Dear Mike Gillis;
This is awkward, so I’ll just come right out and say it: I’m sorry.
When you began your tenure as GM of the Vancouver Canucks last April, the early word around the campfire was you’d have trouble making deals since, well, a lot of GMs didn’t like you.
As a former agent, you already had to prove yourself as a newbie executive and the fact you were a tough negotiator in your former career certainly didn’t endear you to your new peers.
When you claimed Kyle Wellwood off waivers in late June, we all laughed. When you signed your own former client, free agent Pavol Demitra, the hockey world expressed a collective “is that it?” You had whiffed on Mats Sundin and fell for the ol’ Steve Bernier trick in a trade with Buffalo.
The writing looked to be on the wall: Your team will not score this year and hence, not succeed. You looked like a bit of a maroon.
And now I feel like a dope.
Despite losing goaltender Roberto Luongo, the most important player on your roster, in late November the Canucks are still on top of the Northwest Division and have survived without King Louie. Backup Curtis Sanford took up the mantle right away, winning in Pittsburgh the night of Luongo’s groin injury, then against Detroit in his next outing.
Now, ironically, Sanford is hurt, but rookie Cory Schneider has played well even if he doesn’t have a “W” to his credit just yet.
This is every team’s worst-case scenario and Mike, your squad is still holding that third seed in the West.
A new GM could have turfed coach Alain Vigneault under the auspices of “bringing in his own guy,” but, nope, you re-upped your bench boss and the move looks sound.
Wellwood has been a revelation in Van City. Dynamite on the power play, the former Maple Leaf is on pace for nearly 40 goals, which would obliterate his previous NHL best of 12. Demitra, whom many figured would languish with Slovakian buddy Marian Gaborik still in Minnesota, has been solid, ranking third on the team in points with 13 in 15 games.
Well, technically Demitra is tied for third with three other Canucks, while three others have 12 points – which helpfully demonstrates what is working in Vancouver: Balance.
The Nucks currently lead the Northwest in goals for with 75, a far cry from last year’s offensive output, which saw them end the season ahead of only Anaheim, Columbus and St. Louis in the Western Conference.
The defense, whose only flaw in the past was health, has largely been fit and stingy. Only San Jose and Minnesota have given up fewer goals in the West and the defense corps is even chipping in consistent offense from the blueline.
Of course, there’s still a lot of hockey to play and Luongo isn’t ready to return between the pipes just yet, so crowning the Canucks champs at this point is obviously premature.
But based on the projections of many in the hockey world, Vancouver is ahead of the curve.
Mike Gillis, you’ve proved a lot of people wrong, myself included.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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