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?
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.Tags: garrioch hates gillis, Gillis, gillis says more than he needs to, It's Possible Gillis is Smarter Than Us