A move that was heavily criticized, signing an aging Mats Sundin in the middle of the 2008-09 season was questioned when it happened.
Sundin went on to play a total of 41 games for the Canucks, scoring nine goals and 28 points while playing more of a depth role than in Toronto.
While his on-ice play decreased during his time in Vancouver, the reason why Gillis brought in the Hall-of-Famer was not simple production and putting up the points, but to contribute to the general culture of a hopeful team.
At the TeamSnap Hockey Coaches Conference in Toronto this past weekend, then-Canucks GM Mike Gillis explained why he signed the centreman.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) July 22, 2019
“He elevated our level of professionalism internally,” Gillis said, “even though there was a cost associated with it. We didn’t realize people would be so critical of Mats. It took him a while to get going, but the level of criticism he got was just remarkable.”
Gillis went on to discuss the value that Sundin brought to his surging young team. Especially with the heavy Scandinavian factor that his team had at the point of time, Sundin provided some leadership and a heavy cultural factor to that locker room, according to the General Manager.
Internally, Sundin was viewed as a valuable piece, much more than what he just brought on the ice, but what he was able to teach and show the young core.
Gillis went on to discuss another controversial act during his tenure, naming Roberto Luongo captain.
“We made Roberto Luongo the captain to try and get him in a leadership position because he was so reluctant to do that,” said Gillis. “We got crushed in the media for it. But our purpose wasn’t to make a goalie a captain. It was to get better leadership out of that particular player. It actually worked. He became a better leader and a better player.”
He went on to speak on doing things that aren’t the norms within the league — not caring whether or not it’s acceptable or the status quo, but doing what his regime viewed as the best thing to do.
Crowning Luongo as the team’s captain was initially questioned within the team, but all the pros outweighed the cons when measured in the end for the front office.
“There are no born leaders,” said Gillis, “leaders are developed.”
Luongo was considered a leader and Gillis decided to award him the captaincy to officially name him the leader of that Canucks team.
Gillis saw Luongo grow under his regime, according to him. He went on to say that he had a heap of responsibilities that he mostly succeeded in doing, blaming the media for the eventual departure and controversy surrounding the goaltender.
Also during the coaching conference, Gillis went on to discuss a study of player’s hormone levels during his time in Vancouver.
All of it stemming from Luongo, who according to Gillis, dealt with a mountain of performance anxiety.
Gillis read about some research that was done with a UK rugby team that measured cortisone levels in their blood throughout the day while training.
He was only at the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it came to that section of sport science, but Gillis was exploring other options off the ice to improve his team’s performance.