The Vancouver Canucks relieved Dave Nonis from his General Manager duties yesterday—that was a surprise to many.
Grumblings of a possible firing have been floating around the NHL because the team has missed the playoffs this season. Despite this, it seems to have come as a bit of a shock to the players and fans in Vancouver.
The Vancouver Canucks GM and Senior VP was heading into the final year of his contract, which was signed when the Canucks were still owned by Orca Bay.
During the three seasons in which Nonis was at the helm, the Canucks have missed the playoffs twice. In his first season as the Canucks’ GM, Nonis decided to keep in tact the team that Brian Burke—his mentor and friend—had built.
It being his first season as GM, he was not willing to shake things up too much. The decision was as much a strategic move as it was a political one.
If the team had gone deep into the playoffs, Nonis would have been heralded as the only one with the foresight to see that the team had what it took to get the job done.
If they didn't go far or didn't make the playoffs at all (which is what happened), he could easily say he did what he thought was right at the time. Then he would have justification to make a new team the way he thought it should be made.
The first year was a win-win situation for Nonis.
After the failure of the team under Coach Mark Crawford, Nonis could now put his own stamp on this team. He traded the troubled Todd Bertuzzi, promising defenseman Bryan Allen and goalie Alex Auld for Lukas Krajicek and Roberto Luongo.
The message was clear to the fans and the rest of the league: this would now be a defensive team built from the goalie outwards, and not a “run-and-gun with questionable goal-tending” team.
The Canucks' young GM had managed to secure arguably the league's best goalie, without giving up the entire team.
The following season, the Canucks went on an improbable run after Christmas. They managed to make it to the second round of the playoffs, playing an effective—albeit boring—style of hockey.
It was farther than they had made it for years. But then there was the past recent season. They didn't make the playoffs, and now the glee of making a run for the cup has worn off.
The Jack Adams award and the Vezina nomination mean nothing. It looks like the Canucks' run-under the system played in 2007 was an over-achievement.
The Vancouver Canucks chose to play a system that leaves no margin for error every night. Perhaps the Canucks' personnel was not capable of delivering that kind of play.
Dave Nonis' tenure doesn't look all that bad. He made possibly the deal of the decade in getting Luongo, and he did take the organization to a record season of wins.
So why did he get fired?
Francesco Aquilini, the new owner of the Vancouver Canucks, is a hockey fan. He isn't just a hockey fan, he's a Vancouver Canucks fan. Aquilini is a local owner with more than just a business stake in the matter; he wants a winning home team.
As a fan myself, I can completely understand his decision. He did not hire Nonis, and may want to put his own stamp on his team. He may want to put someone in charge whom he trusts to mold the team as he sees fit.
If he's the same kind of fan I am, I can understand why he is frustrated. I have written in a past article that the fans in Vancouver do not want a team like the one we have.
A defensive team is great when they are winning, but when they are losing they make a town like Vancouver crazy.
The hockey fans in Vancouver just won’t have it. If Aquilini feels this way, then it makes sense that he would want to have a say in the matter.
He may also feel that Dave Nonis just can't get the job done.
Some evidence of the move had been piling up around this year’s trade deadline. Then there was also the fact that he might not have the weight other GMs do in getting players the team needs. Nonis' inaction at the deadline might have been his undoing.
Nonis has long maintained that he has had a plan for the team, and would not make any deal that didn't make sense for the organization. That is a noble thought, but sometimes it's not enough to convince the boss you're actually doing your job to the best of your ability.
Could Dave Nonis have made a big move in the offseason to make the Vancouver Canucks a better team? Now we will never know.
For the record, I don't think Aquilini should have fired Nonis now. We all knew changes were going to come this offseason—playoffs or not—because of the large amount of contracts that are ending for major players on the roster.
With so much room, both roster-wise and salary cap-wise, Nonis would have his best chance at changing this team for the better.
I believe he should have been given the chance to do it. Now it will be someone else's job to find the right pieces of the puzzle.
Timing seems to be something Aquilini has done right. If an owner felt strongly that he needed a new GM, this is the right time to do it.
Nonis has one year left on his contract, and unless Aquilini intended on extending it, he would have the "Lame Duck" GM stigma attached to the Vancouver Canucks. And releasing Nonis before the end of the season gives the new GM time to make the necessary moves over the summer break.
At the same time, the move makes major sports news during the playoffs, and now other teams know the situation the Canucks are in.
The firing of the Vancouver Canucks GM was surprising to some. Others said the writing was on the wall. New owners often make these types of changes when they take over.
There will be much speculation on possible replacements and the fate of the Canucks' head coach as well. Many questions will be asked over the next few weeks until the replacement is found.
I don't know if Francesco Aquilini made the right decision regarding his team, but at least he has made a decision. It shows promise that a local owner is passionate about his team.
This can lead to good things for the Canucks. You can tell from his prepared statement yesterday that he is an owner that listens to his fans, and he is a fan himself.
"We want to thank Dave for the many contributions he has made helping to build our organization during his tenure,” Aquilini said. “However, I think this important change in leadership is critical to the future of the team and the direction we need to take. It's not acceptable to our fans or to us as owners that our team isn't in the playoffs."
He has now made the first important move as an owner by putting his stamp on the team. I'm looking forward to his next move in selecting a new GM and seeing what kind of team he is looking to build.