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What's Next for the Vancouver Canucks After Firing General Manager Mike Gillis?

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MARCH 14:  Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis (right) and assistant general manager Laurence Gillman walk through the arena before their NHL game against the Nashville Predators at Rogers Arena March 14, 2013 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver won 7-4.(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images
Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistApril 8, 2014

On Monday, the Vancouver Canucks put in a dismal performance against an Anaheim team that was coming off a loss to Edmonton the night before. It was a loss that mathematically eliminated the Canucks from the playoffs.

On Tuesday, the team reacted the same way it did the last time it missed the postseason, dismissing its general manager:

Inevitably, the question is what Vancouver should do next. They could do a lot worse than promoting assistant general manager Laurence Gilman to the top job.

The simple fact of the matter is that while Gillis had some extremely high-profile gaffes, he and his management team delivered the most successful five-year run in team history.

Vancouver won five playoff rounds, went to the Stanley Cup Final (losing to Boston in seven games) and twice led the league in regular-season wins and points.

It’s tempting to focus solely on the failures, but Gillis took over a team at a low ebb and did good things with it.

VANCOUVER, CANADA - FEBRUARY 22:  Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis sits between his assistant general managers Laurence Gilman (L) and Lorne Henning (R) as they watch their game against the Montreal Canadiens at Rogers Arena on February 22, 2
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

That’s why hiring Gilman is a sensible next step. For the most part, the Canucks did smart things over Gillis’ tenure and Gilman was the organization’s No. 2 man as it followed processes that produced a reasonable measure of success.

It is important that the organization not throw the baby out with the bathwater, and its best chance of not doing that is to turn over the keys to somebody who has seen what has worked in Vancouver over the last five seasons.

If anything, the team’s spectacular failures under Gillis only reinforce this notion. What happened this year can be traced not to systematic failings, but to a few high-profile errors.

The Canucks’ collapse coincides with the arrival of a new, hard-nosed NHL coach (John Tortorella) and the departure of both of the organization’s excellent goaltenders (Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider).

VANCOUVER, BC - DECEMBER 6:  Head coach John Tortorella of the Vancouver Canucks looks on as Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks walks onto the bench during their NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Rogers Arena on December 6, 2013 in Vancouver
Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

It’s hard not to wonder too whether those high-profile gaffes were really just the one mistake. Trading  Schneider for a solid returnthe ninth overall pick in 2013, which was used to select Bo Horvatwas a defensible move given that Luongo was still with the organization and the new CBA made his contract difficult to trade.

Given that Luongo was traded to Florida just two days after Tortorella publicly humiliated him by starting Eddie Lack in a high-profile outdoor game, it’s difficult not to wonder if the only mistake the organization made was bringing in a head coach who failed to connect with the star goaltender.  

Subtract Tortorella, leave Luongo in place and the Canucks organization might look very different today. It might even mean that Gillis would still have a job.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges ahead. Vancouver’s core is locked in, and that limits the options of whoever succeeds Gillis.

In an interview with Team 1040 last week (h/t Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski), Gillis laid out what his approach was going to be:  

People love to pick someone to blame, but the reality is as an organization we’ve deviated from some of the things that made us successful and some of the things that I know will be successful. We’re going to get back to those levels, get back to that style of play that we started six years ago. We have the personnel to do it. We just have to be committed and have the guts to carry it out.

Realistically, that’s the only road forward. A quick glance at CapGeek.com shows a team with nine no-trade clauses and 10 different players signed for at least two years after this one.

It’s hard to move players, however good, with money left on their deals. It’s harder still when they have a measure of control over where they’re movedif they’re moved at all.

With the Canucks in a weak negotiating position given the season they’ve had, it’s even tougher.

That means that while the Canucks have dismissed the man who drew up the plan, they probably have little choice but to follow the blueprint he was working from.

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