Mike Gillis gave one heck of an interview, going through his time as Vancouver Canucks general manager and president. We highly recommend fans give it a listen if they can get a chance.
TSN 1040 can book incredible guests to talk about the Vancouver Canucks. We had the fortune last year to have Laurence Gilman on a weekly basis to provide his insights during his time as an executive and even got a late season interview with GM that presided over the greatest era in Canucks history: Mike Gillis.
That brings us to yesterday, where Gillis was on with Matt Sekeres and Blake Price to discuss several topics, including drafting, what happened with Cody Hodgson, revisiting 2011, Roberto Luongo and John Tortorella. He was on for around two hours and I highly recommend you listen to the re-posted segments. Here is part one and here is part two.
The radio station did create threads on their twitter account, quoting the former Canucks executive, but in my opinion, hearing him speak is more worthwhile. Normally, I would try to break down everything that stood out to me, but we would be here all day. Instead I want to focus on what Mike Gillis meant to me and why I give Jim Benning such a raw deal for his work.
Drafting and admitting fault
Okay, there is one thing I want to briefly discuss before that. All of last season, I was hesitant to give Jim Benning credit for overhauling the prospect pool. I was always under the impression that managers only make the first round selections and the scouts did the rest. Well, Mike Gillis confirmed that.
So, I will give Benning credit for the successes in Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson, But he also has to own the fact that he drafted Jake Virtanen, Olli Juolevi and Jared McCann. The trade made with McCann is another story, but is done to death at this point. Quinn Hughes has yet to prove anything in the NHL yet, but I have a good feeling we can add him to the first group next season.
It also means you have to give Gillis credit for Bo Horvat. Not just the selection, but making the rebuild decision to move Cory Schneider for the pick that would be for the Canucks future captain. Most of his first round picks did not work out and Gillis does not shy away from that.
He goes into more detail about the Hodgson situation and is correct when he said that the things that went wrong weren’t there at the draft. That is the big reason why I don’t give Benning as much credit for picks outside the first round. Otherwise, what would be the point of scouts? And if all Benning wanted was to stay a scout, why become a GM in the first place? I think it’s something worth thinking about.
However, he has no issue with admitting fault. That’s the key here. Whether it was mistakes in scouting, losing the direction that made them great during the post-2011 years and going through the Luongo captaincy. I know talking about 2011 opens the wounds again, but this is something that will always stick with Canucks fans, as it will always stay with the executives from that team as well.
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Gillis was not like other hockey executives. He may have been a former player, but he was not your typical hockey guy. Gillis challenged the status quo and pushed the envelope. They saw things differently and mock the sleep doctors and mental rooms all you want, but it produced results.
He took advantage of the CBA’s rules to sign the best team in franchise history to minimal money. There is no question that the Sedin era was dominant because they were able to pick apart the league with adjusted deployment that maximized their offensive output. The team was so good, that the stale remnants were able to drag themselves into the 2015 postseason.
Gillis’ Canucks were not conventional. They were not liked outside of the Canucks fandom. And they didn’t care. Winning games was the goal and Gillis saw his team do a lot of it. You can say whatever you want about how he built that 2011 team. Yes, most of the key pieces were already there. But critical free agent signings and trades leading up to that run were essential. I won’t pretend that every trade was a home run. He had some awful stinkers in there like the Keith Ballard trade.
But we saw Gillis do things that were not seen before. To use the CBA and salary cap as a weapon and not just a set of rules to follow. Gillis and his executive team were so good at using the CBA, the NHL had to modify it to stop the Canucks. It was funny to hear from Gillis that the biggest whiners about the Luongo contract were at the front of the line trying to trade for him.
I understand that during his time here, people thought Gillis was arrogant (and he was). But he was successful and a combination of poorly timed injuries among several other issues at the time prevented Canucks fans from finally celebrating a Stanley Cup victory. After that interview, I got the impression of someone who has grown a lot. Who admits his mistakes and can articulate his ideas thoughtfully; a far cry from what the current management group can provide. No cliches, no spin. Just straightforward answers from Gillis.
Sometimes I think we took that for granted and maybe it has me setting the bar too high for Jim Benning. Then again, I think NHL fans should have high standards. We had no problem holding Gillis to that when he was fired in 2014. Funny how things can change in a just a few short years.
I will fully admit that I am biased, given the relative recency of 2011. But honestly, that team was one of the best we saw; not just for the franchise, but the NHL’s best for a three-year span. And it would have never got there without the final moves made by Mike Gillis. The guy that was here before him had the same pieces and was far less successful. Like him, dislike. Praise him, condemn him. He was one of the best this franchise ever had.