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.