Canucks and Beyond

Mike Gillis: 3 Years Later

03/08/2011 at 1:28am EST

The era of Mike Gillis in Vancouver began rather awkwardly, as he was hired by new owners while having no experience in a NHL management gig and yet without any competition for the job. The drama surrounding the ownership in general (i.e. Francesco Aquilini was embroiled in a contentious lawsuit for his very ownership of the team even as the hire was completed), the results—three years later and at the top of the league’s standings—seem to vindicate the choice.

From Ed Willis at The Province:

In the end, you can question how it all happened, and the jury is still out on some aspects of Gillis’s administration. What’s beyond dispute, however, is the level of trust Aquilini has invested in Gillis and the resources he’s placed at his disposal.

“No one has carte blanche,” Aquilini said during the team’s current road trip. “But he’s been placed in control of the hockey operations and I don’t think I’ve said no to him yet.”

And from Mike Gillis:

“I think Scotty Bowman said the greatest thing he had in his career was solid ownership,” said Gillis. “I have to agree with him. The luxury we have here is we have people who are committed to winning and who are prepared to look at things differently.

“I think it’s the greatest strength we have. [Aquilini] will do anything to help us win.”

I think we can assume such comments are partially a reflection of Gillis remembering who’s signing his paycheques. But I think he’s sincere, too. (And to be clear, I’ve never particularly liked Gillis as the GM of the Canucks… but having met him very briefly on two occasions, he also didn’t strike me as much of a bullshitter, either. More of a ‘what you see is what you get’ type. but that’s just my impression…) Anyway, no one can argue with the success of the arrangement. The team has performed well and profited handsomely as the GM has guided the ship.

One of the key quotes in the piece was this one by Gillis:

“The plan was to re-invest in areas that had either been neglected or never fully developed,” said Gillis. “I thought Vancouver was never on the A-list of teams and to get on that A-list we had to do things differently. We had to make sure people knew they’d be coming to a place that was dedicated to winning. That was the key message, and the strategy hasn’t changed.”

That’s exactly what Gillis and Aquillini have achieved in the last few years, and a fundamental part of how they changed the culture of the Canucks. Instead of being a place people played while ignoring the negatives (i.e. travel time, no Cups, constant drama and sometimes-irrationally nuts Canadian hockey media) this GM-and-owner duo has transformed them into a team that good players want to play for, through a variety of initiatives. The results—at least to this point—are hard to argue with.

I’m still not likely to join Mike Gillis Fan Club anytime soon, but you can’t argue with results.

Read the rest of Ed Willis’ article here. A very interesting read on the business side of a solid NHL team.

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