On Monday, Steve Yzerman signed a four-year contract extension, keeping him in Tampa Bay – as the de facto God of the Lightning – through a college freshman’s undergrad.
This is important to Vancouver. Why? Because our GM is about to be run out of town.
That’s not to say Mike Gillis hasn’t earned his dismissal. His decisions the past three years have taken the Canucks from Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals to the 19th hole. Gillis should be escorted out. Two behind the ear, that sort of thing.
Many GMs have been fired for less, most notably Dale Tallon – the Vancouver Canucks first ever draft pick, way back in 1970, who is now at the helm of the Florida Panthers, and who just swung a deal to bring Bobby Lou out from the jail of Rogers Arena to the friendly, sunny confines of Sunrise.
Tallon was fired in the summer of 2009 for botching some paperwork, while he was the GM of the Chicago Blackhawks. He was fired, not because he wasn’t the right man for the job, but because he fu*ked up. And the Blackhawks haven’t missed a beat since his exit, winning two Stanley Cups under general manager Stan Bowman, with essentially the team Tallon built, led by Toews, Kane, Seabrook, Keith, and (for parts) Ladd, Byfuglien, Niemi, and Versteeg.
So, if it’s consequence you’re looking for, Mike Gillis should have been handed his papers 12 months ago, around the same time he himself showed Alain Vigneault the door.
But don’t let Mike’s downfall spit on his rise.
From when he took over for Dave Nonis in 2008 until the Canucks rode their exhaust to the Cup Final in 2011, Mike Gillis was the best general manager in the game.
He took a non-playoff team and signed his premier players – the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows – to contracts that kept them in postal codes. He signed key free agents, all of whom helped the Canucks grow in three very short, ultimately silver-lined years, from Pavol Demitra and Mats Sundin to Mikael Samuelsson, Manny Malhotra, Christian Ehrhoff, and Dan Hamhuis.
Playing with house money, Gillis was a hell of a card player. But when he got behind, he folded. That happens to anyone, of course, if they stay at the table long enough.
And so we turn to Steve Yzerman, who is getting a whole whack of credit – and deservedly so – for the job he’s done in Tampa Bay, even if this will only be the second time in four years his Lightning make the playoffs. Even though his most lauded moves – most recently, trading whining Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis to New York for a package of Ryan Callahan and two picks – are pretty similar to Gillis’s early, shrewd, outside-the-box decisions – like when he switched all-world defenceman Christian Ehrhoff for failed first-rounder Patrick White.
But let’s remember something – Steve Yzerman hasn’t won a damn thing yet.
As a player? Yeah, your dream captain and a three-time Stanley Cup champion. As the head of Hockey Canada? He’s perfect. But as a GM? The jury’s still out.
Same goes for Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic, who are the faces of a mouth-watering turn-around in Colorado, even though the only guy they themselves brought in was Nathan MacKinnon, a no-brainer first overall pick who tore the Canadian Hockey League a new one with a sizzling Memorial Cup performance last spring.
But for studies like theirs, there’s also the curious case of Wayne Gretzky… the greatest player of all-time who was caught in a nowhere situation in Phoenix, who ascended to head coach of the Coyotes because of what he did on the ice, and who looks just pathetic as a bench boss (now) compared to the team’s current drill sergeant, the maestro Dave Tippett.
Of course, the success of Yzerman et al has led to our own rumours in Vancouver, basically that either Markus Naslund or Trevor Linden will be brought in as the team’s general manager or as its President of Hockey Operations.
Remember last week when Gillis went on Team 1040 and told us all that the Canucks problem, post-2011, was that we were chasing the rest of the league? The Stanley Cup winners one year do it with speed and size, so they trade Cody Hodgson to bring in Zack Kassian and Sami Pahlsson. Then, the Blackhawks win with skill and finesse, and the Canucks copy and paste their formula, too.
All that does is it leaves the team one step behind the next Stanley Cup champion.
And how is this Naslund/Linden idea any different than that?
Last time I checked, the last four Stanley Cup-winning GMs – Ray Shero, Stan Bowman, Peter Chiarelli, and Dean Lombardi – never played in the NHL.
Every GM has an expiry date. Gillis has hit his.
But let’s not lose our minds just yet. Let’s not, as fans, react to panic with panic. We have to remember that we’re the mob. We don’t matter and we don’t know any better. We won’t find the next Ken Holland sitting there in the wilderness, waiting for a phone call.
Let’s also not forget, as poor as the Canucks have played this year – and the players themselves deserve the brunt of the blame, for how they spoiled a pretty terrific start to this season – that we, the fans, have been just as shi*ty ourselves. We were the ones who ran Roberto Luongo and Mason Raymond out of town. We’re the ones who sit silently like corporate mimes in the stands while our team wins, then leave early when they lose. We have performed as poor as our team has, and that matters, because we for some reason think we deserve a say in who our GM is and how he does his job.
If you think Gillis deserves to be fired, you’re right. What he has done to this team while we’ve been conscious has been a nightmare, at least since that actual bed-wetting riot in June of 2011.
The Canucks need to take a step forward – a step in a new direction – and they need to rip down the dictator’s statue.
But then what?