Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis stands by team, believes in offence … but does the NHL?
‘If not, we should change the name of the game to Goalie’
Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis talks to the media on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at Rogers Arena about his team's season.
Photograph by: Jason Payne, PNG
VANCOUVER — As the autopsy began Tuesday on the amazingly unmarked corpse of the Vancouver Canucks — five games and out leaves few visible contusions — the team’s president and general manager, Mike Gillis, had two observations that raised eyebrows. These ones, anyway.
One was his belief that the Canucks’ players invested so much energy and passion in their January revenge-taking on the Boston Bruins that they were never able, after it, to rise to the same emotional pitch.
“From that point on, I don’t think our team ever really collectively got their emotions together,” Gillis said. “We had some injuries that disaffected us and ... there were certain points where our goaltending was so good, it got us through, but as a group, I don’t think we executed or played as well for the remainder of the season.”
The other was his expression of confidence in the National Hockey League’s eventual return to its post-lockout emphasis on offence, around which his personal philosophy, and the current Canucks team, both revolve.
“I believe in offence, I always have. I believe the league believes in offence. If not, we should change the name of the game to Goalie,” said the GM.
The first suggestion is not particularly flattering.
As the goalie of the future, Cory Schneider, put it: “I don’t know if you can blame the end of the season on one game in January.”
The second falls somewhere between heartening news and ill-advised optimism, depending how much you believe offence can win championships, and whether you trust the NHL to go back to enforcing the rulebook at some point.
In a news conference bereft of news — unless you count the GM’s clear intention to keep Alain Vigneault as coach, assuming the owner doesn’t object — Gillis was upbeat about the future and regretful about the playoffs, and wrote off Ryan Kesler’s late-season slump and Mason Raymond’s all-season frump as “ups and downs.”
He finally fessed up about the pain-in-the-derriere Cody Hodgson had become, reaffirmed his belief in the future of Zack Kassian and, much like last year, was adamant that the Canucks weren’t about to reverse course just because of one setback.
Ironically — and I’m pretty sure it’s the very definition of irony — a year ago at his wrap-up newser, Gillis said the Canucks weren’t going to change their basic belief system just because they got manhandled by the Bruins in the Cup final. This year, evidently, they were so eager to prove themselves physically against the Bruins, they peaked in January.
“He’s right, for a stretch after the Boston game, our focus wasn’t there. Maybe we looked forward to that game too much, and after we had trouble coming back to the team we are,” said captain Henrik Sedin.
“I know guys were just exhausted after that game,” Schneider admitted. “I don’t think people realize the emotional intensity ... guys were sore for a week after, just the physicality. [But] I don’t know if that was the defining moment — you would think winning that game would maybe give us some momentum or allow us to get to that level more easily.”
“I think the whole year has been difficult,” said Henrik. “I think it’s been a lot of expectations from us players, from coaches, from management, from all around the city — it seems everything we’ve done hasn’t been good enough, and that’s been a real struggle this year. I think the Boston game was our peak, it took a while for us to get back to playing the way we wanted to after that, but I thought we came back to playing better the last 10 games, back to being a tougher team to play against.”
It didn’t work that way in the playoffs, though.
“There’s a lot of dynamics going on in this league that are changing all the time. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the four teams that are left in the West [Los Angeles, St. Louis, Phoenix and Nashville] don’t have a player that averaged a point a game,” Gillis acknowledged.
“They all have outstanding goaltenders, they surround the guy, block tons of shots, limit scoring opportunities. The teams that play more our style are out.”
That doesn’t mean offence is gone for good, he said.
“Success goes in cycles, and perhaps we were on the wrong side of the cycle this year, but it wasn’t just us,” he said. No, it was also Pittsburgh and Detroit and Chicago and San Jose, all teams with an offensive bent.
So what makes Gillis believe that offence is still a viable way to go, when the evidence says otherwise?
“Well, the general managers’ meeting I was at supported that view. I think the whole rules package that came out of the last lockout supports that view,” he said. “I don’t have an explanation for what’s happened. But you guys all noticed that there was a significant change in the game. We noticed it. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by others.
“I think that the entertainment value is born out of having momentum changes and offensive opportunities and penalties being called. That’s great hockey, and I think everyone here would share the opinion that the hockey in the last three or four years has been the best it’s ever been — so a retreat from that doesn’t seem to make any sense to me.”
Sense or not, though, something clearly happened to make officials look the other way on restraining and interference and cross-checking in the second half of the season. Could it really be just a cycle?
“I hope so,” laughed Daniel Sedin. “But I’ve said this before, if you look at the penalties being called from October on, it goes downhill. Why is that?
“Our power play was so bad, [more chances] probably wouldn’t have helped, but I just think that’s wrong.”
As to the offence-defence argument, Daniel said it’s a misnomer that an Alain Vigneault-coached team is all about scoring.
“You’ve got to understand this: our focus is to win the games 2-1,” he said. “Play well defensively, and all of a sudden you’re going to win games 5-1 instead because you get the other team frustrated. That’s the way we’ve always played. We had no different mindset this year than last year.
“The problem maybe in this city is, people always seem to want more. I mean, in this room, we’re happy winning 2-1, 1-0, we’re happy whoever scores. I would be happy scoring 65 points because we won the Presidents’ Trophy. That’s the way it should be, but I think it’s very tough in a market like this, the media and fans will never be happy [winning 1-0].”
Maybe not all season long. But in a Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final, perhaps, it wouldn’t be so bad.
Gillis made it clear he isn’t bowing to pressure just because these Canucks fell so far short of that.
“We just got 111 points, and even though people like to think it was by accident, it wasn’t,” he said. “This is still a good hockey team.”
On Twitter: Twitter.com/rcamcole
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun