Recently, I sang the praises of General Manager Mike Gillis, breaking down the top 10 moves of his tenure with the Canucks. It hasn’t been all roses, though. As could be expected, there have been a handful of moves along the way that haven’t exactly panned out the way he would have hoped.
What you’ll quickly notice is that this list provides us with some perspective on how good of a job he has done in the past five years. For the sake of completeness, the list includes 10 blunders. Just know that if the first couple of them are being singled out as mistakes, then that means he has probably done his job effectively.
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10) Not Drafting Enough WHL Talent
.. Kidding. Although some people in the media will continue to perpetuate the silly notion that the Canucks should be taking players from the WHL, mostly because because it’s convenient. Although to be fair, it would make going to Giants games during this lockout more interesting if prospects in the Canucks organization were coming to town.
The actual 10th worst blunder was trading away Mike Brown for Nathan McIver in February of 2008. McIver – originally a draft pick of the Canucks – wound up providing defensive depth for the Manitoba Moose. Brown on the other hand, has found a home as a gritty 4th line winger on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Say what you will about Brown’s ability, but as a General Manager, you don’t want to be in the business of trading away legitimate NHL players for guys that aren’t. In case you weren’t convinced, I’ll let Mike Brown’s handlebar moustache do the talking.
9) Trading Away Shane O’Brien for Ryan Parent
.. was a mistake for essentially the same reason as the one I mentioned above. All that I’ll say about Parent is that Jeff Angus wrote an article about him back in May, that was titled "Why were the warning signs ignored?"
The only reason why this trade isn’t higher up on the list is because of the fact that Shane O’Brien wasn’t going to work out in Vancouver. He had worn out his welcome, and he was out the door regardless. Since then, he has gone on to be a productive 3rd pairing defenseman for Nashville, and a 2nd pairing defenseman for Colorado, while providing – wait for it, wait for it – leadership. Who knew?
The big loser from this trade aren’t the Vancouver Canucks, though, but rather Vancouver’s nightlife. I’m assuming Mike Gillis wasn’t being all that considerate of the feelings of late-night pizza shop owners when he pulled the trigger.
8) Signing Marco Sturm
.. who surprised even me with just how old, and decrepit he looked on his surgically repaired knees. I was down on the signing from the minute it was announced, and found it rather laughable when people remarked about how he would provide the team with secondary scoring. So the fact that I was taken aback by his play is saying something.
Thankfully, it was only a one-year contract, and Gillis was able to unload him onto Vancouver’s farm team. And hey, it worked out – the Canucks got David Booth, and Marco Sturm was allowed to ride off into the sunset.
7) Trading Away Sergei Shirokov for Mike Duco
.. which will ultimately wind up being remembered for Pass it to Bulis catching Duco red-handed. It was fun while it lasted, but the Canucks chose not to qualify him this summer, shutting the door on the Mike Duco era.
It’s hard not to wonder what Shirokov could have done for the Canucks, as you watch him light up the KHL. He was an dynamic sniper who potted 44 goals in two seasons with the Moose, yet never wound up getting a legitimate shot with the Canucks. Adding insult to injury is the fact that the biggest current need for the Canucks is a scoring right winger to slot in on the second line.
6) Letting Mike Weaver Go
.. for absolutely nothing in return. This happened really early in Gillis’ tenure, but Weaver, who suited up for 55 games with the Canucks in 2007-08, wound up signing with the St. Louis Blues the following summer for a measly $700,000. In the past two seasons, he has found a home with the Florida Panthers. Which begs the question – why don’t the Canucks call him up?
In 2010, he was paired with Jason Garrison to form one of the best defensive pairings in the entire NHL. In fact, James Mirtle composed a list of the top defensive defenseman in the entire NHL, with Mike Weaver coming in at number 3 (right behind two current Canucks).
Chances are that if you ask the casual fan who Mike Weaver is, they won’t be able to tell you. Which is a shame because all he does is help keep the puck out of his team’s net – a useful trait for a defenseman, so I hear.
5) Swinging and Missing (Repeatedly) This Summer
.. on big names like Shea Weber, Shane Doan, and Justin Schultz.
It’s not really fair to place the blame on Gillis for this, given the fact that Weber and Doan weren’t really available to be had, despite what you may have heard. As for Schultz, even Stevie Wonder could see that choosing Edmonton was the best career path for him – the opportunity thanks to the dearth of defensemen in the system and the youth already on the team – were simply too enticing to pass up.
Nonetheless, Gillis went to bat on all three guys, and whiffed. And that has to be taken into account.
4) Offering Mats Sundin $20 Million over 2 Years
.. proved that sometimes you have to be lucky, to be good. If Sundin had accepted this offer, the second year of the contract would have affected Gillis’ ability lock the Sedins up to long-term extensions the following summer. It could have led to a catastrophic domino effect for the Vancouver Canucks organization.
Now maybe Gillis was just sending Sundin a message, you know, making sure he had his attention. Perhaps Gillis knew that Sundin wasn’t really going to sign a two year deal. That would make the second year of the contract more defensible, but either way: Gillis was bluffing with the future of the Sedins in Vancouver. It was a bad bet.
Thankfully, Sundin did the Canucks a monumentally large favour by choosing to sign to a pro-rated deal for one season, ultimately making the move the 5th best transaction of the Gillis era.
3) Choosing Mason Raymond over Michael Grabner
There are only so many undersized, speedy, skill wingers you can have slotted in on a secondary scoring line. For the Canucks, they had a choice to make in the summer of 2010: Mason Raymond or Michael Grabner? At the time, Raymond was coming off of a season where he scored 25 goals, largely thanks to Ryan Kesler, newfound power play production, and a spike in shooting percentage. They chose Raymond, hoping that he could build off of his strong campaign. Unfortunately, what they wound up receiving were one season in which Raymond looked like a competent third liner, and a second remarkably poor season this past year. It has been such a steep fall from grace for Raymond, that he doesn’t even have a defined role on the team as of now.
As for Grabner, he went on to submit an electrifying year in his first season on the Island, scoring 34 goals. He took a step back last year, but 20 goals is hardly anything to scoff at and based on his scoring rate he’s a legitimate top-line winger. It’s fair to say that he’s has been making the most of what he has been given. He has been in the top-sixty in goals/60 minutes, while killing penalties and starting only 43% of his shifts in the offensive zone.
But hey, at least Mason Raymond falls down with the best of ’em!
2) Letting Willie Mitchell Go
.. which in retrospect turned out to be a terrible decision. Yet at the time, I don’t recall too many people criticizing the Canucks for moving on from the oft-injured Mitchell, in an attempt to transition towards a more explosive and quicker defensive group. There are so many things that we don’t know when it comes to hockey, but what we did know was that Ballard had averaged 11 more games played per season from 2005-10. Scripting what wound up transpiring over the following two seasons would get you kicked out of a Hollywood pitch meeting.
As we are constantly reminded though, hindsight is 20/20. Willie Mitchell is coming off of a season where he played an integral role for the Stanley Cup champions. Meanwhile the Canucks are saddled with a dreadful contract (more on this below). It’s a shame that Mitchell found his fairytale ending somewhere else – at the expense of the Canucks, no less – but you couldn’t help being thrilled for the B.C. boy as he raised the cup this past June.
1) Trading for Keith Ballard
.. which has been an unmitigated disaster since the very beginning.
Thanks to the offseason surgery he was recovering from in his first summer as a Canuck, he struggled during the preseason. Just four games into the year, he suffered a concussion. The entire run has been a comedy of errors. The result has been two seasons in which Ballard has failed to top 7 points, while logging under 16 minutes. Not exactly the type of production you’d like to see from a player with a $4.2 million cap hit.
I’m not quite sure what to point at as the sole reason for Ballard’s undoing with the Canucks. It’s either his inability to play the right side, or the fact that he kicked Alain Vigneault’s dog. I still think that there’s a redemption chapter to be written in the story of Keith Ballard’s career – whether it happens with the Canucks, or with some other team is the question.
Why stop, when we’re having so much fun reminiscing about moves that didn’t work out? Misery loves company. Below are a few moves from the past ten years that seemed harmless at the time, only to come back to haunt the Canucks. You’ll note that all three of these trades were before Mike Gillis took over, and that’s why they weren’t included in the list above.
August 2003: Canucks acquire Johan Hedberg for a 2004 2nd Rounder
.. which the Pittsburgh Penguins used to take defenseman Alex Goligoski (who wound up being traded for James Neal, of the 40-goal club). This trade hurts because it has deprived me of the ability to root for Goligoski as a Canuck. He’s a puck-moving defenseman (take a drink), who has a name that is really fun to say, and sports one of the wildest haircuts this side of Ryan Getzlaf.
Hedberg wound up starting 17 games for the Canucks in the 2003-04 season, while forming the holy trinity of goaltending with Dan Cloutier and Alex Auld. After you finish reading this post, go ahead and hug a picture of Luongo and Schneider.
March 2004: Canucks acquire Martin Rucinsky for R.J. Umberger
.. which hurts, because Ryan Kesler and Umberger could have made sweet music together on the 2nd line (though they reportedly dislike each other). Umberger, who was selected 16th overall by the Canucks, sat out the entire 2003-04 season because he couldn’t reach an agreement with the team. He has gone on to be good for 20-25 goals, and strong play in a secondary role; albeit on some terrible Columbus Blue Jackets teams.
As for Rucinsky, he wound up playing in 13 games for the Canucks. He scored one goal, but I’m sure it was glorious.
February 2007: Canucks acquire Brent Sopel for a 2007 2nd Rounder
.. which the Los Angeles Kings used to select Wayne Simmonds. The level of hurt was taken to a whole new level this past season, when Simmonds flourished in Philadelphia to the tune of 28 goals. Add in what he brings to the table in terms of his physical game, and he’s not a bad guy to have on your team.
Sopel played in 20 games for the Canucks that year, before moving on to Chicago. He now has his Stanley Cup ring, and we have the memories of his exceptionally greasy hair. Sometimes life isn’t fair.