What’s Next?

On Tuesday morning, Mike Gillis will address the Vancouver media for his season ending press conference. It will mark the first time in his tenure as General Manager of the Canucks, and Team President (also Warden of the West, presumably) that he’ll meet the media to discuss the demise of another Canucks season, this early in the Spring. Gillis will speak at 10am PST, the players will meet the press at 10:30am PST. Alain Vigneault, the coach on the hot seat, will notably not join the General Manager or the roster he put together to face the tough questions – that’ll happen sometime later in the week. Read into that what you will.

Most Canucks fans, and certainly the team itself, expected Vancouver’s club to contend this season. But five games into the postseason and the Canucks Stanley Cup "run" (stumble?) was already over. Fans are angry and want change, many in the media and in the fan-base are calling for Vigneault’s head and indisputably, Mike Gillis’ reputation has taken a serious hit. 

Read past the jump!

The optics here are short-sighted, but the thinking goes that in his four years as General Manager, Mike Gillis hasn’t had much success at the draft or making deals on the trade market. Keith Ballard (brought in from Florida for Quinton Howden, Michael Grabner and "playoff hero" Steve Bernier) is a depth player, David Booth (acquired for Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm) was punchless offensively in the postseason, and Sammy Pahlsson (stolen from Columbus for two fourth round picks) was not up to the task against the Kings top-players in the Canucks preliminary round series loss.

Those deals are nothing, however, compared to the short-term failure of the Cody Hodgson trade. The prized rookie and the receptacle for many a Canucks fan’s wildest hopes and dreams, requested more ice-time and was subsequently exchanged alongside Alexander Sulzer for offensive defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani and Zack Kassian from Buffalo. While the power-play (Hodgson’s bread and butter) struggled to produce offense, Zack Kassian sat in the press box. As for Gragnani – the team may as well have had Alexander Sulzer on the roster against the Kings, as neither young defenseman skated a minute in the playoffs.

This line of thinking is somewhat unfair, one of Gillis’ best and most under-rated moments came at the trade deadline last season – when he turned a pair of third roung picks and Evan Oberg into Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins. Both players performed well in top-9 roles on the team’s deep run to the Cup Finals in 2011, and combined to score 27 regular season goals for less than three million against the cap this past regular season.

This year, however, Gillis’ deadline moves just didn’t pan out – at least not on this playoff stumble. Sure, the process of team building is too fluid to be judged on the basis of one season. Kassian may eventually become a capable enough player offensively to play with, while simultaneously "protecting" the Sedin twins. He may even be able to do that in the next two seasons, while he’s still on an entry level deal. (Check out the going rate for NHL power-forwards over the last several years, and check out the list of upcoming unrestricted free agents this summer, and see if anyone even remotely matches that description. Here’s a hint: no one does.) But in this recently concluded, and unsuccessful playoff series against the L.A. Kings, the Canucks would’ve been better off with Cody Hodgson (defensive deficiencies aside) playing on the top powerplay unit in Daniel’s absence, than they were with Zack Kassian blowing zone-exits, and eating triple o’s in the press box.

The mood among Canucks fans in Vancouver is grim; they want heads to roll (and Vigneault’s in particular) and that’s probably not entirely fair. The Kings were the better possession team all season, and where the Canucks offense stagnated over the balance of the season – the Kings caught fire, jettisoning the only defensive liability on the club in Jack Johnson, and bringing in Jeff Carter. Los Angeles also received Vezina quality goaltending from a netminder who has been banging on the door of "elite" status for several seasons now. Subtract Daniel from the equation, and that was the ball game.

This summer represents a critical juncture for the franchise, and there are big decisions to be made. What will happen with the goaltending situation? Luongo is presumably gone this offseason, but all options will need to be explored at the draft table. Will the club have a new head coach at the helm to open the 2012-13 season? Because, if Vigneault is going to stick around, presumably he’ll need to be extended this summer. The team needs to add a top-six forward, and a top-four defenseman, they need to decide whether or not to commit to the talented, but occassionally daft Alex Edler, and god help us, they need to re-sign Aaron Rome.

Even Mike Gillis is entering the final year of his contract, and I find it difficult to imagine that he’ll go into next season without an extension. Already there are rumblings, in multiple places no less, that Gillis may not want to continue down this path with Vancouver’s hockey team. Gillis will meet with the Aquilinis next week, so figuring out what the future holds for Gillis and his relationship with the team will surely preceed any of the big decisions about upgrading the roster, moving a goaltender or the status of Alain Vigneault. There’s an awful lot up in the air at the moment, but one thing we know for sure: Canucks Nation is in for a fascinating offseason.

    • Carson Baerg

      @Coach Alain Vinegault and GM Mike Gillis – to let out winningest coach leave so easily after what had arguably been the best/worst season and this follow up season, would be silly. And while Mike Gillis has given us good reasons to at least point fingers, he has on the other hand also given us components to point fingers in a good way at his hockey club. Like Drance said, he has one year on his contract left…if we let him stay and his moves look like he’s dropped the ball…then I’ll eat my words. Otherwise I say let him stay.

      @Roberto Luongo and The Unforgivable Contract – cant deny the fact that almost…23ish other teams would love to have a Luongo.

      • On Luongo – no doubt other teams would like to have him. he remains a great goalie. It’s not an easy task to squeeze in a contract of that length though. His deal extends until 2020 and is a $5M+/year cap hit. He’s also 32, meaning his new club would essentially be buying the down slope of his career.

        That may not eliminate a market for Lou, but it will at least reduce it.

  • The Aquilinis seem like rational businessmen to me. That’s probably why they liked Gillis’ approach in the first place. Would they not want the GM-coach combo that got them to within one game of a Cup last year, and has brought them two straight Presidents Trophies?

    And once you start seeing the game as mitigating luck, and trying to leverage your cap dollars with some hopefully good bets, are you as disappointed when the bets don’t turn out? Just look at the Oilers if you want to see what happens with the wrong people at the helm.

    I can’t imagine Gillis not being brought back, and it’s possible, but I can’t imagine Gillis not wanting AV for now. Unless there’s some conflict we didn’t hear about.

  • Carson Baerg

    It’s been the same story building for a couple of seasons that doesn’t end with the Cup;
    – One corner has fans holding the axe, reading down the list of Management and players alike that they want gone.
    – The other corner is still supporting the ‘Canucks’ inless they lose, upon they brush off and leave it till next year.
    – Then you have people who don’t care, casual/hockey fans of other teams who want the Canucks to disappear and take our ‘Diving and Whining franchise to places where the sun don’t shine.”
    – And finally (going by a four corner system here) we have people who want to see where this current configuration of a team goes, albeit with minor changes.

    With the shortest year we’ve had since, I’m pretty sure 07-08, the impression has been that we should’ve had better post-season success. I don’t argue. What I don’t want is for anyone to say anything without realizing that what’s on our plate – the rise of long bed-ridden teams that now have the skill to put us in our place, and that what we’ve had is a result of a well run franchise.

    After stating the obvious, my two bits is I’m thankful that CanucksArmy keeps a head on their blogging shoulders and gives us good topics and a clear(er) view.

  • AmeriCanuck

    I’m all about maintaining high standards, but to fire a coach who has consistently made the playoffs (except ’07 – ’08), been first in his division, or has had the best season record two years in a row would be poor form. The issues that led to the Canucks early exit from the playoffs this year are not show stoppers. Learn, adjust and move on for next season.

    I can’t believe I even have to say this, but AV deserves better than that.

  • BrudnySeaby

    Well, the fact remains that the team did not play hockey very well during the second half of the season (Gillis even said that himself during the press conference just now). Unfortunately, the staff and players were somehow not able to overcome this.
    Now I am not saying fire one or the other, but I think this would be the most pressing matter that needs looking in to. Because if everybody can see something is wrong, it is important to identify what that is, analyze it and change it so the same does not happen in the future.
    And only then, you can decide about the personnel involved, and that should also include coaching staff, doctors etc.

  • You give Gillis credit for the Higgins and Lappy trade, but have you thought about why he had to make those acquisitions in the first place?

    For me, Gillis’s tenor can be rapped up in 2 words: horrible drafting. There is a reason why Canucks prospects are ranked the worst in the league. In 4 years, we’ve yet to see 1 single ‘Gillis drafted player’ make the Canucks roster and play on it for an entire year. You kidding me? 4 years and we’ve yet to see a product? That’s horrific stuff. And in 4 years of drafting/signings, there’s only 1 (maybe 2 players) who are rated as ‘good prospects’ (Tanev/Jensen).

    Gillis had to trade away draft pick (the future) for Lappy and Higgins. There was no one on the farm who could fill any role for the Canucks. He has to rely on the free agency market and trades cause there he’s drafted absolutely no one who could fill any role. Yet he’s made horrible trades and free agent signings (Hamhuis aside) in the process. Tell me, how can it get any worse? Answer: It can’t, this is the bottom of the barrel.

    He’s traded away so many draft picks, made so many bad trades that have come with bad contracts, that he has a team that is old and has a short window to win – and yet they get booted in the 1st round. It’s scary any way I look at it, current or future.