Mike Gillis is going through a tough time at the workplace these days. The team he has been in charge of overseeing since April 23, 2008 is in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time during his tenure, which speaks to both how successful an organization the Vancouver Canucks have been over the past handful of seasons, and how far they’ve fallen this season.
The past week or so, in particular, has likely been the most difficult one of his regime. First he was forced to trade away the best goaltender in the franchise’s history, for what essentially amounted to spare parts (a bottom-6 forward, and a prospect goaltender whose stock has plummeted exponentially), largely due to the handcuffing contract he had signed him to back in ’09.
Then less than 24 hours later, the trade deadline came and went without the largely talked about and much anticipated Ryan Kesler trade ever going down. We don’t know the details, but there have certainly been what I’d characterize as believable rumours circulating that a potential deal was nixed by meddling ownership. Obviously, this has been refuted, but where there’s smoke, there tends to be fire.
But maybe the most questionable, beleaguered subplot of all: the “solidarity”/crisis goatee that has crawled down from his face to his neck. As it turns out, maybe the reason for the new look has to do with the fact that he hasn’t had the time to shave; writing a letter to your season ticket holders can prove to be a time-consuming activity, I’d imagine.
You can read the letter for yourself right here in its entirety:
With the trade deadline a week behind us, I wanted to communicate directly with our Season Ticket Members. You are a very important part of the Canucks family, and I’d like to give you more insight into last week’s developments and our plan for the team going forward.
In addition, I will be inviting you to participate in a webcast after I get home from the GM meetings and upcoming road trip. I want to articulate our plans with you openly and want to give you an opportunity to ask questions so that you have a greater understanding of the vision.
Our mission remains the same: to win the Stanley Cup. Last summer we said we had to make some changes to our team. We need to get younger, faster and stronger to succeed. That process is happening now, as we look to retool by surrounding our veteran stars with new, young talent. You can look at Anaheim as a recent example of a team that has retooled successfully.
Trading Roberto was not an easy decision. We are grateful for his tremendous contribution to our team and city, and we wish him much success. But the moves we’ve made go beyond goaltending. We are now younger and we are getting deeper. We’ve added a big, strong 6’4″ centre in Shawn Matthias, who is excited to be here and will help this team now. And we believe in our talented group of prospects, including Bo Horvat, Nicklas Jensen, Frank Corrado, Dane Fox, Brendan Gaunce and Hunter Shinkaruk, who will be part of our short and long-term success. We are also well positioned financially, having created over $5 million in cap room to make the right deals for this team. That’s in addition to the $7 million we expect the salary cap to increase next season.
We approached the deadline with long-term success in mind. We were prepared to make a hockey deal on trade deadline day, not a short-term fix. The players offered at the deadline did not fit our vision of where we want our team to go. We need to get younger and more balanced to be more competitive, and we didn’t see the right players to accomplish that goal. We are not willing to compromise our long-term vision for the sake of change.
We are committed to putting a winning team on the ice for you. Our ownership is supportive and will invest whatever it takes to bring the Cup to Vancouver. As we move towards this goal we will continue to invest in your arena and Canucks fan experience.
Thank you again for your continued support. We are enduring a challenging period, but your passion makes it possible for us to put our team in a position to compete. Our organization is committed to doing whatever it takes to win, and we want you to be here with us when we achieve our goal.
It’s pretty clearly a desperate, last-ditch effort by the GM to calm fans of the team. As Elliotte Friedman reported this past weekend, the team has pushed back sending their season ticket renewals out a couple of times now as they wait for an appropriate time to do so. Their initial plans were for prior to the Olympics, but that was before the team got slaughtered during its preceding slate of games out East. Then they pushed the process back again due to all of the noise around the trade deadline.
But beyond all of that, there are some interesting tidbits to chew into and digest here.
I actually tend to agree with Gillis that, despite the widespread belief that the “window” is sealed shut, this franchise isn’t best suited for a full-on, blow it up and trade everything away type of rebuild. It’s just not. Look at what has happened to the Edmonton Oilers, for example. They’ve been mired in an endless tailspin for years now. Sometimes the alternative isn’t better, and the grass isn’t greener.
Fully acknowledging their lacklustre and and uninspiring play of late, I still believe that the Vancouver Canucks aren’t nearly as bad as they’ve shown themselves to be. The Canucks are an organization that we’ve suspected to be one that uses and takes advantage of their understanding of advanced stats, so it would make sense that they’d be aware of how unlucky they’ve been, and how much a percentage-driven decline can be attributed to their struggles.
Something that I brought up all the way back on February 12th – which Gillis and the Canucks have been echoing in their interviews of late – is the concept of a “retooling on the fly”; which constitutes timely development of prospects, and effective usage of the (anticipated) additional cap space to supplement the current aging core, in an attempt to reinvigorate and extended the current aging core’s run.
Gillis brings up the Ducks as a blueprint (who missed the playoffs twice in 3 seasons from ’09-’12, but have no strung together two supremely successful regular seasons in a row and look poised to make noise for years to come). Others, I’d imagine, would include the San Jose Sharks, and Ottawa Senators. These teams are examples that retooling on the fly can indeed be pulled off.
A step in the right direction would be to stop trading away depth draft picks (which seem like they may not be of much value on the surface, but most definitely are, and if you remain unconvinced you should read more on how the misuse of them can go bad). During the Gillis regime they’ve been funnelling 2nd, 3rd, 4th rounders to add role players at the deadline, and that’s a big reason their system is as barren as it is.
A crutch excuse for the lack of organizational depth has long been “the big club is good, so they’re drafting low in the standings”, but that hasn’t seemed to hurt teams like the Red Wings, Blackhawks, and Sharks, who have year after year managed to uncover useful assets in the later rounds of the draft. The fact that the Canucks have been unable to do so will put their retooling behind the eight ball right off the bat.
Still, I think the theory is sound, and if this is in fact the plan the organization has in mind moving forward, it’s something that I can get behind. I have no doubts that this’ll continue to be a large part of the discussions we’ll have in the coming months. What I do have doubts about, though, is whether or not Mike Gillis will be around to see us have them; this letter surely won’t do much to appease the angry fans out there that want blood.
One final note:
No mention of the coach in the email..
— Taj (@taj1944) March 10, 2014
I, too, noticed this. And found it very curious. Particularly when taking into account the rumblings that John Tortorella’s job could’ve been in jeopardy had Saturday’s game against the Flames turned out differently. Could be a simple oversight, sure, but considering how many different sets of eyes you’d assume went over this letter before it was sent out, I find that hard to believe. Just some more fuel, is all.