How will the Mike Gillis era be remembered?

Thomas Drance
April 08 2014 05:52PM


I come to bury Mike Gillis; not to mourn him.

On Tuesday afternoon, after a day of dizzying rumors - a management shake-up, Trevor Linden in as President? - the Vancouver Canucks pulled the plug on the "Mike Gillis era". Gillis had become a controversial figure in Vancouver, as underscored by Monday night's "Fire Gillis!" chant at Rogers arena, owing almost entirely to his mixed managerial record. While there are the obvious successes to point to: six seasons, five playoff appearances, the NHL's fifth best record during that span, two President's Trophies, and one Stanley Cup Finals appearance; there are also the obvious blemishes. 

The sordid way the goaltending situation played out was an unmitigated mess, a fireable offense all on its own. It should be noted that Gillis' bets on the trade market were also generally poor (Christian Ehrhoff the major exception), and Gillis drafted players combined to appear in a paltry 54 NHL games this season for the Canucks. Even worse, you couldn't reasonably describe any of those Gillis draftees (Yann Sauve, Nicklas Jensen, Jordan Schroeder, Frank Corrado) as obvious core pieces.

Firing Gillis is a rupture for this organization, an epochal termination. Though the age was tinged with a perma-film of sweaty arrogance and will always be associated with the 2010-11 team blowing a flat in game seven and the riot that followed, the age of Gillis as Canucks general manager was generally a very successful one for the organization.

Read on past the jump.

It seems quaint now, but towards the end of the 2010-11 season I remember one meaningless milestone meant a lot to me as a Canucks fan. Vancouver had all but sown up home-ice advantage throughout the postseason by this point, but still, I cared a lot about that team winning 50 games. No team in the franchise's mostly depressing, doormat history had ever reached that mark before 2010-11, and for me it was a symbol of the organization's perpetual standing as a steaming mediocrity. 

Gillis' Canucks teams were never described as mediocre. Loathsome? Sure. Soft front runners? Fine. Spectacular playoff chokers? If you must. But they were at least worth watching, at least worth having an opinion on. There's only, like, five pre-Gillis Canucks teams capable of hopping over even that low, low bar ('82, '92, '94, '03, '04).

Even this most recent season, the Canucks weren't mediocre. Rubbish on the ice, outrageously dysfunctional off of it; if Mike Gillis' Canucks weren't going to deliver wins, they were at least going to treat us to a telemundo quality soap opera. 

It's fitting that, as news of the dismissal spread, some of the now former Canucks general manager's usual critics commented on the rich inheritance Gillis had received upon taking the Vancouver job, and how little he'd done to augment that group. This tired argument has always been premised on a fundamental misunderstanding of what made Gillis' Canucks so effective and consistent in the early years.

Yes, the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, Cory Schneider, Roberto Luongo, Kevin Bieksa and Alex Edler were Canucks assets when Gillis took over. But the Canucks were a one-dimensional team that was impossibly, unsustainably reliant on stellar goaltending. In Dave Nonis' final season the Canucks were a bottom-10 puck possession team, and a bottom-10 offensive team. They hadn't outscored their opponents at even-strength that season despite a .925 save percentage...

The talent was there when Gillis arrived, but where the Nonis era was characterized by truly woeful supporting pieces - Byron Ritchie: power-play quarterback, Marc Chouinard: faceoff specialist, Brad Isbister: burgeoning power forward - the Gillis era came to be epitomized by the now deposed executive's ability to find value on the scrap heap.

One of Gillis' first personnel moves was to claim Kyle Wellwood off of waviers. He dealt Lukas Kraijcek for Shane O'Brien (who isn't good, but was credible NHL depth for a while). Ryan Johnson was awful, but he was a thoroughbred in comparison with Chouinard. 

Mid-range gambles like Mikael Samuelsson, Jeff Tambellini and Raffi Torres paid off, something that continued this offseason with Brad Richardson and Mike Santorelli. Gillis acquired Ehrhoff in a cap dump, and made smart deals to supplement his forward group by acquiring Max Lapierre and Chris Higgins ahead of the 2011 playoffs. It's not a coincidence that  Vancouver's two most promising young players were undrafted free-agents (Eddie Lack and Chris Tanev), after all, Gillis excelled at the margins.

So while Gillis inherited a talented core of players, he pushed the right buttons to supplement that group and elevate his ingredients (which is critical, as any good Chopped contender will tell you). He deserves credit for that, not scorn.

While Gillis' fine work at the margins was enough to sustain success for six years, eventually the big picture caught up to him. The organization's repeated inability to draft useful pieces was exposed over the past two seasons, as depth issues - issues exacerbated by a declining salary cap and an undue investment in the goaltending position - sunk what had been an elite club. Gillis' ability to retain core pieces at a reasonable cap-hit was great, but using those savings on failed gambles like David Booth and Keith Ballard neutered that advantage considerably. 

Finally, Gillis' over-arching strategic incoherence cost the irascible general manager his credibility in the Vancouver market. The team was never really rebuilding, but were never really going for it either. They weren't really a skilled team anymore, but they didn't have the personnel to play that heavy game. Gillis' Canucks were going to keep Cory Schneider as part of a commitment to getting younger, but then that's not what they did at all, not even close. 

This general sense of unreliability and inconsistency that Gillis came to be associated with was frustrating for Canucks fans, and it put a target on the backs of management and the franchise. For my money, that's what cost Gillis his reputation in the Vancouver market, and ultimately his job.

Now we close the book on the Gillis era and enter a new Canucks age, one of uncertainty. While it's tough to make the argument that Gillis was totally undeserving of this outcome, his tenure represents a successful stretch basically unparalleled in franchise history. I'd comfortably wager that Canucks fans will regard Gillis' tenure more fondly with the passage of time.

And if the decision to fire Gillis was as motivated by ownership's more pernicious, reactionary, cost-saving impulses as it superficially appears to have been from today's vantage point, then I'll make that wager with an even higher degree of confidence. 

3136ae487fac57943f99a50e66e4d6cf
Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
Avatar
#51 NM00
April 09 2014, 10:36AM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Props
2
props
JCDavies wrote:

The salary cap rose by $11.3 million over Nonis' tenure as GM of the Canucks.

But hey, don't let the facts get in the way of your preconceived narrative...

Your recent bout of sarcasm/cynicism is quite becoming.

Espescially the increasing use of "false"...

The commenter might not have articulated the point perfectly.

But the position of strength with which Gillis worked from for the first 3-4 years of his tenure was largely due to the work of Burke/Nonis & Nonis.

Once the supply of talent started to run out/got old, no amount of cap wizardry could fix the issues with the team...

Avatar
#52 NM00
April 09 2014, 10:40AM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Props
1
props
The Benevolent Orca wrote:

As time goes on, I will have even more frustration over Gillis's tenure here. Unwilling to pull the right triggers. After 2011 the Canucks DESPERATELY needed an injection of new faces and youth in the room to cover that stink of defeat and help them get back up. The team has never been the same since then. The right moves were not made and the team has been unable to pull up from that nose dive since then. That is solely on Gillis.

As for the Stanley Cup run. Look at the years our core players had. The Sedins were on fire! Kesler was in full beast mode. Burrows couldn't miss. The D was on a rampage and the tandem of Lou and Schneider were the best in the league. All of this was on AV and the coaching staff.

The only feather in Gillis's cap is Tanev. I'm just happy he is gone before his contract renewal is up and traded him for a bag of pucks.

I still wish this was the move made last year in stead of AV. Ownership got rid of the wrong guy.

To be fair, I'd say Ehrhoff was a large feather in Gillis' cap along with Tanev.

Although the fact that the Canucks had Ballard instead of Ehrhoff after the SCF is another story...

Avatar
#53 JCDavies
April 09 2014, 11:18AM
Trash it!
4
trashes
Props
0
props
NM00 wrote:

Your recent bout of sarcasm/cynicism is quite becoming.

Espescially the increasing use of "false"...

The commenter might not have articulated the point perfectly.

But the position of strength with which Gillis worked from for the first 3-4 years of his tenure was largely due to the work of Burke/Nonis & Nonis.

Once the supply of talent started to run out/got old, no amount of cap wizardry could fix the issues with the team...

I included the quote in my reply.

He indicated that the salary cap was preventing Nonis from signing "players better than Ritchie and Chouinard". This is 100% not true.

Then he accused another writer of being "intellectually dishonest" and "intentionally omitt[ing]" facts.

Over Nonis' tenure as GM, the salary was rising by more than $5.6 million per season (double the rate it has risen at since).

The salary cap did not prevent Nonis from signing better players.

Also, the rate at which the salary cap was rising would have made it impossible for Nonis to leave the team in a bad situation cap wise. No GM, even the worst, could have accomplished that.

Avatar
#54 NM00
April 09 2014, 11:21AM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Props
1
props

@JCDavies

"Also, the rate at which the salary cap was rising would have made it impossible for Nonis to leave the team in a bad situation cap wise. No GM, even the worst, could have accomplished that."

You're going to be in for a surprise if the cap goes up by $6 mil or more and the Canucks are in a bad cap position to improve the large holes on the roster...

Avatar
#55 JCDavies
April 09 2014, 11:53AM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Props
1
props

@NM00

Nonis' first salary cap: $39 million

Gillis' first salary cap: $56.7 million

Ave increase: $5.9 million

Gillis' first salary cap: $56.7 million

Next GM's first salary cap: $70 million(?)

Ave increase: $2.22 million

The rate of increase was much higher when Nonis was GM.

If this year's increase changes the rate over Gillis' tenure to "$6 million or more" (it would need to be an increase of over $22 million) and if the Canucks still couldn't fill the holes on the roster, then, yes, I would be surprised. On both counts.

Avatar
#56 NM00
April 09 2014, 12:04PM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Props
1
props

@JCDavies

If you want to be myopic and discuss "average" increases, the Canucks transitioned from a non-capped world to a cap world under Nonis.

Starting from $39 million completely misses the point.

Because Gillis' "average" also included a lockout, compliance buyouts etc...

Avatar
#57 JCDavies
April 09 2014, 12:18PM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Props
1
props

@NM00

"If you want to be myopic and discuss "average" increases, the Canucks transitioned from a non-capped world to a cap world under Nonis."

Huh?

You might want to go reread where this discussion started...

"Starting from $39 million completely misses the point."

This doesn't make any sense...

How do you calculate the increase without the starting point?

"Because Gillis' "average" also included a lockout, compliance buyouts etc..."

OK then, lets exclude lockout, compliance buyouts etc...

Gillis' first salary cap: $56.7 million

Gillis' fourth salary cap: $64.3 million(?)

Ave increase: $2.53 million

Avatar
#58 NM00
April 09 2014, 12:23PM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Props
1
props

@JCDavies

Right.

And the average salary of players went up at the same rate as the salary cap.

Whether the cap goes up by $2 million or $10 million, the players average salary goes up with it...

Avatar
#59 JCDavies
April 09 2014, 12:44PM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Props
1
props

@NM00

Where are you going with this?

How does this disprove my statement that kmad's claim that Nonis didn't have the advantage of "tremendous rises in the salary cap every year" and Gillis did is untrue.

Nonis most certainly had enough cap space to sign "players better than Ritchie and Chouinard".

Avatar
#60 JCDavies
April 09 2014, 12:47PM
Trash it!
3
trashes
Props
1
props

@NM00

"Whether the cap goes up by $2 million or $10 million, the players average salary goes up with it..."

There would be some price stickiness...

Avatar
#61 NM00
April 09 2014, 02:17PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Props
1
props

@JCDavies

"How does this disprove my statement that kmad's claim that Nonis didn't have the advantage of "tremendous rises in the salary cap every year" and Gillis did is untrue."

I don't agree that it was as much of an advantage as you claim.

"Nonis most certainly had enough cap space to sign "players better than Ritchie and Chouinard".

He signed Sedin, Sedin, Kesler, Burrows, Bieksa, Edler, Luongo, Grabner, Schneider, Raymond etc to various contracts and left $17+ million in cap space for Gillis to spend on Sundin, Demitra, Bernier & Wellwood.

Which were pretty much a mixed bag of acquisitions.

Nothing overly harmful although if the Sedins were lost while the Canucks were paying Sundin that 2nd year on the $20 million it would have been a disaster.

If the cap goes up by more than $6 million as is being reported, again, you're going to be surprised at how this team will be unable to fill the gaping hole on its roster.

And very little of that blame should fall on the new GM...

Avatar
#62 Fred-65
April 09 2014, 02:36PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Props
0
props

I have to say in terms of succes ( not a bad yard stick) Gillis won more trophies tha any other GM in the history of the club.

Avatar
#63 JCDavies
April 09 2014, 02:37PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Props
0
props

@NM00

I am not sure what any of that has to do with what I wrote.

"I don't agree that it was as much of an advantage as you claim."

Where did I make this claim?

I wrote that the claim that Nonis didn't benefit from "tremendous rises in the salary cap every year" and that he didn't have cap space to sign better players is untrue. And I have consecutive cap increases of $5 million and $6.3 million ($11.3 million over two years!!!) to back up my claim.

"He ... left $17+ million in cap space..."

This statement would also seem to support my argument.

Avatar
#64 NM00
April 09 2014, 03:00PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Props
0
props

@JCDavies

""I don't agree that it was as much of an advantage as you claim."

Where did I make this claim?"

My bad I misread what you wrote (happens during business hours).

"He ... and left $17+ million in cap space..."

This statement would also seem to support my argument."

The expiring contracts of Naslund, Morrison along with the cap rise along with Nonis not blowing his young assets on short term additions like Brad Richards along with all the prime/preprime talent left the organization in a very good situation to return to contender status.

I'm not going to fault Nonis simply because he happened to be the GM while the Canucks were transforming from one core to the next.

Espescially when he had a hand in bringing in virtually every core player (aside from Ehrhoff, Hammer) on the best team the Canucks ever had into the organization.

Going back to one of your earlier claims:

"Also, the rate at which the salary cap was rising would have made it impossible for Nonis to leave the team in a bad situation cap wise. No GM, even the worst, could have accomplished that."

I repeat: the next GM is going to "enjoy" a large cap rise but little room for upward mobility on the NHL roster...

Avatar
#65 JCDavies
April 09 2014, 03:21PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Props
0
props

@NM00

"The expiring contracts of Naslund, Morrison along with the cap rise along with Nonis not blowing his young assets on short term additions like Brad Richards along with all the prime/preprime talent left the organization in a very good situation to return to contender status."

Fair.

"I'm not going to fault Nonis simply because he happened to be the GM while the Canucks were transforming from one core to the next.

Espescially when he had a hand in bringing in virtually every core player (aside from Ehrhoff, Hammer) on the best team the Canucks ever had into the organization."

This has nothing to do with anything that I have written.

"Going back to one of your earlier claims:

"Also, the rate at which the salary cap was rising would have made it impossible for Nonis to leave the team in a bad situation cap wise. No GM, even the worst, could have accomplished that."

I repeat: the next GM is going to "enjoy" a large cap rise but little room for upward mobility on the NHL roster..."

Gillis walked into a cap increase of $6.4 million that directly followed cap increases of $5 million and $6.3 million.

The next GM will get a cap increase of (possibly?) $6 million after a two-year cap increase of $0.

Not. The. Same. Thing.

I repeat: The rate at which the salary cap was rising would have made it impossible for Nonis to leave the team in a bad situation cap wise. No GM, even the worst, could have accomplished that.

Avatar
#66 NM00
April 09 2014, 06:39PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Props
0
props

@JCDavies

In this discussion and a previous one along the same lines about the cap dropping and how it hindered teams like Philly/Vancouver more than the others, why are you ignoring the two compliance buyouts that were designed to transition from the old CBA to the new one?

Why was this not accounted for when pointing out the differences between the average cap increases with which Nonis & Gillis worked in Vancouver?

And why do you continue to ignore that NHL salaries are linked to revenue; hence, the average player salary rises at the same percentage as the cap.

"I repeat: The rate at which the salary cap was rising would have made it impossible for Nonis to leave the team in a bad situation cap wise."

Clearly we don't agree here...

Avatar
#67 JCDavies
April 09 2014, 09:25PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Props
0
props

@NM00

" In this discussion and a previous one along the same lines ... why are you ignoring the two compliance buyouts that were designed to transition from the old CBA to the new one?"

I have no idea what you are talking about.

I don't know which previous conversation you are referring to and I can't comment on what may have been written. Perhaps you have a link to the discussion?

I didn't include the compliance buyouts in this discussion because they didn't really have relevance to my argument that the cap rose significantly during Nonis' tenure and he had all the cap space he needed to sign better players.

But if you really want me to address this, fine.

From 05-06 to 08-09 the cap rose by 45.4%.

If we assume that the cap will be about $70 million next season, the cap will have increased from 11-12 to 14-15 by 8.9%.

Do compliance buyouts have value? Sure. But I have no idea how to actually quantify that value and they almost certainly won't have enough value to make a situation where the cap increases by 8.9% comparable to one where the cap increases by 45.4%.

If you want me to acknowledge the compliance buyouts, I acknowledge them. And if you have a way to properly quantify them, I would be interested to read it. Either way, compliance buyouts have no bearing on my original arguments.

"And why do you continue to ignore that NHL salaries are linked to revenue"

Where have I denied this? Of course salaries are linked to revenue.

Avatar
#68 Wetcoaster
April 09 2014, 11:27PM
Trash it!
1
trashes
Props
4
props

In the future the Gillis years will be known as "That period before the Canucks organization started down the slippery slope to going full-Oilers."

Avatar
#69 NM00
April 10 2014, 10:16AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Props
0
props

@JCDavies

I don't see the point of simply looking at the average if you are not going to consider the compliance buyouts.

For example, the cap went down about $6 million for the 2013-2014 season.

But Philly was able to use their two compliance buyouts to open up over $11 million of cap room that went towards the contracts of Mason, Emery, Streit, Lecavalier etc.

Did the cap really go down for them?

"Where have I denied this? Of course salaries are linked to revenue."

Not necessarily deny. But overlook, in my opinion.

During an economic recession, the growth of salaries decrease relative to the cap.

Hence, the market and expectations of players had to be reset as well.

Do you think Mason Raymond could have been acquired for a mere $1 million if not for the recession?

As I said before, we clearly do not agree here...

Avatar
#70 JCDavies
April 10 2014, 11:24AM
Trash it!
1
trashes
Props
0
props

"I don't see the point of simply looking at the average if you are not going to consider the compliance buyouts.

For example, the cap went down about $6 million for the 2013-2014 season.

But Philly was able to use their two compliance buyouts to open up over $11 million of cap room that went towards the contracts of Mason, Emery, Streit, Lecavalier etc."

After thinking about this, I believe that the actual number that should be used in calculating the impact of a compliance buyout is the cap hit the team avoids by not using a regular buyout. By using a compliance buyout on Briere instead of a regular buyout the Flyers created $833,333 in additional cap space. Bryzgalov’s is a little more complicated and if I had the time to calculate it I would but if I had to guess I would say it would be in the $3-4 million range.

As for the Canucks, which was really what we were talking about, the compliance buyout on Ballard (as opposed to a regular buyout) provided the Canucks with an additional $1.4 million in cap space. And if the Canucks decide to use the other buyout on somebody like Booth, they will gain an additional $1.417 million in cap space.

If we add those numbers to the $70 million estimate for next year’s cap, we get a three-year increase in the cap of $8.516 million or 13.24% which, as I said yesterday, is a far cry from the 45.4% that occurred during Nonis’ tenure.

“During an economic recession, the growth of salaries decrease relative to the cap.”

You need to review the economic concepts of price/wage elasticity and price/wage stickiness.

Comments are closed for this article.