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.

Handcuffed

To the surprise of many today, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that they will be signing Sidney Crosby to a 12 year, $104.4 million contract extension. Under normal circumstances this deal would not even be questioned. Too bad for the Penguins that these are far from normal circumstances.

The Sidney Crosby concussion saga has done its part into making head injuries a hot topic all across North America. Following his second concussion in December, I said that Crosby was done. The jury is still out on that one but they are leaning towards a unanimous decision of him being just fine.

However, one bad hit and it might all be over. That’s the fear of anyone who cares about hockey.

Thing is, the Pittsburgh Penguins had no other choice. I guess they could have waited for him to play out the season but that’s not how you treat the best player in the world. Crosby made hockey relevant again in the city of Pittsburgh. They had to give him what he wants.

Ray Shero’s hands were tied, you know, with one of those really good sheepshank knots.

Until, or if, Alexander Ovechkin returns to his old form, Sidney Crosby is the only true superstar left in the NHL. And unlike the NBA, MLB or NHL, Sid, who is not so much a Kid anymore, is the consensus top player in the league. $104 million over 12 years may not be a price tag worthy of Wal-Mart but it’s more than fair.

All Ray Shero can do is kneel beside his bed and pray every night. Well, he might want to think about doing that in the morning as well but you get the idea.

Obviously, this is not a debate without the concussion questions surrounding Crosby. Even with the concussions though, the inevitable debate surrounding the contract extension is pointless. Sidney Crosby does not have to play 8-12 years to justify this decision of the Penguins brass to sign him to an extension with a year still left on his original 5 year $43 million deal.

The kid born in Halifax, Nova Scotia has already justified receiving this contract. He justified it when he came back from both of his extended stints up in the press box like he hadn’t missed a game. In 22 regular season games last year, Crosby racked up 37 points, which would have been good for 137 points if he had played the full 82 games. During his shortened 2010-11 season he was on pace for 132 points. Both would have been career highs.

The Penguins are aware of the risk. They simply had to overcome their worst fears to make this happen.

This is like the Portland Trail Blazers drafting Greg Oden. It had to be done.

Superstars are treated differently. Anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling themselves. Crosby could, but hopefully not, go down the Brett and Eric Lindros hazy journey through post-concussion symptoms and it wouldn’t change anything about the thinking behind this process. The fact of the matter is, he hasn’t taken the scary journey down Lindros way, not yet. Who knows, as doubtful as it is, maybe the Penguins medical staff have some positive insider information on Crosby’s situation.

Hindsight is 20-20. Alas, the Penguins weren’t able to locate an authentic psychic. So like everyone else, they’re going into these next 12 years blind. The fate of the franchise resting on a head that is quite possibly as fragile your mother’s fine china.

But at this moment in time, I’m sure Ray Shero wouldn’t have it any other way.

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.

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.

Monday’s Seven Casual Contemplations

Welcome to the new weekly segment on Painting the Black. It is my goal to start your work week off right with random thoughts, ideas, rants and ramblings from the week that was in the world of sports. It’s already Monday so let’s get at it. Exclusive to Painting the Black, here are your Monday Morning Casual Contemplations…

Granger Danger

The Pacers do stand a chance against the Heat. They clearly showed that in game 1. A lot of things are going to have to go their way but it isn’t farfetched to say that they can win the series. Granger was terrible yesterday afternoon and the Pacers kept it close until the final couple of minutes.

What Indiana needs is for Danny Granger to play less like the role player that he has been this year and more like the emerging star he was only 2 years ago. He is just a couple of years removed from averaging 24.2ppg and three years removed from averaging 25.8ppg the previous season. Despite being the leading scorer of the Pacers, Granger dropped all the way down to 18.7 per game this season and shot a career low 41.6% from the field. Granted, he has taken a reduced role because of the emergence of guys like Paul George and Roy Hibbert.

Nevertheless, the Pacers can’t just play a good team game with good team guys and expect to beat an exceptional Heat squad. They have to play a good team game with Danny Granger finding the form of the top scorer that he is still capable of being even with Lebron James guarding him.

NBA Reffing

I complain about reffing a lot. I know. But bear with me.

The refereeing so far throughout the playoffs has been outstanding. They have been letting the players play like they should in the playoffs. This isn’t hockey. Scoring is not a problem.

What I have a problem with is the inconsistency between crews. Game 1 of the Heat-Pacers series was called more similarly to a regular season game than a round 2 postseason matchup. What’s worse is that it seemed as though every time Dwyane Wade or Lebron James put their head down to go to the basket it was an automatic 2 shots. The game lacked flow, which is something that hasn’t been a problem up until this point in the playoffs for the most part.

There’s a fine line between keeping the game in check and letting the players play but I’d like to see them allow the more aggressive style of basketball to continue.

Blue Clay, No Way

Players on the ATP tour have recently been complaining about the blue clay they have been forced to play on at the most recent stop in Madrid instead of the traditional red clay. Apparently, the ball bounces differently and it is much more slippery. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have both gone public with their staunch disapproval of the new surface.

Never mind the way it plays, the blue surface is atrocious for viewers. Like the bright blue field of the Boise State Broncos, the idea of playing over a surface dyed so colourfully may be fine in theory but, in practice, it’s a distracting sight for the most important people, the audience. Whether it is just a matter of getting used to it or just having such a bright, in your face colour, the blue doesn’t work for me.

I understand that these ATP destinations want to differentiate themselves from other tournaments but the blue surface doesn’t do that in a positive way. I find it hard to believe that I am the only person who is more than a little annoyed by the blue surface. Take away the blue clay courts. The players don’t like it, I don’t like it and I bet there are a few others who feel the same way.

I’d Rather Be Golfing

As 26 NHL teams are probably out taking advantage of sunny weather to hit the links, 4 teams remain to battle it out for hockey supremacy. I think I’d like to be on the golf course with them instead of watching the hockey the NHL is presenting to the world this May. The matchups left in the Western and Eastern conferences are not worth my 3 hours to watch. Life is too short 3 period neutral zone free for all.

With the Capitals out of the playoffs the intriguing storylines have dissipated. It’s nice to see an old school goalie like Brodeur still thrive at 40 years old but his team is as boring as ever. Meaningful hockey in the big apple is a pleasant change of pace. Neither of those narratives are enough to entice this Canadian though. I didn’t even realize the Conference Finals began last night until around the 15 minute mark of the 3rd period between the Kings and Coyotes when I caught the game in one of my many surfing’s of the channel variety.

George Karl is Pretty Good

The Los Angeles Lakers might wish they had George Karl as their coach instead of Mike Brown. While Mike Brown’s security as a head coach was being questioned going into game 7 by the likes of Magic Johnson, George Karl went about his business to give his overmatched team a fighting chance. The job that Karl did with the Nuggets against the Lakers and throughout the entire season should be applauded. He can give himself a big pat on the back as well.

There was no way in hell that the Nuggets should have been able to take the Lakers to a tightly contested game 7. Absent of a big man who can score outside of the paint and a wing player able to create his own shot, George Karl was still able to come up with a successful game plan to counter the Lakers.

Linternational Appeal

I read on NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk that the Toronto Raptors are aiming for Jeremy Lin. As the article says, it is a bit unrealistic to think that the Knicks would let the “marketing dream” that is Jeremy Lin walk away. They would almost undoubtedly match any offer the Raptors would give Lin but the idea of Lin in the city of Toronto is no doubt appealing to a Raptors fan.

Jose Calderon has one year left on his contract and Toronto runs their offence almost exclusively through the point. Bottom line is that with Jerryd Bayless looking more and more like his ceiling in the NBA is that of a streaky combo guard, the Dino’s are soon to be in need of a point guard. Lin fits the bill and if he could come close to the level he played at this year, he could make the Raptors into one of the more intriguing dark horses in the next couple of years. Additionally, Lin would have no concerns about moving to a country outside of the United States, which is always an issue with the team in Toronto.

Linsanity in Toronto? I’m on board.

Sha-Na-Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye

I was absolutely shocked to see that Kevin Na blew a 3rd round lead at the Players Championship on Sunday. Bogeying 4 of the first 5 holes and finished with a 4-over 76 was so uncharacteristic of Na. Sorry, what, Kevin Na was the guy who shot that brutal 16 on the 9th hole at the Texas Open last April? Oh, that changes things a bit.

Seriously though, how often do we have these virtual no names leading after 3 rounds only to fade into the abyss. The sport of golf will always amaze me with its ability to separate the men from the boys. It always astonishes me that these unbelievably talented golfers turn into shy, little, hormonal teenagers when it comes to the final round of tournaments.

Na’s situation was no doubt worse with the crowd jeering him for his slow play and with the time clock being imposed on him by the PGA. He did not take any of that very well and deservedly lost. If he can’t mentally handle picking up his Kendry Morales running down the 1st base line pace then that’s too bad. Taking out the extra stuff Na had to deal with yesterday, I’m not so sure he doesn’t crash and burn like so many others have in the past anyways. When a professional loses his head enough to shoot a 16 on a hole, there are always going to be question marks.

Big Ball Parks

The Minnesota Twins spent a whole bunch of money on a brand new stadium and couldn’t have screwed it up more. Announcers and writers constantly mention the beauty of Target Field and that it’s one of the best parks in all of baseball. In the end, a ball park is just a ball park and no matter how you slice it, what you will still be watching is baseball on a diamond. The look of a stadium means nothing to the product on the field. For me, Target field is one of the worst parks in all of baseball.

I will never be able to comprehend the choice of teams to design a brand spanking new stadium that their players can’t hit the ball out of. Forget about the terrible and abnormally high centre field camera view that Target Field provides, the park is simply one of the worst to play in for hitters. The Twins have Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer locked up for the long haul yet both have had their fair share of difficulties hitting home runs at Target Field. Injuries have played a part in that but, ultimately, Target Field hurts the Minnesota Twins’ two most prized commodities. It’s not much fun for fans to watch warning track power either.

Pitcher friendly stadiums are not only bad for fans but they hurt a team’s ability to sign free agents. For some reason, if the team is good enough, marquee free agent pitchers don’t mind pitching roughly half of their games at a hitter friendly park (see Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium). Conversely, teams such as the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics are unable to attract the best power hitters. A hitter friendly park can give your franchise the best of both worlds, on the condition that you have a team that has the possibility to contend. And even if your team sucks, at least you can see a few more long balls. I hear the chicks dig it.

Bonus (Shameless?) Contemplation!

Sometimes I should wonder if I should sneak my shameless promotion in the middle of the post just so you guys are caught off guard. Anywho, you should, no MUST, check me out on twitter and then maybe give me a follow @paintstheblack. If you like what you see around the blog, subscribe either through the email subscription in the right hand corner or with the RSS feed so you can have immediate access to the latest articles on Painting the Black. Happy Monday!

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