There is something to be said for a GM who looks at his team’s Stanley Cup chances and his best players’ 21st birthdays, sees them both fading away in the rear-view mirror, and decides to get proactive.
Vancouver GM Mike Gillis is reading and reacting long before his colleagues did in, say, Calgary, where they watched Miikka Kiprusoff retire as a Flame who hadn’t made the playoffs in his final four seasons. Or Jarome Iginla, who—when he was finally dealt away—reaped far, far less for the Flames than what he would have two seasons prior, when both he and Kiprusoff should have been moved.
So, good on Gillis. And good on me, for being the rare positive sports writer, and leaving this salient point in this column for the third paragraph: Bo Horvat, Shawn Matthias and Jacob Markstrom. That is the grand total that Gillis reaped for the goaltending tandem of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. That’s it, that’s all.
Oh, wait. The Canucks retained 15 percent of Luongo’s salary, about $5 million over the remaining term of his contract. Then there’s the cap issues if Luongo retires rather than play the final two years of his contract, which pay $1 million per. Vancouver is on the hook for $8.5 million in cap space over those two seasons, at which time Luongo will be 41 and 42 years of age.
So perhaps the question in Vancouver centres not on which other veteran Canucks Gillis will find a way to move before Wednesday's 3:00 p.m. National Hockey League trading deadline. Rather, maybe the question should surround who's making the deals?
Gillis is the same GM who traded away Michael Grabner and a first-round draft pick in a package that brought back Keith Ballard and one Victor Oreskovich. Ballard was a disaster, and eventually bought out by the Canucks. He is the same GM who traded for David Booth because he was supposed to be good. He was not. Ditto for Derek Roy at the 2013 trade deadline, a mistake that cost Vancouver a prospect and a second-rounder.
We could go on, but you get the point. And if you're thinking, "What if it is ownership engineering these deals?" then Gillis should walk. Because he's the GM, and as such he owns every one of these transactions.
The Canucks are right on point here, re-tooling a lineup that just keeps getting further and further from being a Cup contender. Gillis is extrapolating on Kesler's wishes to get out of town, using that momentum as impetus to start a mini-rebuild. Call Kesler a quitter if you like or a guy who jumps ship as soon as it appears to be taking on some water, but a Canucks fans should be thanking him for getting this ball rolling.
Kesler's availability very likely had something to do with the conversations between Gillis and Florida GM Dale Tallon. Though perhaps not as much as John Tortorella's inexplicable treatment of Luongo (who was said to be irate) this past week. The Canucks can only hope the rest of this roster has more time for the coach than Luongo did.
By end of day Wednesday, we fully expect Kesler to be gone for a couple of prospects, and perhaps even Alex Edler too. The key is, however, the return has to bear fruit.
A year ago, Gillis had the best goaltending tandem in the world. Today he has a giant question mark in Eddie Lack (a veteran of 25 NHL games) and Markstrom, who has played in 43.
Horvat is a nice-looking prospect who should play as a top-six forward. Matthias, objective scouts say, is a third-line centre. If Gillis lands a centre with the pedigree of Sean Couturier from Philadelphia in a Kesler deal, the Canucks will have Henrik Sedin, and two good young players stacked up the middle.
The blueline, Vancouver's strong suit, will survive a trade of Edler. And these moves, at this time, will relieve fans from having to go through an Edmonton situation, where a culture of losing is firmly in place. But the guy dealing the cards is going to have to be sharp. Sharper than he's been thus far.
That guy is Mike Gillis. He has to be better for this playbook to work.