Last Friday, I began to count down the Top 10 transactions of the Mike Gillis era (2008-current). We got through numbers 10 through 6, and as could have been expected, none of them were earth-shattering moves. Sure, some of them may prove to have been fairly significant in the grand scheme of things, but there’s nothing there that you’ll be telling your grandchildren about as you bounce them on your knee.
Today, we’ll get to the meat of it all. The following are the five best moves – trades, signings, decisions, and strategies – that Mike Gillis has brought to the table during his tenure as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks.
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5) Canucks sign Mats Sundin
.. which paid deep-rooted dividends for the franchise, that can’t be measured by the number of points he totalled.
The Canucks were all-in on Sundin right from the very beginning, offering him a gargantuan $20 million over two years. Even the Buffalo Sabres think that it was an absurd figure. What wound up happening was a blessing in disguise for the Canucks, as Sundin waited till midway through the ’08-’09 season before accepting a pro-rated contract that lasted until the end of the season.
The team wound up flaming out in the second round – for what unfortunately wasn’t the last time – against the Blackhawks. What the move did though, was let the rest of the league know that the Canucks were serious about contending. They weren’t content with being the after-thought that they had been for much of the previous three seasons. Things were changing under Mike Gillis’ watch.
The biggest gains from the move were seen the following season, in the respective play of Kesler and the Sedins. All three are on the record as saying that having Sundin in the locker room, even if only for a brief period, did wonders for their development. In an appearance on Hockey Night in Canada’s ‘After Hours’ program, Kesler said that Sundin helped him get to "the next level". Could this just be a show of class, in pumping the tires of a Hall of Famer? Sure, but in this instance I don’t think that it is. There’s truth to it.
4) Canucks get creative
.. which has proven to be essential in the salary cap era.
Gillis has had no issue with that over the years. In fact, he has been one of the most proactive GMs out there. Whether it has been through the direct use and understanding of zone starts, or the general appreciation for analytical analysis, the Canucks have not shied away from doing everything in their power to stay ahead of the curve. But the best strategic ploy of all has to be the use of ‘sleep doctors’. It’s as awesome as it sounds.
The league operates under a copycat system. Teams are constantly looking around the league, seeing what’s working for others, and incorporating it into their own approach. Sooner or later, everyone will catch on, and the game ‘resets’. Being sent back to square one – an even playing field, from which you need to separate yourself from the pack – is the cycle of sports. What separates the greats from the eventual flashes in the pan, is the ability to continually keep incorporating things that are ahead of your time.
3) Canucks acquire Max Lapierre, Chris Higgins
.. on February 28th, 2011, in what was the sneakiest pair of trade deadline moves in recent memory. In total, the Canucks gave up the king’s ransom of Evan Oberg, Joel Perrault, and two third-round draft picks.
Not only did both of them become instant fan favourites, they also wound up playing larger roles than even Mike Gillis could have envisioned them playing throughout the run to the Stanley Cup final. In the summer of ’11, both of them re-signed for two years, which means that they’ll be hitting the open market this summer. Under the right circumstances, I’d love to see them both in the blue and green for the next couple of seasons.
If that isn’t the case, at least I’m hopeful we’ll be given the opportunity to see them team up on the team’s third line this season.
2) Canucks sign Dan Hamhuis
.. to what seemed like a totally team-friendly contract (six years, $27 million) when it was signed, but has turned out to be the bargain of all bargains.
He has helped rejuvenate Kevin Bieksa’s career in the past two seasons, turning them into one of the most underrated defensive pairings in the NHL. Because of their ability to handle the "heavy lifiting" for the Canucks, Alex Edler has been afforded the opportunity to thrive in a more offensive role.
I would argue that along with Henrik Sedin, and Ryan Kesler, Hamhuis may just be the most valuable member of the Canucks. If you don’t believe me, try jumping over that mental hurdle, and remember what happened to the defense once he was forced out of the Stanley Cup final against the Bruins. Unless you’re a hockey nerd – who truly appreciates the beauty of the X’s and O’s – nothing Hamhuis does will "wow" you. But he does everything exceptionally well, and is the type of stabilizing force on the back-end that every team needs.
1) Canucks acquire Christian Ehrhoff
sticks and pucks Patrick White and Daniel Rahimi.
Ehrhoff tallied 94 points in his two seasons in Vancouver, with 51 of them coming on the power play. His cannon from the point, and "riverboat gambler" style of play, was the perfect complement to the Sedins. While there are other factors at play, such as power play efficiency generally being down throughout the league, there’s no doubt that the Canucks sorely missed Ehrhoff in those situations this past season.
Have the Canucks missed out on anything from the players they sent in exchange for Ehrhoff? I hope the following answers your question. I’m not sure that it’s a great omen for Patrick White that he’s not even the first person to pop up when you type his name into Wikipedia. As for Rahimi, the most impressive thing about him seems to be the fact that he is half-Iranian, half-Swedish. Once you factor in the fact that both of them have played a combined ZERO games in the NHL, this ranking was a no-brainer.
Honourable Mention: Canucks avoid panic-trade of Roberto Luongo
.. yet. With the size of the asterisk currently in place being somewhere in between the size of the one by Barry Bonds’ home run record, and Brad Marchand’s nose.
Heading into the summer, it was widely believed that Roberto Luongo’s days as a Canuck were numbered. Yet here we are, on October 4th, and he’s still a member of the team.Many a general manager would have panic-traded Luongo just for the sake of panic-trading him, so as to avoid the potential PR nightmare. It’s one less headache to deal with.
As Gillis has made abudantly clear, though, he’s not going to succumb to that. He’s more than willing to sit back, and relax, knowing that he’s the one who is holding the chip that numerous teams covet. Eventually, someone else will panic, and give Mike Gillis what he wants – a hockey trade. And because of that attitude, the Vancouver Canucks will be better off in the short, and long term.
That concludes the countdown. What was your Top 10?