It seems like a long time ago now. But in reality, it’s only been two years since Mike Gillis was named the NHL’s top general manager for helping the Vancouver Canucks capture the Presidents’ Trophy and come within a game of winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
Back then, Gillis was frequently lauded for his progressive ideas. He often referenced Moneyball. He hired a sleep doctor. The Canucks even had something called a mind room.
Gillis also made some pretty adept hockey moves. He got Christian Ehrhoff out of of San Jose for next to nothing. He picked up Chris Higgins and Max Lapierre at the 2011 trade deadline. He signed the likes of Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres and Mikael Samuelsson.
A former agent, Gillis also proved a convincing negotiator, locking up key Canucks like the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler to below-market contracts while getting his core players to buy in to a team-first attitude.
“That’s what we need everybody to do,” said Kesler back in 2009. “If we’re going to win the Cup, we need guys to take pay cuts. The way the salary cap is now, you really can’t get what you’re worth now if you want to win. Everybody in this locker room knows that and for us to be a great team going forward, we’re going to have to take a pay cut.”
That was then. Today, it could be argued that no GM’s stock has fallen more than Gillis’s. Two straight first-round exits and suddenly nobody’s talking about sleep doctors anymore. Instead, it’s the ham-fisted way he handled the Roberto Luongo/Cory Schneider saga, that dumb Keith Ballard trade, and, really, we could go on and on here. So let’s — because on top of all the bad moves he’s made, plenty of people call Gillis a whiner, too. When they’re not calling him arrogant and unwilling to admit a mistake, ever.
“From my perspective … it’s been a terrible season for us,” Gillis said in May after the Canucks were swept by the Sharks. “We’re going to have to reinvent ourselves and do things differently in order to be successful. The macro look at this team is that changes have to be made.”
So out went head coach Alain Vigneault and in came John Tortorella (a hiring, by the way, that many felt had ownership’s fingerprints all over it.)
But despite Gillis’s call for a “reset,” the Canucks’ core remains awfully familiar — the Sedins, Kesler, Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Alex Burrows and Luongo.
Where Gillis can perhaps (or perhaps not) find redemption next season is in the club’s pool of prospects. Because we forgot to mention, he’s also been lambasted for his draft record and for trading Cody Hodgson to Buffalo for Zack Kassian.
If Kassian can realize his potential….if draft picks Brendan Gaunce, Bo Horvat, Nicklas Jensen, and/or Frank Corrado can make an impact…if free-agent pickups Kellan Lain and/or Joacim Eriksson pan out…well, if anyone knows sports fans have a short memory, it’s Gillis.
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