn't re-signed; he was done. Chris Tanev was expected to take his role. As ever, finding depth defencemen was the prey.

And then there was the Roberto Luongo situation. Two goalies wasn't the best option; Gillis and company believed a real hockey trade was there for the taking. 

Gillis' moves

WIth most of his defencemen locked in long-term, there wasn't much room for tinkering. There was space to add one more defenceman, but at what cost would that be? With the lockout looming large, Gillis mostly tread carefully, not looking to upset the cap-cart. He also clearly figured that getting Luongo off the books would solve most of his problems.

Sami Salo left for Tampa Bay, Aaron Rome got what he could from the market and shuffled off to Dallas, while the momentarily intriguing Gragnani signed with Carolina after receiving no offers from the Canucks.

Trades

The lightest season of his career on the trade market, Gillis made no moves in the off-season and just one during the season, sending out apparently failed-prospect Kevin Connauton for Derek Roy, who started well but then fell off the face of the earth.

Free agents

Jason Garrison was the latest of Gillis' defensive free agents. By the end of the year, every one was screaming for more Garrison, as much Garrison as possible, all Garrison, all the time.

Cam Barker's signing was not popular at this site. He needed a lot of massaging, and at times, he did ok. But he was also the cut-rate eight defenceman.

Derek Joslin, Patrick Mullen, Gil Desbiens and Jim Vandermeer were all signed to be fodder on the farm, though there was always a chance that Vandermeer might've suited up for the Canucks had everything gone awry.

Draft picks

Brendan Gaunce is expected to challenge for a job with the team in 2013-14; that's how well-rated he is.

Alex Mallet is another project player. He started the year with the Wolves but struggled to score, eventually ending up in Kalamazoo. He found himself in the ECHL and made a late-season return to the Chicago lineup. Yet another off-the-table selection, Mallet remains far away from making the jump.

Ben Hutton, Wesley Myron and Matthew Beattie were all college-bound though I think you'd only describe Hutton's season as successful. Wesley Myron withdrew from the NCAA over playing time.

Final Assessment

With cap changes looming, Gillis chose to ride out the storm to see what would lie on the other side. He didn't move Luongo before the yardsticks on the big Italian's contract were changed, now many wonder how he will be rid of what is a true noose around his neck. 

Signing Jason Garrison was a stroke of genius. Like Hamhuis, Garrison signed a contract that likely wasn't the highest number total, but it was the place he apparently wanted to be.

How he re-tools the forwards this summer will establish his future legacy. The plan has struggled for two years. He'd meant for his team to have a chance every year, but the success playoff failures have highlighted the need for him to find players who can score under duress. The Sedins aren't getting any younger; one day their flame will be weak. What comes next starts now.

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Patrick Johnston is a Vancouver journalist. In addition to regular contributions here at Canucks Army, his work has appeared in The Province, Hockey Now and on the CBC. Check out his blog and other writing at http://johnstonwrites.wordpress.com or follow him on twitter: @risingaction
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#1 NM00
June 07 2013, 01:44PM
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"Signing Jason Garrison was a stroke of genius. Like Hamhuis, Garrison signed a contract that likely wasn't the highest number total, but it was the place he apparently wanted to be."

Yes. British Columbia. It isn't anymore genius than the Wild signing the Parise/Suter duo because they wanted to take their talents to Minnesota. A number of GM's could have been geniuses had Parise/Suter accepted their similar contract offers.

"Brendan Gaunce is expected to challenge for a job with the team in 2013-14; that's how well-rated he is."

Or, you know, that is the cap crunch the Canucks face and they'll rush him because they don't trust their 2009 1st rounder.

"(Gillis) also clearly figured that getting Luongo off the books would solve most of his problems."

Actually, it was the opposite. Gillis was in no rush to "give away an all star". Instead, he waited and depressed our former lord and saviour's trade value to the point where giving him away now would be one less burden this offseason.

If signing Samuelsson & Manny were praised as "moneypuck" moves, what would be the appropriate term for giving away Grabner, Luongo & Ballard (in all likelihood) on the cheap?

I'd put Hodgson in that boat...but Gillis "built up" his value by giving him favourable zone starts. Moneypuck! Hence, it must be genius!

And year 3 of the Ballard-as-a-utility-defenseman expirement has, once again, undercut any surplus value provided by Hamhuis' discount.

I guess we have Gillis' "reset" to look forward to. Which may very well just be replacing Roy, Ballard & Luongo with Gaunce, Corrado & Lack.

Which will only put more pressure on the core Gillis inherited to carry the load. And the BC-born defenseman. Can't forget about them!

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#2 JCDavies
June 07 2013, 02:13PM
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@Patrick

Are you just reviewing Gillis' term as GM or are you going to have a sixth article tying everything together?

I think there might be a typo in the third sentence of the last paragraph. Either that or I'm too tired to see straight.

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#3 orcasfan
June 07 2013, 02:21PM
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Most of the sports journos, pundits, etc were predicting that a lockout was not going to happen - right up until August (when it became clearer that one was, in fact, likely to occur!). Unless Gillis had some inside info (which has never been hinted at before), I doubt he expected a lockout (especially a long one) to happen until mid-summer.

One important "move" that Gillis did make last summer was to juggle his scouting staff around. Harold Snepts was moved from covering the West to helping out with college coverage. Head Scout, Ron Delorme was given the added responsibility of scouting the West. There were a couple of other shifts also. But the Snepts/Delorme shift could be significant in possibly improving the quality of the scouting in B.C. and Western Canada. Under Snepts, it has been atrocious! Could Delorme do a worse job? I doubt it, but not many of us have much faith in our Chief Scout either!

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#4 jer
June 07 2013, 02:23PM
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I realize that bringing up signings Gillis didn't make is something of a fool's errand, but the near miss on Justin Schultz certainly added some color to the last offseason. As you've pointed out in this series, the perception was that 2 years ago, GMMG's every transaction turned to gold, and now many feel he can't make a good move to save his life. Missing on Schultz didn't help him with that perception.

Another signing he didn't make was Salo. I seem to recall either Gillis or Gillman on 1040 saying that they fully expected to sign Garrison AND bring Salo back; that they didn't expect anyone to offer him more term and hoped he would play out his career on consecutive 1 year deals, but that they didn't begrudge him taking the security of a 2 year deal in Tampa. I didn't get the impression they cut him loose because he was done, more that they wanted to stay true to their "no term after 35" rule. Certainly had they been successful in bringing Salo back, the left to right imbalance on D this past year wouldn't have been so glaring...

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#5 kagee
June 07 2013, 02:37PM
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First off nicely done, however I was hoping to see at least Lain in there, I think he will get the 4th line center spot next season, as we need save money at every spot and he's much cheaper than Lappy plus the team needs to shed that dirty/diver player image, which unfortunately Lappy is or was well known to be in that category, which didn't help in the playoffs as the Canucks had one of the most penalties in NHL history iirc in the first round vs the San Jose Sharks, where that ref Sutherland who is well known for his distaste in the Canucks as evidence provided in 2011 playoffs shows, but that's another subject to be discussed in the long summer nights ahead.

Just my quick points about the team,

Defense:

Canucks defense definitely needs some work, with 4 dmen (Hamhuis, Edler, Garrison, Ballard) who can play in a top 4 role and get paid as such, all naturally play on the LEFT side, another Gillis miscue/oversight.

With all the NTC's Gillis has been handing out like candy, his only real option now with the defense is to move Ballard for whatever he can get, which falls in line with poor asset management as he traded Steve Bernier (superb gritty player in the bottom six forwards for NJ in their cup run), Michael Grabner (speedy/affordable 25 goal scorer) and a 1st round selection (Quinton Howden) in 2010 for Keith Ballard, now the Canucks will be lucky to land a 2nd or 3rd rounder for him. Can't see how Ballard can still fit on this team with the cap going down and needing money/cap space for help up front to fill spots, so he has to be bought out or traded.

Forwards:

Through MG's entire tenure here, he has relentlessly tried to pursue a power forward...unsuccessfully..still waiting for that project in Kassian to come about, ideally he will get a full time spot on the 3rd line, but maybe with a new coach ZK can get a full spot on the Sedin's line, so they can try to create chemistry all season and be force to reckon with come playoff time.

Regarding the Sedins, imo they are the teams best chance to win a Cup, they should be re-signed long term at $5.5M per, however they said they will now sign 1 yr or 2 yr deals till they retire to play in Sweden down the line, presumably once they win the Cup or get too old to try.

Ever since the Sedin's became the #1 line, they have never really had a bonafide 2nd scoring line to help take the heat off of them with the other teams defensive specialists, as other teams know just shut down the twins, and your chances of beating the Canucks greatly increases. Which is another Gillis oversight, as he's too busy trying with projects and hopefuls like Booth, whom is almost like an exact duplicate in the scoring techniques of Kesler (which is not a good thing), as they drive fast to the net and fire off shots with zero creativity and playmaking skills, which the second line desperately needs on the wing, and why Gillis needs to get cap space to acquire a playing/scoring winger to help RK/Booth. At least for Booth MG only gave up probable and eventual UFA players, but Booth has been marred by numerous injuries including multiple concussions, a knee injury, neck injury, sprained right knee, rib injury, left shoulder and left ankle injuries with torn ligaments. And now with all those injuries he may escape the compliance buyout if he is still injured by the time the buyout deadline looms. And with Kesler's rambunctious play, it's hard to believe we will ever see a 2nd line form together long enough to be effective plus create chemistry, with limited cap space and Gillis liking to keep every player he can, as he's too timid, non-impulsive and reserved we may very well see the exact same team that has done nothing in these last two playoffs for the 2013/14 season.

If he keeps all the players intact and just adds prospects to the core players into the lineup and we have another poor showing in the 2014 playoffs, MG will lose his job.

He has to make some trades, his assets include Booth, Burrows, Edler, Hansen, and Ballard after he trades Luongo, he should use one or two of the aforementioned players in a trade to help with the secondary scoring, plus a third line checking/scoring center, fix the 4th line and finally get the right mix of left/right dmen along with a true QB as the teams powerplay was atrocious, which was extremely evident in the playoffs. This offseason is the true test of Gillis and his trade negotiating abilities, especially with a lack of options in the UFA market, I think this summer’s top stories will be big blockbuster deals/trades/transactions. Gillis luckily however has probably been creating a repertoire the past year now, just in discussions concerning Luongo, so it should be a bit easier to make said transactions this summer.

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#6 Mantastic
June 07 2013, 02:53PM
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@kagee

no one would take Ballard for free.

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#7 ZeroTenacity
June 07 2013, 03:20PM
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Now I'm no expert but...

[In this space: 4000 word essay on how GMMG is so terrible Grapes wouldn't even wear him as a jacket, and lets face it, those jackets are pretty bad. Also something about Luongo's contract being more terrible than a box of puppies (the puppies are all called Keith Ballard).]

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#8 NM00
June 07 2013, 05:49PM
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@kagee

"If he keeps all the players intact and just adds prospects to the core players into the lineup and we have another poor showing in the 2014 playoffs, MG will lose his job."

What makes you think Gillis is anywhere near being fired?

I mean, certainly I'd LIKE to see Gillis fired. But there really isn't any indication that Aquilini is losing patience, is there?

He's the President & GM; methinks the reason Aquilini just purchased an AHL team is because Gillis convinced him it's a good investment for the development of prospects.

There's probably a better chance Gilman gets promoted to GM and Gillis remains as President.

That's worked out so well in Edmonton...

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#9 orcasfan
June 07 2013, 07:43PM
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@kagee

I agree that one of Gillis' failings has been his inability to build a real 2nd line. One that can be relied on to score. Sure, he's had mis-fires, like Booth. But he has also continually missed on his assessment of Raymond, as a piece of that 2nd line. Is it that he has been so focused on the D?

Maybe not. After all, Gillis does not make judgments and assessments by himself, in a vacuum. He relies on feedback from the coaches as well as other managers (like Lorne Henning and Smyl). Since we are not privy to those discussions, we can only guess. But, perhaps, in a way, AV's radical zone deployment system helped to camouflage the problem.

After all, according to the stats, especially W's, AV's system was reaping fabulous results. In the regular season. But, in the playoffs, teams tighten up their defense. And as everyone knows, without a real 2nd line threat, Vancouver doesn't score if the twins are shut down.

I'm not sure whether AV adopted such radical O zone deployment as a way of compensating for the lack of a 2nd line threat, or whether he would have done it regardless. And, with the 3rd line of 2010-11, when Manny was so reliable, and that line really "dominated" in its own way, it all worked out, mostly, OK. Until they met the Bruins...and Manny and the strong 3rd line was (functionally) gone...as well as other injuries, like Hamhuis, Kesler, etc.

I've been thinking about AV's deployment system for a while. I've only read rave reviews of how effective the system was for the team, both forwards and D. I haven't seen any critiques. I also wonder why, if the system was so rewarding, very few other coaches use it to anywhere near the same degree. Could it be, that there are disadvantages to that level of skewed deployment strategies? I would love to grill a good coach on that question! But, since I don't have one handy, I'll toss out a possibility.

Say a team gives most of its O zone starts to the top line and spreads the starts more evenly for the 2nd line, and then has the bottom six have most of their starts in their end. For the whole regular season. Then, come playoffs, and the top line gets shut down, the team relies on "depth" scoring. Well, for the Canucks, the 2nd line is a weak scoring line. And the 3rd is too, but also hasn't had a whole lot of chances to get better due to their lack of O zone starts (which obviously creates more scoring opportunities). Even more so with our 4th. This spells playoff disaster. And it is not the fault of the Sedins, for god's sake! How many top lines in the playoffs get shut down? Without depth scoring, both Boston and Chicago would be gone already!

Anyway, just a thought. Sorry for the ramblings! It will be interesting to see how the new coach deploys!

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#10 khlhfs
June 08 2013, 11:10AM
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@NM00

"Brendan Gaunce is expected to challenge for a job with the team in 2013-14; that's how well-rated he is."

"Or, you know, that is the cap crunch the Canucks face and they'll rush him because they don't trust their 2009 1st rounder."

100% this.

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#11 JCDavies
June 08 2013, 12:54PM
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khlhfs wrote:

"Brendan Gaunce is expected to challenge for a job with the team in 2013-14; that's how well-rated he is."

"Or, you know, that is the cap crunch the Canucks face and they'll rush him because they don't trust their 2009 1st rounder."

100% this.

I doubt the Canucks really expect Gaunce to significantly contribute as a 19 year old.

Some teams (the Islanders for example) have a history of rushing young prospects but the Canucks have ZERO history of doing this this.

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#12 NM00
June 08 2013, 07:56PM
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JCDavies wrote:

I doubt the Canucks really expect Gaunce to significantly contribute as a 19 year old.

Some teams (the Islanders for example) have a history of rushing young prospects but the Canucks have ZERO history of doing this this.

The Canucks haven't exactly had the prospects to rush.

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