The recent head shaker trade that sent Roberto Luongo back to Florida was the tipping point for everything that is wrong with the Canucks. Since GM Mike Gillis arrived, he inherited a roster that needed some work, hired a new coach and started asking questions that no one had asked before. Were the Sedins worth building the team around, did they have what it takes to win a Stanley Cup? What could HE do to make them a contender and how would he do it?
Let’s look at how the Canucks are running shop. Any normal business that creates internal tension from success would be scoffed at. How could you axe your top performers and expect the business to continue to thrive? It doesn’t happen. If you are running a business you have to be responsible for your actions. First and foremost, trading away BOTH of your top goaltenders for peanuts is bad PR and when they’ve done essentially nothing wrong, the HR department might have something to say.
Now, sports are quite different than a normal business but at the same time, they still follow some basic truths. Keep the employees happy, be profitable, hire and train a successful workforce and grow. Mike Gillis has found a way to continue the trend of keeping the team successful but taking the next step has caused almost all of his dominos to fall.
The employees, the team, well they ain’t happy. How could they be? They have no idea what is going on, by season’s end they could all be asked to leave, the coach hasn’t convinced his team to buy in and the leaders are being put to pasture because no one could figure out how to save the franchise. Some business model! Its surprising that the team hasn’t just walked off the job. That’s what would happen in the real world.
Early on MG’s rogue style was questioned; letting Captain Markus Naslund walk via free agency as well as often injured, former top center Brendan Morrison. He then shocked the hockey world, started the mass criticism and named star goaltender Roberto Luongo the team’s captain. Sure, having a goalie as your captain is a nutty idea and on a game-by-game basis, he was left out of all the important goings on with the referees. That would only last a few seasons and to start the team’s 40th anniversary season, he switched it up for the better and named Henrik Sedin as Roberto’s successor. A little odd how things started for Gillis but not totally bizarre.
Gillis could do no wrong. Well, not quite. Begging for Mats Sundin to join the Canucks when he hadn’t played or realistically trained for months was a cry for help. Moving away talent like Michael Grabner for overpriced defenseman Keith Ballard, or budding star Cody Hodgson for raw, unproven, Zack Kassian, both trades raising red flags among fans and media alike. Suddenly, the white knight that rode into town was showing his colors; an inexperienced GM making inexperienced moves.
Some life lessons along the way, a few tough losses to the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs and Gillis had managed to tweak his team just right so he could send his 2011 team all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Handing out an absolute fleecing to the Sharks for Christian Ehrhoff, banishing career nobodies Patrick White and Daniel Rahimi the other way, wrangling depth forwards Chris Higgins from again, Florida, and agitator Maxim Lapierre from Montreal; Gillis was ready to make his mark. The season prior, he locked up the Canucks find of the decade, Alex Burrows for 4 years at a low $2M per. Sadly, the Canucks wouldn’t hoist the silver chalice at any point during this run.
Recklessly spending ownership’s money on a washed up player was a big risk and like any business risks need to be taken to succeed. The risks that Gillis would continue to make started to irk everyone. Moving away a future star like Cody Hodgson is just bad management. Regardless of what the optics were, sending away a “problem player” because the management and coaching staff couldn’t work together to find a solution would put the operations manager’s job in serious jeopardy. Figure it out, these are real dollars being spent here.
Failing to answer the toughness question and a broken powerplay after losing the cup and being embarrassed for two seasons afterwards, Gillis was starting to see the panic button make its way into town. While everyone else in the league was addressing their problems, the Canucks were sticking on no name brand bandages and watching them fall off almost as soon as they put them on.
The big shake up that really put up a giant question mark was the bombshell trade that sent then #1 goaltender Cory Schneider to New Jersey for the 9th overall pick in the 2014 draft. THAT’S IT!! To see Roberto gone less than a year later really makes one wonder what Mike was thinking. The cupboards have been emptied and no preparation to restock them properly. The Canucks have recently made moves that put them in the ball park of where the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers reside, uncertain limbo.
When the Canucks turned the page from 1999 to 2000, they were struggling to put butts in seats. Former management began the process to create a winning atmosphere by drafting somewhat responsibly, updating their arena to become more modern and player friendly with a state of the art dressing room and player facilities, along with rebranding what the Canucks look like on the ice. New jerseys and high profile signings helped create sellout after sellout and it attracted top end talent.
With this, the new NHL created a problem that the Canucks embraced all too well: No Trade Clauses. Playing for a winning team and a beautiful city causes players to want to stay. Signing contracts that basically handcuff the team from making any moves are a growing trend and when a team like the Canucks has more NTC’s than they know what to do with, any type of trade becomes almost impossible. They can’t improve their team when they can’t move anyone on it.
Its unrealistic to think that every player will stay with one team for his entire tenure, so why even make these types of contracts possible? It causes tension with the fan base when any trade is forced through and it limits options of what can be done. To add to this, signing players to long multi-year deals also roadblocks any movement. Any investment banker knows that if you tie up all your money in one place, if anything goes wrong, you’re stuck. The Canucks put all their eggs in one basket and it looks like they don’t even have a basket anymore to hold things together.
Each bad decision, regardless of the good ones, slowly chips away at what was once a solid plan. Now, the series of events that has unfolded (shipping out both star goalies, publicizing Ryan Kesler’s need to find a new team and opening up the books for the whole league to see what’s available) has put the Canucks in a position where it all could burn down in a heartbeat and square one is just around the corner.
Everything is snowballing towards a reboot of where the team was back in 1999, when the last real changes were made. From consecutive sellouts season after season to new marketing initiatives that slyly beg people back to the games, the Canucks are in danger. A resale market that once thrived seeing tickets go for over 2-4x their face value to the current day where ticket brokers are taking a hit to make a sale. Are the Canucks still ticking or has the clock struck 12.
Part 2 of the series will be available tomorrow.
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