The Trade Deadline, Team Philosophy, and a “Longer-Term View”

tortorella, aquilini, gillis
Image via Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

For both the Vancouver Canucks and their fans, the Sochi Winter Olympics really couldn’t have come a moment sooner. The final couple of days leading up to the break felt like they were dragging on at an excruciatingly slow place, with the team falling flat on its face as it approached the finish line. 

They’ve gone 4-13-2 since January 1st, dropping all the way down to 21st in the league’s overall standings. More prevalently, the likes of Minnesota, Dallas, and Phoenix have all leapfrogged them in the Wild Card race, with the Jets and Predators not too far behind.

The break will provide a pleasant and much needed reprieve. The Canucks are sending the 4th most players out of any team in the NHL over to Sochi, giving people something to follow as they cheer (for the large majority of our readers, I’d assume) the Canadian team on. 

Beyond the actual games themselves, though, there seems to be a widespread belief that the two and a half weeks off will wipe the slate clean for the Canucks, suddenly turning their fortunes around. That the brain trust will be able to concoct some sort of bold moves that’ll bring reinforcements to a team that finds itself in an exceptionally delicate spot. 

The next few weeks – specifically the March 5th deadline and the days leading up to it – will go a long way towards determining how the Vancouver Canucks position themselves for not just the end of this season, but even more importantly, years to come.

The Philosophy

I know that this is #MarekLate, but I just recently came across it, and think it provides us with a good discussion point to pivot off of. Plus, I feel like it was something that somewhat flew under the radar because of everything else that was going on. 

Here’s a quote from Pierre LeBrun on the Hockey Today podcast back on February 3rd:

“I don’t think that’s a possibility [on a potential Ryan Callahan trade]. I think the Canucks are entering a phase now where they’re not doing rental trades. I think they have realized that they’re not the ‘knocking at the door contender’ that they have been for a long time. If you look at what the Canucks are going to do over the next year, I think it’ll be more about trying to get younger. It’s not a rebuild, but I think you’re going to see them have a longer-term view with their moves.”

He went on to say:

“I don’t think it’s a big secret, but I don’t see the fact that Tortorella is the fact there as an allure in terms of Callahan. I don’t think it ended too well there in New York between the captain and the coach.”

[For what it’s worth, Katie Strang (who covers the New York teams, very effectively if I may say so myself) went on to confirm that last Lebrun point by laughing, then saying “I think you’re correct there in your statement.”]

I don’t really intend on spending too much time focusing on Ryan Callahan specifically, because it’s pretty clear at this point that he’d be a horrendous investment. There are some good notes on him here by Travis Yost. Callahan – who reportedly turned down a 5 year, $30 million offer from the Rangers recently – is a fine player, but also one who’s breaking down before our very eyes. 

His numbers are already cratering, and I don’t even want to try to imagine what he’ll look like by the time he’s 32 or 33. All I know is that the way he profiles, he’s most definitely not the type of player that I’d be wanting to shack up with for the rapid downswing of his career. 

Moving beyond Callahan, I think Lebrun’s comments are interesting because they speak to a much bigger, more important philosophical shift by the team. If his intel is correct – which I’d assume it is, since he’s pretty plugged in, and has been fairly on point with his Canucks-related reporting in the past – then we’ve really got a lot to chew on here. 

Hierarchical Unity

First off, it basically refutes what Darren Dreger said on TSN1050 the other day, as he speculated that Mike Gillis “could be in the crosshairs” were the Canucks to miss out on the playoffs. Dreger’s claims only seemed to be further solidified when Francesco Aquilini, the team’s owner, joined the team in the middle of their road trip out East. 

After all, The Aquaman wouldn’t be the first meddling owner to get frustrated and pull something rash and unexpected off when things turned sour. I’m sure that he’d like to be able to brag about his team’s success to his new girlfriend, and other fancy rich friends as he sips overpriced drinks at snazzy Vancouver bars. 

But according to Jason Botchford’s most recent “Provies” following the loss to the Leafs, that’s not actually the case:

“I saw speculation that Mike Gillis’s job “could” be in trouble if the Canucks don’t make the playoffs. I can only write about my experiences and after talking to Francesco Aquilini on this trip, I left with the feeling that is not the case. He is as upbeat as he’s ever been, and is onside the line of thinking that what we’ve seen lately is not a true representation of where the Canucks are really at. Gillis, for his part, remains very confident in his group. “We’ll be all right,” he vowed. I’m not saying he’s not planning a move or two. He is. But it’s not going to be much more and he’s not reacting to anything we’ve seen in the past six weeks.”

A few days ago Bob McKenzie went on his radio program and pointed out that the Canucks would “explore all of their options” and that “outside of the Sedins there are no untouchables”. The issue with that, of course, is that everyone and their grandmother has a NTC on this team. Only compounding that is that most of the guys you’d consider moving have markedly underperformed this season. You never want to be “selling low” on assets, and that’s exactly what they’d be doing were they to move out some of the core players currently on the team.

In a roundabout way, I think that’s a good thing. Without pulling any punches I’d say that, while I think Mike Gillis has done plenty of very good things during his tenure as GM of the team, his trade deadline track record is fairly abhorrent. I wrote about his resume in advance of last year’s frenzy, and after failing to deliver in that regard yet again with Derek Roy evaporating into thin air, the list has only grown longer [with the players being acquired in bold]:

  • Kevin Connauton, 2nd round pick for Derek Roy(*)
  • Cody Hodgson, Alex Sulzer for Zack Kassian, Marc-Andre Gragnani(**) 
  • Sebastian Erixon for Andrew Gordon
  • Taylor Ellington, two 4th round picks for Sami Pahlsson (***)
  • Joel Perrault, 3rd round pick for Max Lapierre, MacGregor Sharp
  • Evan Oberg, 3rd round pick for Chris Higgins 
  • 3rd round pick for Andrew Alberts(****) 
  • Mathieu Schneider for Sean Zimmerman, 6th round pick
  • Pierre-Cedric Labrie for Yann Stastny 
  • Mike Brown for Nathan McIver

(*) Derek Roy could’ve pooped right at center ice in the middle of one of those games against the Sharks in last year’s playoffs and it would’ve been considered an upgrade solely because of the fact that it would’ve proved that he was still alive. 

I should also note that the Canucks actually lucked out in a big way, because they had offered a 1st round pick for Ryane Clowe (who ultimately picked the Rangers instead). Boy, imagine if you replaced Hunter Shinkaruk with a few weeks of a declining, overrated winger with a litany of concussion issues. Yikes.

(**) These were technically two separate trades, but I included them into one for the sake of brevity. 

(***) This one stings – well, beyond Pahlsson having been completely and utterly washed up by the time he arrived to Vancouver – because the Canucks just missed out on Antoine Vermette, who went for a 2nd, 5th, and a backup goaltender. Pahlsson has long been out of the league, while Vermette is a legitimately fantastic two-way centre who despite logging the toughest of minutes will score 30 goals this season.

(****) Why not smooth skating, offensively dynamic defenseman Albert Andrews, though?

I don’t think it’s necessarily solely an indictment against Mike Gillis himself, either. Generally speaking the trade deadline is a sucker’s bet; GMs tend to have their judgement clouded by the pressure that accompanies the ticking clock and the allure of what adding Player X could hypothetically mean to his team. 

Sure, sometimes a rental veteran type comes in and provides a helping hand during a playoff run, but for the most part these trades rarely ever work, and usually wind up ranging from being a wash to being a boon for the team that was selling off its used parts.

It would behoove Aquilini to assure his general manager that he doesn’t need to hit some sort of home run trade in the coming weeks to keep his job heading into next year, just as it would benefit Mike Gillis himself to make sure that he and his hand-picked coach are on the same page because..

Tanking Longer-Term View

NHL overall standings

I see this particular term very often misconstrued. When I say “tanking”, I don’t necessarily mean intentionally throwing games by Chris Campoli’ing it to your opponent. I get that veterans like Henrik Sedin and Kevin Bieksa are proud dudes, and that many of the players that signed on with this team took slightly less than they probably could’ve gotten elsewhere because they were assured that this franchise would be competing for a Stanley Cup Championship for the foreseeable future. I’d also imagine that John Tortorella doesn’t want to have the stink of missing the playoffs in his first season on the job next to his name.

Trumping all of that, though, is that I think none of these guys are stupid. Well, maybe except for Zack Kassian. The point is that I don’t see how anyone even remotely associated with this particular team can watch what they’ve done all season (yes, even when fully healthy for those fleeting moments) and think that they have any sort of realistic chance at running the gauntlet out West. It’s not happening in 2013-14. 

They’re currently only 3 points out of being in the 6th overall draft slot (with the chance to move up even more thanks to the lottery), and have a 76.25% chance of missing the playoffs outright. That would probably be a good thing, sparing them from another 4 or 5 game beatdown at the hands of a far superior opponent. 

With that in mind, here’s a suggestion for how to approach the matter: you tell your banged up players to take their time coming back from injury, ensuring that they’re fully healthy before they even consider suiting back up for the Canucks. It’s not tanking, as much as it is not forcing the issue and having some tact. 

Ideally, you chalk this up as a lost season of sorts, take the high draft pick (which, even in a weak class, has some fairly significant value), and reload this summer. The salary cap will be going up, freeing the team up to be explore potential moves that they simply can’t even consider at the moment. 

I don’t think that “rebuilding” is an option, but reloading on the fly a la the San Jose Sharks is something that I’d view as the best case scenario for how the team could proceed. That would mean standing relatively pat at the deadline, and taking the lumps in the meantime as part of a, as Pierre Lebrun called it, “longer-term view”. To do so, they need to be on the same page from top down; that page being the one titled “there’s always next year”.

  • Marsh

    In Gillis’s defence re: deadline moves, about half those moves were good. The Higgins and Lapierre trades were great, I think a 3rd for Alberts was perfectly reasonable – he’s been a serviceable bottom-pairing defenceman for years after the trade. Jury’s still out on Hodgson/Kassian.

    Derek Roy looks like a bad move in retrospect, but I seem to remember him being listed as the #1 or #2 guy the Canucks should go after on an article on this very sight, and everyone was pretty thrilled about the move after it happened.

  • Marsh

    The Canucks are probably one of the few teams for which the trade deadline will be meaningless.

    The Canucks are not contending and do not have the type of pending UFAs that are often sold at the deadline.

    They can talk about the longview all they want.

    The fact it’s even a talking point is an indictment of the last six years of work by this management team.

    Yet another reason to gas Gillis at the end of the year: a new GM could move a NTC without breaking a promise while putting an end to the Luongo drama one way or another…

  • Marsh

    Disagree with the notion. I do think they can win it all if they get in. While both getting in to the post season and winning the Cup are long putts, the team is much better than they have shown.

    It’s incomprehensible they can keep this ass level of play going. Too many good to great players on the team who are not that old.

    The problem for me is if they miss the dance this year, another year on the odometer is a concern.

    If I am Gillis, I am doing nothing at the deadline and I am getting my guys back in the line-up ASAP

  • Marsh


    The issue of no trades isn’t about promises, it is a legal obligation. And if a player wants out, it doesn’t matter if it is by Gillis or someone else. I believe it is probably better if it is on Gillis than on a new GM. We constantly talk about moving NTCs as if they could be wiped out by saying “ixnay”. We know thats not true from the Luongo reluctance to accept any old move and, more clearly, by Iginla picking Pitt when Feaster really wanted the Bruins deal. I’m with Ralph and the only deal I’d make would involve older role.players like Hanson or Richardson for youner equivalents or maybe Diaz or Weber for a 3rd kind of deal.

    • andyg

      The Canucks are well within their rights to approach a player with a NTC about trade possibilities.

      If this GM refuses to approach players about moving on for the betterment of the organization, he should find another line of work…

      • Marsh

        I did not say Gillis not approach players to waive their NMCs , but you said…
        “…a new GM could move a NTC without breaking a promise”

        Now you say any GM including Gillis is remiss if he doesn’t approach a player about moving on. Gillis already did last year with Luongo. I’m not sure what you’re saying as we seem to agree except you make it a preference a new GM do it. In the end, it’s up to the player, whoever the GM is(see Matts Sundin). If you want players angry at the team over NMCs, let it be at the old GM, ie Gillis.

        • Marsh

          I’m interested in the mechanisms involved in waiving the NTC/NMC. As others have said on this board, it doesn’t mean an impossibility regarding a trade, just more control by the player. I’m assuming it’s something some of the players will take in lieu of more money. I don’t think it was this restriction that made Luongo so hard to move — it’s more his contract, the retroactive penalties that the NHL slapped on (which are really ridiculous, changing the rules mid-stream makes the league continue to be a mickey mouse outfit as far as the major sports go).

          But clearly players with clauses can move. I’m not sure a new GM would find it any easier to move someone who has a legal protection against doing so — in fact there might be more incentive for said player to stick to the place with the protection of their contract. But it’s not impossible to move someone, especially if they want out, as Luongo clearly indicated he did.

  • andyg

    “Ideally, you chalk this up as a lost season of sorts, take the high draft pick (which, even in a weak class, has some fairly significant value), and reload this summer”

    I hope the org is thinking about it that way. I’d hate to see Gillis and co makes rash moves at the deadline when it seems like it would be more prudent to wait until this summer. Even if we make the playoffs, we aren’t going anywhere…no point getting screwed with trades at the deadline.

  • andyg

    I disagree with the column because a weak draft means that we get another Gaunce-like player?

    The Canucks have depth on D and should use that to try and swing a trade that won’t just be a rental. Try and give the Sedins a genuine scorer to play with

    Bring up Jensen and see if adding youth will help, ebven though he is hot doubt it will. Health will be a big bonus to the line up and hopefully get some actual lines going.

    Let’s see how the players react after a break. Something tells me if the injuries mend the will have a punchers chance.

    Let’s all face it, the playoffs are fun to be a part of. It’s a long off season without them.

    • VC

      The playoffs are fun to be a part of when you’re not getting swept out of them. It’s clear that no matter what the strengths of the current team might be, the injuries and age-related weaknesses that have been exposed this season makes it clear that we have to start thinking much more strategically about the future. I would love to watch the Canucks make a run in the playoffs but I have little faith on the half-season plus evidence we have so far that it’s going to happen. There’s no way this team is as bad as it’s looked the last month and yes a lot of that’s injuries. But even when we were relatively healthy (with just the two Alex’s out — big gaps, no doubt) we were winning against relatively weak opposition and getting a lot of bounces. Now — against in some cases equally poor opposition — we’re getting killed.

      I think in many ways the results are exactly what the Canucks actually need, which is a real re-evaluation of the way forward. I don’t understand the pipe dream that we’ll somehow land another scorer (who? Vanek? Evander Kane? come on…) for spare parts or giving up what little prospects we have. This is a band-aid solution that does little to plan for the future.

      And no matter how weak a draft class it will be, there is still a big difference drafting in the top ten to drafting in the bottom ten. Gaunce in my view continues to get way too bad a rap — point-a-game player as a two-way center, he will be a good addition with some seasoning — but if we were to have picked top ten that year we could have gotten some pretty good players (Murray, Galchenyuk, Reinhart, Rielly, Lindholm, Dumba).

      This article is right. Doesn’t have to be Team Tank but it shouldn’t be Team Dream…

      • Marsh

        “And no matter how weak a draft class it will be, there is still a big difference drafting in the top ten to drafting in the bottom ten.”

        Exactly. There’s very few draft years so bad that no good NHL players result. Drafting a 1st round forward is not mandatory since the pick will be filling a need 3 to 4 years from now -about the time the Canucks will be needing young defencemen as well.

        • VC

          Clearly it’s not the players fault, it’s the new coach. If the new coach can’t get these lazy over rated over paid country clubbers to win, then we need to stop competing for the SC cause winning presidents trophies are enough. After all, we’re presidents champions twice! How many teams can say that? And let’s not even worry about the draft, it’s too HARD to draft, we don’t need it, I believe in these old cougars, after all, if the team hasn’t done squat for 44 years, chances are, we are due for success, just because I believe so. We are all Canucks. Don’t worry my fellow fansters, our team will win based on our past failures, cause who needs the cup when you can pay to watch the Canucks skate around the ice? that’s what competitive sports is about, not winning, but feeling good about losing no matter what. We are all Canucks, even if you’re ashamed to be living in the same city as us.

  • VC

    Gillis maintains that he will not ask a player to waive his NTC. And yet, he has also stated that there are ways of making players waive said NTC.

    He clearly did it by stating publicly that Schneider was the Canucks #1 goalie. This obviously didn’t sit well with Lu and of course he decided he wanted out, until the Canucks traded Schneider and they came running back to Lu with their tails between their legs begging him to stay.

    IMO, the interesting part comes at the end of this season. From capgeek:

    Full NTC (Exception 1: Player can supply five-team trade list following final game of 2013-14, valid through July 15, 2014; Exception 2: If player does not submit trade list as documented in Exception 1, team can request a five-team trade list following final game of 2017-18 season, valid through Sept. 1, 2018. If player submitted a trade list in 2014 and was not moved, team loses right to request trade list in 2018.)

    Will Luongo supply the five-team trade list and ask to be moved? if the Canucks are going to go younger, Gillis might have to take prospects and draft picks for Luongo and may have to pay some salary to make the deal happen.

  • VC

    Hoping Canucks are sellers at the deadline. We can take advantage of a team needing some critical pieces for a Cup run etc. I hope Gillis has learned enough to make something good happen.

  • Fred-65

    If the thought of Gillis being fired started only recently then maybe he will be. But if the philosophy was estabilished after the 2011 SC appearance then we’re 3 years into the change and he’s safe. I’m trying to think when Gillis muttered those words..”bigger, younger and faster” were made ?? Seems to me at that time Vcr took a different turn in the road…one that was approved by Aquallini. It seems to me the appointment of Tortorella ushered in a new direction the fact that the teams is not doing well emphasises that Vcr needs a new direction.
    Next year if the youngsters do not grab spots on the roster THEN maybe Gillis will pay the price.

    • Marsh

      May 9, 2013

      “With the disappointment of Vancouver’s first-round exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs still fresh, the Canucks general manager displayed a resolve Thursday not to veer too sharply from the current course. Gillis said it’s time to reset the organization, but he wants to retain the team’s veteran core while introducing bigger, stronger and younger talent.” Mike Gillis

      Although it could be argued the shift began when Kassian was acquired:
      ” February 27, 2012, Kassian was dealt, along with defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani, to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for fellow rookie forward Cody Hodgson and defenceman Alexander Sulzer. Canucks general manager, Mike Gillis, acknowledged the trade as an effort to balance his team out by giving up Hodgson’s skill and finesse in return for Kassian’s size and toughness.[Botchford]

  • Youppi_Ki_Yay

    1) Surely the team should not be a renter at the trade deadline. However, I hope the writer is suggesting their trade options will be widened by the higher cap, not that the Canucks should be big players in the UFA market. This summer is going to be insane. Every team is going to have cap room, and even poorer teams are going to be struggling to get to the floor.

    The deals will be idiotic, but in dollars and term, and I hope Gillis stays clear.

    2) The no trade question is interesting. We don’t know who has exactly what. It sounds like not all the players have full no moves. Some might be like Luongo — they have the ability to submit a list of teams to which they would accept a trade. In that instance, moving some of the players might be easier than we think. Also, it allows Gillis to say he’d never ask a player to waive a no trade clause, if he defines that as a full no move, and the only players who have that are the Sedins, for instance.

  • asdf

    gillis will continue to do what he has done all along – make safe bets. it’s easy to evaluate trades after the fact (although the canucks really didn’t lose much on any of those deals you outlined), hodgson for kassian is probably the closest thing we’ll see to a #boldmove.

  • Youppi_Ki_Yay

    great article. Couldn’t agree more.

    It’s funny cause 3 days before TSN insiders leaked that Gillis didn’t think this team was a contrender anymore and everyone was for sale – I posted on this site that they need to find a way to let this season go and get a high draft pick. That the 13/14 Canucks ain’t competing with the west. Guess what? I was flamed. People were ripping me left and right. Then 3 days later, Gillis leaks that he essentially feels the same way I do.

    If you think this team can compete with the possession demons of SJS, LA, Bos, Chi etc. You’re delusional. Even healthy, this team ain’t good enough. But they’re also not bad enough that they need a re-build. Like Dimitri said, let the mass load of injured guys stay on the sidelines. Leave the PP as it is (a total disaster). Fire the sleep Dr. Put a lock on the ‘mind room’. Fire the gourmet chef, and go for a high pick. Oh ya, tell Booth to go home cause he’s getting bought out in 4 months and they don’t want to risk injury.

    I think Canucks management would be surprised how receptive fans would be if they sh#$ the bed this yr. It’s a smart fanbase.