After taking home the General Manager of the Year award at the 2011 NHL Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas, Mike Gillis is determined to break into show business. How else do you explain the recent signings in Vancouver?
by Jason Kurylo
Last summer’s list of players Gillis brought into the Canucks organization read like the fans’ wish list. They wanted a steady, highly touted free agent defenseman signed long-term, so welcome to Vancouver, Dan Hamhuis. They pined for a penalty killing faceoff guy to take some of the defensive pressure off of Ryan Kesler. How about a three-year deal for Manny Malhotra? A depth guy who can show up every game with a few big hits, and light the lamp once in a while. Raffi Torres, you’re the next contestant. The fans were unhappy with dead weight like Steve Bernier – Gillis jettisoned the sad sack forward, sending him to Florida for the blueline insurance policy that was Keith Ballard. He didn’t even look at resigning the underachieving marvel that is Pavol Demitra.
Gillis also made some late acquisitions, most notably Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre, to deepen the forward ranks. In all, the man deserved the GM of the Year honours – the Canucks put together the best season in franchise history, and came one win shy of their first-ever Stanley Cup.
His encore, then? Well, let’s be frank. His hands have been largely tied by the crazy money thrown at UFAs and RFAs by guys like Terry Pegula trying to spend the Buffalo Sabres into Cup contention, and GMs trying to reach the salary cap floor – Dale Tallon’s spending spree in Florida is just one example. (Does anyone really think Scottie Upshall is worth $14 million?)
So let’s look at who Mike Gillis has signed:
Marco Sturm: With the Sabres giving Christian Ehrhoff Kovalbucks on Free Agent Day, Gillis felt it best to go out and get another German. Sturm has potted 20 goals or more seven times in his NHL career, and at least 10 goals in four other campaigns. Whether or not he has an impact on the second and third lines, Sturm brings one of the league’s premier nameplates to a roster lacking in colourful monikers. The NHL Guardians were ridiculous, of course, but imagine what some of Vancouver’s animation community could do with a super-hero whose secret identity is “Marco Sturm”? If not a super-hero, this guy deserves at least a decent supporting role at Wayne Enterprises. (Related news: the Over/Under on members of the Vancouver media making puns on his family name is currently sitting at about 87,013 for the pre-season alone – “Sturm Watch”, “Sturm Warning” and “A Sturm’s A-Brewing” are expected to lead the way. With Manny Malhotra’s recent injury and rehab, one hopes no need arises for use of “The Eye of the Sturm”.)
Mike Duco: Doesn’t this guy sound like a character from a gritty war flick? “Colonel Duco, sir, I know you ordered us to take that hill, but the enemy has held us in position, sir.” Or, given his lack of NHL experience (just 12 games in the bigs) and rather questionable tweets during last year’s playoffs (slamming his now-teammates the Sedins and Roberto Luongo), he’s less likely to be a commissioned officer. I see him starting with a few bit parts before the company moves out of camp: “Dig that latrine, Private Duco, on the double! The officers’ crap doesn’t make its own holes in the ground, you know.” Don’t be surprised if he turns up as an engineering dude in a future Star Trek movie: “Spock, who should take point on this away team?” “May I suggest Ensign Duco, Captain? He does, after all, wear a red shirt.”
Steven Pinizzotto: Here’s a case of Gillis engaging in good, old-fashioned Hollywood typecasting. It’s just too easy to cast this career minor-leaguer as mafia muscle. In five professional seasons, he’s played in exactly zero NHL games – however, his tough guy status is not in question. Last season, in 69 games with the AHL Hershey Bears, he put up 178 penalty minutes to go with his 42 points. Like any good mafia man, Pinizzotto’s got family on “both sides of the law” – one brother, like Steven, is a professional, playing hockey in Germany. The other brother is a cop with the Metro Toronto Police Service. Pinizzotto will almost certainly be cast in an enforcer role with the Canucks’ new farm team, the Chicago Wolves.
Byron Bitz: The names just keep on comin’. With Byron Bitz, Mike Gillis is signing Bond villains to play in Chicago. Bitz, who will no doubt inspire about twelve million refrains of “It’s Britney, Bitz!”, ended the 2009 season with an elbow injury, and missed the entirety of last season with a sports hernia. But this is exactly the kind of hindrance a supervillain needs to raise him to arch nemesis status. He’s already got the alliterative name and the surgical scar – give this dude a speech impediment and a few henchmen, and he’s the next Goldfinger.
Andrew Ebbett: Here’s a guy who impressed enough in his rookie NHL season – with 32 points in 48 games with the Anaheim Ducks – that he was picked up off the waiver wire by two separate teams in a five-week span. He played two games for Anaheim, ten games for the Chicago Blackhawks and 49 games for the Minnesota Wild in the 2009-10 season before signing with the Phoenix Coyotes last off-season. His free agent signing with Vancouver puts him in character actor territory. Ebbett is “Oh Yeah, That Guy” in How I Met Your Mother one week, and “What’s His Name Again?” on an episode of House the next. If things with the Canucks don’t pan out, don’t be surprised to see Andrew Ebbett in a commercial for financial services soon, but only if Dennis Haysbert is too busy – you know, Dennis Haysbert: That Guy Who Played President David Palmer on 24. And if the NHL career doesn’t work out, he could always play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
If you like this, check out Jason’s other articles on The Hockey Writers, or surf over to his website, Pucked in the Head. There, you might find yourself winning a signed Ryan Kesler jersey!