The Vancouver Canucks were one of the best teams in the league with Mike Gillis as their GM. But, he destroyed the club’s future.
When the Vancouver Canucks won straight President’s Trophies as the National Hockey League’s best regular-season team in 2010-11 and 2011-12, everything was fine in British Columbia. Well, aside from that day in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. So what is it that makes Canucks fans cringe when they hear the name of Vancouver’s former general manager, Mike Gillis?
Gillis was the club’s GM starting in 2008, until Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini relieved him from his duties on April 8, 2014. During his six-year tenure in Vancouver, Gillis led the team to two President’s Trophies and a Stanley Cup Final, and he was named GM of the Year in 2011.
Now two seasons into the Jim Benning era, the club still suffers from what Gillis did.
Not because the Canucks lost Game 7 against the Boston Bruins that sad day in 2011, but because he failed to prepare the club for the future.
Benning attempted a “rebuild on the fly” that has finally turned into a full-on rebuild like that of the Edmonton Oilers or Toronto Maple Leafs, rather than that of the Detroit Red Wings who have reached the post-season for 24 straight seasons (and counting). Why? Because the club drafted close to no NHL-calibre players in the Gillis era.
Drafting under Mike Gillis
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In the Canucks’ first Gillis draft, in 2008, they selected centre Cody Hodgson with the 10th-overall pick. Out of the top 10, only sixth-overall pick Nikita Filatov has appeared in fewer NHL games. Filatov is also the only player from that group who has recorded fewer points than Hodgson — including the four defencemen. Vancouver drafted five other players that year, with second-rounder Yann Sauve being the only one who played in the NHL — for eight games.
The following year, Gillis drafted centre Jordan Schroeder 22nd overall. Schroeder has 104 NHL games to date and is collecting more air miles between Iowa and Minnesota than goals. The Canucks also selected defenceman Kevin Connauton and forward Anton Rodin that year, but like Schroeder, Connauton is not with the club anymore, and Rodin was just signed to give it another try.
Gillis had four more first-round picks which were used on Nicklas Jensen, Brendan Gaunce, Hunter Shinkaruk and Bo Horvat — and stole Ben Hutton in the fifth round in 2012. Jensen is now Emerson Etem, Shinkaruk is Markus Granlund, Gaunce, Horvat and Hutton are all in the NHL. We give credit where credit is due.
But, you will likely agree that Horvat is the only player of that group who really deserved his draft position (ninth overall). Getting one top-six player out of six years of drafting is obviously far less than we should expect. Considering that Gillis gave up Cory Schneider for the Horvat pick, even that selection is debatable.
Drafting under Jim Benning
Now, Jim Benning commenced his draft adventure with the Canucks in 2014. That year, the club got Virtanen, McCann, Demko and Nikita Tryamkin in the first three rounds. Virtanen, McCann and Tryamkin look like extremely talented, young NHL players while Demko is perhaps the best goaltender in the NCAA.
Only 19 players from that draft have appeared in NHL action so far, including three Canucks.
In 2015, Benning selected Brock Boeser, one of the best skaters in the NCAA. We do not know how the other six picks from that year will turn out, but getting another elite forward would be a decent outcome.
In other words, the Canucks currently have three Benning and three Gillis picks in their lineup, even though Gillis had three times as many drafts to garner talent from. Two Gillis picks from the AHL were turned into current NHL players by Benning.
What Could Have Been
Thinking about what could have been is never a fun thing to do. Successful teams don’t care about what could have been while terrible teams need someone to blame for the situation they are in. Still, as fans, it is something we naturally do.
What would have been, had the Canucks drafted Erik Karlsson over Hodgson in 2008, Ryan O’Reilly over Jordan Schroeder in 2009 and Brandon Saad over Nicklas Jensen in 2011? Perhaps they would have won the Cup in 2011.
Maybe the rebuild on the fly would have worked out because the Canucks would have the best defenceman in the NHL as well as a new No. 1 centre and an elite winger instead of three average fringe NHL players.
Fact is, we won’t find out. But, another fact, Gillis’ drafting did not help the Vancouver Canucks’ future.