Mike Gillis and the art of the press conference

Press conferences are strange

It’s an open secret that they generally consist of misleading statements, boilerplate talking points and other untruths. That said, they are the only way to assess the stated goals of an organization and its general manager.

While it may be a less than credible medium for relaying information, we can take a look at Mike Gillis press conferences to judge whether or not his stated goals translate into trades, signings, and on-ice strategy. Can we trust Mike Gillis press conferences?

A good place to start would be…at the start. The introductory press conference.

For most casual fans this was their first impression of Mr. Gillis. While he spoke in the stock sports manager parlance, he did seem to be a departure from Dave Nonis because he stated some controversial opinions. Unfortunately for both Gillis and Vancouver Canucks fans, the part of this particular press conference that is most often remembered is also the part that has the least long-term relevance to the team.

Gillis stated that: “[The Sedins] are front-line players but I don’t know if they’re players that the team will be built around going forward.”

Cory Schneider, Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks

The Roberto Luongo/Cory Schneider situation is Mike Gillis’ biggest failure thus far

This was both lauded as an honest evaluation of current players on the roster as well as criticized from a morale-building standpoint. Even if you don’t think a player is vital to the long-term health of the team, you don’t say that publicly. This has become a continuing theme with Gillis.


He doesn’t seem to know when to keep certain beliefs or plans to himself. We’ll return to this point later.

Several other key points that were made during this press conference were forgotten altogether.

Gillis was correct to state that the forward group needed to change, and several of his additions (Chris Higgins, Maxim Lapierre, etc.) went on to fix what Gillis identified as team deficits: grit, toughness, competitiveness.It’s debatable whether Gillis was correct in saying the team he inherited was “not even close” to being a Stanley cup contender.

Gillis also honestly confessed that he had no pre-conceived beliefs, and that everything was under review.

If there is one thing that even Gillis haters will recognize, it’s that he has left no stone unturned when it comes to seeking competitive edges. You know the examples: sleep doctors, sports psychologists, etc.

He was one of the first GM’s to use the offer sheet process to sign a restricted free agent when he targeted David Backes.

He hasn’t shaken up the scouting staff to the extent that most fans would like, but there has been a top to bottom culture change in Vancity.

The place where Mike Gillis really fell apart in communicating his stated goals was the Luongo situation.

I think we can consider this somewhat of an aberration, as his other press conferences were generally fairly predictive of what he was aiming to accomplish.

Mike Gillis, Vancouver Canucks

Mike Gillis’ honesty has gotten him some notoriety in VanCity

In stating that Cory Schneider was “the guy” and that they greatly desired to move Roberto Luongo, Gillis torpedoed his own leverage and telegraphed what he wished to do in such a way that he made his job more difficult.

If anything Gillis was too honest and open with us, and this highlighted his greatest professional failure: the Luongo-Schneider situation.

Much like his opinion about Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin not being “foundational” players, by naming Cory “the guy” and expressing a desire to trade Luongo as soon as possible, Gillis failed to leave well enough alone and in doing so may have set the organization back significantly.

What does this mean for the 2013 Vancouver Canucks?

In his most recent end of season press conference, Mr. Gillis stated a desire to get bigger, tougher, and younger at the forward position.

We can call this an honest statement, as the Canucks are likely to play one or two young forwards this season, but really this is a matter of spin more than strategy.

The Canucks are caught in a cap crunch, and players like Jordan Schroeder, Bo Horvat, Brendan Gaunce, or Nicklas Jensen will have to be part of the picture moving forward if the Canucks want to ice a competitive team within the confines of a shrunken salary cap.

As with most things, the old dictum of “trust, but verify” holds true.

Gillis has done a good job of communicating with fans. In fact, he has done much better than many general managers, and the few occasions where he has been too open have been self-destructive.


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  • Rick James

    In his most recent end of season press conference, Mr. Gillis stated a desire to get bigger, tougher, and younger at the forward position.

    We can call this an honest statement, as the Canucks are likely to play one or two young forwards this season, but really this is a matter of spin more than strategy.

    The Canucks are caught in a cap crunch, and players like Jordan Schroeder, Bo Horvat, Brendan Gaunce, or Nicklas Jensen will have to be part of the picture moving forward if the Canucks want to ice a competitive team within the confines of a shrunken salary cap.

    He hasn’t spun anything, this is how most teams who operate at the cap ceiling need to operate moving forward and when the cap goes up older players salaries will decrease slightly or they will be retiring and the younger players that were inserted at the time of the cap change will increase and Gillis hasn’t tried to spin that in any way, it is the way the league is moving forward with the new cba weather it be being being bigger, faster, or younger. I think people in this city are too spoiled and smug to realize they could have had several other GMs at the time Gillis was hired and the culture here could have never changed at all then what would they be saying, probably still complaining about everything and chasing whoever the goalie is out of town.

    • Travis Erbacher

      It’s certainly true that some teams are doing that, and that people don’t realize how good they have it with Gillis.

      That being said though, these trends tend to be cyclical. A fast team wins, everyone wants to get skaters who can score. Anaheim wins, GM’s want to load up on tough guys. So too it will be with this trend. The cap will rise again.

      This is part the current trend, part necessity for this particular team, and part a correction. The Canucks should have been drafting well enough to promote from within at least a little bit over the last 10 years. They’re playing catch up after years of mediocrity.

      • Rick James

        Big, strong, and fast teams will always prevail over smaller, weaker, slower teams. That’s just common sense, not a trend. The young part is just part is just how it is when the cap is reduced, I see it as a benefit to get top young talent in the NHL to develop against the best competition and develop their game and a good cap hit for the time being, plus a dose of youth into a team gives the rest of the team a boost of energy.

        Let’s look at things in a realistic light as well, Gillis when he took the position was a rookie GM and had a tough first few drafts, no doubt even though he flipped Hodgson for Kassian which was great to salvage something for a wasted one dimensional first round pick. Hopefully he can do the same for Schroeder or Jordan will be moved to left wing by Tortz. That being said Gillis has moved certain scouts around to correct certain things that have gone on for years drafting, not just with this regime but past regimes as well. Our last couple drafts have been very strong even after taking out the first round obvious picks this season, with no 2nd round pick we grabbed Cassels and Subban in 3 and 4 and have been nothing short of outstanding at the young stars tournament. Subban although small, has amazing patience with the puck, there was no signs of any panic, and his puck distribution and shot along were stellar. His hockey IQ is one of the strongest I have ever seen for a 18 year old in this organization. Cassels has only been the strongest all round player at the rookie tournament.

        To sum it up. Mediocrity this organisation has been no doubt and that came from a polluted culture that has moved out of town. A new culture has come in and when it arrived it was very green (unproven, new, untested). It has had time to develop and in a ever changing business has remained competitive and with the change in coaching has taken a big step forward even though the last guy a few years ago got us within 60 minutes of Lord Stanley. In a business with 30 teams all trying to accomplish the same goal every year and all working within the same salary restrictions, I would take our organizational structure with Gillis at the top any day of the week.

        • Travis Erbacher

          I totally agree re: the drafts. He’s gotten better as he’s moved forward. That is an important way to judge a GM.

          Obviously if you have a team full of 6’6 guys who can skate like the wind and have wicked shots, you’re going to win. The problem is, most of the time the choice is between a bigger, slower guy and a smaller, faster guy. Many different types of teams have won the cup. I’m not talking about bigger, faster, stronger vs. smaller, weaker, slower. I’m talking about bigger and stronger vs. faster and smaller. There are trends there. After Anaheim won the cup everyone jumped on the “beat everybody up with big guys” model, but that has been left behind.

          This is what makes the good teams stand out: having a coherent structure and vision. That’s what has made Gillis successful. There have been times that the vision has been less clear, but I think that’s because Gillis is a thinker. He’s willing to adapt to the environment and is willing to admit when the times have passed an idea by. I fully expect him to talk openly and candidly about how he would have dealt with the Luongo-Schneider situation differently in a few years. He could write a pretty compelling auto-biography, thats for sure.

          • Rick James

            Well humans make errors. Even Albert Einstein had theories that were later to be found that data was omitted to prove his theory correct. So yes a NHL GM like Kenny Holland or Mike Gillis is capable of a mistake here and there.

            Of course there are trends that people follow in this league, it in known to be a copy cat league and Gillis for the most part doesn’t doesn’t do that and along the way he will be judged for not doing it. When he traded for Kassian everyone said it was to combat the Bruins but in reality we just needed a big skilled player, I mean who doesn’t right? We had a Mason Raymond and smallish type guys like a Andrew Ebbett and other smurfs not to mention 2/3’s of our top line being soft. It’s nice to see Raymond and Ebbett move along, Manny hurts but not much you can do about that. Would always much rather have a guy with 2 eyes. Richarson should work out great and I would think Schroeder and Santorelli should win those Center spots over the younger guys anyways, maybe a 5 game audition for Bo.

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