It was time for Mike Gillis to be fired, if for no other reason than what happened at the goaltending position in Vancouver. You can’t go from perhaps the strongest tandem in the entire NHL to one that ranks in the late-20s—then miss the playoffs for the first time in six years—and keep your job.
Alas, that is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Gillis’ C.V. in Vancouver. He made too many mistakes as a GM, period. The pickle the Canucks are in today—so many no-trade clauses, so few 21- to 26-year-old homegrown prospects and such average goaltending—is entirely his fault. Sound harsh? Well, heavy is the head that wears the crown, right?
What truly boggles the mind when it comes to this firing however, is that Gillis wasn’t effectively relieved of his duties on Tuesday. No, he was downgraded to copy boy the minute the Bros. Aquilini disregarded his wishes and hired John Tortorella to coach last summer. So that’s the place to start when discussing the latest spasm of dysfunction to come from Vancouver, an organization on the precipice of a long, long drought if it doesn’t start making the right decisions.
Why on earth would the Aquilini brothers think Gillis was not GM enough to properly hire a coach, yet entrust him with dealing Luongo away? Why would they think, for even a split second, that Tortorella was going to work in Vancouver? Or for that matter, that three brothers whose family made its money in the business world had even the warmest clue about hiring a hockey coach?
So we’ve I.D.ed the true problem in Vancouver. It’s not Tortorella, and it is clearly no longer Gillis. It is meddling ownership that at some point likely told Gillis he had autonomy to make hockey decisions, then changed its mind when it mattered most. Now, danger time arrives: Will the Aquilinis stay married to their wrong-headed hiring of Tortorella and hire Jay Feaster, perhaps the only prospective GM in the entire hockey world who would keep Tortorella as coach of the Canucks? Talk about the very definition of a compounded mistake.
Nothing against a competent GM in Feaster, who did a decent job in Calgary. But we’re saying this right now, and as clearly as we can: If Feaster gets the Canucks GM job, this team is in trouble. Because that means the Aquilinis think they are hockey smart, and the Canucks will lose for a long, long time if ownership is going to make the important, hockey-related decisions.
Force-feeding Tortorella on this roster was a predictably dumb thing to do. That’s on the Aquilinis. The rest of this mess is on Gillis.
Of the Canucks core, only 28-year-old Alex Edler will be younger than 30 when the 2014-15 season begins and all are signed for at least two more years, with no trade clauses across the board. Kevin Bieksa and Alex Burrows will be 33. Dan Hamhuis and Chris Higgins will be 31, Ryan Kesler 30 and the Sedins a deteriorating 34.
All of that is OK if, like a San Jose, Anaheim, or Los Angeles you have an undercurrent of players in their mid-20s coming up and preparing to be tomorrow’s leaders. But there are no Logan Coutures, Marc-Edouard Vlasics, Anze Kopitars or Drew Doughtys in Vancouver. Nor are there enough Nick Boninos, Cam Fowlers and Hampus Lindholms, as there are in Anaheim, a team that has handled Vancouver with ease this season.
The Canucks drafting has been below average at best, which means a GM had better be a savvy trader. Alas, Gillis was not, wheeling and dealing mostly for projects and rejects, until a core that was mostly assembled when he took the job just couldn’t do it on its own anymore.
Under Gillis, the Canucks won their division five times in six years. But it was the North-worst Division, with ongoing rebuilds in Edmonton, Calgary and Colorado. This season the Canucks are in with the Pacific big boys, and can’t compete with the California teams.
There are assets here. Inhibited by NTCs, but assets nonetheless. The new GM has a couple of big projects in Zack Kassian and Shawn Matthias, but there is promise in size. The Canucks likely require a top flight goalie, however, and support scoring up front. That means trading a defenceman.
A competent GM can get much for a Bieksa or an Edler. That is, if an owner who knows jack about the job isn’t puling his strings.