“I’ve waited six years even to make it to the playoffs. You hear guys talk about it all the time. You never know when you’re going to get back, when you’ll get another shot, or how long it’s going to take, or if you’re ever going to get a shot. For most guys in this room, this is the furthest they’ve ever made it. In saying that, we understand we’re only part of the way there.” – Keith Ballard on advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Indeed, quite a number of things need to fall into place for an NHL club to advance to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup. In the previous chapter, we examined the effect of upper management and coaching staff. Today, the focus is on the “behind the scenes” individuals that have contributed to the most successful team the Vancouver Canucks have iced in 40 years.
Newell Brown – Assistant Coach
Brown was actually drafted by the Vancouver Canucks as a center in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, 158th overall. He played for Michigan State (CCHA), and his natural passion for the game and skills have brought him full circle with the Canucks. Plucked away from the Anaheim Ducks organization particularly for his expertise with special teams, he made an immediate impact. He is part of the reason the Canucks have instituted having Kesler play with the Sedins on the number one powerplay unit. Industry insiders have rumored that Brown may be a prime target for NHL teams looking for a new head coach as early as the 2011/12 season.
Stan Smyl – Senior Advisor to the General Manager
Another Canuck draftee (40th overall, 1978), Smyl embodies the Canuck spirit, earning his nickname “Steamer” for his relentless and hard-nosed style of play by Canucks fans. He captained the team for a record eight years, and of course, his number 12 is retired to the rafters of Rogers Arena. After retiring, he spent 13 years coaching with the Canucks’ minor league affiliates: Syracuse Crunch, Kansas City Blades and Manitoba Moose. Being one of my childhood heroes, I had the pleasure of interviewing Smyl this past fall during the “Fishing for Kids” fundraiser (Canucks Autism Network); he embodies the personable side of the organization. Mike Gillis certainly chose well when he appointed Smyl as his Senior Advisor to Hockey Operations.
While interviewing with the Vancouver Canucks for the General Manager position, Mike Gillis stated one of the major changes he would make within the organization was a substantial increase to scouting and player development. The following are just a sampling of the cast Vancouver has assembled to fulfill that credo.
Ron “Chief” Delorme – Chief Amateur Scout
Another former player (RW with Colorado Rockies, Vancouver Canucks) that has impacted the Canucks grass roots development. Even as late as 2008, pundits continued to question the Canucks developmental system, but Delorme’s keen eye for young ‘diamonds in the rough’ has helped change that misconception.
Thomas Gradin – Associate Head Scout
Drafted 45th overall in the 1975 Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks, Gradin was instrumental in the Canucks drive to their first ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance (19 points in 17 games). By 1985-86, he became the franchise scoring leader. Between 1994 and 1996, he was a part-time amateur scout with the Canucks. Prior to the 1996-97 season, he was promoted to full-time scout, then head European scout prior to 1998-99, and was key to Vancouver’s decision to draft the Sedins second and third overall in the 1999 Entry Draft. More recently, he’s credited with discovering Alexander Edler, convincing Canucks brass to trade up to select him in the third round of the 2004 draft.
Lucien DeBlois – Professional Scout
A former NHL first round draft pick (1977, New York Rangers, 8th overall), DeBlois played for 6 NHL teams, captained the Winnipeg Jets, and won a Stanley Cup in 1986 with the Montreal Canadiens. After his playing career, he became an amateur scout for the Quebec Nordiques. He even served as an assistant coach for the IHL Kansas City Blades. He then moved on to the Anaheim Ducks organization as a pro scout, before being hired by the Vancouver Canucks.
Lars Lindgren – Professional Scout
This Pitea wall of fame inductee (2006) went undrafted by the NHL while playing for Modo Hockey in Sweden. The defenseman was signed by the Canucks in 1978 and played for 6 seasons with Vancouver. He played one season for Lulea HF of the Swedish Elite League, then went on to coach the team shortly after that. His international ties now serve the Canucks very well, as he continues to unearth hidden gems, particularly in Europe.
As mentioned, these are just a snippet of mentions pertaining to the organizational success the Vancouver Canucks have enjoyed in recent years. Particularly have these scouts been valuable, in light of previous difficulties the Canucks had in obtaining and developing talent at the ground floor level. What the Stanley Cup Finals have in store for the team is not known yet, but this much is clear: A championship team is not built overnight. But the organization has selected the right individuals and given them the tools to help chisel the foundation of a successful franchise.