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.

Monday’s Seven Casual Contemplations

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. Exclusive to Painting the Black, here are your Monday Morning Casual Contemplations…

MLB Draft

If I were Bud Selig, I’d be jealous of the way the NFL is able to create an event so big outside of their season. Can you say cha-ching?

The MLB amateur draft is tonight and Major League Baseball is trying to make their draft more relevant. They are televising the draft these days, they cut 10 rounds out of the draft this year and are now flying the top prospects in to be present live for the draft.

The MLB draft will never be relevant though. Not like it is with the NFL and NBA. Unless you’re a diehard baseball fan, it’s very difficult to get on board with the MLB draft. The problem is that players drafted in the MLB draft don’t have an immediate impact on the team they’re drafted to. The appeal of the NFL and NBA drafts is that teams are drafting players that are expected to make a significant impact on their team in the following season.

Baseball doesn’t have that luxury. Even super phenom Bryce Harper had to spend time in the minors. The MLB draft is trying to gain steam but when fans aren’t getting immediate gratification from these prospects, it’s hard to receive major interest from the masses.

Moreover, MLB prospects aren’t well known to the fans prior to being drafted. There is no national stage on the same level as NCAA Basketball and Football. Fans know very little about baseball prospects other than what they hear from scouts, writers and bloggers. The MLB draft is so much less impersonal.

It’s a good attempt from Major League Baseball but, in the end, they are limited with what they can do with the amateur draft.

Perry Jones III

Some team is going to be getting some very good value out of Perry Jones III come NBA draft day. His stock fell majorly this year but he has that high ceiling that makes him so enticing. If he falls out of the top 10, which seems very likely at this point, one franchise will receive that high reward everyone looks for in prospects without the high risk of a top 5 lottery choice.
If I’m a GM with a teen lottery pick, Perry Jones is at the top of my list.

Moneyball

I still haven’t watched Moneyball. I’m sure it’s a good movie but I couldn’t get behind the concept that the movie attempts to project. The Athletics haven’t been relevant since their big 3 pitchers, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito, split up. Moneyball no doubt revolutionized how people analyzed the game of baseball but the idea behind Moneyball being the biggest reason for the success of the Oakland Athletics is nonsense.

How’s Moneyball working today Billy Beane?

The Athletics are 23-30, already out of the playoff race yet again. Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes are solid in the middle of their order but other than that the Athletics lineup is abysmal. Heck, they had to resort to picking up Brandon Inge who OPS’d .548 in 269 at bats for the Tigers last season. Yikes.

The notion of a small market team with financial restraints being able to compete with the big boys of the Major Leagues makes for a fantastic story. Since the departure of the big 3 though, Billy Beane has shaped exactly what we would expect from a small market franchise with severe monetary restrictions.

Crazy Talk

Remember at the NBA trade deadline when there were Rajon Rondo trade rumours? Man, how crazy does that sound now?

Rajon Rondo is not only one of the best point guards in the league but he is also putting himself in the category of one of the best players in the NBA. He’s carrying the Celtics on that back of his. I didn’t know little guys like Rondo could take on that kind of load. It’s insane that it was legitimate debate 3 months ago if the Celtics should be building around Rajon Rondo for the future. Imagine the Celtics without Rondo.

Can’t do it? That’s what I thought

This is the Celtics last hurrah with this group and the future could not be more uncertain. One thing is for sure though, Rajon Rondo will be running the point for the C’s.

Lou and Potato Chips

Oh look, the whiny Vancouver Canucks fan wants Roberto Luongo out of town. How typical.

The questions surrounding what the Canucks could get in return for Luongo are endless. I, on the other hand, believe them to be unnecessary. Roberto Luongo is still a good goaltender in the NHL but I would be willing to give him up for a bag of potato chips. I might have to insist on Sour Cream and Onion.

Seriously though, I feel the return that Mike Gillis gets on a trade involving Luongo isn’t important. Considering all that has happened surrounding Luongo from the time when he lost his starting job to Cory Schneider, the most vital thing is to make sure Bobby Lou is not wearing a Canucks uniform come opening day. Luongo’s cap hit of $5.3 million is not horrible in itself at this point in time, but with 10 years left on his contract and Cory Schneider waiting in the wings it deserves the horrible status.

To get anything for Roberto Luongo at this point, similarly to the Toronto Raptors flipping Hedo Turkoglu for Leandro Barbosa a couple of seasons ago, would be a win in my mind for Vancouver. To be asking a lot in return for a goalie with all the baggage and questions that surround Luongo is being a bit greedy. The Toronto Blue Jays were aided greatly by the Angels when they were able to pass Vernon Wells onto Los Angeles in exchange for virtually nothing.

It’s not what the Vancouver Canucks get in return for Roberto Luongo. It’s that they just get rid of him.

Bizarro Scorekeeper

Baseball scorekeepers are supposed to help their home team. That isn’t the case for the Toronto Blue Jays. Throughout the season the team has been robbed, and by all people, their hometown scorekeeper. Saturday there were 3 more instances of anti-homerism. Kyle Drabek, David Cooper and Edwin Encarnacion were the victims.

It’s incomprehensible to me. You wonder why the team doesn’t do something about this. Talk to the scorekeeper, fire the scorekeeper, anything. Baseball is a quirky game and one of those quirks is that the home team players get the benefit of the doubt on any close call. The Toronto Blue Jays scorekeeper clearly doesn’t get that.

Get in the Hole!

Golf fans, I’m sick of every time a player hits his shot, a large group of you yell get in the hole. It happens too often now-a-days. Par 3’s, par 4’s, chips from the fringe, and big putts. It has become like the NBA ‘M-V-P’ chants where any Joe Blow coming to free throw line, who is having an exceptional game, can be the Most Valuable Player (see Reggie Evans. Although, I do love Reggie).

It’s not going to stop anytime soon but if fans could conserve their ‘get in the hole’s’ for more appropriate and selective times that would be much appreciated.

Bonus (Shameless?) Contemplation!

I was thinking that you might want to check me out on twitter and then give me a follow @paintstheblack if you like what you’re seeing. Maybe before you do that, don’t leave the website and subscribe to the blog 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. Sweet, I know.

One and Done

The Vancouver Canucks are supposed to be a team that is built for annual Stanley Cup runs. This isn’t supposed to be the last time. In fact, this is supposed to be the beginning. General Manager Mike Gillis has much of his core locked up for multiple years including the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, Roberto Luongo, Dan Hamhuis and Alex Burrows.

Championship hangover is something most seen in hockey and football. Makes sense, they’re the 2 most physical. It takes a lot out of a team to make 1 championship run, much less 2. This might not be a championship hangover for the Canucks but it might as well be.

Only 5 teams in the last 20 years have reached back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals and 2 of those have gone on to win in consecutive years. They say that hockey is the hardest championship to win. 4 gruelling series, 16 victories, all over a long 2 months. Brutal.

However, bodies aren’t the only thing that the players invest. It’s how much they invest emotionally.

The Canucks have invested as much and probably more than most teams have in the past. It was their year and it was time to get the monkey off their backs. Everyone was tired of being the city without a championship. Tim Thomas just got in their way.

The team was battered, bruised and decimated. Alex Edler played on broken fingers, Kesler on a torn groin, Higgins possibly on a broken foot and the list goes on and on. They left it all on the line and fell short.

It’s hard to imagine that they have one more in them next year.

This season was too much for the entire team. The drive they had to bring the team and the city of Vancouver a Stanley Cup was enormous. It showed throughout the playoffs. The toll that this run will take on the team is going to be all too evident next year.

Moreover, if the NHL wants to continue this ridiculous trend of avoiding calling penalties in the playoffs the Canucks will have even more trouble next year. The whistles went away for the most part throughout the playoffs and this is a roster not meant to match up to the physicality that a playoff series prior to the lockout presented. This is a roster meant for the open ice and skill that the new era was intended to be.

The one guy you wouldn’t expect to suffer from a hangover is Ryan Kesler. This true warrior, who skated as hard as he could through the drug-masked pain even with a minute to go in a 4-0 game 7, was teary eyed. “I really thought we were going to win this one” said Kesler following the loss, “I can’t put it into words right now.” He gave it everything he had but it wasn’t enough. The whole team did.

Related: Why Isn’t Anyone Worried About Ryan Kesler

Roberto Luongo has had to battle through so much. Mentally he must be drained. His psyche must be like one of those flipped, flaming cars on Robson Street.

Justifiably he has been berated by the media and toyed with by the fans. A Stanley Cup would have shut them all up. Now it’s another long year of having to answer question after question about his mental toughness and ability to come up clutch.

He’s thinking of giving Lebron a call for some advice.

For a guy whose psyche is as delicate as a newborn baby, Roberto Luongo is going to have trouble shrugging this one off. His continual inability to play well on the road, the more overpaid by the day 12 year contract, a red sea parted five hole and the cardboard blocker he tries to pass off as a glove on his left hand all add up to one messed up goalie. This coming after new goalie coach Rollie Melanson completely remodelled his game prior to the season.

3 words: 11 more years.

Related: Roberto Luongo the Ex-Factor

More bad news for the Canucks comes from the thought that 3 of their top 6 defensemen are coming off the books in the summer. Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, and Sami Salo have expiring contracts. With no way to sign all 3, the Canucks will have to find a way to compensate in that regard. The fantastic play of rookie Chris Tanev is a good start.

If the Chicago Blackhawks are any indication of what lies ahead, the Canucks should be worried. Although the Blackhawks roster was decimated, it was apparent during their round 1 series with Vancouver that they weren’t playing with their hearts fully committed during the regular season. This was a team that underachieved greatly but had the talent and ability to turn their play up when the season was on the line.

The core of their roster stayed intact, which gave them arguably the best team in the Western Conference. They couldn’t muster up enough for the regular season though. The toll their championship run had taken on them was too drastic to overcome.

Vancouver will likely be seeing much of the same next year.

The Canucks have the team to contend next year, at least on paper they do. This is their small crack in the window of opportunity. In spite of that, nothing can make up or account for the roller-coaster that the team has gone through this year. The roller-coaster that will ultimately lead to the team’s downfall next season.

In theory, being that close to winning a championship should motivate them more. In practice, the thought of retribution won’t be enough to toil through the grind of another deep run into a 2nd consecutive Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Related: Trip Back in Time Killing Canucks

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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Why Isn’t Anyone Worried About Ryan Kesler?

Ryan Kesler might not be his usual self in the Stanley Cup Final

Update: June 17 — It has been reported following the Stanley Cup Finals that Ryan Kesler played through a torn groin and torn hip labrum.

The city of Vancouver is in a state of bliss. Nothing else matters to anyone right now. School, work, love, the NBA finals? Nope, everyone is talking Canucks.

It has been 17 years since the Canucks have made it to the Stanley Cup Finals and 40 long years without ever having won a Cup. This will be the first time in three appearances that they will go in as favourites.

The biggest buzz around town is the seemingly inevitable return of 3rd line center and one of the best faceoff men in the league. Manny Malhotra was deemed out for the season in March when lost his vision in his left eye after puck hit him square in the eye. His status has now shifted from” a return this season would be miraculous” to “cleared to play in game 1.”

It’s euphoria in Vancouver.

They say that ignorance is bliss. That phrase couldn’t ring truer for Canuck fans right about now.

News flash for Canuck fans: Ryan Kesler, your Selke and Conn Smythe candidate, is still injured. He most likely pulled a muscle in game 5 against the Sharks and after the injury, despite scoring the all-important tying goal, was moving more like a wounded soldier than a hockey player. A wounded soldier with a rifle.

Virtually all Canuck related news is overshadowing his injury and I can’t understand why. Whether people are talking Malhotra’s imminent return, Luongo’s game 5 brilliance or just taking in the Sedinery, Ryan Kesler’s injury is only being mentioned in passing.

Related: Roberto Luongo the Ex-Factor

The injury is cause for concern. He pulled one of those vulnerable muscles. The muscles that need time to heal. The muscles that re-injure most easily when you come back too early from them.

Kesler may have scored the tying goal in game 5 but aside from that he was simply a liability on the ice following his injury. He couldn’t fight for the pucks on the board, needed excessively wide turns to build up any speed and could not keep up with the pace of a Conference Final game 5.

Kesler looked helpless at times. Even with the 8 day lay-off I can’t imagine that he will be 100% healthy.

It’s the NHL playoffs though. You need to have one of your limbs falling off to keep you out of a game. It isn’t heroic to play on an injury, it is expected.

Ryan Kesler’s status for game 1 isn’t the question because we all know that he will suit up. This is a matter of Kesler being able to play anywhere near the level that he has this post-season.

Too many people are complaining about the long layoff and how the Canucks have lost any advantage that they gained from finishing off San Jose in 5. If anything, the Canucks should be thanking their lucky stars that NBC decided to play Wednesday. I’m sure Ryan Kesler is.

By the time game 1 rolls around Ryan Kesler won’t be able to play with his usual reckless abandonment. The thought of re-injuring that leg will be weighing on his mind. Contrary to popular belief, Ryan Kesler is not Superman.

It will be near impossible for Kesler to match the physicality of this modern-day version Big Bad Bruins. A coast-to-coast rush or game saving back check at full speed will in all likelihood be out of the question early in this series.

Sometimes being tough isn’t enough. Ryan Kesler doesn’t have a cracked rib or a bruised thigh. You can’t play through a pulled groin like you do with other things. Players don’t get warrior status from playing through a pulled muscle but the effects of it can be as severe as those glorified injuries.

To the Vancouver Canucks, he is as essential as any player can be to a team. He is a 40 goal scorer who is a lockdown defender. He’s as tough as they come and If I were a major media outlet I would also feed you a bunch of crap about Kesler being a great presence in the dressing room.

It’s odd that more people aren’t worried about this. A Stanley Cup is practically unfathomable without a healthy Ryan Kesler.

It would be nice if ignoring our problems would make them all go away but life doesn’t work like that. Ignorance is bliss until you have to face reality and the reality is that Ryan Kesler’s injury could prevent the Vancouver Canucks from winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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Exorcising the Demons?

Joe Thornton celebrates after scoring the OT winner against the Kings in round 1

Art Ross, Hart and President Trophies have defined the career of Joe Thornton. For most players that would be a good thing.

Not for “no show.”

Thornton’s ability to pick apart and dissect defences around the league is his trademark. Threading the needle would be an understatement to describe what Joe Thornton does. At least during the regular season.

The playoffs, where legends are made, have been a different beast for Thornton. All the awards and accolades that Joe Thornton has received during the regular season have defined him because of his inability to duplicate that success in the playoffs.

Thornton is your typical underachiever. It may be cruel but he has rightfully been dubbed “No Show Joe.”

Despite consistently leading his teams into the playoffs as high seeds, Joe Thornton has never reached a Stanley Cup Final. Early exits at the hands of heavy underdogs is nothing new to him.

Even “No Show Joe’s” all San Jose line for Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics failed to live up to expectations. They were the worst trio for Team Canada. Luckily, Canadian hockey has more depth than an Olympic sized swimming pool.

This year looks to be different though. Seeded 2nd in the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks have jumped out to a 3-0 lead against the perennial Stanley Cup contending Red Wings.

Joe Thornton is finally doing his thing. Average Joe isn’t a bad thing for him.

Thornton scored the overtime winner against the L.A. Kings in game 6 of the first round that advanced his Sharks to the Conference Semi-Finals. It doesn’t matter that the puck fell into his lap off of a lucky bounce. All that matters is that he put the puck in the net.

Roberto Luongo said that the feeling of defeating the Blackhawks in game 7 was better than winning the gold medal. That feeling couldn’t have been too far off for Joe Thornton.

His career .74 points per game average in the playoffs is quite far off his career regular season average of 1.01 per game. However, it isn’t just the points average rather it has been his lack of presence in the big games. Thornton carries on his even keel demeanor, while other players turn their intensity up a notch or two. His play suffers because of it.

In the pivotal game 3 against the Red Wings on Wednesday, Joe Thornton had 3 assists in a 4-3 victory.

A lot of fans’ knees are jerking as they are already shedding the choke label off of Joe Thornton.

Not so fast there folks.

Thornton is going to have to do a lot more than sweep the Red Wings in round 2 to shed the label. He is also going to need more than taking down the Predators or Canucks in the Conference Finals, the spot where the Sharks were beaten by the Blackhawks in 2010.

Joe Thornton needs to win a Stanley Cup.

“No Show Joe” will live on unless the captain can finally lead his team to the Promised Land.

Championships shouldn’t define players in team sports. I’m a big believer in that. Hockey, basketball and football are all team games. You can’t win a championship all by yourself.

Joe Thornton is one of the exceptions.

“No Show” has played on some great teams. He has played for good coaches. He has played with outstanding players. The missing link to these championship runs hasn’t been a mystery.

Showing up this year will exorcise the demons for Joe Thornton. He doesn’t need to carry the Sharks on his back but a Stanley Cup victory would sure take the weight of the world off his shoulders.

Related: Rings Don’t Mean a Thing

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

Subscribe to my blog too and you can get the latest posts such as Shaq’s Health Holds Series in the Balance

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