Gillis reveals why he wanted Sundin in Vancouver

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.

“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.”

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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.

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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.

Read the whole story at Sportsnet here.

  • wojohowitz

    The only controversy about Sundin signing in Vancouver was in media-centric Toronto who could not comprehend anybody wanting to leave the COTU for the hinterlands.

  • harpdog

    Canadian media is so enamored with Hockey to the fact that they affect the way teams are put together. Every fan has an opinion that is the same in every NHL city but not every city in the NHL except Canadian teams are affected by the media. Canadian Media can get fans riled up to the point that teams are making bad moves to make the fans Happy. Case in point besides Mats is the Messier deal. I had a few pops with Mark that year and he told that he thought the Canadian media was worse than the New York media. Gillis could not recover the team from Brian Burke and the media, which includes announcers, sports tv and radio and the written press. It is like they want every Canadian team to win the cup, all 6 of them at the same time. Fans wonder why some players will not play on Canadian teams, plus the taxes and exchange rate excluded. The media needs to lighten up and cheer for a team, win or lose rather than blast them in the media.

  • Dan the Fan

    The Sundin signing was great. I don’t understand the flack. He got about .75ppg during the regular season and 1ppg during the playoffs. Overall it was a little behind his career average but it had to be expected at that point in his career, and starting the season so late. The prorated deal was great value for the cap hit.