Canucks GM Mike Gillis won’t be stampeded into changing plan: ‘This team as good’ as 2011 Cup finalists
‘We have a potential deal in place with one team,’ general manager says of a Roberto Luongo deal
VANCOUVER — Like the concept of a Coach of the Year one season who gets fired midway through the next because (evidently) he suffered a sudden and incurable attack of stupidity, the notion that Mike Gillis no longer knows how to manage a National Hockey League team does not strike me as terribly sensible.
Wherever you think he found the Vancouver Canucks team that won the last two Presidents’ Trophies in a row, and got to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in 2011 — whether you are from the ever-popular “inheritance” school (Brian Burke and Dave Nonis handed him the nucleus) or whether you think he has done pretty well, with assistant Laurence Gilman’s help, at re-signing and extending that core and picking up a piece here and there to enhance it while it matured — you will grudgingly admit that it’s not such a bad thing to have won more regular season games than any team except San Jose during his four-plus seasons in Vancouver.
Has their draft record during Gillis’s time here been pretty awful? Yes, with the exception of his initial first-rounder, Cody Hodgson, whose trade last spring yielded Zack Kassian, who scored a goal and fought Edmonton’s Ben Eager on Sunday, offering a rare glimpse of the potential the Canucks had hoped to be seeing more regularly by now.
Would Gillis have been any further ahead if he had dropped a grenade into the scouting department upon his arrival here in 2008, and hired a whole new staff? Doubtful. Drafting late is a crapshoot.
Has the Ryan Kesler injury reverberated throughout the lineup so thoroughly that it has exposed all the places the Canucks are weak on the forward lines? Indubitably.
Has Gillis’s inability to trade Roberto Luongo for a second-line centre exacerbated the shortcomings of his forwards, or is it a good thing he didn’t trade Luongo, given how much the Canucks might depend on goaltending this season, or would they not be as reliant on goaltending if they could score more, or ... which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Did Gillis inherit a pretty darned good nucleus from Burke and then Nonis? Yes, he did.
“But inheriting something and making it better is also okay,” Gillis said Monday in an hour-long interview that was set up before the Canucks’ two opening-weekend losses.
He knows that every one of the questions above is being asked, exhaustively, by writers and broadcasters and fans as this Canucks team lurches through early days of this 48-game season.
But Gillis, maddeningly to some, has his plan for the team and the organization, and makes it clear he’s not going to be stampeded into deviating from it by pressure from the outside.
For instance: how likely is it both Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo will remain happy campers sharing a job that was supposed to be Schneider’s by now, with Luongo starting somewhere else?
“Well, they’re both professionals,” Gillis said. “You know, there is an element of professionalism that goes along with your entitlement to the kind of money you get paid. And having both of them may give us the best opportunity to win — I don’t know.”
Why he hasn’t already dealt Luongo is simple.
“Roberto has a no-trade, so in discussions prior to the lockout, he had a say in where he was prepared to go. Once the lockout starts, you’re not permitted to even talk about player transactions, subject to huge fines and loss of draft picks. Then the lockout ends and suddenly, you’re trying to make a decision in four or five days about a premier player in this league, and it’s tough to make a trade of this magnitude in eight months, let alone four days. So we have him here, and we’re happy having him here.
“There wasn’t really time to do anything but this. And we’re going to let it play out. Lots of stuff is going to happen here in the first month.”
The Kesler injuries — and to a lesser extent, one to the erratic David Booth — have meant that the first month may be more painful than it might have been otherwise.
“The reason professional sports are so great is that you’re aways dealing with human frailty,” Gillis said.
Kesler and Booth are a few weeks away, at minimum, from returning. In the meantime, the Canucks are apt to look like a shadow of the team that was one win away from the Cup just one full season ago.
“I think this team is as good,” Gillis said. “I think our defence is as good, I think Jason Garrison has a chance to be a real good player with Alex Edler — they eat minutes, they’re big guys.
“But you have to avoid injuries, and you have to have great goaltending. That’s what L.A. got last year. They wouldn’t have even been close to being in the playoffs if Jonathan Quick was not the best player in the National Hockey League last year. And they get in the playoffs, avoid injuries, play the same six defenceman all the way through, some guys rise to the occasion, they get good matchups and great goaltending ...”
And win the Stanley Cup.
“The way I see it, if you’re constantly knocking on the door, sooner or later the puck doesn’t hit the post but goes in. Your guy doesn’t get hurt but someone on the opposition does.”
Gillis doesn’t spend a lot of time ruing draft-day decisions. He knows the Canucks have no can’t-miss, whiz-bangs coming up — “You’re going to get good players if you lose in this business, that’s the way it’s set up,” he said. “We’ve been a good team” — but thinks they have a handful of good young prospects percolating in college, and in the minors, paying dues. Just not ready yet.
“You trade away picks when you’re trying to win a Stanley Cup, not just make the playoffs. You give up young assets to try to get to the next level. Would we do it again? Certain things for sure. Other things, in hindsight, probably not.
“But it’s kept us near the top of the league.”
The Luongo trade, or non-trade, which has taken on a life of its own with the way Schneider started the season (five goals on 14 shots before being pulled Saturday), could happen soon, or in a month, or not at all.
“We have a potential deal in place with one team that has to do something with another player that they have — and it’s not who anybody thinks it is — and so we have to wait. (But) we’ve been offered packages that don’t fit what our plan is, what we need,” said Gillis.
“Excess salary coming back with a [throw-in] player who can’t play in our lineup. They say, ‘OK, we’ll do this, but you’ve got to take this.’ Well, we’re not taking it. We’ve had lots of proposals like that with good pieces that can help us but the other part doesn’t help us, and oftentimes they have term attached to them, so we’d just be turning around and buying out a guy.
“I’d rather keep the guy we know, who’s a good person.”
That Luongo has been a prince through this whole trade/no trade fiasco goes without saying, but Gillis said it anyway.
“We have a really good player here who brings a tremendous amount to the team, his professionalism, his willingness to work — he’s the kind of player that changes the culture on a team and shows players what it means to be an elite-level player,” he said.
If that sounds like a sales pitch, it probably is. It’s also, quite possibly, true.
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