This is a man who led the Canucks to five straight Northwest Division titles before the reconfiguration of the divisions and conferences this season. Gillis put together a large part of the Canucks team in 2011 that went to the Stanley Cup Final. He routinely looked to improve his team, bringing in players such as Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis, Chris Higgins, and David Booth, but the Canucks have faltered in the last two playoff years, winning just one game in those two years.
Where Gillis may have written his own pink slip was his abhorrent mishandling of the goaltending situation when both Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider were still Canucks. Trading both goalies away as the solution to the problem fetched the Canucks little in return, but Bo Horvat still has a chance to make the Schneider-to-New-Jersey trade a little more palatable.
The question now is where Gillis will land. He's a former player agent, so he's been on both sides of the desk. He understands player negotiations from both sides, but he has a knack for handing out bad contracts to players and then trying to trade those players away to escape the poor contracts. Luongo and Schneider - a fairly strong goaltending tandem - saw their battle for playing time go public, and Mike Gillis did nothing to douse that fire. In fact, he may have poured gasoline onto it at times.
The other controversy seemed to stem from the hiring of head coach John Tortorella. Gillis backhandedly called out the coach a week ago when he expressed to reporters the desire to see the team return to the way they played the game in 2011. John Tortorella, as you may recall, was the head coach of the New York Rangers in 2011. "I’m tired of chasing a moving target," Gillis told TEAM 1040 radio about the Canucks’ style. "We're going to get back to the fundamentals and the principles that I believe in, and that's how we're going to play. If people don't want to comply... we did this six years ago — we made hard choices. And those hard choices are going to come again if we don't see people get on the same page.”
While I'm not going to comment on who played what role in the hiring of the Mr. Tortorella after reading this David Ebner article in the The Globe and Mail today, Gillis became the fall guy for what will ultimately be these two reasons. For a team that made the playoffs as the division champions over the last five seasons, it's not like Gillis' team hadn't had success, albeit less in the last two years as their roster aged. Injuries to key players this season had the Canucks fighting uphill this season, and some of the underperforming players - Burrows and Booth most notably - didn't help Gillis' fate.
Had the Canucks decided to fire Tortorella, they would still owe him four more years of pay at $2 million per season. That's a heavy burden to carry for the next four years, especially when needing to hire a new coach to replace the outgoing one. Gillis, though, also has $8 million owed to him after he signed an extension after the 2011-12 season, meaning that this decision came from higher-up than the GM's office and would certainly have been run through ownership.
It seems that Francesco Aquilini, the team's chairman and co-owner, had a lot to do with the way things were being run. Reports surfaced out of Pittsburgh that the supposed Ryan-Kesler-to-Pittsburgh deal was killed not by a lack of prospects or viable NHL players, but by Vancouver ownership who felt that moving Kesler would send the wrong message to fans.
To be clear, #pens feel Vancouver ownership nixed trade that would have sent Kesler to Pittsburgh.— Rob Rossi (@RobRossi_Trib) March 5, 2014
Mr. Aquilini was also present on the day that John Tortorella was hired. While owners should have a vested interest in their club, it seems the owners of the Canucks want more to do with the personnel side of the coin. As the excellent blog Pass It To Bulis wrote on March 5,
And as for ownership and their reported meddling, that wouldn’t surprise me either. Those have been the rumours for quite some time, and nothing that happened today — again, nothing happened today — seems out of character for them.Perhaps there is fire where this smoke is being seen in Vancouver. The article written by Mr. Ebner in the The Globe and Mail seems to speak volumes about how Mr. Aquilini is hands-off on the surface, but highly-involved behind the scenes as if he were manipulating pieces on a chessboard.
While the The Globe and Mail article has Mr. Aquilini distancing himself from the moves being made over the past season, multiple sources have pointed the finger at him as the being the hand controlling the dancing marionettes in Vancouver. Further to this, the firing comes one day after a vast number of lower-bowl seats at Rogers Arena were empty during the 3-0 loss on Monday, and one day before the season ticket and luxury box renewals start for the Canucks. With the fans demanding Gillis' head after the Ducks game, you have to wonder if this move was done to salvage season ticket and luxury box sales, especially when you consider that the cost of removing Gillis - who was critical of the head coach agreed upon by himself and ownership - was the same hit to the pocketbook as removing the coach.
In saying all of this, the end result is that the Canucks' ownership group will need to seek out a new general manager and president, and it appears they'll tap long-time fan favorite and former Canuck captain Trevor Linden to try and get the Canucks back on-track. Linden will take over the role as President of the Canucks, and everyone will put on a happy face as this season swirls around the drain over the remaining week.
There is no doubt that Mike Gillis made mistakes in his role as GM. I don't believe there have been any GMs who have a perfect track record when it comes to trades and signings. But if the rumors from multiple sources are true about ownership pulling the strings from behind the curtain, the next GM of the Vancouver Canucks had better be a good dancer to prevent the marionette strings from getting tangled like they were this season.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!