In a letter addressed to all of the supporters of the Vancouver Canucks, General Manager and President Mike Gillis assured fans that he along with his management team will do everything they can to ultimately bring hockey’s greatest prize to Vancouver.
In the six years that Gillis has been the General Manger of Vancouver’s hockey team, he has turned the team from a playoff team to a serious Cup contender. However, after coming off a disappointing first round loss to the San Jose Sharks, it looks like the Canucks are a team that has already reached it’s peak and is now on the decline. Gillis has shown that with a good base, he can build a team up. But can he build a team up from scratch?
Let’s take a look back at some of trades and signings made during Gillis’ tenure as General Manager:
Mike Gillis started off his tenure at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
*Only one of these draft picks currently play in the NHL (Cody Hodgson for the Buffalo Sabres). Yann Sauve has played a total of five NHL games while Prab Rai, Mats Froshaug and Morgan Clark have never seen NHL ice.
Gillis also had a fairly busy summer, signing and trading for numerous established NHL players that would all find a spot to play in the lineup.
Gillis also traded for Steve Bernier (sent 3rd rounder and 2nd rounder to Buffalo), Lawrence Nycholat (sent Ryan Shannon to Ottawa) and Shane O’Brien (sent Lukas Krajicek to Tampa Bay).
With these additions, the team went from last in their division the previous season to winning their division. However, they were ousted in the second round of the playoffs by the Chicago Blackhawks.
*Honourable Mention: Mike Gillis did sign David Backes to an 3 year offer sheet. Unfortunately, the St.Louis Blues matched and Backes has since remained with the club. Gillis also extended the contracts of both Alex Edler (4 years/13 million) and Alex Burrows (4 years/8 million).
The only trade that Gillis made during the off-season saw Vancouver’s former first-round draft pick from 2007, Patrick White, dealt to the San Jose Sharks alongside rookie defenceman Daniel Rahimi in exchange for Brad Lukowich and Christian Ehrhoff.
*Gillis also re-signed goaltender Roberto Luongo to a 12 year/$64 million extension during the off-season and the Sedins also signed a 5 year/$30.5 million extension.
Mikael Samuelsson turned out to be a great signing as the veteran Swede was able to tally a career high 30 goals. Henrik Sedin led the NHL in scoring finishing the year with 29 goals, 83 assists and 112 points which was good enough for Sedin to capture both the Art Ross and the Hart Memorial trophy. However, it was Alex Burrows, fresh off a new contract, that led the team in goals with 35. Though the Canucks won their division for the second consecutive season, they were also bounced out of the playoffs in the second round thanks to another six game series loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. It was obvious that after the year this team had had, they were almost there. They were ready become serious Stanley Cup contenders and the final pieces to the puzzle were made during the subsequent off-season.
*Ryan Kesler was signed to a 6 year/$30 million contract extension towards the end of the 09/10 regular season
Draft day 2010 started with a bang for the Canucks as Gillis had traded another former first round draft choice, Michael Grabner, along with Steve Bernier and the teams 2010 first round draft pick (used to select Quinton Howden) to the Florida Panthers for Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich. This meant that the Canucks would not select a player in the draft until the fourth round.
After the draft, Gillis kept trying to improve his team by adding to the already existing core group of players which he had kept together. He shored up his defence by adding Dan Hamhuis, added a faceoff specialist in Manny Malhotra and acquired a true playoff performer in Raffi Torres. Gillis also signed young college free agent Chris Tanev who has turned into a mainstay on the backend for the Canucks.
Gillis also made two smaller trades in the off-season. He sent Shane O’Brien and Dan Gendur to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Ryan Parent and Jonas Andersson, while Darcy Hordichuk was sent to the Florida Panthers for tough guy Andrew Peters. Parent saw minimal playing time with the Canucks and spent most of his time with the organization in the American Hockey League. Meanwhile, Peters never even played a game in the NHL for the Canucks and was eventually released from his contract with Vancouver mid-season.
At the trade deadline, Gillis acquired Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins who both came relatively cheap, only costing a couple third round draft picks, one prospect (Evan Oberg) and AHL player (Joel Perrault). Both Lapierre and Higgins became key contributors throughout the 2011 playoffs providing secondary scoring, energy when needed and a physical presence. Of all the trades that Gillis has made during his tenure as Canucks General Manager, these two deals are arguably his best.
Heading into the playoffs the Canucks were a confident bunch after having won the franchises’s first ever President’s Trophy. They beat the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, in a memorable seven game first round series. Then they took out Nashville in six, San Jose in five and came within 60 minutes of hoisting the Stanley Cup. They came oh so close, but they just couldn’t close out the Bruins.
Coming off a disappointing loss in the Stanley Cup Finals, Gillis had a plan of what he wanted to do heading into the draft and the subsequent off-season. It was clear that the Canucks were bullied by the Bruins and Gillis wanted to get bigger and add some toughness to a team that already possessed some of the best skill in the NHL. He started the off – season by drafting a power forward in Nicklas Jensen.
The team from 2011, with the exception of Christian Ehrhoff, was kept together as Chris Higgins, Maxim Lapierre, Andrew Alberts, Sami Salo, Kevin Bieksa and Jannik Hansen were all re-signed to new contracts. Losing Ehrhoff left a big hole on the back-end that Gillis had failed to replace.
Early on in the 2011/2012 season Gillis made a move that had Canucks fans celebrating. Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm were sent to Florida in exchange for David Booth, Steven Reinprecht and a 2013 third round pick. Booth was supposed to put the Canucks over the top and be that power forward the they lacked. He was supposed to bring speed, size and skill and give the Canucks the offence that went missing during the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. In two years with the Canucks, Booth has only managed to play 68 regular season games and in that span he has scored 17 goals which is a far cry from the 31 he recorded in 2008/2009. It’s safe to say that so far, he has been a bust.
Despite not being able to replace Christian Ehrhoff on defence, the Canucks were still able to capture their second consecutive President’s trophy, as well as their fifth straight Northwest Division title. However, the team just didn’t look the same from a year ago. In 2011, the Canucks were by far the best team in the league on paper, and their play proved it. In 2012, something was different. The team just wasn’t winning games like they had done in the past. Instead of dominating their opponents and winning by a comfortable margin, they were playing down to the level of the opposition and were squeaking out one-goal wins. I completely understand that a win is a win. But this team just didn’t look like they had it in them to go through another grueling Playoff run.
The 2012 NHL trade deadline saw Mike Gillis make a trade that caught everyone off guard. Gillis sent his very own first round draft pick Cody Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres, along with Alexander Sulzer, in exchange for Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani. Hodgson had arguably been the Canucks best player of the season so far and the young rookie was starting to make a name for himself in the league. He added a secondary scoring touch to a team that was struggling to find the net on a consistent basis all year, and now he had been traded for a player who possessed a totally different skill set. Hodgson was clearly the better player at the time and lets leave it at that.
At the trade deadline the Canucks also acquired Samuel Pahlsson who they thought would be the third-line checking centre that he was in Chicago and Anaheim. Pahlsson was far removed from the form that made him one of the most coveted depth centres in the league a few years ago and he was virtually ineffective for Vancouver. Probably one of the worst things about this trade was that Gillis sent former second round pick Taylor Ellington to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Pahlsson. Ellington was never an superstar prospect for the Canucks but the fact that he would be around this upcoming season and get the chance to show the Canucks what he can do as a defenceman is much more valuable than a player who only played half a season in Vancouver before returning back home to Sweden.
The playoffs saw the Canucks lose in the first round, for the first time since 2004, to the Los Angeles Kings. The series wasn’t even close as the Kings completely dominated the Canucks and eliminated them in five games. The early playoff exist did not bode well in Vancouver as the fans could not fathom the fact that this team, who was supposed to go to the finals, was completely outplayed by the eighth seeded Kings. Serious changes would need to be made in the off-season if this team wanted to regain its 2011 form.
*Alex Burrows signed an extension (4 year/$18 million), and Alex Edler also signed an extension (6 year/$30 million)
This past season can be summed up in a few points:
A second consecutive disappointing season cost head coach Alain Vigneault his job as he and his staff were relived of their duties just last week. Mike Gillis has since vowed that the Canucks will be bigger, better and younger next season and with his track-record has shown that with a core group of players intact, he can build a contender. Gillis has sacrificed the future of this organization in order to win in present and came one game short of silencing all his critics. An aging core and not a lot of blue-chip prospects will mean that next season may look somewhat similar to the one Detroit had this year which may not be a bad thing for the organization as a whole, but fan patience is running out. No need to look further than this past playoff’s attendance figures.
Can Gillis build this team back up to the contender it once was? Let us know what you think.
Ryan Lehal is a sports columnist for Vancity Buzz, and can be followed on Twitter via @Ryan19L
Feature Image: Jason Payne, PNG photo