I am officially going to stop trying to poke holes in what Mike Gillis does as General Manager of the Vancouver Canucks. There’s no point anymore, because I am continually impressed by the moves, both direct and indirect, that Gillis makes.
And I have a feeling that the Canucks players feel the same way.
First let me say that many of these ideas came from a chat with Harrison Mooney from Pass It To Bulis. So a huge stick-tap to Harrison for the conversation… and for his epic Scrabble victory earlier this week.
When I look at the on-ice moves that Mike Gillis has made, it’s not hard to be impressed. Sure, some of the moves in his first year weren’t great and some were a bit of trial-and-error, but he was learning on the job. Transactions to acquire Steve Bernier, Kyle Wellwood and Pavol Demitra had their good points and bad. In the end, none of them worked out so rather than trying to force his moves to work, he remedied them and let those players go. He brought in some knowledgable hockey people, revered in the inner NHL circles to help the team with off-ice tactics. He brought in Scott Mellanby and Ryan Walter to help move the team into a different mindset. Again, the moves didn’t quite work out, he knew this so he moved on. But he knew he was on the right track with thinking outside the box.
Then came the big move. If for no other reason than to stand up and make the entire league hear you, it was a brilliant move. Gillis offered unrestricted free agent and future Hall-of-Famer Mats Sundin a $10 million contract. It was outlandish, it was brazen, but it proved to players around the league that the Canucks were willing to drop serious coin on a player in order to get him out to the West Coast.
Sure, the Sundin signing didn’t exactly pan out, but the path had been laid.
Gillis then started working on re-signing his core players to long-term deals, to keep them in Canucks Blue, Green and White for a while. He traveled to Sweden to make sure that pending UFA’s Daniel and Henrik Sedin stayed in Vancouver. He got Ryan Kesler to ink a long-term deal. Same for Alex Edler and Alex Burrows. And then most famously signed Roberto Luongo to a 12 year contract, keeping Luongo in Vancouver for the remainder of his career. So the core of players was set.
After consecutive years of playoff losses to the Blackhawks, Mike Gillis was two years into his plan of building this team on character, based on quality, based on the types of players with whom other players want to play. He is building a dressing room that is fun, where guys get along but, at the end of the day, is 100% business. Not only did he acquire folks that had depth of character, but he built depth in his roster. Gillis recognized that the Canucks had a lack of depth on defense, exposed through consecutive playoff exits at the hands of the Blackhawks. He didn’t build a team to beat Chicago. Rather, he fixed holes in the roster that were exposed by a potent Blackhawks team. As a result, he acquired Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard and added both to the list of core players signed long-term. And he identified flaws in the Canucks special teams’ play, so he hired Newell Brown from Anaheim, and the benefits of that move are easy to see, as the Canucks are in the top 5 in the league in both power play and penalty killing.
There is no doubt that Hamhuis, in particular, returned to BC with a bit of a hometown discount, but that is the foundation that Gillis had built over two years of management. It is becoming clear now that Gillis has changed the perception of the Vancouver Canucks around the hockey world. Come play in Vancouver, and you’ll help build a winning team. And you’ll love it. And while the Canucks have been mired with an epidemic of injuries to the Canucks blueline, Gillis’ strategy of building depth on defense has paid off in spades. Despite seeing every Canucks starting defenseman go out with injury at some point this season, the Canucks remain #1 in the league and have allowed the least number of goals against per game. Almost any other team in the league would have nosedived in the standings as a result of the injuries that the Canucks defense suffered, but their depth allowed them to weather the storm.
Gillis has hired sleep doctors to analyze sleeping patterns with the team to help them travel better. He’s beat down the doors at the NHL head office to ensure that the Canucks, somewhat isolated on the West Coast, get a more favourable travel schedule. Though not his money, but I’m sure through his guidance, the Canucks ownership built a state-of-the-art home dressing room at Rogers Arena, making the players feel as comfortable as possible at all times when playing. He even started a twitter account to start interacting with Canucks faithful.
As we approach the NHL Trade Deadline, many are looking at the Canucks spot in the standings and believe the Canucks should stand pat. Well, that’s just not GIllis’s M.O. Sure, he may not add anyone. And he wouldn’t change his team or bring someone in if the price was too high or if it changed the delicate balance on the roster. But if Gillis can add a quality player to the 4th line, or even if he can somehow add a more consistent winger for Ryan Kesler, he would do it. He would do it in a heartbeat. But rest assured, Gillis will only make a move if it makes the team more prepared to win a Stanley Cup this year and beyond.
So if Mike Gillis does nothing this deadline, you’ll know that the asking price for what he wanted was just too high. And if he does bring someone in now, Gillis will do his best to ensure that any new additions are a perfect fit for his well-tuned machine.
Kudos to you, Mike Gillis. Soldiers in your Canucks Army like what you’ve built. And we’re waiting for your next move.
Do yourself a favour, and just admit that Mike Gillis has done a fantastic job building this team. And to quote Anchorman … "Don’t act like you’re not impressed!"