It doesn't take much to bring Canucks fans right back to 2011

Oct 12 2018, 5:07 pm

Mike Gillis spoke this week.

That shouldn’t be as big a deal as it was, except for the fact that the most successful general manager in Canucks history hadn’t spoken in depth about his time in Vancouver since being fired more than four years ago.

On Wednesday, in a two-hour interview with Matt Sekeres and Blake Price on TSN 1040, he did. And Canucks nation was listening.

As Sekeres and Price quizzed the out-of-work executive about everything from drafting to how he handled the media, the memories came flooding back.

And while most of those memories should be good ones by now, the everlasting one can be summed up in four digits: 2-0-1-1.

Say “2011” to a Canucks fan, and they’ll know what you’re talking about. The expectations. The greatness. The roller coaster ride. And ultimately, the failure.

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Perhaps when Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Bo Horvat lead the team back to the playoffs in the (hopefully) near future, we won’t think about it as much. But right now?

The wound still hasn’t healed.

It truly was a magical season for the team – the best one in Canucks history. It was a dream, up until Game 3 in Boston, when it became a nightmare.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be over 2011 actually,” said Gillis.

He’s not alone.

“We lost the series, stuff happens and to have what happened in this city which was our adopted home afterward, I couldn’t believe it,” Gillis added. “It’s a hockey game and it’s a hockey team. We had done our best under the circumstances given and for people to take advantage of that and hurt one another and try to destroy businesses using that as an excuse was just one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.”

Admit it, you’re thinking of the Burrows bite. Or Hamhuis injuring himself on that hip check against Lucic.

Or Aaron Rome’s hit.

Or Luongo struggling in Boston. Or when he was pumping Tim Thomas’ tires.

Or Brad freaking Marchand. Or worse: Game 7.

Whether you’re a diehard fan wondering if you’re ever going to see the Canucks win a Stanley Cup before you die, or someone who jumped on the bandwagon that was ashamed of your city after the riots – if you lived in Vancouver in 2011, it’s etched in your memory.

But time heals most wounds.

Luongo was blamed by many for the team’s failure in 2011. Today, he’s universally beloved.

When Gillis left Vancouver, he did so with many fans calling for him to be fired.

And today?

History has been kind to Gillis, save for at the draft table.

He said not making changes to the scouting staff and system earlier was his biggest regret, and clearly, it should be.

Had Gillis’ regime not been so terrible at the draft table, he might still be running the team. Instead, his only successful pick – Bo Horvat – played his first NHL game after Gillis was fired.

Judd Brackett – a Gillis hire – has been very influential at the draft as Jim Benning’s director of amateur scouting.

If ownership showed the same patience with Gillis that they did with Benning – giving him a chance to learn from his mistakes and rebuild the organization – who knows how history would have been altered.

Instead, he and everyone else associated with the team, will forever be remembered most for 2011, the greatest season and the biggest missed opportunity in Canucks history.

With perspective, it seems like most people have come around on Gillis, and for good reason.

The moves he made to bolster a very good core group of players – including re-signing players to club-friendly deals and adding important pieces to the puzzle – made the Canucks the team to beat.

Yes, he inherited the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, and Roberto Luongo. But those players needed help to turn the Canucks into a real contender.

Dan Hamhuis, Christian Ehrhoff, Manny Malhotra, Mikael Samuelsson, Raffi Torres, Chris Higgins, and Max Lapierre were important pieces that Gillis added prior to 2011. That’s not insignificant.

If not for bad luck and injuries, it would have put them over the top.

Now, seven years after the final and four years after he was fired, that’s how Canucks fans should remember Gillis.

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