Man Without a Plan 2.0

Mike Gillis

It feels as if we have seen this movie before.

An unconventional general manager is hired with the expectations of being inventive, imaginative and savvy. His tenure starts out all sunshine’s and rainbows but eventually the creative ideas fail. In lieu of his failure, he begins to stray from his original tactics. He starts to wing it knowing that he will be axed if success doesn’t come. However, he is too proud to cut ties with what he thought would be the franchise cornerstone. What follows is every free-agent signing, every trade, every face-saving comment to the media is wrong, wrong, wrong. Finally, he is mercifully axed to the delight of fans but not before he has run the team into the ground.

Former Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo was the star of that movie. Current Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis is shooting the sequel as we speak.

Related: Never an Idea

Mike Gillis’s path to becoming a GM was not typical. He did not rise through the ranks of the front office. Gillis went straight from player agent to general manager in one of the most pressured filled markets you will find in sports. Gillis wasn’t like the other GM’s. He was supposed to be cut from a different cloth.

Bryan Colangelo was cut from a different cloth too. He was the son of one of the most influential figures in Basketball, Jerry Colangelo. Bryan Colangelo didn’t follow the blueprint of other GM’s. He went to Europe to find cheap talent that could help contribute to a successful team. He selected a 7 foot Italian stallion in his very first draft who became the symbol for his shortcomings. It was the European invasion and Colangelo was spearheading the operation.

Gillis was innovative. He went all-in on Roberto Luongo and then made his goaltender the captain. No one did that (and probably won’t ever again). Heck, the rulebook doesn’t even allow a goalie to wear the ‘C’ on his chest. Gillis had stones.

As a GM coming in after the dreaded 2004-05 lockout, Gillis began designing a team that didn’t need a whole lot of grit and toughness. The new rules were going to allow him to do that.

He created an environment that players wanted to play in. He worked around the cap system by convincing players to take less money because this was where a Stanley Cup would be won. Some of his notable bargains include the Sedins, Alex Burrows, Dan Hamhuis and Manny Malhotra.

Unfortunately, when things started to go wrong, Gillis was unable to stay calm under pressure. He panicked. Despite his team reaching game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals with more injuries than a Patrice Bergeron hospital report, Gillis was rattled.

As Bryan Colangelo had done, Mike Gillis started winging it. He threw his plan of a speedy, finesse and skilled team out the window. He was embarrassed to have his roster bullied the way it was by the Boston Bruins. He couldn’t have that happen again even though the core of the roster he had assembled was not made for tweaking in that manner.

He shocked Vancouverites by trading Cody Hodgson for a tough, young and skilled Zack Kassian. Although the story had more to it than just trading finesse for grit, it felt as though Gillis pulled the trigger too quickly in anticipation of another potential match-up with Boston. For a franchise in win-now mode, trading a quality NHL center for a prospect who was far from ready for big-time NHL minutes wasn’t sensible.

Most egregiously, like Colangelo, he refused to admit defeat on his most prized possession (see: Andrea Bargnani). Gillis did not acquire Luongo from the Florida Panthers, but he signed him to the 12 year contract when people still foolishly believed that 12 year contracts were a clever way to circumvent the cap. The Luongo situation was his fault so he insisted that he would be content with an awkward as a 3-legged giraffe goalie circus. Maybe he convinced himself he was.

Nevertheless, when he had the chance to get some value in return for Roberto Luongo, Gillis got greedy. He didn’t want the Luongo debacle to be viewed by the public as a debacle. If he could trick a team into believing in Bobby-Lou, Gillis could get back into the good graces of the fans.

Alas, he was more patient than Ghandi on a hunger strike. Luongo lost every minutia of trade value that he had a year previously so Gillis had to improvise as Colangelo did far too many times. He started shopping the man he gave the keys to the crease to. In the end, he traded an elite goaltender for a draft pick that won’t be ready for quite some time.

For a team in win-now mode, the Schneider trade is perplexing. He went with a short shelf-life coach in John Tortorella only to trade for the future. It has completely overshadowed what my Facebook feed says was a very good draft for the Canucks.

If it wasn’t obvious enough that Gillis has scrapped his plans and tossed it in the trash, he made sure everyone knew that he has done so. In an attempt to justify his decision to trade Cory Schneider, Gillis said that “Our plan three years ago was to develop Cory and move him for a high pick, and that’s what we ultimately did”.

Devious, Mike.

This is almost as bad as if Toronto mayor Rob Ford had come out and said he planned to leak the crack video 3 years ago in order to gain publicity because, you know, all publicity is good publicity.

New Raptors GM Masai Ujiri did what Bryan Colangelo was never willing to do yesterday. He got some spare parts and draft picks in exchange for Andrea Bargnani, which is better than anyone ever thought he could do. What does that say about what Bryan Colangelo could have gotten in return for Bargnani last off-season?

It’s a lesson for GM’s. Having the ability to detach themselves from their bold choices that go south. Now, just as Bargnani symbolized the futility of Colangelo’s tenure, Luongo is the official poster-boy for Gillis’ failings so far.

Although the ending to the Gillis movie has yet to be determined, what we have been shown eerily mirrors that of Bryan Colangelo.

Mike Gillis is hoping that this isn’t the sequel.

Agree? Disagree? Reply in the comments section below or e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com

Also, you can follow me on twitter @chrisrossPTB and I will happily return the favour.

For the Fans

Nashville is music city, not hockey city.

That’s why the Nashville Predators matched the 14 year $110 million offer sheet for Shea Weber.

After another highly successful campaign in 2011-12, the Predators lost Ryan Suter to the Minnesota Wild in free agency. Suter was one-half of what was possibly the NHL’s best defensive tandem. Nashville couldn’t afford to lose the other half.

Since coming into the league in 1997, the Nashville Predators have predictably struggled to build a solid fan base. A lack of star players, good results and knowledge of hockey have all been factors that have hurt the struggling franchise.

The results have been changing though. The Predators have made the postseason in 3 straight seasons. Accordingly, their fan base has been increasing.

People in city of Nashville actually know hometown professional athletes other than the ones who play for the Tennessee Titans. Shea Weber is one of those guys. His missile of a shot and intimidating physical presence isn’t completely unnoticed anymore. However, lose Shea Weber and the Nashville Predators would have been left with not much more than Barry Trotz’s odd shaped head.

Profit is still eluding the franchise but attendance, TV ratings and corporate sponsorships are all rising for the Predators. In the regular season finale, they sold out their 25th consecutive game, a franchise best and counting. TV ratings for local broadcasts grew from a 0.4 rating in 2010-11 to a 1.0 rating in 2011-12. Also, private sponsorships at the arena have increased by 25% since CEO Jeff Cogen was hired in 2010.

Impressive…for hockey in the south.

Considering the Nashville Predators have finally started to build their franchise into a viable business, it would have been very difficult to convince their new and growing fan base to believe in the team if they let Shea Weber go. For a team that features one of the most boring teams in hockey, they couldn’t chicken out on Shea Weber for financial reasons alone.

From a hockey stand point, Shea Weber’s contract is questionable at best. But from the Predators stand point, he is a necessity. Weber is the face of that franchise. Other than Pekka Rinne, the Predators lineup is devoid of anything close to a star player unless you count Mr. Carrie Underwood. Nashville might have been able to compete for a playoff spot without Weber but this move is not mainly about competing.

The Nashville Predators don’t want to be the Florida Marlins of old who saw the likes Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett leave because they became too expensive to keep. They can’t be seen like that to their fan base if they want to keep on growing as a franchise. Not after all they have been through in the past 15 years.

Yes, it has taken 15 long years for the Nashville Predators to get to this position. Cutting ties with Shea Weber would have been like heading back to 2007, when Jim Balsillie was trying to relocate the team to Southern Ontario. As good as Pekka Rinne is, it would have been a big blow for Nashville fans to see Weber in another uniform.

Nashville’s fans are some of the rowdiest in the league regardless of their uninspiring roster. But even they need something to get geared up about because David Legwand, Martin Erat, Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist don’t exactly get the juices flowing.

With the return of Shea Weber, Nashville fans can now look forward to another promising season.

Should they have expected anything less?

Also, please vote for me to become Canada’s Next Sportscaster! I am one of the 24 finalists and I need your votes. It only takes a few seconds. Just follow the link: http://www.drafted.ca/finalists/chris-ross/

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts. Agree? Disagree? You can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

Put Your Tears Away

Apparently, it’s sad that Nicklas Lidstrom is retiring.

Sorry if you don’t see me balling my eyes out.

Lidstrom will go down as one of the greatest defenseman to ever play the game and rightfully so. He played 20 seasons , won 7 Norris Trophies, 4 Stanley Cups, 1 Conn Smythe and, for whatever it’s worth, has been voted to 12 all-star games. You don’t get named by The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated as the “NHL Player of the Decade” for nothing.

These aren’t gloomy days though. I mean, this isn’t Brett Favre retiring for the 1st time.

Fans love to buy into the narrative of the man commonly referred to as “Mr. Perfect.” That narrative is by no means wrong. However, this thought of a player who epitomizes what it means to be the captain and leader of a franchise seems to entice people more than the actual player himself. It’s almost as if loving Nicklas Lidstrom is proving yourself to be a true fan of the game because he is everything that a player is supposed to be.

If I were that Condescending Wonka on Twitter, I might tweet something along the lines of ‘Oh, you’re depressed because Nickas Lidstrom retired? You must be real hockey fan.’

Nicklas Lidstrom was a great player but, unless I’m a Detroit Red Wings fan, I could care less about his departure from the game of hockey.

The reason Nick Lidstrom is great is because you don’t notice him. He plays the way you would expect the best Swedish defenseman to. Nicklas Lidstrom doesn’t make mistakes. Nicklas Lidstrom just gets the job done. He is classic substance over style.

No one goes to see games because of Nicklas Lidstrom.

He plays the game the right way but it is not anything that we’re going to miss. What, you’re going to miss his unwavering emotionless expression? His outlet passes? His subtle decision-making? His politeness with the media?

There’s no doubt that you have to appreciate how well Lidstrom played the game. Hockey isn’t supposed to be as easy he made it look. Appreciate and love is a whole different matter though.

Unlike the way I imagine Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, Denis Potvin and Larry Robinson could, Nicklas Lidstrom rarely put anyone on the edge of their seat. There was no physical presence, no coast-to-coast rushes and certainly no smack talking.

Remind me again, what are we going to wish we had back without Nicklas Lidstrom next season?

Whenever the Detroit Red Wings come to town, fans will still be marking it down on their calendars. The reasons why you watch you the team from the Motor City haven’t left. Pavel Datysuk is worth the price of admission alone. Nicklas Lidstrom? You might even forget that number 5 hasn’t stepped foot on the ice.

Coaches love class over flash but Nick Lidstrom is somewhat of an embodiment of what plagues the National Hockey League. The NHL struggles for ratings because of its severe lack of star power. The league won’t be hurt in the slightest bit without Lidstrom suiting up for 82 games.

The media generated hype surrounding Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement gives people this idea that they loved Nicklas Lidstrom. In reality, Nicklas Lidstrom is about as lovable as a slice of plain white bread.

Of course the “Perfect Human” didn’t shed a tear over his retirement.

Neither should you.

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also E-mail Chris at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

Kings Run Not a Cinderella

When the 8th seed upsets the 1 and 2 seed, the general consensus is to check if that glass slipper is going to fit. Usually, it will.

However, for the Los Angeles Kings, the glass slipper is way too small and delicate.

The Kings are much different than your average, everyday, run of the mill Cinderella story. Sure, the Los Angeles Kings barely squeezed into the playoffs. Sure, they knocked off the back-to-back Presidents Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks in 5 games. Sure, the 2nd seeded St. Louis Blues fell to the Kings without taking a single game from them. That doesn’t make a Cinderella though.

The Kings deserve better than to be cast as Cinderella’s.

Los Angeles underachieved during the year and it didn’t appear likely that they would be able to reach their potential. If things started to click, it would be too little, too late. That notion, obviously, was dead wrong.

The Kings do not qualify to be true Cinderella’s because they are a team overflowing with talent. They were the Stanley Cup choices of more than a few people in the pre-season but ended up disappointing greatly with their regular season performance. The only big change made to their roster actually improved their product on paper as they swapped underperforming players with the Columbus Blue Jackets, receiving Jeff Carter for Jack Johnson.

Their roster, on paper, is one to be feared. Captain Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Drew Doughty and shut down defenseman Willie Mitchell, along with the aforementioned Jeff Carter are as strong a core roster as any team in the NHL. For some reason though, their season was executed similarly to a Heath Bell 9th inning with the Miami Marlins. Considering their roster, the LA Kings should never have been a number 8 seed.

The coaching change closer to the end of the season seemed to be the turning point. Although the results didn’t show in the regular season, the hard-nosed style of a Daryl Sutter coached team showed up against the Vancouver Canucks as the energy and aggressiveness of the Kings combined with their skill made for a very difficult matchup.

Darryl Sutter has been able to take his Kings to the Western Conference Final and he hasn’t even had to rely solely on Vezina nominated goaltender Jonathan Quick to do so. Don’t get me wrong, Quick has been outstanding, but he is not the sole reason for the success of the Kings.

The Kings are not a reincarnation of the 2010 Montreal Canadians, who, despite a severe lack of talent, were able to ride goalie Jaroslav Halak to game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final where they were eventually defeated. They are not a roster absent of depth parallel to the 2006 Edmonton Oiler team that made the Stanley Cup Finals on the backs of Dwayne Roloson who was able to transform from solid to other worldly in the playoffs.

To qualify as a Cinderella story in sports, teams generally have unexpected heroes emerging to immortalize themselves in playoff history. In the NHL, that role is predominantly reserved for the goaltender. After playing a mere 6 regular season games following a late season call-up, virtual unknown rookie Ken Dryden earned the starting job in 1971 for the Montreal Canadians before the start of the playoffs. The Canadians ended up winning the Stanley Cup.

For the Kings these series of events are just the result of an underachieving team putting things together at the right time. The Kings are not a one-hit wonder. This is not simply a matter of getting hot like Steve Blake in the 4th quarter kind of deal. They are built to succeed for a number of years to come. The 2010 Canadians, 2006 Oilers and 2003 Mighty Ducks, predictably, were unable to repeat the success of their fluky runs. Los Angeles does not fall into that category.

The Kings have won largely due to the fact that they are the better team. The 8th spot was a scary position for them to be for higher seeds because it was very possible that they could put it together at any time. The scattered puzzle pieces finally began to make some sense in LA and it was the Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues who got stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The slipper won’t be fitting for the Los Angeles Kings in the 2012 playoffs but that is by no means an omen for their imminent exit.

The slipper won’t fit because the Kings are too good to be a glass shoe type of team.

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also E-mail Chris at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

Defence First, Ratings Last

NBC’s ratings were up a whopping 50% mid-way through the first round of the NHL playoffs. Savour those ratings NBC.

While the first round has featured such gripping matchups as Penguins-Flyers and Washington-Boston, the Western Conference has seen, to put it nicely, its more defensively aware teams succeed. The St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes, Nashville Predators and L.A. Kings have all prevailed against offensively superior teams.

Thus, the problem associated with modern day hockey.

Defence is being rewarded and offence is being punished. While the NFL and NBA continue to make the game easier for high octane offences, the NHL is devolving. Teams heavily reliant on goaltending and sound defensive strategy are reaping the benefits of the NHL’s slow but steady return to the obstruction and hooking that made hockey almost unwatchable in its pre-lockout years.

While Tom Brady throws touchdown after touchdown and Blake Griffin, well, throws down, the NHL highlights are featuring save after save from robotic…sorry, technically sound goaltenders. I like a great save as much as the next guy, but enough is enough. Actually that’s probably a lie, goalie saves are overrated.

Nevertheless, the NHL is now going to have to make it through these Dick Cheney waterboardingly painful Western Conference matchups.

There is not one team left in the Western Conference that plays an entertaining brand of hockey. The West will be riding their new defence first motto all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. No matter what, some team that you couldn’t pay most of America to watch will have a very good chance at hoisting Lord Stanley.

The defensive mindset issue has been getting out of hand recently. Peter Laviolette boldly stood up to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 1-3-1 trap system during the middle of the season. I wrote about the lack of goal scoring plaguing the NHL in late October and what they should do to fix it.

Goal scoring is still a big problem. The average goals per game in the NHL has decreased once again in the 2011-12 season and is at its lowest average since the 60’s. The goals do not stem from a lack of shots as that number has kept steady for the past half century.

The players are bigger and faster, the goalies are just too big and there’s not enough room out on the ice for skill players to be skill players. Defensive hockey is not a bad strategy, it’s just boring. In no way am I saying that we should be blaming the coaches for implementing this brand of hockey.

Blame the NHL for allowing this to develop.

This is the NHL’s problem and they seem content with ignoring it. I guess they figure if they ignore it, the problem will go away, you know, like headshots.

The fact that the defensive teams are being rewarded for playing their watching grass grow on a sunny day style of hockey is not good news for hockey fans. It is possible that this year’s playoffs could be chalked up to an anomaly but it appears to be more of a trend than anything else. If this trend does continue, more and more General Managers will be forced to build their franchises around goaltending and defence rather than skilled offensive players.

The Washington Capitals for years have been an underachieving playoff team despite their ability to be one of the most exciting teams in the NHL on a nightly basis. The Chicago Blackhawks won a Stanley Cup 3 years ago but have been ousted in the first round the last 2 seasons after losing a considerable chunk of their Cup winning core. The Vancouver Canucks are still without a championship in their history despite being one of the best offensive teams.

The leading regular season scorers of the Western Conference teams advancing include 39 (soon to be 40) year old Ray Whitney (77 points), Anze Kopitar (76 points), Martin Erat (58 points), and David Backes (58 points). The 2nd leading scorers for both Ray Whitney’s Coyotes and Anze Kopitar’s Kings have less than 60 points. It also isn’t coincidental that the Predators and Kings have 2 of the 3 Vezina nominated goalies for the 2011-12 season.

The cliché defence wins championships could not be more true at this moment in time for the NHL.

I said in late October that the NHL would be best served to significantly reduce the size of the goalie’s pads in order to help buck this trend. Not enough to compromise the safety of goaltenders obviously, but enough to make a difference for goal scoring in the NHL.

The effect that poor goaltending can have on a series was on full display in the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series in the first round. That type of goaltending is rare in this era of the ridiculously sized and robotic, R2D2-like goaltenders. Smaller pads would make the unpredictable excitement of the Penguins-Flyers series more of a common occurrence.

Mike Smith, Pekka Rinne, Jonathan Quick, Craig Anderson. They have been the story of the NHL playoffs so far. The Great 8, Alex Ovechkin, was benched for the entire 3rd period of the Capitals game 4 victory because coach Dale Hunter felt that would be best for preserving a 1 goal lead. He was right.

Fantastic. Just…fantastic.

Right now, there is a fork in the road and the NHL is clearly headed down the wrong path.

NBC brace yourselves. This is going to be a long month.

You can follow Chris Ross on twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also E-mail Chris at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

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