Canucks captain Markus Naslund is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent July 1. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
Mike Gillis might turn out to be the greatest NHL GM since Sam Pollock.
Still, it amazes me when a team hires a person at such an important position and does not go through an exhaustive search first. Think about it, Gillis might have been the No. 1 name on the list of Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini, but would it have hurt him to sit down with a handful of other candidates to picks their brains and gather other ideas on how to make his team better?
If Aquilini does that, and then settles on his first pick, at least he’ll have additional information from other sources as to what it will take to get the Canucks back to the playoffs.
Gillis, a player agent who played 246 NHL games, has been tossed around on numerous occasions as a prime candidate to run a team. By all accounts he is a very intelligent man and is well connected throughout the league. That said, Vancouver is a tough market and the natives are restless.
The Canucks have one of the best goalies in the NHL in Roberto Luongo and a solid corps of talented young defensemen. It’s up front where things begin to fall apart.
Vancouver was the third-lowest scoring team in the Western Conference this season with 213 goals. And it has yet to be determined if the team’s top two forwards - the Sedin twins - have what it takes to carry a team deep into the playoffs, not to mention win a championship.
On top of that, former scoring ace Markus Naslund – scheduled to be a UFA July 1 - is in serious decline. Naslund, 34, had 25 goals and 55 points this season, a far cry from the 48 goals and 104 points he tallied four seasons ago. He earned $6 million a year the past three seasons, but will not come close to commanding that kind of money now.
Oh, and by the way, Naslund’s agent just happened to be Gillis. How the new GM handles this situation could be very telling in terms of how he’ll run the team. Overpaying a player in decline would be a huge mistake that won’t go unnoticed by the masses.
Also of interest is what Gillis does with coach Alain Vigneault. Does he retain the 2007 NHL coach of the year or does he bring in his own guy? My guess is he retains Vigneault because it gives him an additional move if things go sour next season. Canning his coach a year from now buys him extra time.
Unlike the Toronto Maple Leafs situation - which has been lousy for so long there are little immediate expectations for Cliff Fletcher’s replacement as GM (especially with a blue-chipper like John Tavares up for grabs in the 2009 entry draft) - Gillis will be expected to make an immediate impact.
He has his work cut out for him.
Mike Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and his column, Double OT, appears Wednesday.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.