To many, the Vancouver Canucks' dismissal of GM Dave Nonis came as an unwarranted surprise, and was a disconcerting suggestion of a shambolic management style of recently affirmed owners, the Aquilini Family. To others, including this author, it was an inevitable and necessary end to what had become a hackneyed lineage of management style. Yes, to date, new GM Mike Gillis has not set Canuck Land aflame with bold moves. Nor is it clear he has undertaken any moves or initiatives that Nonis could or would not have himself undertaken. But that begs the question. Mike Gillis inherited this larder—Dave Nonis was instrumental in its construction.
Save for Keenan’s brief reign of terror, Nonis represented an unbroken lineage of GMs that began way back in 1987, when Jack Milford slipped Pat Quinn an envelope with a cool $100,000 to begin the colossal task of turning around a franchise buried in losing and ignominy. Pat Quinn hired Brian Burke, Brian Burke hired Dave Nonis.
Now a foundation franchise of the NHL, the accomplishments of this lineage are not to be diminished. Inherent in their greatest strength, however, is their greatest conciet —an unblemished loyalty to those they favour. This began with with Pat Quinn's well-earned moniker as a player's coach, but this same conceit masked an inability to consistently undertake frank assessments of the talent within, be it scouts or players. Machiavelli was wrong—individuals, particularly modern fickle professional athletes, will play better, often much better, for those they love rather than those they fear. This unblemished loyalty has produced considerable dividends—but too often critiques were clouded by admonishments of potential or that, "Hey, he’s a real nice guy." With Burke in particular, any such questions raised by fans or the press were met with medieval tirades and campaigns of loathing that became familiar landmarks of an incontinent ego.
Quinn did not see the precipitous slide in McLean’s game, and his delay in moving a clearly unhappy Bure limited the assets that were received in return. Similarly, Burke refused to acknowledge the clearly evident limitations with Cloutier’s ability, despite clamours from fans and the press alike. The results kneecapped the team’s opportunities and psyche.
The jury remains sequestered with regard to Nonis' draft record, but professional scouting under his purview, to put in kindly, was abysmal. See Jan Bullis, Marc Chouinard and Jeff Cowan, amongst others. But it was Nonis’ initial decision to continue with the crew he inherited, more of the same, that doomed his regime. To any but passing fans, that vintage ended with Bertuzzi’s well-documented moment of discombobulated rage. And what more needed to be learned about Cloutier’s game?
Nonis’ decision not to not move heaven and earth to get Neidermayer signed was yet more evidence of his inability to move forward. This is a player who is a champion like few others. He wanted to play here. Instead, Canuck Land was fed the fodder that it was Naslund or Neidermayer. Huh? Again, it was clear that this was almost certainly going to be Jovo’s last year in Orca Bay colours. Moving him would have prudent, beyond the obvious cap space it would have created to sign Niedermayer. Assets, potentially considerable assets, would be received in return and the team would receive an upgrade of historic proportions. Yes, Jovo's happy feet and Macedonian pluck enamoured him to fans and turned many a game, but he was not and is not in Niedermayer's class. He was just as famous for coughing up the puck for breakfast. Instead of cool-headed assessment, Jovo Love reigned. He walked at the end of his contract, and the Canucks received an all too familiar nil.
In Mike Gillis, the Canucks now have a GM unburdened by past history and relationships. Assessments are objective, and decisions and understandings are devoid of misty "once upon a time" reasoning. Now, if he can only do something about that whale.