When Mike Gillis first took his job as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks one of the things he had the most difficulty understanding was the feeling of impending dread which seemed to overcome every fan and member of the media when it came to the fortunes of the team.
He couldn’t understand why everyone was so negative and fatalistic, worried about when the next shoe would drop as the season progressed. He expressed it in different terms of course, but stated quite openly that he had absolutely no identification with those feelings whatsoever.
After the time he’s been here — with all the personal tragedies and heartache he’s seen — and then taking this team to within one game of the big prize before experiencing just another pothole, perhaps he’s beginning to understand what the fans of this team may be feeling after the 43 years of absurdities that befall this team.
Take the case of Ryan Kesler, for instance. The team drafts a beauty in this motivated American kid who is determined to make himself a great player, and with lots of work and encouragement from this management does just that. Then bleep starts to happen and injuries fall on this guy like locusts on a corn field. Part of it has been brought on by the way he’s been managed by the team and part of it by the way he seems to look for unnecessary contact. His broken foot injury clearly has nothing to do with any of that, you’re not going to ask a guy to stop blocking shots. But of all 20 plus guys on the roster, who gets the broken foot? Kesler? Really?
While the truly morose would say Wednesday was just another day for the Canucks, the circus which was the scene at Rogers Arena — on a day when most teams probably wouldn’t have practised at all — was nothing short of total reinforcement for those who believe this team is somehow determined to tread the path of the Chicago Cubs. It was ridiculous.
You have the team moving Aaron Volpatti to the Chicago Wolves, claiming they want him to play more and become more than a fourth-line winger. Really? That doesn’t even pass the giggle test for a team so bloated with good wingers they don’t know what to do with them. And Niklas Jensen is on the way. Then they put Steve Pinizzotto on the roster so they can send him down for conditioning with the intent of doing what exactly? Perhaps to visit Anton Rodin, another great centre prospect the team drafted whose career down there has gone the way of Kesler when it comes to injury. Right now he has a hernia problem. No, not a sports hernia, you’d expect that. It’s a normal, garden variety old-man hernia which will allow him to be back in just a couple of weeks to await his next mishap.
Then Manny Malhotra shows up and practices with the team, saying he disagrees with the decision to essentially shut down his career after an earlier catastrophic eye injury that really helped scuttle the run to what should have been the team’s first Stanley Cup back in 2011. He doesn’t know whether he wants to try to play again but says he’ll go along with the decision for the time being and won’t asked to be traded. Hell, why would he want to leave the Twilight zone?
All this 12 hours after the man who was supposed to be the No. 1 goalie this year intimates that having two No. 1 goalies the way they do isn’t really working for him. He didn’t say it in so many words but the implication was clear. In the same game at which your goalie determines that this “grab-the-brass-ring” or “dice rolling” system wasn’t his favourite way to go, your prize winger Zack Kassian obtained in a controversial trade the previous season sits scowling on the bench according to close observers while playing all of 6:52 on the fourth line. And throw in a loss at home to a team with half the talent and nearly $20 million U.S. cap space.
Add the fact you still have the team’s top two scorers saying it’s okay if they don’t score every night and that you have to be able to win games 2-1, while at the same time a defence that should be one of the best in the game is playing like somebody just yelled “fire.”
That’s just one 24-hour period. And this is the smartest, most thoughtful and thorough management group the club has ever had in place.
Yes, perhaps now he has at least some sense of what over 40 years of this can do to people.
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