Is it fair to criticize Mike Gillis for not being as bat-shit crazy as Paul Holmgren? I don’t really think so, not that it will stop anyone.
Read past the jump.
The stock of Mike Gillis, the team’s generally conservative General Manager, has taken a sizable hit over the past six months in the eyes of Vancouver’s more emotional hockey fans. That will happen when you trade a young player like Cody Hodgson, a perfect vessel for the hopes and dreams of cultish Canadian hockey fans, then lose in the postseason in five games…
Canucks fans wanted bold moves this summer and instead the club missed out on Justin Schultz, has yet to move Roberto Luongo, is likely to strike out on Shane Doan and now: they’re sitting on the sidelines while Philadelphia makes a bold play for Shea Weber, the ultimate object of desire for any true born British Columbian hockey fan.
First of all, it’s worth remembering that the Canucks at least explored this particular possibility. As per Elliotte Friedman:
Credit to @DarrenDreger, the story is true. I thought it would be Philly or Vancouver.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) July 19, 2012
Vancouver’s interest was confirmed by Weber’s agent, and Laurence Gilman told Brad Zeimer that "it’s safe to assume" that the spectre of a Shea Weber offer sheet was "discussed internally" at Rogers Arena.
So what does this tell us? It tells us that the Canucks were aggressive in pursuing every possible recourse that could maybe, just maybe see Shea Weber suit up in green, white and blue.
But they weren’t so aggressive as to lob this particular grenade into David Poile’s bunker. Is that stupid? Is it limp-wristed?
Look, all credit to Paul Holmgren, the ballsiest General Manager of the past thirteen months, because the Flyers have put together a package that will be difficult for the Predators to match. The contract they offered Weber requires the team that ultimately ends up with him to pay out 27 million in one calender year, an amount that represents roughly one sixth of the total worth of the Predators franchise.
The Canucks shied away from making a Weber offer sheet, in part because they were certain that the Predators would match. Even though Holmgren did well to make it supremely difficult for the Predators, I’m still pretty confident they will match Philadelphia’s offer, and Shea Weber will never suit up for the Flyers.
For all of Paul Holmgren’s bluster and balls – admirable qualities no doubt – he’s chosen to pursue Shea Weber using a tactic that will almost certainly fail. I thought Canucks fans wanted Shea Weber on their team, I didn’t realize that what they actually wanted was Mike Gillis to make a big show of pursuing Shea Weber.
Again, here’s the rub: the Canucks considered an offer-sheet for Shea Weber. While they weren’t in on trade talks for Weber, I doubt that has anything to do with a lack of effort, and significantly more to do with David Poile’s asking price (start the discussion as Ryan Kesler). In the meantime they met with Weber, and considered the offer sheet route internally, but decided against a tactic that the management team, apparently, saw as sure to fail.
To anyone looking at this situation critically earlier this summer, it was apparent that unless Shea Weber wanted out of Nashville at any cost, the Canucks were going to be a long-shot at best to land his services. Ultimately, Shea Weber didn’t really want out of Nasvhille (despite his recent comments), and it’s quite clear that he prioritized cashing out before the current CBA expires over getting out of dodge. Agreeing to this offer sheet with Philadelphia isn’t the "get out of town" move, it’s the "I make big money, I drive big cars" maneuver.
Let’s get back to Mike Gillis, the man who didn’t extend Shea Weber an offer sheet. Simply put, I just don’t get criticizing Canucks management for failing to pursue a course of action that (probably) won’t succeed. Some people may point to the "one year offer sheet" but seriously that scenario was never going to happen becasue such a deal would’ve left Weber’s long-term financial future exposed to the uncertainty of CBA negotiations. Weber was looking at a situation where he had to either sign now or wait until next summer when his new deal might’ve been subject to a term limit or worse, that he’d have to remain an RFA because of an extension of "years accrued." The one year offer sheet was a non-starter.
Mike Gillis also didn’t manage to orchestrate a trade for Shea Weber, but no one else could either. Poile reportedly was dragging his feet on an offer from the Flyers that would’ve included three young roster players plus, leading Holmgren to force his hand by signing Weber to this deal. Short of moving Ryan Kesler, the Canucks were never going to be able to compete with a Flyers package on the trade market.
Finally, Mike Gillis didn’t make an offer that would closely mirror the one Holmgren made to Weber. Maybe he should have, and certainly there is no denying that the structure of Holmgren’s offer is devious and subtly brilliant. For the next few days, Flyers fans will have images of Shea Weber sporting Halloween colours and absolutely wrecking people on Broad Street. The fantasies will be glorious, but then Nashville will (probably) match, those dreams will evaporate, and Holmgren will have simply done David Poile a favour by having locked up his franchise cornerstone long-term (albeit at an exorbitant price).
This is what the anger and criticism being directed towards Mike Gillis over the past few days is actually all about, I think: the death of the Shea Weber fantasy. But if the Canucks were going to make a move to go after an elite, 1A defenseman, I’d prefer them to go about it in a way that actually, you know, lands that blue-chip 1A blueliner! For the Canucks, who didn’t have the trade chips to compete with the Rangers, Flyers or Red Wings, the only real hope was that Weber wanted out of Nashville and was committed to doing everything in his power to hit unrestricted free-agency, personal costs be damned.
It didn’t turn out that way and it was never going too. Because the Predators are likely to match this and any Weber offer, I think there’s another way of looking at this: the Canucks may have been spoiling their one possible shot at Weber if they’d extended the Sicamous, B.C. native an offer sheet. Based on the way the recruitment of other BC born defenseman like Dan Hamhuis (his rights were traded twice, he still went to July 1st and left money on the table to come to Vancouver) and Jason Garrison (left at least one million per season on the table this summer) played out, the Canucks may have even had an inside track…
Paul Holmgren’s gambit is cunning, and mad, and has a very outside shot of working. If it does, it’ll undoubtedly be the best move made by an NHL General Manager since Dean Lombardi somehow (thanks to Holmgren, actually) managed to add two top-line player to a loaded roster for cents on the dollar in the span of ten months. Still, I remain convinced that the Predators will match or else run the risk of becoming the Montreal Expos, and that Holmgren’s maneuverings will have been for naught.
For the Canucks, their conservatism on this end makes a good deal of sense to me. I don’t like the result, since I think Weber is exactly the type of piece this Canucks team needs to really put the club over the top, but the thought process behind it seems sensible. As a fan, that’s all you can really ask for.