VANCOUVER - The next general manager of the Vancouver Canucks must provide the leadership skills to make the NHL team competitive and capable of winning a Stanley Cup, owner Francesco Aquilini said Tuesday.
The implication was Dave Nonis, who was fired as the Canucks general manager and senior vice-president Monday evening, didn't possess the leadership capabilities Aquilini wanted.
"I think we're going to find leadership that is going to deliver what our expectations are," Aquilini told a packed news conference at GM Place. "We want an organization that grows, that succeeds and competes in the long term, not just for one year or two years."
Nonis, 41, was fired just over a week after the Canucks missed the playoffs with a 39-33-10 record, three points out of eighth place in the Western Conference. It was the second time in three years Vancouver was on the outside looking in when the playoffs started.
While praised for the trade that brought goaltender Roberto Luongo to Vancouver, Nonis was criticized for signing players like Markus Naslund to long-term, high-price contracts and for failing to make a move to add scoring punch at the trade deadline.
Aquilini, who owns the team with his two brothers, said no one factor led to Nonis being released.
"You can't attribute what happened to one specific thing," he said. "We looked at the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of this team. I think our fans deserve better.
"We felt a change in direction of this team and the leadership was necessary."
Nonis didn't attend the news conference but is scheduled to meet the media Wednesday.
The search for Nonis's replacement begins immediately. The Canucks will need someone in place in time for the June draft and before the free agent market opens July 1.
"The timeline is as soon as possible," said Chris Zimmerman, the Canucks president and chief executive officer. "The important thing is to get the right person.
"We certainly understand the demands of getting somebody in place quickly during an off-season that is critical to the future of the team."
In the mean time Steve Tambellini, a former Canuck player who is now vice-president and assistant general manager, will be the team's "senior hockey operations person," Zimmerman said.
Tambellini could be one candidate to replace Nonis. Other possibilities are Mike Gillis, a former player and current player agent; Doug Armstrong, the former Dallas Stars GM; and Jim Nill, the assistant GM and vice-president with the Detroit Red Wings.
"We've begun our process now," Aquilini said. "We will be speaking with a number of candidates."
The person selected will be "someone who can step into the big shoes and set a strategic plan," he said. "Someone who has experience. Someone who can get the job done. That's what it comes down to, and not give excuses."
Brian Burke, the man the Canucks fired in 2004 and replaced with Nonis, has also been mentioned. Sources say Burke, the Anaheim general manager, is not interested in returning to Vancouver.
With Nonis gone, it remains to be seen how many other dominos will fall in the Canuck organization. The future of coach Alain Vigneault, last season's NHL coach of the year, his assistants and the Vancouver scouting staff will be decided by the new general manager.
"He's going to make those decisions," said Aquilini. "Our goal is to bring in the great leadership, then give him the resources and tools to do his job."
With Vigneault as coach, the Canucks became a grinding, blue-collar defensive team, not the fast-paced, high-scoring squad of previous years. The team plays before sellout crowds at GM Place, but another losing season of dull hockey could result in a drop in attendance.
"I can tell you the style of play I like is winning and what ever that takes," said Aquilini. "I think the coach and the GM will have to decide that, as long as they are winning."
Nonis was hired May 6, 2004. During his term Vancouver had a 130-91-25 record.
Last season, the Canucks set a team record with 49 wins and 105 points to finish first in the Northwest Division. They defeated Dallas in the first round of the playoffs before losing to Anaheim in the conference semifinals.
Saddled with high expectations from last year, the Canucks struggled all season. The team lost 174 man-games due to injury on defence. Luongo, the main reason for the Canucks success last year, couldn't make the difference this season.
Aquilini thinks the team has the potential to be much better than it was.
"I think we have the best goalie in the world, we have a great foundation," he said. "I think we can build on it. It's going to be the challenge of the new GM to provide that."
The Canucks will also have to decide if they want to re-sign Naslund and Brendan Morrison, free agents who between them earned US$9.2 million last season.
This year there were questions if ownership was willing to spend the money to be competitive.
"We were under the (salary) cap," said Zimmerman. "The resources were there. Dave had the ability to spend to the cap.
"In terms of the go-forward, we are going to make the resources there for the GM to make the call on how to best utilize the dollars."