One of my interests in hockey is on the management side,
everything from analysis to managing player assets and more. It is this activity behind the scenes at the
rink that have inspired me to go to law school*. I recently picked up a book called “Ice
Storm” by Bruce Dowbiggin, which details all the behind the scenes events of the
Mike Gillis era for the Vancouver Canucks.
I haven’t seen too much discussion on this book in the Smylosphere
outside of VanCityBuzz,
so having actually read it, I thought I’d give you a quick review.
(* not actually going
to law school)
For those of you who haven’t head about Ice Storm, here’s the official synopsis of the book:
In 2008, the Vancouver Canucks were Team Modern,
revolutionizing the NHL under their new GM, former player agent Mike Gillis.
Cool, calculating, and unsparing with the media, the onetime number one draft
pick of the old Colorado Rockies swept away the tangled psychological past of
the Canucks with bold innovation, remodeling Vancouver as a destination city
for NHL star players. To do so, he built the Canucks from a non-playoff team in
2008 to the best in hockey from 2010-2012…
But things changed…
In spring 2014, tried-and-true Canuck hero Trevor Linden was installed as
president, with former teammate Jim Benning by his side as GM. No one was quite
sure if this was an improvement, but at least the hysterical screaming had
How did it happen? Ice Storm follows the journey that led the Canucks from the
top of the mountain to the bottom of the abyss in six short years.
The book covers all the majors eras of the Mike Gillis era:
from the early days of how the Aquilinis acquired the team and their legal
suits that followed, to the hiring of Gillis and his work behind the scenes
through the rise and fall of the Canucks to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals until
Gillis was let go at the end of the 2013-2014 season. There are a number of references to
Canucks Army (and some other prominent blogs) in the book and it is worth the read for anyone interested in the 2008-2014 Canucks.
I don’t think much of the book was revolutionary in what it revealed, but a few
thoughts that came out of the book that I thought were
- “Canuckivity” was a word that was used over and
over by the team; it’s a term that is used to refer to the “Canucks creativity”
such as the major investment in sleep doctors, sports psychologist, and ways to
reduce the effects of travel time.
- Mike Gillis as a player agent was not very well
liked because he would take on clients leaving their old agents, so his colleges
considered him to be a predatory agent.
- At first, Gillis was not well liked by the other
members of the Board of Governors and the GMs because of his background as an
agent, but over time they came to accept him.
Gillis came into the Canucks with a long term
plan and tried to stick with it for as long as possible. He was not worried
about a down year, because all of his moves were geared towards the plan, which was seemingly a team built around four lines of skilled players.
- Because of his background as an agent, Gillis tried to show loyalty to all his players, but those who did not want to be part
of the plan were driven out of town. This included veteran D Mathieu Schneider (his old
client), and Cody Hodgson.
- This plan was harder and harder for Gillis to
stick with as the league evolved more in favour of the LA/Boston hard-nosed, 5-on-5 styles, reducing the
number of goals and powerplays in a given game (something Gillis was often vocal about). This made it harder and harder for his vision of four lines of skill to score.
It seemed that each year, a key player of Gillis’ core
was injured, which lead to giant holes in the playoffs that contributed to playoff losses each
year. From a number of people in the 2011 finals, to Daniel Sedin in 2012, and Cory Schneider in 2013, Vancouver always had massive holes in critical places when the games mattered most.
As the losing continued towards 2013-2014 and
Gillis not wanting to move off his plan, Aquilini became more and more involved
with the team. Bruce Dowbiggin claims that Aquilini prevented Gillis to trade Kesler to Pittsburgh at the
2013 trade deadline in hopes keeping the playoff dream (and the profits that
Much time was sent on the lack of prospects in
the system which Gillis et al. blame on the difficulty of always drafting from
the back of the pack. To supplement that,
Gills tried to use his “Canuckivity” on drafting.
- One method was the disaster from the 2011/2012
drafts where Gillis tried to draft the older prospects (i.e. Alex Mallet) as they were theoretically “closer to their peak” – a strategy that works well in baseball, but is horrendous in hockey.
- Another idea that Gillis liked was allowing
players to stay longer in the minor leagues to continue their development. This is why a number of NCAA picks were taken by the Canucks through
these drafts, and also why Gillis kept players in the juniors longer rather than
stocking Utica last year.
- A third method was Gillis wanted a 3rd
draft every two years by scouring the NCAA for free-agent gems, which is how the
Canucks have found players like Chris Tanev, Kellan Lain, Darren Archibald, Dane Fox, and others.
- Gillis was banking on signing Justin Schultz as a free
agent to help their prospect pool, but was ultimately turned down by Schultz (after being
in the top 3 choices) in favour of the Edmonton Oilers. One reason is
that Schultz did not want to be part of the media frenzy in Vancouver.
- It seems a number of free agents turn down offers from Vancouver because of the media.
In keeping with his long-term plan, Gillis was
structuring the budget to try and take a run at Shea Weber when he became a UFA
in the summer of 2013 (ultimately he got another Weber that summer), but the big
money being thrown around defencemen changed that plan.
- The one time that Gillis was going to waiver
from his plan and pay big money for a free agent was when the Canucks were
going after Shane Doan.
- An interesting scenario was when the Canucks
were going to trade Luongo to Toronto at the 2013 trade deadline for Ben
Scrivens and a pair of second round draft picks. There
was bad blood between Mike Gillis and Brian Burke though, so while they had to have their
assistants work on the deal, ultimately the deal fell through when Burke wanted the
Canucks to keep a large part of Luongo’s salary on the books.
- Toronto wanted Miikka Kiprusoff too, but that fell
through as well. Canucks were planning to trade
the 2nd round picks acquired in the Luongo deal for more players at the deadline, but when the Luongo trade fell through, they didn’t have the assets to make more trades.
- During the most recent lockout, the teams who were going to be affected by the new cap recapture policy in the CBA (the “Luongo Rule”) were aware of the issue at the time, but the few teams affected could not make enough noise to have that changed, as the CBA was quickly being pushed to be approved so that hockey could be played in the 2012-2013 season.
An interesting issue from last year during the
Torts era was that the new CBA required 4 days off per month (travel days don’t count as a day off), which made scheduling practices difficult.
That made it harder for the Canucks, with their travel, to get in the
number of required practices.
Overall, Ice Storm is an interesting read if you are interested in what went on behind the scenes in Vancouver over the past few seasons. I would strongly suggest that you pick
it up, especially if you haven’t read every Canucks Army post since 2009. (Editor’s note: or better yet, read every Canucks Army post since 2009 anyways)