VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks will need innovative thinking and possibly “bold decisions” to evolve into a Stanley Cup contender, new general manager Mike Gillis said Wednesday.
On his first day in his new job, the former player agent wasn’t prepared to say exactly what changes he has in mind for a Canuck organization has shown flashes of brilliance but mostly has wallowed in mediocrity during 38 years in the NHL.
Gillis plans to meet with the coaches, scouting staff and players before deciding who stays and who goes.
“I haven’t made any predisposed decisions based on any thing I have heard,” he told a news conference. “This is a clean slate moving forward.
“People will be evaluated on performance. They will be evaluated on whether they are prepared to move forward. There may be some people who don’t want to be here because I’m here. I don’t know that yet but we will find out. There are a lot of loyal people that have been here for a long time and they need to be treated fairly.”
The Canucks have one of the best goaltenders in the world in Roberto Luongo, but need more talent if they hope to contend for a Stanley Cup, said Gillis, who has been given a five-year deal.
“I don’t think this team is close at this particular point,” he said. “I think there is a good foundation here. I think this team needs to get faster. It needs more grit. It needs to be more competitive.
“We have a solid defence and solid goaltending but there are a number of areas that need to be addressed. If they get addressed well, this team won’t be far. A couple of very good decisions, or a couple of really bold decisions, might put this team in a position to win immediately.”
Gillis, 49, replaces Dave Nonis who was fired last week after the Canucks missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. He becomes the 10th GM in Canuck history and takes over a team that finished 39-33-10, three points out of eighth place in the Western Conference.
When Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini fired Nonis, he said the new GM must have hockey experience and strong leadership skills.
Gillis, a native of Sudbury, Ont., played parts of six NHL seasons with the Colorado Rockies and Boston Bruins. After retiring in 1985 he returned to university to study law, became a player agent, and founded his own agency.
Aquilini isn’t concerned Gillis has never held a management position with a hockey team.
“He posses tremendous skill sets which I think we are looking for,” said Aquilini. “Assessing player’s abilities, assessing their talents, knowing the players and understanding the game.
“We view Mike as the right guy for the job.”
Gillis brings a different approach to the GM’s role.
“I’m hoping to bring a different perspective in terms of player relations,” he said. “I’m hoping to bring different ideas to the draft table and to player development.
“I’m hoping to be able to attract players here because in dealing with them for the last 17 years I understand the message they want to hear and what is important to them.”
There has been speculation coach Alain Vigneault would be a victim of the regime change. But Gillis sounded like he’s willing to give Vigneault a chance next season.
“Coaches handle the assets they have been given,” he said. . “The assets here were lean at times.”
Under Vigneault, the NHL coach of the year in 2006-07, the Canucks were transformed from an up-tempo, high-scoring team to a grinding, defensive club.
Gillis plans to meet with Vigneault to discuss what players the team needs and what direction the coach sees the team taking.
“If philosophically we are apart or different in those areas, we’ll make that decision then,” said Gillis. “If we’re not, and we can move forward, we’ll make that decision as well.”
Steve Tambellini, Vancouver’s assistant general manager, will remain, said Gillis. He also wants to hire a person to deal with salary cap and CBA issues.
Gillis also must decide if he will re-sign free agents like Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison. Gillis was the agent for Naslund, the Canucks captain, who earned US$6 million last season.
“If we can’t provide an environment here that makes perfect sense for him to be here, the he won’t be here,” said Gillis. “One of the most important is whether he wants to be here. I know he hasn’t completely answered that question in his own mind.”
Gillis’s company currently represents about 30 players in the NHL, AHL, college and junior hockey. The players have been notified of Gillis’s new job and his company will be dissolved.
“I don’t plan on targeting ex-clients,” said Gillis. “I plan on targeting the best players available.”
The Canucks will have about $20 million in salary cap room this season. It’s expected Aquilini will want Gillis to add some offensive punch by signing free agents or making trades.
Gillis has moved to Vancouver to be near his daughter Kate, who is a member of Canada’s women’s field hockey team. The team will attempt to gain a berth in this summer’s Olympics in a tournament this weekend.
Having spent the last nine months here, Gillis knows the pressure he faces with the Canucks.
“At the end of the day I am going to be evaluated on results,” he said. “I feel acute pressure already to try and get this team to a point where it is competing for the Stanley Cup.”