Mike Gillis sends out letter to season ticket holders, clings on for dear life

Dimitri Filipovic
March 10 2014 05:43PM

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Mike Gillis is going through a tough time at the workplace these days. The team he has been in charge of overseeing since April 23, 2008 is in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time during his tenure, which speaks to both how successful an organization the Vancouver Canucks have been over the past handful of seasons, and how far they've fallen this season. 

The past week or so, in particular, has likely been the most difficult one of his regime. First he was forced to trade away the best goaltender in the franchise's history, for what essentially amounted to spare parts (a bottom-6 forward, and a prospect goaltender whose stock has plummeted exponentially), largely due to the handcuffing contract he had signed him to back in '09. 

Then less than 24 hours later, the trade deadline came and went without the largely talked about and much anticipated Ryan Kesler trade ever going down. We don't know the details, but there have certainly been what I'd characterize as believable rumours circulating that a potential deal was nixed by meddling ownership. Obviously, this has been refuted, but where there's smoke, there tends to be fire.

But maybe the most questionable, beleaguered subplot of all: the "solidarity"/crisis goatee that has crawled down from his face to his neck. As it turns out, maybe the reason for the new look has to do with the fact that he hasn't had the time to shave; writing a letter to your season ticket holders can prove to be a time-consuming activity, I'd imagine.

You can read the letter for yourself right here in its entirety:

With the trade deadline a week behind us, I wanted to communicate directly with our Season Ticket Members. You are a very important part of the Canucks family, and I’d like to give you more insight into last week’s developments and our plan for the team going forward.

In addition, I will be inviting you to participate in a webcast after I get home from the GM meetings and upcoming road trip. I want to articulate our plans with you openly and want to give you an opportunity to ask questions so that you have a greater understanding of the vision.

Our mission remains the same: to win the Stanley Cup. Last summer we said we had to make some changes to our team. We need to get younger, faster and stronger to succeed. That process is happening now, as we look to retool by surrounding our veteran stars with new, young talent. You can look at Anaheim as a recent example of a team that has retooled successfully.

Trading Roberto was not an easy decision. We are grateful for his tremendous contribution to our team and city, and we wish him much success. But the moves we've made go beyond goaltending. We are now younger and we are getting deeper. We've added a big, strong 6'4" centre in Shawn Matthias, who is excited to be here and will help this team now. And we believe in our talented group of prospects, including Bo Horvat, Nicklas Jensen, Frank Corrado, Dane Fox, Brendan Gaunce and Hunter Shinkaruk, who will be part of our short and long-term success. We are also well positioned financially, having created over $5 million in cap room to make the right deals for this team. That's in addition to the $7 million we expect the salary cap to increase next season.

We approached the deadline with long-term success in mind. We were prepared to make a hockey deal on trade deadline day, not a short-term fix. The players offered at the deadline did not fit our vision of where we want our team to go. We need to get younger and more balanced to be more competitive, and we didn’t see the right players to accomplish that goal. We are not willing to compromise our long-term vision for the sake of change.

We are committed to putting a winning team on the ice for you. Our ownership is supportive and will invest whatever it takes to bring the Cup to Vancouver. As we move towards this goal we will continue to invest in your arena and Canucks fan experience.

Thank you again for your continued support. We are enduring a challenging period, but your passion makes it possible for us to put our team in a position to compete. Our organization is committed to doing whatever it takes to win, and we want you to be here with us when we achieve our goal.

It's pretty clearly a desperate, last-ditch effort by the GM to calm fans of the team. As Elliotte Friedman reported this past weekend, the team has pushed back sending their season ticket renewals out a couple of times now as they wait for an appropriate time to do so. Their initial plans were for prior to the Olympics, but that was before the team got slaughtered during its preceding slate of games out East. Then they pushed the process back again due to all of the noise around the trade deadline.

But beyond all of that, there are some interesting tidbits to chew into and digest here.

I actually tend to agree with Gillis that, despite the widespread belief that the "window" is sealed shut, this franchise isn't best suited for a full-on, blow it up and trade everything away type of rebuild. It's just not. Look at what has happened to the Edmonton Oilers, for example. They've been mired in an endless tailspin for years now. Sometimes the alternative isn't better, and the grass isn't greener.

Fully acknowledging their lacklustre and and uninspiring play of late, I still believe that the Vancouver Canucks aren't nearly as bad as they've shown themselves to be. The Canucks are an organization that we've suspected to be one that uses and takes advantage of their understanding of advanced stats, so it would make sense that they'd be aware of how unlucky they've been, and how much a percentage-driven decline can be attributed to their struggles.

Something that I brought up all the way back on February 12th - which Gillis and the Canucks have been echoing in their interviews of late - is the concept of a "retooling on the fly"; which constitutes timely development of prospects, and effective usage of the (anticipated) additional cap space to supplement the current aging core, in an attempt to reinvigorate and extended the current aging core's run.

Gillis brings up the Ducks as a blueprint (who missed the playoffs twice in 3 seasons from '09-'12, but have no strung together two supremely successful regular seasons in a row and look poised to make noise for years to come). Others, I'd imagine, would include the San Jose Sharks, and Ottawa Senators. These teams are examples that retooling on the fly can indeed be pulled off.

A step in the right direction would be to stop trading away depth draft picks (which seem like they may not be of much value on the surface, but most definitely are, and if you remain unconvinced you should read more on how the misuse of them can go bad). During the Gillis regime they've been funnelling 2nd, 3rd, 4th rounders to add role players at the deadline, and that's a big reason their system is as barren as it is.

A crutch excuse for the lack of organizational depth has long been "the big club is good, so they're drafting low in the standings", but that hasn't seemed to hurt teams like the Red Wings, Blackhawks, and Sharks, who have year after year managed to uncover useful assets in the later rounds of the draft. The fact that the Canucks have been unable to do so will put their retooling behind the eight ball right off the bat.

Still, I think the theory is sound, and if this is in fact the plan the organization has in mind moving forward, it's something that I can get behind. I have no doubts that this'll continue to be a large part of the discussions we'll have in the coming months. What I do have doubts about, though, is whether or not Mike Gillis will be around to see us have them; this letter surely won't do much to appease the angry fans out there that want blood.

One final note:

I, too, noticed this. And found it very curious. Particularly when taking into account the rumblings that John Tortorella's job could've been in jeopardy had Saturday's game against the Flames turned out differently. Could be a simple oversight, sure, but considering how many different sets of eyes you'd assume went over this letter before it was sent out, I find that hard to believe. Just some more fuel, is all.

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Dimitri Filipovic writes about hockey on the internet, and is the Managing Editor of Canucks Army. You can follow him on Twitter @DimFilipovic, and email him at dimitri.filipovic@gmail.com.
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#1 The Benevolent Orca
March 10 2014, 06:31PM
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You have believe that if Torts goes, the GM follows very quickly.

I'd love to hear more about the meddling owners though. How much are they hands on? Are those rumours true? If so, would a new GM or coach be much help in that situation?

If a re-tool is what the Canucks are in fact heading for, then I'm all for it. So long as it's a path that is stuck to!

The past several seasons have all had different messages.

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#2 andyg
March 10 2014, 06:54PM
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The Benevolent Orca wrote:

You have believe that if Torts goes, the GM follows very quickly.

I'd love to hear more about the meddling owners though. How much are they hands on? Are those rumours true? If so, would a new GM or coach be much help in that situation?

If a re-tool is what the Canucks are in fact heading for, then I'm all for it. So long as it's a path that is stuck to!

The past several seasons have all had different messages.

I think our owners do meddle in hockey decisions.

How ever they are good owners, spend to the max and want to win a cup more than anyone else. Hopefully they will learn from their mistakes.

So they are talking about a rebuild on the fly agenda. That means not blowing the team up but rather moving a few vets for youth and filling kids in around a the remaining core. (I am all in for that)

Don't care who the GM is but like the plan.

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#3 Nucked Up
March 10 2014, 07:49PM
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Seems so, so long ago I was laughing at Katz' letter to the Oilers Nation...fortune's a whore.

I'd love to see a write-up on who'd be a viable replacement if Torts does indeed go. Perhaps it's still too soon, but that "no mention of the coach" thing is glaring, and as you say: smoke, fire, etc.

Also, Crisis Goatee sounds like the name of a crust punk band.

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#4 Austin Wallace
March 10 2014, 08:06PM
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There are rumours (just rumours) that ownership pushed hard for both Torts and Luongo's extension. Not to mention kiboshing the Kesler trade. It is impossible to know how much of this is true, but IF all three of those things are from ownership, Gillis all of a sudden looks much better.

I am still behind Gillis, though I am prepared for him to be fired.

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#5 Justin American
March 10 2014, 08:14PM
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Gillis worked hard to make Vancouver an attractive destination for free agents. There isn't a quality free agent in the league who wants to play for Torts. I think the owners wanted Torts (naively) and Gillis reluctantly feigned support.

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#6 Ruprecht
March 10 2014, 08:19PM
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This letter has one glaring omission,

Ludwig Blomstrand.

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#7 NM00
March 10 2014, 08:34PM
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@Justin American

Who are these free agents?

BC boys?

His ex-clients?

Mats Sundin?

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#8 NM00
March 10 2014, 08:37PM
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@andyg

"I think our owners do meddle in hockey decisions."

Every owner meddles in hockey decisions.

The payroll is set by the owner and it affects all hockey decisions.

Good lord this is a business. Of course an owner is going to pull rank on some things.

But I'm not sure why we assume ownership in Vancouver is any more or less meddlesome than the 29 other ownerships in hockey.

Part of being a GM is being able to work with an owner and prevent him from doing stupid things.

Because even if some of this stuff is true, it reflects poorly on Gillis and his future career as an NHL executive.

Not that he's every going to get another GM gig once Aquillini finally gasses him...

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#9 andyg
March 10 2014, 09:53PM
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NM00 wrote:

"I think our owners do meddle in hockey decisions."

Every owner meddles in hockey decisions.

The payroll is set by the owner and it affects all hockey decisions.

Good lord this is a business. Of course an owner is going to pull rank on some things.

But I'm not sure why we assume ownership in Vancouver is any more or less meddlesome than the 29 other ownerships in hockey.

Part of being a GM is being able to work with an owner and prevent him from doing stupid things.

Because even if some of this stuff is true, it reflects poorly on Gillis and his future career as an NHL executive.

Not that he's every going to get another GM gig once Aquillini finally gasses him...

So do you think they get involved in trades?

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#10 NM00
March 10 2014, 10:08PM
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@andyg

I assume owners in general are involved in trades.

Especially when there is a financial component that affects profit margins.

If it's true that Aquillini blocked Gillis from trading Kesler at the deadline, I hope it's because he plans on firing Gillis at the end of the year and doesn't want him to blunder another big decision for the organization...

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#11 andyg
March 10 2014, 10:21PM
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NM00 wrote:

I assume owners in general are involved in trades.

Especially when there is a financial component that affects profit margins.

If it's true that Aquillini blocked Gillis from trading Kesler at the deadline, I hope it's because he plans on firing Gillis at the end of the year and doesn't want him to blunder another big decision for the organization...

And blocked the trade to Toronto and cost the team Cory.

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#12 Ruprecht
March 10 2014, 10:32PM
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NM00 wrote:

I assume owners in general are involved in trades.

Especially when there is a financial component that affects profit margins.

If it's true that Aquillini blocked Gillis from trading Kesler at the deadline, I hope it's because he plans on firing Gillis at the end of the year and doesn't want him to blunder another big decision for the organization...

Luongo back to Florida, Gillis back to being an agent...reset complete.

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#13 andyg
March 10 2014, 10:33PM
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Ruprecht wrote:

Luongo back to Florida, Gillis back to being an agent...reset complete.

And Torts?

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#14 Ruprecht
March 10 2014, 10:44PM
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We already tried blaming the coach.

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#15 NM00
March 10 2014, 10:45PM
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@andyg

Why do you presume that rumour is 100% true?

If we're going to play that game, Gillis should have traded him to TO when Kadri & Gardiner were "allegedly" in play.

Turning Lou, cash & Schneider into Horvat, Markstrom & Mattias is pretty egregious mismanagement...

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#16 NM00
March 10 2014, 10:46PM
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@Ruprecht

As well as resetting the goalie graveyard...

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#17 andyg
March 10 2014, 11:04PM
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@NM00

You are the one that refuses to look at the big picture. If the owners have been handcuffing Gillis from making these deals, than who's fault is it and how is a new GM going to change anything.

Like I said before I am a Canucks fan not a Gillis fan.

7 to 4 loss.

We are back into 8TH spot. We may have started the rebuild that most fans no we need despite management and owners.

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#18 Rusty
March 10 2014, 11:20PM
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Tuned in when the score was 3-0, and was worried that we would somehow shoot ourselves in the foot and squeak into the playoffs only to be bounced in the first round (again). Thankfully the 3rd period meltdown happened and we are back on track for a Top 5 pick (sorry to see Lack go through that though…).

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#19 Samson
March 10 2014, 11:50PM
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Maybe Gillis wanted to take that crappy Pittsburgh package and the Aqua-men stopped him...

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#20 Ruprecht
March 11 2014, 09:13AM
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NM00 wrote:

As well as resetting the goalie graveyard...

Bonus!

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#21 Drams
March 11 2014, 11:31AM
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I agree with many of the sentiments expressed. Egregious mismanagement of assets is correct. Lack of foresight/reactionary moves. He is unable to see the changing climate in the NHL.

He was an agent and used to keeping people who pay him happy, perhaps a yes man? We need a GM who isn't afraid of the owners not liking every decision. Perhaps his negotiating style is still quite agent like. Ie. Adversarial and doesn't realize he's negotiating with peers. How many successful GM's were agents?

I realize I'm filling in the blanks with not a lot of information but when you see buffoonery at this magnitude, you just throw your hands skyward and try to make sense of it.

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#22 NM00
March 11 2014, 11:37AM
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@Drams

Hiring an agent isn't the issue.

Columbus' new GM did that as well:

http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=679863

The issue was hiring an agent to be the general manager of a multimillion dollar sports frachise with ZERO front office experience.

Beyond dumb.

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#23 Drams
March 11 2014, 12:32PM
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@NM00

Interesting.

I think what Gillis has shown an ability to do is sign (pending/new) free agents. This is aided by his past experience of being an agent and having a competitive team with some intangibles (player first mentality, Olympics in 2010, great city). What he has shown a lack of is an ability to trade or draft players. I think Columbus's approach is the right one. If an agent wished to move into management hire them as an assistant and allow them to negotiate contracts (what they do best) while learning the rest of the trade.

Additionally, the PR has been terrible in recent memory. Although I'm sure they are great people, the PR staff needs to be replaced. Leaked trade demands, visible unhappiness of players (Luongo), overt contempt for referring and league executives. Why did they let Luongo available before playoff games? How come it seems like the only media who likes the Canucks are the Rogers Pacific crew and the odd CBC personality (Hrudey, Friedman)? Perhaps I'm off base but I'm tired of the treatment the Canucks get outside of Vancouver. Clearly I'm biased but it seems like the only teams that have drawn more contempt are the Leafs of the late 90's, early 00's and any team that had Darius Kasparaitis or Sean Avery on their roster.

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