Ice Storm: Canuckivity



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
” 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.

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(* 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. 

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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
worth sharing:

  • “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
    followed) alive.
  • 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)

  • elvis15

    Gilliscentric revisionism of the 2008-2014 Canucks…

    Thanks for summarizing some of the major themes even though a lot of it was already known.

    Bruce Dowbiggin probably fancied himself Michael Lewis until his friend Michael D was mercifully gassed for his incompetence…

  • elvis15

    I also read this book. I would give it 2.5 stars out of 5.

    I found the book’s narrative “the Canucks did things differently!” became quite tiresome as the book went on. Each chapter reads as if it was written as a stand-alone piece of sports journalism – a negative feature since, subsequent chapters often cover the same material as previous chapters or fail to develop existing narratives. The last couple chapters dealing with the Torts era and the beginning of the Benning-Desjardins era stand out as particularly disconnected from the rest of the book.

    • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

      “The last couple chapters dealing with the Torts era and the beginning of the Benning-Desjardins era stand out as particularly disconnected from the rest of the book.”

      Dowbiggin probably thought he had a best seller on his hands up until a few months ago when his friend was terminated.

      He never thought he’d have to write about the “fall” of the Canucks as it goes against the notion he is trying to sell about how “progressive” the Canucks were which led to their success…

      Brad Pitt will not be gaining 50 pounds to play the protagonist in the screen adaptation.

      On the bright side, Mr Gillis is available to portray himself in the Made for Youtube movie…

  • pheenster

    Oh, gee, NMOO doesn’t think much about a book that tells Mike Gillis’ side of the story. How surprising! And we recieved three comments to hammer home NMOO’s bias. Zzzzzzz…

    • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

      Most people don’t take Idiot00 seriously anyway. So, not really an issue. He does entertain me though so that’s always fun. He’s much like a child given an ounce of knowledge. It’s fun, isn’t it?!

      Michael D. was around a bit too long but I am curious about some of his moves. Does the book talk about the Ballard and Booth deals? Does it mention what the Kesler to Pitt deal involved? How about the Edler to Det trade we heard about on draft day 2013?

  • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

    I suspect this book would have been a much better read 10 years down the road when everyone involved with the 2011 team was retired and felt comfortable speaking freely about the internal workings of the club at that point in time in interviews. Frankly, it’s too soon.

  • Why would the Canucks need a Calgary based reporter to write a book about them? Plus, if where the Canucks reached was the “bottom of the abyss”, where did the Oilers reach?

  • BuffaloBillsOfHockey

    Prety interesting stuff.

    It all jives with what Botchford has been saying over the years. People have blasted him for a long time, saying he’s full of crap etc. But he’s been the most accurate local news guy in Van under Gillis era.

    What’s funny is people then, and still, blame Gillis for the fall of Canucks. To some degree they are correct, but not in the way they think. His poor drafting was his biggest mistake, and reasons why they had to rely on free agency so heavily. But when players are turning down offers from this team soley based on the media (as per book), then it’s not Gillis fault. he still managed to snag key UFAs on grade A contracts, something which I guarantee Benning will never accomplish. Gillis built a team that was the best the NHL had ever seen in the cap era. They didn’t wing he Cup that year soley based on injuries, but over a long sample size (the reg season) – They were tops in PP, PK, Faceoffs, GF, GA, possession metrics of every kind. The league still hasn’t seen such a week rounded power house – to date. And the funniest thing about the team he built that year was – we never got to see it healthy then entire season. The team never played 1 single game with a healthy roster. They led the league in man games lost to injury for every playoff team. And we all know how many players they lost during run to Cup finals, and ho many more were significantly injured then.

    That was Gillis and his ingenuity. And this horrible fan base, and domineering fan base ran him out of town. It was “he’s horrible at making trades”, “He’s horrible rafting record”, “the league doesn’t like him”, “the old boys club in the NHL doesn’t like him, “he’s arrogant”, “his team was built by NOnis”,.

    Let’s break that down. If you think he was horrible at making trades, you’re gonna despite Jim Benning. It’s been long said Benning was the main player in the Seguin trade out of Boston. That has to be one of the worst trades in last 5 years. Not to mention trading Ryan Kesler for a 3rd line centre and depth d-man, late first rounder. People love Bonino now, wait till his %’s regress to normal and he’s only able to drive play with possession demons like Burr/Higgy on his wings. Sbisa, well – I don’t need to say more. Then the Garrison trade. Lol. Not sure which of these was worse. But needless to say look at Garrisons advancedstats in all of his years in the NHL and tell me he’s worth a 2nd rounder and that’s it. Tampa just got themselves a top pairing dman for nothing. Meanwhile, Oilers, Leafs, Flyers etc don’t have a single top pairing dman and would give their franchise to get a player like Garrison. So you didn’t like the Gillis trades, Bennings made more trading mistakes in 5 months as GM that Gilis did in 6 years in the position.

    His drafting record. There’s no question, he had 1 great drafting year in 5+ years of drafting. Totallly acceptable.

    The league didn’t like him, the old boys club in the NHL didn’t like him. Well great, cause they like Aquilini and the Canucks org even worse. People thought brining in Boston Bruins Benning and everyone loves Linden would change things with the NHL. Keep framing Canucks fans. Ain’t gonna happen.

    He’ arrogant. Who cares? How does his arrogance affect his ability to do his job? Answer that question they we can have a debate. The funny thing is the people who knew Gillis really well never called him arrogant. Perhaps it was just what the fanbase wanted to believe.

    Nonis built this roster. Partially true. But that’s accurate for every single NHL team out there. The previous GMs will always have helped build a roster in a sporting field like the NHL where it takes so long to develop players -and they have longer careers in the field. Gillis added key pieces in a market that was hard to get players to come to . Yet he did. On great contracts. And filled the holes. And they went to the SCF. And he got GM of the year.

    Yet people are slurping Beninng like he’s the net coming of Dean Lombardi. He’s made 3 horrific trades. Brought in an agin goalie on a horrible contract (who by the way is league bottom in EV SV % this entire sea on this far) – when they already had an equivalent, younger, cheaper goalie on the roster. ……..3 months after they just traded an aging goalie on a horrible contract. I mean, deja vu much. You make the same mistakes over and over again and they call you crazy. Right? Meanwhile, they have the highest draft pick this franchise has had since the Sedins and they pick the LOCAL BOY – because they are on a campaign to do everything the fanbse wants. Though there were better picks available. Then he picks a GOALIE, a college goalie who is 6 years out of NHL, in the next round. ARE YOU SERIOUS. No franchise int he right mind picks a goalie with that pick. Majority of best goalies in this league were undrafted or late round picks. You rarely (Schneider, Rask excluded) get a good goalie in 1st 2nd round.

    So please fan base. I know it’s early in this new regime, but I can hardly wait for you t(and Aquilini) to get your heads out of the sands and see that you just ran the best GM this team ever had out of town. Good for you