Gillis: “The Message Has to Change and We Have to be Better”

Photo via wikimedia commons.

The Alain Vigneault era in Vancouver has been marked by a sparkling, consistent record of regular season success, tactical innovation and, ultimately, playoff failure. It was those playoff failures, magnified by the club’s 1-8 postseason record (including no victories at home) that ultimately caught up to the controversial bench boss.

On Wednesday afternoon an agitated Mike Gillis met the media to address the firing of head coach Alain Vigneault and two associate coaches Newell Brown and Rick Bowness. Gillis personally thanked the coaches "for their dedication, commitment and the amount of hard work they put in" during their run with the Canucks. But at the end of the day, "There comes a point in time where the message has to change and we have to be better," and Wednesday was that long anticipated day of reckoning. 

Read past the jump.

For Mike Gillis, and presumably for the Canucks ownership group, the team’s inability to win in the postseason – or to even be competitive in the playoffs the past two years, frankly – was the final straw:

"We’re in a results oriented business and if you look at the last two playoffs we were the higher seeded team lost the first two games at home, lost consecutive games in the last two playoff rounds…

Personnel is changing, injuries are changing, the fact remains we didn’t win the games we had to win to be successful."

Mike Gillis added that the organization "thought (last season’s first round loss) might just be an anomaly, but in the playoffs (this year) we got the same result." He also defended Vigneault’s record and described him as an "excellent" coach:

"I can’t say enough about (the past five years working with Alain Vigneault). It’s been a solid five years, in fact, I believe it’s been the best five years in the history of this franchise in terms of winning percentage and getting to the Stanley Cup Final. The last two years we haven’t done the job…"

Indeed. And following the club’s second straight rather embarrassing first round ouster, "we’re at a point now in the evolution of this team and organization, that in my mind a change is required." It’ll be too late for some observers, of course, but until this years sweep Alain Vigneault had a winning record in the playoffs.

The fact remains that Alain Vigneault brings a lot to the table as a headcoach, which is why he won’t be unemployed for long (unless he decides he’d prefer to be). Yeah he takes a few things off of the table too, but firing him after last season – just one year removed from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance and defeated in five by a team that waltzed to a championship – would’ve been premature and panicky. Which isn’t Mike Gillis’ style.

Mike Gillis reiterated his preference for being methodical and emotionally detached in his decision making process "I don’t do things based on emotion" he said. Gillis would rather make decisions on his own terms, which is fair enough, but it’s not really the way the firing of Alain Vigneault went down. The news of Vigneault’s firing broke before Mike Gillis said the decision had even been made (which seems difficult to believe). Perhaps that’s why Mike Gillis was so testy towards the media, pointedly suggesting that he was considering hiring someone directly from the press-corps assembled to replace Alain Vigneault and complaining that "people have been after me since day one…" 

Asked directly what sort of coach the team might target, Mike Gillis initially cried "uncle!" saying "I need a couple of days here to collect my thoughts and we’ll go through a process." Of course he’ll go through a process, one that I’m sure will be criticized for moving too slowly.

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But ultimately Gillis did outline, albeit in vague terms, the type of process the team plans to engage in during their coaching search: "I think that the NHL is changing and evolving rapidly and we’re going to listen and talk to the people we think are legitimate candidates and we’ll make our decision based on that interview process… I’d imagine it will be patient and thorough and we’ll consider every possible contingency that we need to consider." From one drawn out process to another – your Vancouver Canucks!

Finally, though Mike Gillis’ tone was dour throughout most of his media availability, he ended it on a somewhat positive note focussing on a future that will apparently somehow include lots of young players:

"We have a really good core group of players. We need to surround them with some younger skilled players that can contribute.

I think we’re well positioned to continue to improve and get better and I’m excited about where we’re going to go from this point forward.

If you look around the league and look at the cap system we’re involved in you have to have young players on your roster… It’s a critical element of operating within the system and that’s where we have to go."

Building the Canucks into a contender again will require some creative destruction on Mike Gillis’ part. He’ll move forward without Alain Vigneault – a solid head coach by pretty much everyone’s estimation – who along with his staff served as something of a scapegoat on Wednesday for the team’s lack of playoff success the past two seasons.

As we enter a summer of uncertainty and transition for the Canucks, Mike Gillis will face a handful of significant challenges. Whether it’s naming a new headcoach, or finding a market and an arena in which to locate the team’s newly purchased AHL club, or figuring out how to get both cheaper and better at the same time this summer, there’s significant work to do. Really the only thing that we know for sure is that wherever the organization goes from here, whether they match the success of the Vigneault era going forward or take a one-way trip to a sort of perpetual mediocrity that necessitates a more significant rebuild, it’s Vancouver’s General Manager who will own it.

  • Bucknuck

    7 years of play off chokes, with one embarrassing finals choke and one riot to boot. Good riddance AV, hope you take Luo and the sisters and Edler and Raymond with ya.

    Gillis no doubt was agitated as he is the one who sat on his fat duff and done nothing among years of play off embarrassment. You should be thankful Gilis because you should have been the one to pack your bags first.

  • Bucknuck

    I like how people all rag on Vancouver’s post-season success. As if they’re the only good team to have not won in the past 7 years. They’ve come a hell of a lot closer than a lot of other good teams. In fact, before the loss in the LA series, Vancouver was one of the highest series-winning teams going back 4 seasons.

    So spare me this bs about lack of post-season success. Despite not winning the cup, the Canucks were one of the most successful in the post-season.

    • Islander

      Highest winning series teams going back to 4 seasons..” against who? Last I checked they could never beat chicago until the fluke burrows goal, and the boston series was a joke. that fluke cup run was the exception and they failed, and they failed after wards. They failed before the cup run. The wins over mediocre teams in the regular season dont count, neither are wins against weak teams in the post season. When faced with a real team, the Canucks wilt like a hot house plant.

      Spare us the BS of how good this team is and how successful it is compared to other just as crappy teams. If that’s your idea of success, than you deserve another 4 decades of futility and excuses and BS optimism.

      • Islander

        Canucks fans are the worst on the planet. The Canucks are one of the most successful franchises since the 04/05 lockout, and all we can do is whine, moan, and complain.

        Seriously, if you think GM MG and AV did such a bad job, I’d hate to see what you’d be like if we had the management and coaching of about 20-25 of the other teams in the league.

        Enjoy your hyperbolic rhetoric though, it’s what the internet is good for.

        • Islander

          @ lemming

          45 years of not winning a thing, the only thing that counts isnt hyperbolic rhetoric, it is FACT? Go check their history and see how many cups they have NOT won. And hey, guess what, the Canucks didn’t come into the league last year, so there is no more room for EXCUSES, There is NO more room for stats that don’t count. Your team is out of excuses even for excuses.

          Enjoy your STATS and EXCUSES for a team who HAS NOT won in 45 years, it’s what DELUSIONAL EXCUSE making fanboys of that team are good for. And enjoy next year of NOT winning the cup AGAIN.
          45 years says I’m not out of line. 45 years of not winning what count, the cup, says the mentality of excuse making you and your team exhibit are the real problems. Get ready for 46 years of NOT winning, you deserve it, you want it, you like it, and you shall get what you asked for.

  • UkeeRob

    This isn’t surprising to anyone. With Gillis’ own talk of a “reset” AV was going to be gone. He is an excellent coach, but the Canucks have come out flat in too many important games since game 7 of the cup run. Hopefully a fresh voice will make a difference next year or there will be even more changes next summer than there will be this summer, for players and management alike.

  • Islander

    Gillis is still the problem. He never made any trades before the trading deadline, to strengthen the Canucks by adding any type of goal scorer. Knowing that the Twins are always covered by the opponents top checking line, which takes away the majority of the Canucks offence. He had to insert a actual known goal scorer into the second line, to make their opponent have to second guess, what to do with it’s checking line. Lets try playing more offenesive hockey than defencesive for a change. Not to mention for the price of a ticket, shouldn’t we be getting a more exciting team to watch? Many of us have talked about this player or that player doing pretty well this year, I believe it’s because of the other players on the Canucks that we grade him against. Being honest hurts but think of this…If the Canucks were on the east coast how many of their players, would we know? My guess is not many.

    I want them to bring exciting hockey to Vancouver, without any excuses. ie.- How much does the Penguins charge to go to a game? If you were just getting into watching hockey, which one of the above 2 teams would you want to see? JMO

    • Islander

      Let’s not compare the penguins to the canucks. The penguisn got sid ,they got and malkin and a host of other players who can score at will. Who the hell do the canucks have? poor play off performers? Players who can even get the puck on net on the PP?

      Whenever the Canucks try to play offensive they get shut down, then scored against. They obviously cannot play defense because lets face it, the sedins and raymond and the lot of them couldnt hit a card in a black jack game. They stink at offense, and they stink at defense…they have no system, no direction and they favor players who dont show up or even lead.The problem here is systemic, right from the top down to the scouting straight to the players.

      The only ones who buy into the “greatness” of this canuck team are their gullible fans. I think it’ safe to say it’s some kind of symbiotic relationship, and one that’s been going on for almost half a century. The day when the canucks franchise and it’s fans stop making excuses is the day they start to clean up their mess.

  • Islander

    Poor drafting and trading are the main reasons the Canucks have fallen short the last two years.

    I’m glad AV is gone so now the owner looks directly at Gillis if the Canucks continue this downward trend.

    • Islander

      Agreed. In Detroit, they’ve “rebuilt on the fly.” The Canucks haven’t, and given the great core Gillis inherited, it seems fair to ask why. Detroit hasn’t been in the draft lottery, either…

  • Islander

    I like what Gillis has done over the years. You might say he has a poor drafting or trade record, but I would disagree.

    Everyone in Vancouver was chomping to draft Beech, Gillis takes Hodgson? Schroeder may be small, but he plays at an NHL level. I think Jensen and Gaunce both have NHL careers ahead of them. You have to let these kids develop. Don’t forget about about Tanev or Corrado. I also am a fan of the trade for Kassian. He has hands and size, is a year younger than Hodgson and it does take longer to develop a power forward. But when I see flashes of what he does, I think of Bertuzzi when he could only score highlight reel goals, but never get a mucking grinding one. Oh, did I mention where the Canucks were picking from?

    As for trades – OK, I have to admit the jury is still out. I like Booth, but he needs a passing center and to stay healthy. Ballard is a better defenseman than I would give him credit for, but he doesn’t work in the former coach’s system and if he wasn’t going to be used he should have been dumped for his cap space. But even that is a tough call as good NHL players don’t just magically appear, and other teams are chasing them as well. Higgins and LaPierre – I love both those guys for the positions they play.

    Landing Garrison and Hamhuis for less money than they were offered elsewhere – steals! Signing players to less than market value – fantastic almost across the board.

    In the last couple years, I think we have been most hurt by
    the Malhotra injury. That third line center has become the achilles heel for the team.

    The other problems with the team have been coaching related. Trying to sit on a one goal lead letting your opponent have the puck and come at you wave after wave without trying to put them away. I love seeing the Canucks try to kill the clock with possession in the offensive zone. Why does the fourth line not hit everything that wears an opponent’s jersey? Who places no or low priority on practising the shootout?

    I like the direction the Canucks have been going the last five years, even if it comes with a change in philosophy that started when the Bruins manhandled the team and left them broken. Since then Gillis has been getting bigger players, but without a couple top picks every once in a while, or to unearth a late round top six skill player, success will be limited.

    Good luck GM MG! I hope you find a way to work some magic and get that Cup to Vancouver.

    • islander

      Take off the rose coloured glasses.

      The Canucks have a very low rated farm system. The first 3 drafts pretty much depend on Kassian and Schroeder becoming something. Not a gamble I would take.

      If those two guys fail, that is absolutely nothing from 3 drafts (including draft picks traded to acquire Ballard, Bernier & Alberts).

      The significant trades are just god awful aside from Ehrhoff.

      Ballard, Bernier & Kassian are terrible returns for the assets traded. Alberts as well was a waste of a 3rd round pick since he is merely a utility defenseman and was terrible his first half season in Vancouver.

      Just look at what most people want to happen.

      2 Gillis mistakes (Ballard & the Luongo contract) have to be rectified. A 3rd Gillis mistake (taking on Booth’s salary) might have to be rectified.

      The quality assets that people want to trade (Edler & maybe Burrows) were pieces that Gillis was fortunate to inherit.

      When Gillis got the job, the Canucks were better in every position when you look at the NHL team as well as the minor league system.

      In goal, the Canucks had arguably the best goalie in the league in Luongo and one of the top goalie prospects in the world in Schneider.

      Schneider now is less of a certainty than Luongo 5 years ago. And Lack/Cannata are not top prospects like Schneider was.

      The defence had a top 4 of Salo, Ohlund, Bieksa and Mitchell 5 years ago. Edler was a former top prospect ready to become a quality NHLer (which he has become). Bourdon (RIP) was a top prospect who was likely ready to become an NHL regular.

      The current top 4 of Bieksa, Hamhuis, Garrison & Edler is comparable to the top 4 from 2008. But guys like Tanev & Corrado are nowhere near the calibre of defenseman that Edler & Bourdon were considered to be.

      Not to mention that Hamhuis & Garrison came to Vancouver because they are local boys. Just like Mitchell. This has nothing to do with a good GM. Many teams wanted Hamhuis, for example.

      The forward group had the Sedins, Kesler & Burrows on the roster with Raymond, Grabner & Hansen as good secondary pieces working their way through the system.

      Flash forward 5 years and the Sedins, Kesler & Burrows are still the core and have been supplemented with what exactly? Booth? Kassian?

      Not to mention Bernier, Sundin, Demitra and a bunch of other middling players in the past.

      How Gillis gets a pass from people is beyond me. His record of drafting, trading & signing free agents is below average.

    • islander


      It is as easy to cherry pick all of the bright spots as it is to find the flaws in the GM’s tenure. I see this as glass half empty.

      Ultimately, despite all of the positives and negatives of other business the GM has transacted, the Luongo contract will be his legacy.

      Offering Luongo that contract was a major mistake that compromised the team core’s ability to realize its goal. The Luongo deal was a mistake of vision – initially, because it was so big a piece and Schneider was right there – and subsequently, in the GM’s inability to address the consequences of that decision once it was made.

      Now, we will see whether he is a clever enough manager to escape his mistakes, or simply a flawed one.

    • islander

      I’m totally with @DaNucklehead. Gillis has been at the helm for the most successful 5 years in Canuck history, including a thrilling ride to game 7 of the SC Finals. The team has played a mostly uptempo style that has been a ton of fun to watch (although I’m a bit worried by the shift this season towards a more defensive style, and the comments Gillis is making about a change in philosophy). His trading record has some ups and downs, but so do those of all GMs. His drafting record is still hard to fully assess, but is showing enough signs of promise to stay the course.

      It seems to me that many of the anti-Gillis comments on this thread don’t recognize that most teams have fared a whole lot worse than the Canucks have under Gillis. Bash away enough, and you too could be the fan of a truly sad-sack/underperforming franchise like the Flames or Lightning.

      • billm

        It seems to me that many of the pro-Gillis comments believe a GM has magical powers that influence the W-L record.

        By far, the most significant thing a GM can do is acquire good players through the draft, free agency & trade market.

        Gillis happened to be the guy in charge when Burke/Nonis & Nonis players hit their peak.

        He received far too much credit for the 2011 run and he has received far, far too much credit for the last 5 years as a whole. His transaction record is poor. There is no way around it.

      • Fred-65

        Don’t compare this so called contender to turd. If you compare something to turd, usually turd looks better. Saying there are other worse teams is an excuse we all heard before. The canucks performances in the post season are not much better than turd.

  • islander

    Could the Canucks blow up the team by trading the Sedins? I realize they have no-trade clauses but why not get rid of them now while they have some value? They can’t get it done in the playoffs so who cares about their regular season successes? I guess the question would be rather if the Canucks could get any return for them.

  • Bucknuck

    Just heard the canuck apologist Don Taylor on TV say that for all of AV’s accomplishments any other team would have erected a statue of him in front of their stadium..” LOL.

    That sad part is that there are fans out there that actually listen and believe the guy. Never seen any so called sports broadcaster make so many excuses for a losing team in my life. The next thing Don Taylor will try to tell us is that during the Boston bombings” that over 1000 police and army and helicopters and dogs coulnd’t find one bleeding suspect hiding under a boat in plain sight for 14 hours, only to be discovered the home owner who came out and followed the ” trail of blood” to the “suspect. ”
    LOL. And I’m the king of England! LOL. This is why we can never media and Don Taylor.

  • islander

    Just saw Gillis on the tele, and man, does that guy ever whine and make excuses. Heard him saying how ppl were out to get him since the beginning and yadda yadda. Jesus, Mikey, look at where your club is now and you wonder why ppl didn’t like ya from the start? Maybe they was right, fool!

    Can’t stand such a tool whine and make so many excuses while blaming everyone else but himself. It’s the leagues fault, it’s the refs, it’s the fringe players fault, it’s Ballards fault, it’s Hogsons fault…is it ever your fault Mikey? Is it every your fault for bringing in players who can’t win when it counts and a coach who couldn’t get them going?

    I would never hire Gillis to manage a cart of apples, let alone a sports team.Time to man-up Mickey and do what you are supposed to do. You are supposed to build a winner, not a loser.

  • billm

    If you are anti-Gillis, you should be somewhat applauding his move to fire AV, even if you don’t think AV was the problem.The reality is now he has no where to hide. He is going to bring in “his guy” and if he fails at the major moves to retool and keep moving forward it is all going to fall on him.

    If you are pro Gillis, you have to trust he is going to make the right moves and the Canucks bounce back next year and at least go to the second round.

    Either way, I think the move to go to a new face and voice behind the bench was the right move long term for the franchise. The younger players like Edler get to see a new system and it will hopefully shake up the seeming complacency of the core.

    • Fred-65

      Why should we trust Gills when he’s already wrecked an over rated team?

      Gillis should be canned with Av, they were the supposed leaders and managers, and they failed. Their players failed, their scouting failed. It’s an F all around.

      As for Edler, he’d play better for the Canucks if he was on another team, just like when he’s on this team he plays for another team. The guy makes the stupidest mistakes and never learns…so bush league.

      Av has to be blamed for letting Boston dictate everything in the finals, he sat around and chewed gum and didnt make a a little mouse. He played his favorites like leaky luo and it cost him dearly. Hope he lies awake at night and realizes how he screwed his one and only chance. A coach like him will not win a cup anywhere else, his teams play like him…unmotivated and uninspired.

  • Fred-65

    Gillis just like you, me or AV has done some good things and some stupid things.

    The Canucks have had in terms of success the best run of likely most teams in the NHL tick that box…..but they haven’t won the Cup.

    Prioritize the goods and the bads. AV started with a good roster but has become predictable and stale. He has not always used the season as a way to bring along players. He is stubborn and tries to force a square peg into the round hole.

    Gillis has failed to assess talent OR he has failed to surround himself with people who can. He’s an academic in a real world setting. His trades have been good and bad but every one remembers the bad ones because he fails to deal with them. If he had dumped Ballard 2 years ago when it was apparent he was not what the Canucks needed it would maybe be forgotten by now. Roy was not a player built for the play-offs. We needed a addition to the centre position from the end of last season, keeping in mind Keslers hosts of injuries and Malhotras sight. Like AV he tends to be stubborn too. Arrogance brought us to the Luongo fiasco. Rather than admit his expectations were to high he keeps feeding the fire. Will he be embarrassed with what he gets for Luongo this summer….no way he’ll fill the media with justification.

    The player IMO are not shouldering the blame they should. Hansen, Higgins, Lapierre Ebbett all but disappeared in the play-offs…shame on them. The PP was a disgrace. The 4th line has been an experiment for to long