canucks

Whither Mike Gillis? It’s complicated Canucks fans!

Time to act

It’s a complicated summer for Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis. For the first time in his tenure, he faces the need to tinker with the core of this hockey club and make some important choices.

After inheriting a team with a significant number of pieces that would eventually take the team to the brink of glory in 2011 and needing the summers preceding only to maintain and reinforce the existing roster, Gillis now faces a need to re-tool, or perhaps rebuild, a team on a dangerous downfall.

Where 2011-2012 could be excused off as a blip or a hangover, 2013 was supposed to be the comeback year. Instead, the Canucks turned in an effort that was somehow worse than the year before, forcing the exit of Alain Vigneault yet shockingly not yet Roberto Luongo.

Mike Gillis is in an unfamiliar situation - crucial decision making (Photo by Kim Stallknecht)

Mike Gillis is in an unfamiliar situation – crucial decision making (Photo by Kim Stallknecht)

At this time last year, hopes were that the return in a Luongo trade would jumpstart the Canucks and put them over the top in the West. Could anyone imagine that reality would involve Toronto turning him down for a series of second round picks which led to an emotional press conference on deadline day to announce Luongo HADN’T been traded only to see Roberto back between the pipes when the playoffs opened?

As much as Luongo handled the year amazingly, using his time on the pine to shut up in the media and become sport’s most endearing Twitter personality, his entire situation was a distraction that eventually opened up wide enough to swallow the entire season.

Gillis’ major challenge this summer is to get Luongo out of here and allow Cory Schneider to finally be the undisputed number one, not to mention freeing up Luongo’s cap space to either throw at what is quickly becoming a mess up front or absorb the shrinking cap of 2013-2014.

Short of leaving him in a baby basket on the front door of the Panthers rink in Miami, Gillis has to realize that done is better than perfect in this situation. Just get him out of here.

Returning to Alain Vigneault, it took Mike Gillis five years but he finally has to hire his first coach.

Vigneault was as an important inheritance as any of the core players, and he oversaw by far the most successful era of Canucks hockey. His time, however, is now up and Gillis has another important decision with long-lasting implications to make.

The conventional wisdom is that as talented as Vigneault is as a coach, his firing was just justified partially because he had turned control over to the players who had failed to take the reigns and partially because he possessed a series of fatal flaws in his coaching style. It should be interesting to see how he fares in New York.

His replacement seems to be down to two Johns, Tortorella or Stevens. Tortorella would make it a coaching swap with New York, fired because he lost the Rangers’ dressing room. You may have heard he’s famously hotheaded and it’s interesting to speculate on what that would mean if he was brought in to Vancouver.

How would Ryan Kesler, for one, react? For that matter, how would quiet Alex Edler respond? Could Torts reign the Canucks in or would this setup to be Mike Keenan 2.0?

In John Stevens, you have a candidate with a short, but intriguing resume. He won the Calder Cup with the Philadelphia Phantoms in 2005 before replacing Ken Hitchcock as coach of the Flyers in 2006. He stumbled in his first season as the Flyers recorded just 56 points, but turned it around the year after and took the team all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.

He was eventually given the boot in 2009 for underperforming and signed on as an assistant in Los Angeles, which is where we find him now. He’s been heralded for grooming Drew Doughty into his current self, something Canucks fans can only hope he can replicate with Alex Edler.

John Stevens

Will John Stevens be the next leader of the Canucks?

Either John, or some sort of mystery candidate could that possibly involve Guy Boucher embarking on a villainous plot to force the Aquilinis to name him coach, will have a huge impact on where this team goes in the next few years. It’s the simplest and most effective way of Gillis finally making his stamp on the team and influencing the future.

Problem is, his past stamps include Keith Ballard, David Booth, and Derek Roy, moves that made sense at the time but eventually backfired. Gillis better hope that hindsight doesn’t come back to bite him behind the bench also.

Luongo and Vigneault are just two names on their way out. If we had time, we could talk about whether Keith Ballard or David Booth have a future with the team, whether Alex Edler is tradebait, and just how much of a restructuring this roster needs. It paint a picture of a big, big summer for Mike Gillis, who must also realize that his job is on the line if he can’t get the team out of this rut.

Remove the 2011 run, which is slightly unfair I know, and you have a tenure where twice the team got embarrassed by the Blackhawks in the second round and twice the team got embarrassed by in the first round, winning a total of one game.

If you throw 2011 back into that mix well, they get embarrassed at the end of that one too.

Sure, Gillis has taken the Canucks to great new heights in the regular season but there hasn’t been a single year yet where the team didn’t get eliminated in the playoffs by imploding in spectacular fashion. Imagine if the Hawks had pulled it out in the first round of 2011.

The Canucks surely have to be the only team to win 15 playoff games by melting down in two separate series.

If Mike Gillis can’t reverse course, this stink is on him. It goes without saying this is the summer of his life.

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About Richard Hodges

A proud Vancouverite with a lifelong passion for the home teams that some would classify as pointless and disturbing. Now realizes that The Linden Tree is not the play you think it would be.
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