When Vancouver GM Dave Nonis told me at the 2006 draft a team only had a three-to-four-year window in which to win before significant change was made to it, he was right on the money.
Unfortunately for him, the biggest change – and the first major move of the NHL’s off-season – came late Monday night when the Canucks relieved him of his duties.
Nonis succeeded Brian Burke in Vancouver in May of 2004, but the clock really began ticking on him when he acquired Roberto Luongo from Florida. With the Canucks’ defensive zone problems seemingly solved in one fell swoop, everyone’s attention turned to the team’s offense.
And that was the one area Nonis could not shore up in the three seasons the on-ice product was his.
His legacy in Vancouver really isn’t that bad. Besides the Luongo acquisition, Nonis leaves behind a team with many solid youngsters on it, including Luc Bordon, Cory Schneider and Mason Raymond.
And thanks to Nonis’ fiscal prudence, the Canucks aren’t anywhere close to the salary cap ceiling next season, thus leaving them in position to either (a) make a splash in the free agent market, or (b) jump into the trade waters with both feet and attempt another blockbuster move that will give Luongo some goal support.
Like a lot of smart GMs, Nonis wasn’t willing to gamble his team’s core of prospects or cap space for quick fixes that often amount to zilch. But here’s the thing about that cautious approach: sooner or later, you not only have to win, but win while continuing to improve.
If you can’t complete that entire equation, all you do with the slow-and-steady routine is give the guy who replaces you a nice head start. And that’s exactly what happened to Nonis in Vancouver.
His replacement already owes him some thanks, I’d say.