From GM of the Year to ‘moron’ in one season; what’s the deal with Mike Gillis?

If I were David Poile, Doug Armstrong, or Dale Tallon, this year’s nominees for GM of the Year, I’d be praying that the award goes to someone else. All you have to do is take one look at the season Mike Gillis has had to suspect that, maybe, the NHL General Manager of the Year award is cursed.

Gillis deserved the award after 2010-11 but, since winning it, nothing has gone right for him. He couldn’t sell Christian Ehrhoff on taking a haircut and forgoing free agency. All he could rustle up on July 1 was a clunky old Marco Sturm, hockey’s equivalent of snagging a boot while fishing. Six games into Sturm’s tenure, he was moved to Florida along with Mikael Samuelsson for David Booth, who underwhelmed. Samme Pahlsson, acquired at the trade deadline, earned praise during the regular season, then withered in an arduous, 5-game postseason.

But Gillis’s worst move on the surface — the one that really hurt his approval rating — was the Cody Hodgson trade. Not only did many, many fans fall out of love with Gillis over this one, which yielded no immediate payoffs, but on Monday, Gary Roberts, trainer to the young stars, called the Canucks’ GM a moron. From John Vogl of the Buffalo News:

“I talked to Cody after this came out with Gillis,” Roberts said. “I know he’s on vacation, and I said, ‘Hey, I know you went through a lot of stress. How are you feeling about some of those comments?’ He said, ‘Gary, I’ve dealt with a lot of stuff there in the last three years, and I’m just going to take the high road.’

“For me, I’d like to be the guy that looks at Mike Gillis and says, ‘You’re a moron.’ It doesn’t really do anybody any good other than the fact that Mike Gillis looks like, as they say on TSN, a dud.”

A moron and a dud. Last year, it was all accolades for Gillis. This year, the Quinoa King of the East is calling him names. What the Hell happened?

(For what it’s worth, had Hodgson been disparaged on his way into Vancouver rather than out of it, a local journalist would have found someone willing to vouch for the rookie centre and written this exact same article. In Hodgson’s case, since he excels at getting people to speak abrasively for him, you had to know that someone would be easy to find.)

There’s no arguing that 2011-12 was a terrible campaign for Gillis, and based on this year alone, he deserves a great deal of the flak being flung his way. But I wouldn’t be so quick to judge Gillis based on the results of this season.

If Gillis was truly focused on this one year, there are at least three things he would have done differently.

He would have traded Hodgson for somebody that could help now.

By the end of the playoffs, Zack Kassian was sitting in the press box. That said, the team had to know he wouldn’t be able to contribute much beyond the fourth line this year. Why didn’t they flip Hodgson for someone with a more immediate impact? People keep asking this question like the Canucks didn’t realize Kassian wasn’t already a second-line winger. They knew. They were willing to wait.

He would have traded Cory Schneider at the deadline.

If Gillis and the Canucks were looking to win this year, Schneider too could have been moved for something that would help the team now. Instead, the Canucks held onto him through February knowing full well they would likely have to move either him or Luongo come July. If this year was the primary concern, why not move Schneider, oh, I dunno, this year? One wonders if he couldn’t have landed Alex Edler a steady partner, a major need all season. Which brings me to my third point.

He would have gotten a defenceman that could play in the top four.

All year long we said that the Canucks were thin on the back end, with only Sami Salo showing himself as a suitable partner for Alex Edler. The Canucks knew it, too. Midway through the year, when Salo began to slow down, the team tried a bevy other combinations, from newly-acquired Gragnani, another project, to both members of the Canucks’ shutdown pairing in Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa. Eventually Chris Tanev drew into the top-four in Salo’s stead, though it was clear that, at this stage in his development, he wasn’t quite ready. The Canucks weren’t stupid. They knew they were thin back there but they chose to gamble on Tanev rather than truly address it. Why?

Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

Because Gillis doesn’t go all-in. If Pahlsson isn’t re-signed, he’ll be the first rental of Gillis’s tenure. Every other player acquired at the trade deadline — Andrew Alberts, Chris Higgins, Maxim Lapierre — is still with the team through next season.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not arguing that Gillis and co. didn’t care about this year, because they did, and paying a pick for Pahlsson to patch the hole left by Hodgson is evidence they didn’t plan on bottoming out in five. But I am arguing that Gillis’s other moves were not made with 2012 postseason tunnel vision.

People keep talking about the Canucks’ cup window, but it’s really silly to let these so-called windows dictate the moves you make. If you decide the window is open and you mortgage the future to take advantage of it, what happens if you still don’t win? With the parity in the league, you could load up like crazy — the Canucks could have traded Cody Hodgson for a veteran player, for instance — and still be eliminated in five games. Then what? Then you’ve created an expiry date for your team by being impatient. If, instead, you can build the depth to surrounding your core while building your prospect pool to promote players into that core, you can be competitive year after year.

I have a bias. I really like Mike Gillis as a general manager, and if you can get past the disappointment of this short postseason (and your name isn’t Bruce Garrioch), the Canucks’ future looks bright enough that you should too:

Ryan Kesler and David Booth’s first full season together is on the way and the two have pledged to spend the offseason working to improve their chemistry. Zack Kassian’s sophomore season will likely show an upgrade on his rookie campaign, and with Nicklas Jensen rising a little faster than the Canucks expected, they suddenly have two power forward prospects on the depth chart. Jordan Schroeder’s size doesn’t look to be such a problem; he’ll be surrounded by bangers, and if he can make the team, he could add that level of dynamism the middle-six forwards have lacked. On defence, Kevin Connauton and Marc-Andre Gragnani will push one another for a spot in the Canucks’ top six. One of Schneider or Luongo will likely be moved at the draft to improve the Canucks at an area of weakness, maybe that top-four, for the long-term rather than the short-term. The team had an outside chance this year. Sure, all these things could bottom out (in which case, Gillis really is cursed), but next year, the Canucks should be stronger, deeper, younger.

Gillis may have had an unsuccessful year, but judging by what he could have done, he really didn’t go out of his way to prevent it. That’s because he doesn’t operate in one-year increments. He just builds. If, in the course of this building, the team has a down year, and the worst that happens in these down years is the Canucks win the regular season, the up years should make fans pretty happy.

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82 comments

  1. swizzler
    April 30, 2012

    A nicely written, and well reasoned article. good work as always.

    That being said, it doesn’t explain how after a sixer of lucky I know a hell of a lot more about hockey than Gillis. what gives?

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    • JS Topher
      April 30, 2012

      At the end of the day, you’re the one drinking Lucky.

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  2. Anonymous
    April 30, 2012

    Good post. It really does seem like Canucks fans have had the idea all season that OUR WINDOW IS NOW and MANAGEMENT KNOWS WE HAVE TO WIN NOW OR ELSE WE NEVER WILL and Gillis has been quietly disagreeing.

    In Hodgson’s case, since he excels at getting people to speak abrasively for him, you had to know that someone would be easy to find.

    I’ve noticed Canucks bloggers/tweeps really are quite confident that this is ‘planted’ from Cody’s camp. How do you guys know, is it reading between the lines here? I feel like Roberts wouldn’t risk his rep unless he really feels that way. He’s actually pretty reputable with a lot of NHL players, he’s not specifically a ‘Cody Hodgson guy™’. It’s not unbelievable for me to think he really thinks Gillis’ comments were uncalled for.

    Sadly the one thing I have to agree with Gary Roberts is is that Gillis’ comments simply weren’t necessary in any way shape or form, and it comes off badly for him. I normally think of Gillis as a calm/cool/rational GM but it seems like this was borne out of frustration more than anything.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      April 30, 2012

      The smart thing to do is always keep your mouth shut, so I think Gillis made a mistake here. But at the same time, I think he was just so sick of dealing with Hodgson’s people he let it out.

      I was kidding, but only sort of. Hodgson and Roberts are tight, and Hodgson trained with Roberts instead of the Canucks’ guy, Dave Gagner, so I figured this would happen. But Hodgson always has someone arguing in his stead. It’s a little suspicious.

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      • peanutflower
        April 30, 2012

        Yes, this line is the best: In Hodgson’s case, since he excels at getting people to speak abrasively for him, you had to know that someone would be easy to find. Man, I wish I could find someone to be aggressively on my side too all the time. It would make my life a lot easier.

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      • John in Marpole
        April 30, 2012

        I completely respect what Roberts does for the players he works with but honestly, he has no idea what he is talking about when it comes to whatever was happening behind the scenes between Team Hodgson and the Canucks this season. Roberts is referencing the back issue in his comments, and that is a legit complaint but it was also in the past.

        Had this trade happened during or shortly after those events, then there is a direct connection. It didn’t. Time passed and still Hodgson was an on-going issue for team management.

        I think it is very interesting that an agent like Winter hasn’t uttered a peep on this matter. That is completely out of charachter, and to me, speaks volumes.

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      • B
        April 30, 2012

        Word out of the dressing room is that Hodgson was a good kid but expected everything given to him i.e. before he had actually earned it. Not a good fit for this particular team. The players were happy to see him go.

        Great article. I think Gillis saw what most of us saw, this was not the year. As crazy as it sounds I think he was actually planning for next year. I hope it pays off…I know I feel a lot better about next years team than this years team (given he finds a tough, top 4 defenseman).

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  3. scott
    April 30, 2012

    Where does Gary Roberts get off mouthing off Gillis? Looks like another member of the Hodgson camp taking the shots so Cody doesn’t have to. Roberts wasn’t in the Dressing Room, how does he know whats going on?

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    • tc
      April 30, 2012

      boohoo for gillis. he is a moron who took advantage of his position to trash hodgson just to try and justify a bad trade on his part. maybe if gillis thought more with his head and quit mouthing off in the media he may have been able to put together a cup winning team. instead he has a team that has peaked and will not win the cup.

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  4. peanutflower
    April 30, 2012

    Well, I’m not sure how to take this, Harrison, because in a way by choosing to have the article to be about Mike Gillis is a moron, although you do defend him mostly, you’re just as guilty of cherry picking as both the author of the Province article and that Roberts trainer guy. The Province article was ridiculous, as was Roberts’ rant about Gillis, because it focused on one “issue” for trading Hodgson and that was what Roberts apparently knows well, and that’s fitness/conditioning. That’s what Roberts chose to have Gillis mean by “issues.” It doesn’t take a “moron” to figure out that probably Cody’s fitness was the least of Gillis’ concerns, and probably not what he meant at all by “issues’; right?

    Anyway, I still agree with you mostly :) . Gillis is, after all, human. Smart, but human.

    I’m hoping that Pahlsson isn’t a rental. He’s a required player. We must have him. I hope the Sedins do a little PR job on him over the summer.

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    • Nee
      April 30, 2012

      Maybe coach him how to speak in front of the camera? Because I can’t recall a single time that he spoke on camera, hehe.

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  5. Nick
    April 30, 2012

    Gary Roberts slammed Gillis for not appreciating how good Cody might become … but that probably wasn’t the issue that consumed so much of Gillis’ time. What Roberts might not know that much about is an ongoing pressure from Cody’s father and his agents. As good as Eric Lindros was in his early playing years, rumour has it that his mother and father managed to drive Philly crazy with their constant demands.

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  6. Nick
    April 30, 2012

    I do agree with the sentiment that Hodgson could have been exchanged for a more useful player … when LA was thinking about dumping Brown, a package including Hodgson might have tempted them. Who knows what sort of package it will take to get Rick Nash, but Cody would have sweetened that too. A Nash trade sounds like a pipe dream, but Ian Clark is the goalie coach there now, so who knows for sure if Lu would refuse Columbus.

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    • bergberg
      May 1, 2012

      I see what people are trying to get at with this argument. They wanted a greater return. But I think the fatal flaw is that you are really over valuing Hodgson. No team is going to trade their captain or their star for a semi-proven rookie. He wasn’t that good.

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  7. sarah
    April 30, 2012

    “Harrison will always support Gillis – he’s Gillis’ official cheerleader/lapdog” – Someone, probably, 15 comments from now.

    Kidding, great article. I really hope the Canucks aren’t operating on a “window” approach. In my dreams, the Canucks will be a team like the Wings – contending for a long time, even as the team, including the core, changes.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      April 30, 2012

      Yeah, I left myself wide open to accusations of cheerleading with this one.

      Like I said, though, I have a bias. I think Gillis is excellent. All you have to do is look to the level of GM’ing in Toronto, Montreal, or Edmonton this year to realize that, even in a down year, he’s still far, far superior to them. Canuck fans are spoiled.

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      • MB13
        April 30, 2012

        Your idea of excellent is quite interesting.

        Keep drinking the MG kool-aid.

        Has anybody heard anything from AV? Does he still exist? Doesn’t it seem weird he hasn’t done a press conference yet – why isn’t anybody talking about this? Too busy cheerleading to notice there are serious issues with this franchise.

        OR did I miss the press conference?

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        • akidd
          April 30, 2012

          i was going to make a similar comment. where’s the united front, mg and av side-by-side telling us about their commitment to winning next year? my spider senses are not liking it. AV was really upset post-game 5. he may have had enough.

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          • MB13
            April 30, 2012

            sshhhhh – don’t ruin the love fest.

            too busy patting everyone on the back to bring up the issues with this team.

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            • Micheal
              April 30, 2012

              Bad day?

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      • shoes
        April 30, 2012

        I don’t see how you can say that Gillis is better than Feaster, Lowe/Tamby and Burke……. How is finishing first better than 9th or 29th? Every year? hahaha

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        • Locky
          April 30, 2012

          lol wut

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      • Nick
        April 30, 2012

        Gillis has done ok. I like the Higgins and Lapierre acquisitions, and Ehrhoff was a really good player.

        That said, I think saying “Gillis is excellent” is a stretch.

        He probably could have re-signed Ehrhoff if he had got on it as soon possible (Nonis was good at this) rather waiting until that last minute as he tends to do (cf. Sedins).

        In his 4 years as GM, Nonis (who wasn’t particularly good at it) drafted Edler, Raymond, Bourdon, Grabner, Hansen, and Schneider. In Gillis’ 4 years, none of his drafted players are on the roster and there isn’t a lot to get excited about.

        For every one of Gillis’s acquisitions that have worked out (especially Hamhuis, Higgins, Lapierre, Ehrhoff & Tanev) there have been at least as many that were nothing special (Wellwood, Pettinger, Demitra, Sturm, Bernier) and some that are underwhelming (Booth, Ballard).

        All in all, he’s done ok. But excellent is not my take.

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        • Jon
          May 1, 2012

          Its too early to judge gillis’s draft record. Hodgson will be a good player, just not here. Shroeder looks pretty good, Connauton looks solid, Lack appears to be a major steal, even though he wasn’t drafted, he was gillis’s pick. these players have potential, and i would argue that there is reason to be excited.

          in short, its easy to applaud nonis’s drafting now. give gillis’s at least as much time.

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    • jim
      April 30, 2012

      My concern with adopting the Wings mentality is what we’ve sen from Detroit over the last few years – that they may be having problems adapting to today’s NHL. Sure, I know they won a cup a few years ago, but last year they lost to San Jose, and this year to Nashville – both teams we’ve handled with relative ease. Sure, I know Nashville is stronger this year, but I’m worried that Detroit is going to be on a downward trend for a few years. Maybe not out of the playoffs bad, but with a stacked Central division, they’re going to have a hard time getting home ice in the first round.

      To me, Detroit is built on a incredibly talented two way forwards who like to to score off of possession, rather than the rush. Vancouver seems to be fitting into that mold as well, and getting rid of Hodgson partially due to his defensive lapses is further evidence of this. However, look at how L.A. beat us – off the rush. Sure, L.A. also outworked us on the forecheck, but I’m having a hard time thinking of times when L.A. scored on us via the cycle. The Brown shorties (which totally sounds like Chris Brown’s groupies), the Stoll series winner, all on the rush.

      Long story short – I think NHL teams are becomming incredibly smart on playing team defence. So many shots are being blocked, bad passes are being forced, such that when all 5 men are back, teams are hoping for a lucky bounce to score. It seems that you have better odds at scoring by waiting for an opportunity for an odd man rush, and if it’s not there, dump it in and change, or get a faceoff in the offensive zone.

      What does all this have to do with a Detroit model for your franchise? Well, to consistantly score off the rush, you need top end offensive talent. Detroit prides itself on finding great layers in the draft, and to be fair, Zetterberg and Datsyuk were steals in hindsight. However, scouting has gotten so much better in the last 10 years – it’s harder for gems like that to slip through to later rounds, or even later in the first round.

      Since the lock out, Detroit in ’08 was the only team to win the cup that hadn’t had the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd overall pick in a draft in the previous 3 years. Of those top 3 picks, only Bobby Ryan didn’t play for the team in their run. E.Stall for Carolina, Crosby/J.Stall for Pittsburgh, P.Kane for Chicago, and Seguin for Boston all played huge offensive roles for them at some point on their way to winning the cup.

      The point I’m trying to get across here is that in the playoffs, I believe teams have an easier time shutting down cycle offenses than they do shutting down top-end scoring off the rush. I’m not saying Vancouver should tank it, and from a business model, the Detroit set up is great, but I think Vancouver should make concentrated efforts to acquire a top 3 draft pick this year with the goal of obtaining a high scoring player.

      I’m not saying the only way to win is to have a young forward who can score. If that were the truth, then Tampa would be in the playoffs. However, you can’t ignore the fact that the (more or less) same Tampa team, which finished 10th in the east this year, also made it to Game 7 over time in the 3rd round in the previous year. A Steven Stamkos doesn’t give you the cup, but one surely makes up for a lot of deficiencies.

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      • superreggie
        April 30, 2012

        I’m not getting your point. You’re basically saying that you get more bang for your buck by shutting down expensive forwards. The teams that are having success, are the ones that aren’t going the detroit route, they’re going the shut down route. Vancouver needs to go the shut down route. Shut it all down.

        Meanwhile, I’ll go watch soccer or something…

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        • Kenji
          May 1, 2012

          I don’t get that from this post, and it’s not what we saw either. The Canucks did ai-ight in coverage. What they didn’t do well was generate any attack, the Kings’s blueline recovered our dump-ins before we could get possession.

          The Canucks are either much worse passers than I thought or the Kings did something to make our passers less effective. The puck was not getting from our end to our forwards in the neutral zone often enough, and then, the forwards were handing it to the Kings by having their dump-and-chase read and broken. Very little offensive pressure can be generated if you never have the puck!!!

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      • khr
        April 30, 2012

        I guess we watched a different series. LA beat Vancouver because of turnovers and great goaltending. We turned the puck over, took dumb penalties and were stoned by a very good goalie who was hot. (He’s doing the same thing to the Blues)

        Having said that, I also don’t like the Detroit model: be good enough to constantly make the playoffs but very seldom ever really threaten to win the cup.

        The Canucks need to continue getting bigger, stronger, faster and more talented. I look forward to seeing this team in 2-3 years with Booth, Jensen and Kassian in the lineup.

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        • Tom
          May 1, 2012

          I like your assessment of the first round series khr. However I am very happy with how Gillis does things, overall. When he came he said something like that he would manage in a way so that the team was always competitive. I prefer that to when we had Bulis and Hordichuk and other such players on the team.

          My sense is that the team shouldn’t be in danger of regressing to those levels any time soon. Also, through the current administrations tenure is when we have been able to improve past those dark days.

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  8. Mt
    April 30, 2012

    Good article. I’m in general agreement except the bit about cup windows. While this idea is overstated and self-enforcing (if you trade to capitalize on a window, you ensure its closure). The reality is teams often need something to put them over the hump. Winning teams often have significant contributions from rentals. Of course you never can expect to win (fans take note) so chances are your rental will be a waste. However there is a time when that risk is worth taking. You’re dealing in probabilities and it seems that when your chances are really high, its worth spending to make them higher.

    That said, don’t bet the farm. If we really can be a threat for a long time, great. I guess my faith in that is not concrete.

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    • Micheal
      May 1, 2012

      True… I think there is something to be said for recognizing when your team is at the precipice of a window and bulking up with talent (basically going all in).

      I mean I would rather the Canucks finally win a stanley cup and mortgage a little bit of the future than go out in the second or third round every year.

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      • Tom
        May 1, 2012

        Rucinsky?

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        • Micheal
          May 1, 2012

          Were the Canucks really at the precipice of a window to win the Stanley cup in 2004 though? really?

          What I was trying to say was it takes skill to determine when to make the appropriate moves.. either loading up for a run, or ala 2012; accepting this just wasn’t going to be our year.

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  9. Chris the Curmudgeon
    April 30, 2012

    Harrison, I have to say there’s a major hole in your logic here. You praise Gillis’s strategy of taking the long view, not being reactionary or considering a limited “window” but rather looking a few years down the road. However, that in no way can justify a trade down in talent at the deadline. Cody is a better player than Kassian now, but he probably will be in the future as well. The only possible benefit of that trade is that Gillis didn’t want to have to talk to Cody’s agent or father anymore. And if Gillis wasn’t worried about this year, then why would he even bother trading at the deadline, being that it’s a well known fact that better trades can be made at the draft? No matter how you slice it, it looks like explaining away a screwup. And as I’ve said before, if Gillis thinks that Kassian is actually a good acquisition at the price of Hodgson, then he is capital “I” Incompetent.

    Furthermore, I still fail to understand one basic premise: why is it excusable for a GM to look past a season where the team finishes in first place? That’s 82+5 games of fan commitment, the blood, sweat and tears of the players, 20 hour days for the coaching staff, etc. Have we become so complacent that we think that 1st overall seeds are ours for the taking every year just because we’ve had it the last two? Fine, if you’re sitting in 8th, don’t mortgage the future for the present, and if you’re in good position but dislike rentals, only look for players you’re interested in keeping. But don’t focus all your energy into unloading a player you don’t like, while doing little to help your team in the process now or in the future.

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    • Quinn
      April 30, 2012

      Cody’s the safer bet, since he’s a year ahead in his development, but if Kassian pans out, he’s the much more valuable commodity. Legit power forwards are hard to come by. Getting an established one for Hodgson wasn’t going to happen and the number of high-level prospect power forwards is also small, relative to the type of forward that Hodgson will probably become (which is still a damn good one, in all likelihood, but in a much different role).

      As for why they did it at the deadline, part of it had to be to free up the roster spot for Pahlsson, but also because that’s when Kassian was available to them.

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    • Chris the Curmudgeon
      April 30, 2012

      Kassian is a medium level power forward prospect, at best. He’s most certainly not the blue chipper Cody was, and people drooling over how big he is seem to be ignoring how much more rare of a commodity skill is, particularly on the level of that possessed by Cody Hodgson. I highly doubt Buffalo would’ve taken Zack off the market considering he couldn’t crack their team despite a desperation for size. And the Pahlsson trade is part of the point: for all he contributed in the playoffs, the team might have been better off dressing 11 forwards. My main bitterness at Gillis’s handling of this whole situation is that either: a) he was playing for the future and not this season, which is a ridiculous thing to do while in first place and which he did a poor job of anyways by trading, or b) he actually thought he was making the team better by offloading scoring depth (which we were desperately short on) for checking forwards (which we had in spades), speaking to a more profound level of incompetence.

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      • Daniel Wagner
        April 30, 2012

        You constantly downplay Kassian’s value and it’s frustrating. Kassian was ranked as the 13th best prospect in the NHL by The Hockey News. He was easily the Sabres’ best prospect. I’m not sure how you are defining “blue chipper” but it’s not the way everyone else is.

        Hodgson was drafted 10th overall. Kassian was drafted 13th overall. At the age of 21 in their respective first professional seasons, Hodgson scored 30 points in 52 AHL games. Kassian scored 26 points in just 30 AHL games. Is Hodgson more proven in the NHL? Of course. But one year ago, he sure wasn’t. Would you have denied that Hodgson was a blue chip prospect last year? Would you call him a “medium level playmaking forward prospect, at best”?

        Where you see Gillis offloading scoring depth for a checking forward, it looked to me like the trades were designed to revive Kesler’s moribund scoring, which was far more important for the Canucks to go far in the playoffs. Did it work? Well, no, but to say that he’s incompetent because of that is far too harsh.

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        • Micheal
          April 30, 2012

          I agree with you… but …. One year ago Hodgson was still dealing with back issues, so to compare his lack of production a year ago to Kassian’s this year is misleading.

          I agree though that Kassian has upside as evidenced by his time in the AHL (also Gragnani). I hope this deal works out well for both teams.

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          • Micheal
            May 1, 2012

            Why the downvotes? Hodgson said himself that 2011-2012 was the first season he was playing issue free.

            I believe that’s the Hodgson we would have seen in 2010-2011 had the injury not occured.

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        • Chris the Curmudgeon
          April 30, 2012

          Have you seen anything from him, I mean really, anything, to make you think Kassian actually has any real NHL potential? If every guy who got drafted in the first round actually lived up to billing, there’d be no such thing as a bust. Alek Stojanov went 7th overall, after all.

          Kassian has everyone excited because he’s big. But really, the league is full of guys who were oversized in junior making them look better than they are. Call it the Lindros effect or something. Conversely, Cody’s assets are hockey smarts and skill, which are far better to build on than just a big frame as I see it. I never once considered Cody as a medium level prospect or a bust or trade bait: it’s been clear since he was a junior that he was a special player in the making. Kassian had a good junior career but you could hardly think of him as special, again it was just his big body that made people excited.

          But seriously, if Gillis’s solution to Kesler’s problems was to take a guy out off the AHL roster of a middling team and plunk him onto the second line of the first place team in the league and expect things to be all hunky dory, then I’m sorry but I probably would call him incompetent.

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          • Daniel Wagner
            April 30, 2012

            Yes, of course he has. He’s shown me a number of flashes of the kind of player he could become. Kassian has size, sure, but he also has hands, a good shot, the ability to use his size effectively to shield the puck, and a fair amount of on-ice vision. It’s not me with tunnel vision on his size, it’s you. It’s his first year in professional hockey, though, so he’s rough around the edges.

            And again, I’m not talking about him looking good in junior. I’m talking about him being a near point-per-game player in his first year in professional hockey in the AHL as a 21 year old. That’s impressive. That doesn’t happen very often.

            You misinterpreted my point on Kesler. Having to shelter Hodgson in order to get the best possible production from him had a negative effect on Kesler, who had to play a much larger defensive role. Pahlsson was brought in to center the third line, in my opinion to free up Kesler to contribute more offensively. It didn’t work out.

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            • MB13
              May 1, 2012

              I don’t understand how you can say, ” Having to shelter Hodgson in order to get the best possible production from him had a negative effect on Kesler”.

              After the trade when Kesler was free to play where AV wanted without Cody getting in the way.

              Post trade Kesler managed all of 3 goals and 6 assists in 27 games. I would say Cody getting sheltered minutes had a positive impact on Kesler’s game considering Kesler played better during that time.

              Then again – you guys like to cherry pick stats in hindsight to prove your point. It’s not that difficult to do.

              With respect to Kassian – I don’t know what you were watching but he was terrible. He literally looked like a deer in the headlights out there. Keep focusing on the positives though.

              Putting ones head in the sand is a legitimate response to adversity.

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              • Daniel Wagner
                May 1, 2012

                I don’t deny that Kesler struggled after the trade. He struggled before the trade too. Really, he just sorta struggled.

                Again, I’m not saying that the moves Gillis made worked out the way he (or many people) expected. But to say he’s incompetent and doesn’t know what he’s doing is ridiculous.

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          • BS
            April 30, 2012

            Way to much logic for the clowns here but you are quite correct Chris. Some of the people who regularly contribute but know little want us to think Kassian is the second coming of Christ and soon to be superstar. Maybe Danny should adjust his headband

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            • Micheal
              May 1, 2012

              I’m amazed at how so many can support the same cause and yet be so divergent and divisive in achieving it.

              GO! CANUCKS GO?

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            • John in Marpole
              May 1, 2012

              Not sure where you’ve been reading what you’re reading, but there have been many more ‘Hodgson is a saviour’ posts than ‘Kassian is a saviour’ type posts here. In fact, I don’t recall anyone annointing Kassian the way that Hodgson has been annointed as such.

              If Cody Hodgson is the difference between the Canucks succeeding and failing, there are dark days ahead indeed.

              He isn’t, and there aren’t.

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            • MB13
              May 2, 2012

              It doesn’t matter what people will have us believe – when Kassian underperforms, they’ll make up a stat to show is he contributing positively during his 90 seconds of playing time.

              Or they’ll change their story. “Power forwards usually reach their peak at 32 years old – so we won’t know who won the deal until we’re all dead”.

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              • Harrison Mooney
                May 2, 2012

                Yep, that’s how advanced stats work. I’m assuming you were also part of the crowd in Waco that booed when Bill Nye claimed the moon reflects light from the sun?

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        • Doug
          April 30, 2012

          Are we sure that the David Booth trade didn’t actually hurt the team? You say it was to revive Ryan Kesler but he wasn’t slumping yet. The trade happened very early in the season. Booth and Ballard are HUGE black eyes on Gillis’ face right now. Their contracts are going to make life hell for Gillis when it comes time to resign better players.

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          • Daniel Wagner
            April 30, 2012

            Um, we weren’t talking about David Booth. So…

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            • Kenji
              May 1, 2012

              We weren’t? I thought we were talking about whether Gillis is a good GM or not.

              Ballard and Booth have underwhelmed. The assets that they went for could have been spent differently. It’s a legit point to bring up in this convo, I think. But feel free to disagree, tis your blog

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      • Tom
        May 1, 2012

        To point b) They weren’t short on scoring depth, they were short on just plain scoring. Kesler/Hodgson versus Kopitar or Kesler/Pahlsson vs Kopitar.

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    • Locky
      April 30, 2012

      While I actually agree with you Chris about Hodgson and Kassian’s respective values, I think some attention has to be paid to the likelihood of Cody asking for a trade in future. Or the likelihood of signing him to a cap-friendly deal that others have taken here. Given Rich Winter is his agent… let us say I find the possibility of discounts unlikely. Maximising Cody’s value and selling high may very well have been the right thing to do. (Although I think perhaps not)

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      • khr
        April 30, 2012

        My comment was supposed to be for Chris. My bad.

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    • khr
      April 30, 2012

      You have to look long-term when you’re building a team and you can’t compare Hodgson to Kassian straight up in terms of points because they’re different style players.

      Will Hodgson be a better scorer than Kassian; most likely. Will Kassian be able to provide a power forward presence on the team and a net presence etc. better than Hodgson; absolutely.

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  10. Frank N.
    April 30, 2012

    Harrison, one little point of criticism. You say they could have traded Schneider. And yes, they could have. But also, not really. No doubt he would have gotten a nice return (as in a quality player) but there would be a nice cap space price tag coming along with that. Plus the fact that we would still have needed to sign a back-up goalie. So that trade would not really have been possible, just from the cap space perspective.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      April 30, 2012

      I try not to factor cap space too much into my observations since the Canucks are so good at getting around cap issues. If they were really, truly “going for it”, they could have and would have made a Schneider trade work.

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      • Frank N.
        April 30, 2012

        I agree they are good at it. But turning $ 900,000 into $ 4-5 million, that would have been interesting! But then again, I’m glad we still have Schneider and that the options are still open! Thanks for all the great write-up of you, mr. Wagner and the quest-writers all year!!

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      • akidd
        April 30, 2012

        they wouldn’t have truly gone for it again with lou. fool me four times….

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  11. Canuck Jeet
    April 30, 2012

    As usual, great article but this time I must agree with Chris above.

    I’m a big fan of Gillis’ calm and thoughtful approach but his comment on CoHo is strangely uncharacteristic. I would chalk it up to frustration but expressing such emotions isn’t really common for Gillis. Also, the comment came early enough in the press conference that I believe it to be premeditated; that is, an attempt to start another fire to draw our focus away from the smoldering ashes of winning just one game in a bitterly disappointing post season.

    Gillis is usually better than this, here’s hoping that it’s just a single fuax pas.

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    • peanutflower
      April 30, 2012

      Or maybe, no faux pas at all. Hmm…

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  12. akidd
    April 30, 2012

    gillis is mr. overview. he is all over fatigue science. he had to know that after the scf his team would be too exhausted to make much of a dent in the ’12 playoffs. i just assume he did and looked at this past season as a recuperation year, one where he could take care of a few items on his laundry list:

    1) bobby lou. untradeable last summer, but with 10 mil gone off ‘ the contract’ ,a solid regular season to show that his brain hadn’t been completely cooked and a very favourable goalie market for sellers this summer gillis has performed a nice little turnaround. and he made damn sure that lou wasn’t going to melt down in front of the world in the playoffs again.

    i was going to continue with the list but the first item is so huge that nothing else really even deserves its own bulletin point in comparison.

    basically it’s like ”risk”. mg needed to accumulate some plastic pieces before swooping down from kamchaka.

    i wonder though when exactly kesler hurt his shoulder? was it pre- or post trade deadline? if it was pre it certainly would have put the icing on the cake for the decision if it was ever in question.

    another factor is ‘waiting for shea’ who along with suter may be available this summer.

    that gillis didn’t add immediate help at the deadline should make it pretty obvious that he wasn’t trying for this year. that’s pretty much all we need to know.

    mg is a smart one alright but he’s not perfect. slagging coho by admitting that he fluffed his stats to sell him is a pretty dumb move for someone who has risked so much(lou’s contract) to create the image that vancouver is a top destination for players who can choose.

    next year though, the gloves are off. either mg’s team succeeds or it doesn’t and mg will be judged accordingly. and the coyotes may have a lot to do with that. if they take out the preds it may quiet the groundswell that could have kept weber in nashville. or maybe i got that backwards.

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    • Chris the Curmudgeon
      April 30, 2012

      You know, Hodgson didn’t score more just because they gave him a few more minutes before the deadline. He scored because he’s good. It’s the height of narcissism for Gillis to suggest that putting the kid into a position to succeed, then watching him do so, makes him some kind of puppetmaster who can trick other teams into doing what he wants, rather than what they should have been doing all along, perhaps by having Kesler sit out to actually recover from an injury and allowing Cody the icetime he needed. If he was really looking to the future, that’d have been the move to make: satisfy Cody’s wish to be put in a better position to contribute and develop his game and get Kesler healthy for either the playoffs or the 2012 offseason.

      By the way, Pittsburgh and Detroit made the Finals 2 years in a row. Why all of the sudden are teams entitled to a rest year, where the fans pay full price, especially after they finished the season in 1st place? I just can’t understand how people are willing to give the team and GM a pass on this one when the team won the freaking President’s Trophy. This was not a throwaway year.

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      • Daniel Wagner
        April 30, 2012

        It wasn’t about giving Hodgson more minutes. It was about giving Hodgson sheltered minutes, where he faced weaker competition and started mainly in the offensive zone. If you think what Gillis is talking about is giving Hodgson more ice time, than you don’t understand what was happening.

        And it’s not about giving the GM a pass; it’s understanding that Gillis seems to always be focussing long term rather than short term. Now, there’s a very legitimate debate to be had as to whether that’s the best strategy or not. Harrison obviously thinks that Gillis has the right idea, while there are plenty of people who think the Canucks should load up for one big season. That’s a reasonable debate to have. If you’re just going to say that Gillis wrote this season off, then we’re not going to have a very worthwhile discussion.

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        • Chris the Curmudgeon
          April 30, 2012

          He hurt the team at the deadline, what more do you want? Which means he was either looking forward to a later season, which makes no sense in the context of a first place team, or he actually thought he was improving the team, which puts his competence in question. Either way, an indictment.

          You can call them sheltered minutes all you like, but the fact is an offensive zone faceoff is not the same as a goal. Cody still had to step up and blast that shot over Tim Thomas’s shoulder, and no number of opposing 3rd rate defencemen or offensive zone faceoffs are going to give Dale Weise the ability to score that goal (or others like it). Cody was playing a very specific role for the team, just like Manny Malhotra does. Cody can create and finish scoring chances but is more suspect defensively, Manny doesn’t create much offence but wins defensive zone faceoffs, and you need both types to be successful. The depth that Cody provided was what helped the team so much: opponents could throw out a good pairing against the Sedins, then Kesler, but the team still had a third line that opponents couldn’t just put out their plumbers against. You guys love to talk advanced stats, which if I recall would’ve anointed David Booth the best player on the team this year. Well it’s funny how that didn’t correlate all that well with his actual contributions on the score sheet (you know, that stat that actually has some bearing on the outcome of the game).

          And let me ask you a question Daniel: are there a fixed number of sheltered minutes in a game? If they are so conducive to improved offence, why doesn’t the coach just put the Sedins out in “sheltered minutes” every game? Seems like we’d win all of the time. Or maybe put Kesler out in some sheltered minutes to get his game back. Seems like all of those sheltered minutes that we’d get back from trading Cody would’ve worked wonders for the rest of the team that would be able to enjoy a buoying of their numbers. Funny how the team scored less after they traded him, considering there should’ve been a new surfeit of sheltered minutes. This is NHL hockey: a guy you can stick on the ice, even if it’s situational, and expect to score or set up his teammates is valuable in the regular season or the playoffs, even if he’s just a rookie and not yet a match for some other guys in the league. Even if we disregard the future implications of the Hodgson trade, I specifically said at the deadline that this trade was bad for this year, because the team wouldn’t score enough, and I was right. Perhaps we don’t know how the team would’ve fared in the playoffs if they could have that trade back, but they hardly could’ve been worse.

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          • akidd
            April 30, 2012

            chris, i hear ya buddy, i really do. but mg and crew(gagner, av, docs,etc) screwed up the whole ‘coho affair’ a couple of years ago and this trade this year was just about damage control and ‘washing hands’. probably making good on a promise to trade coho that was probably made a long time ago.

            so while i don’t disagree about hogson being a special player i think that horse left the barn a long time ago.

            and yes, it is arrogant to publicly insinutate that coho was both high maintenance and a product of strategic deployment. i don’t know what is served by that and its a statement that hurts gillis more than it helps him.

            but it’s all about image, i suppose, and gillis must feel that he needs to keep the god/king thing going, which doesn’t mesh with admitting a mistake. heaven forbid.

            i’d have much preferred that he publicly admitted to mishandling coho, stated simply that bridges could’t be repaired, pumped coho’s tires a bit and then wished him the best of.

            but he didn’t do that. it must be the stress because ‘classy’ got lost for a bit there. there’s probably a ton of crap going on right now that we know nothing about. “hello av, paging av.”

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            • akidd
              April 30, 2012

              just noticed if you go for “silent ‘d’” there’s a whole other feel about the name.

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          • bergberg
            May 1, 2012

            Chris, I think we can all agree that the playoffs is a different beast than the regular season. A Presidents’ Trophy is great, but is by no means a guarantee that your team is going to do well in the playoffs (see: San Jose). Heck, the way LA is going the 8th seed may actually be the ones with enough depth and fight left to make it happen. Gillis knows his team. Obviously, some of the key players (see: Kesler) were still struggling with recovering from last years run. Yes, they won the Presidents’ Trophy, and it’s amazing (and we are lucky) that the team could still accomplish this. But when the playoffs start the physicality ramps up and maybe, just maybe, Gillis knew his team wouldn’t have the physical ability to go as deep as they did last year, so he starts planning for the next season. I don’t see anything wrong with that. You have to accept that maybe – again just maybe – Gillis and the rest of the management and coaching staff know more about this team than you do.

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            • Chris the Curmudgeon
              May 1, 2012

              Yes they are different beasts. But I can’t think of a single other NHL GM that’s willing to just say “oh well, we’re tired and one of our key guys is slumping, so let’s forget this year despite being in 1st place and having all the pieces in place to win now”. To think you get so many chances to be able to throw one away is just pure arrogance. Look at a team like San Jose: while there’s no such thing as a “window”, there are peaks and valleys for every team, and the Sharks got a bunch of kicks at the can and couldn’t make it, but now they’re in a position to perhaps not even get to kick the can anymore.

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      • khr
        April 30, 2012

        He didn’t do much at all 5-on-5. He didn’t do much when moved to the 2nd line in Buffalo. He’s slow, can’t defend, won’t hit a lick and is a pain in the ass to deal with; or at least his “handlers” are.

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  13. Tamara B
    April 30, 2012

    I’m waiting to see what GMMG does in regards to the “goalie situation”. I’ll pass judgement know. All in all, my opinion of him is pretty good, he’s bringing in long term developable talent and mixing it with quality veterans. In my opinion, he’s more than smart enough to have watched the first half of the season and noticed that the heart, the power, the enthusiams wasn’t in the game, and basically, there’d be really no harm, no foul in moving players around AND ridding himself of a rumoured headache (Hodgson). Despite the President’s Trophy, I really don’t feel the Cup was the Canucks to lose.

    Now the goalies is where my interest lies. Anyone who has read my comments knows that I support Luo and have not waivered on his skill or belonging on the Canucks. I also love Schneider. A lot. He’s a great goalie to this point, incredibly skilled in the games he’s played.

    The issue is this: Does GMMG trade Schneids in a market that’s desperate for quality goaltending? Does playing him in the final 3 games mean that Luo’s washed up or does he want that perception out there to inflate Schneider’s value beyond what it is now? As in, if we (bidding team) can get Schneider, Canucks are stuck with Luo, thereby making the Canucks look weaker instead of more predatory. Either way, Canucks would have Luo and Lack — Consistancy and an up-and-comer. Canucks are in the same excellent goalie situation we’re in now, more or less.

    Or by pulling Luo is GMMG showing the world he can’t be trusted in serious games? Which, in my opinion, stats notwithstanding that prove Luo is consistant and skilled — would be undermining Luo in time to trade him, and weakening his value?? Canucks then have 2 untested, unproven new goalies and have traded in a lesser position than a bright new shiny toy (Schneider) can bring them.

    I’m sure there are options I’m missing, like they pull another teams veteran back up, trade Luo and start Schneids I don’t know all the ins and outs, obviously, but I can’t see going into a serious cup run in 2012/13 with two untried goalies. So like I said, I wait and see what transpires before I decide what my opinion of GMMG is.

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  14. Tamara B
    April 30, 2012

    I swear I can both spell and put a sentence together. I’ll pass judgement then, not know. Sigh.

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  15. BBoone
    April 30, 2012

    Spot on , it is as if no one out there remembers , or even worse, is longing for, Jack Gordon and Bill Laforge. Las Vegas is well aware that the Stanley Cup is a crap shoot. The least we can do is settle for being in the right place at the right time when the wheel of fortune stops on our number and Vanna awards the cup at Rogers place to the Canucks. In the meantime let’s settle for professional management that understands that you create an organization that ices a team that each and every year has a chance to win the cup ,playing a style of hockey that Canuckdom can be proud of. Isn’t it obvious that that is not a static situation but an ongoing process ? You manage the process, . The situation is always a mystery. That is why we are fans.

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  16. Pat B.
    April 30, 2012

    Three other things to consider about Gillis…First, he said he had to build Cody up to be able to trade him for Kassian. But if Kassian was such a surefire commodity, why did he go three draft spots after Cody, and why didn’t Gillis pick him in the draft? Secondly, Gillis came this close to blowing re-signing the Sedins, and losing them to TO, when they were free agents. If that had happened, how many people would still think he’s a good GM that’s just had a bad season? Third, how can fans expect a rookie GM to learn from his mistakes, when he never admits them? When those mistakes are never corrected? It’s like cheering for the Titanic to really not hit that iceberg this time.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      April 30, 2012

      Hodgson and Kassian were drafted in different years. The Canucks’ didn’t draft until 22nd overall in 2009 when Kassian was drafted.

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  17. Gimmic
    April 30, 2012

    Great article.

    But to add a few things: “People keep asking this question like the Canucks didn’t realize Kassian wasn’t already a second-line winger. They knew. They were willing to wait”. This is not accurate. AV stood at the media podium a week or so after the trade and said “my scouts said Kassian is ready to be a top 6 forward now”. So by Av’s words, they were expecting him to contribute right away.

    But this stems from the larger issue Gillis has woven. Drafting. I’ll say it till I’m blue in the face. The teams own issues have stemmed from poor issues. They HAD to pick up Higgins an Lappy at trade deadline last yr. They tried virtually every player from the farm team last yr, non worked – they had to trade away Canucks future (draft picks) to obtain Higgy and Lappy. Great that they resigned, but it would have been better in the 1st place to fill those positions from within. NYR, Detroit, Ottawa, STL all did that this trade deadline. They had stars in their system and brought them up for the playoffs. Canucks could not do that, they don’t have any star forwards.

    They have to search for UFAs in summer, cause they don’t have guys from the farm who could come up. Jensen just finished playing in the OHL, why would they want to rush him into the NHL next yr. Schroeder is 5’9 with platforms on. How many successful 5’9 centres are there in post lockout NHL? He just finished his 3rd full yr in the AHL, he’s yet to score more than 21 goals. He’s not leading the team in scoring (3rd), he’s not exactly lighting it up in the AHL level, is he supposed to just light it up in the NHL? There are no prospects in the forward position on Canucks farm team. This is Gillis fault.

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    • Frank N.
      May 1, 2012

      Well, you never know. Schroeder might perform better in the NHL than the AHL due to better team/linemates. No guarantee, either way.

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  18. JustSayin'
    April 30, 2012

    So how much does Cody pay Roberts for training, is this part of his bonus? C’mon Cody was well past his injury this year, but still had issues and Gillis dealt with other far more serious injuries as well (Kesler’s hip, Raymond’s broken back, Malhotra’s eye injury, Salo’s well everything….). Cody never fights for himself, but always gets someone else to do it for him. Nothing’s changed. Wonder if Tanev will be training with Roberts in the off season?

    I liked Cody, I did, but the guy had issues and that’s all that Gillis said. What rookie in his right mind would meet with his coach prior to trade deadline asking for more ice time when even Lu was getting less because it was best for the team. Who was going to give up minutes? The Selke winner on the 2nd line or the Hart winner on the 1st line? They tried him on wing, but he didn’t do much in that role. Either the guy was incredibly dumb or incredibly arrogant.

    It’s also been reported that Cody had 3 agents in 4 years, isn’t that a lot for a rookie? I get that he was misdiagnosed, but he isn’t the first player in the history of the NHL who has experienced it, yet he acts like it. Look at what Malhotra went through and that guy never complains. Gillis decided to cut the losses and trade a high maintenance player. He never said anything that we didn’t already know, so why does Robert’s have his panties in a twist? The truth is, if Cody’s stupid agent had not said anything after the trade, likely Gillis would not have said anything about it. The agent tried to make Gillis and the Canucks look bad, so maybe Cody will learn to muzzle his peeps in the future.

    I do believe that we could have received a whole lot more than Kassian. That was a bad deal for this year, I agree. Hopefully, he’ll improve and Gillis will likely make him a project. I’m also not a Booth fan, think he’s too expensive for what he brings to the team. However, with Booth and Kesler training in the off season together in Detroit, might be what they need to play better together.

    It’s funny though watching the Blues and LA, it actually makes me feel much better. So far, LA’s been kicking the Blue’s buts. If we had Daniel from the beginning, who knows what could have happened. LA still might have won, but it would have likely been much closer. Who knows. Yes, we do need some key pieces, but we aren’t that far off.

    And to Cody, fight your own fights, stop having your employees speaking for you…that’s how you landed in Buffalo. Columbus will be your next stop if you don’t get the message!

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  19. Amor de Cosmos
    May 1, 2012

    The idea that there’s a “window of opportunity” for teams to be successful in the NHL is no longer viable. This is an organisation that worships parity, it will tilt the ice in any direction necessary to make it happen. There’s a cap ceiling and a cap floor. The, already vague, rules of the sport are tweaked on an ongoing basis and reinterpreted, sometimes mid-season, to even out results. As a consequence after 82 games the top team in the league is separated from eighth place in its conference by only eight wins/losses. And then you start the lottery of the play-offs. The difference becomes clear when you compare that to other senior sports leagues, in baseball or soccer which don’t have caps or a highly flexible rulebook. Over 38 games in the English Premier League the difference between first place and eighth is eleven wins/losses, in the Spanish Primera Liga it’s fourteen.

    The discussion as to which system is better is for another day. The point is that in the NHL the margin for a club’s success or failure has become so narrow and so transient that no GM can realistically expect to win the Stanley Cup at any point in a particular season, with any set of players no matter how talented they may appear to be. The best Gillis, or any GM, can do is build an organisation with the skill, fitness and depth at all levels to be competitive on annual basis, then hope the intangibles and unknowns play out in his favour at some point along the road. As somebody said up-thread it’s all about the process. I mean back in October only the most deluded fan would have thought that LA, the Blues or Coyotes stood a chance of playing in the SCF, but who’d bet against it now.

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  20. nikolai avenger
    May 1, 2012

    Argh! Don’t come at me with reason and logic! I hate that!

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  21. ktownfan
    May 1, 2012

    I’d much rather have a GM like Gillis appears to be that thinks long term. If he can steer the ship like say Detroit and ice competitive teams that make the play-offs every year, eventually the stars will align and a Cup will come to Vancouver.

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  22. tj
    May 1, 2012

    Good gawd, too many CDC-like diatribes here to read through, so this may have been discussed… But is it at all possible Gillis was once again deflecting for his team: i.e, saying something rather controversial to alleviate the inevitable pressure the rest of the team/coaches would be under following the first-round loss? He has been known to do this, no?

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