The Vancouver Canucks disappointed their fan base this season by exiting to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in five games. Despite the fact that the last three Stanley Cup champions have defeated the Canucks en route to hoisting the most beautiful trophy in sports, Canucks fans take little solace knowing that very anecdote.
The Canucks have become a force in the Western Conference but the question we are going to examine today is: Who is, in fact, responsible for the roster that was iced in this year’s playoffs against the Kings?
Mike Gillis is the current general manager (GM) of the Canucks and the former player agent has become one of the more respected general managers in the National Hockey League (NHL). Gillis is known for paying attention to detail and has hired sleep experts and nutritionists to maximize his team’s day-to-day effectiveness.
The former fifth overall draft pick of the Colorado Rockies was hired as GM of the club after the 2007-08 NHL season. After four seasons on the job, we have an idea how Gillis manages the club.
So, just who is Gillis responsible for bringing into town and how much have those players contributed to the team’s top tier production over the past few seasons?
Players acquired by Gillis via draft, trade or free agent signing:
- David Booth (trade);
- Chris Higgins (trade);
- Sami Pahlsson (trade);
- Maxim Lapierre (trade);
- Dale Weiss (waivers);
- Manny Malhotra (free agent);
- Zach Kassian (trade);
- Dan Hamhuis (free agent);
- Marc-Andre Gragnani (trade);
- Keith Ballard (trade); and
- Chris Tanev (free agent).
This group has two players that probably stand out above others; those players are Manny Malhortra and Dan Hamhuis. Malhotra was signed by Gillis in the summer of 2010 as a face-off specialist. Malhotra did that job as well as Gillis could have expected by winning face-offs at a high rate, all the while beginning a large majority of his shifts in the defensive zone. Hamhuis was signed as a free agent in the summer of 2010 as well and has added a solid stay-at-home defenseman to the Canucks’ stable. Hamhuis is not flashy but he gets the job done and is a top-four NHL defenseman.
The other players have an assortment of talents. David Booth hasn’t been the scorer many expected he’d be before being elbowed in the head by Mike Richards. Chris Higgins was effective for Vancouver in 2010-11 but less so in 2011-12. Sami Pahlsson added nothing on offense in the team’s playoff run in 2011-12 and looks to be on his way out of town as a pending unrestricted free agent. Maxim Lapierre seems to be wearing out his welcome in British Columbia, just as he did in Montreal and Anaheim. Dale Weiss is a tough-guy who will be restricted to fourth line duty. Keith Ballard has been an unmitigated bust since being acquired from the Florida Panthers.
The rest of the players listed above possess some potential, such as Zach Kassian, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Chris Tanev. Kassian could be a boom-or-bust type prospect, so time will tell what he turns himself into at the NHL level.
All in all, the group above contributed to the Canucks’ success over the past couple seasons, but none of them have proven to be game-breaking talents.
Dave Nonis probably got a raw deal when he was dispatched from his position as Canucks GM. Coming into the summer of 2008, the Canucks had cap space and room to maneuver. Before Nonis had an opportunity to take advantage of the space he had built up, he was removed from his post.
- Roberto Luongo (trade);
- Alex Burrows (free agent);
- Jannik Hansen (draft);
- Alexander Edler (draft); and
- Cory Schneider (draft).
The difficult part about analyzing a general manager is the time it takes players to develop. Just as we are not yet sure what Mike Gillis’s draft picks are going to make of themselves, in 2008 the same could be said for Dave Nonis. With time and patience, a number of the players he and his scouting team were responsible for drafting and developing during his tenure have turned into more than serviceable NHL players.
Of the five players listed above, Burrows, Edler and Schneider all spent significant time in the Canucks system playing with the Manitoba Moose. If you had seen each of these players in their first AHL game, you would have seen some talent, but by the end of their last game in the AHL, each player was a heck of a lot better than they were at the beginning.
As you can see, Dave Nonis was responsible for assembling arguably the best goaltending duo in the NHL last season. Luongo was acquired as part of a trade with Mike Keenan’s Florida Panthers that saw Todd Bertuzzi going the other way. While some may point out that Luongo’s subsequent contract has turned into an albatross, it was actually Gillis who was responsible for that contract.
Alex Burrows has turned into a top-six forward and Jannik Hansen has become a very solid third line right winger. It should be noted that Gillis should be credited with re-signing each to respectable (some would argue below market rate) average annual salaries in order to keep his salary cap flexibility.
On the back-end, Alexander Edler, even after a poor performance in the 2012 playoffs, has tremendous upside and has already turned into a top NHL defenseman.
It also must be stated that Nonis was part of Brian Burke’s management team, so he should be given partial credit for the Burke acquisitions listed below.
- Daniel Sedin (draft);
- Henrik Sedin (draft);
- Ryan Kesler (draft);
- Kevin Bieksa (draft); and
- Sami Salo (trade).
The most interesting part of analyzing the Canucks current lineup is the fact that Brian Burke, now two positions removed from being GM of the club, still has a lasting impact on the team’s success. No one will argue that the Sedin twins are the two most offensively gifted players on the roster; had Daniel Sedin been healthy heading into the playoffs, maybe the Los Angeles Kings would have faced yet another first round disappointment?
Burke orchestrated the draft day trade that brought the Sedins to Vancouver—the rest, of course, is history. Credit is also due to Gillis who signed the Sedins to below-market level deals and did not allow the dynamic twins to walk in hopes of signing a player like Marian Gaborik.
Ryan Kesler is arguably a top-five two-way NHL center. He can play in all situations, is a leader locker room and logs ice-time against the other team’s top players. Without a healthy Ryan Kesler this post-season, the Canucks struggled to combat the top-end players of the Los Angeles Kings.
People also may forget that one of Ryan Kesler’s close friends, Kevin Bieksa, was drafted on Burke’s watch in 2001. The former Bowling Green rearguard has become a top-four NHL defenseman and is a leader in the Canucks locker room.
Burke not only had some strong draft picks but he was responsible for acquiring defenseman Sami Salo from Ottawa for Peter Schaeffer. One does not have to go out on a limb to admit who won that trade by a country mile.
Although Burke had a falling out with Canucks ownership and this roster may look completely different than when Burke left town for Anaheim, his fingerprints are still all over the Canucks success.
Three qualified individuals in Gillis, Nonis and Burke have assembled the current Canucks roster. Even though Burke has not been GM of the Canucks for over eight years he was actually responsible for building the core of the team. Similarly, some of the team’s core offensive, defensive players and its dominant duo of goaltenders were brought to town under Dave Nonis’s stewardship. The current GM, Gillis, has played a part in supplying support players, some successful and some not, a couple key contributors and has, most of all, signed the quality players he inherited to cap-friendly contracts affording himself financial flexibility.
Just as the pundits preach about the draft that patience is a virtue, when it comes to determining whether a general manager has had a successful tenure that same narrative applies.