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

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

About Chris Ross
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6 Responses to Man Without a Plan 2.0

  1. Jsportsfan says:

    The only thing is what has Schneider ever done? One playoff win, and zero series victories. And 2011 wasn’t just Lu’s fault. The Sedins were invisible during the Final. Yes they were hacked and whacked but so were Toews and Kane and they did alright. But yes, Gillis should be sacked after this season. Only Bo Horvat can save him and that’s too much pressure for an 18-year-old to bear. Good post.

    • Chris Ross says:

      Thanks Jeremy. I keep hearing that reaction to Schneider from people outside of Vancouver. You watch the guy play every game, he’s the real deal. There’s no doubt about it. He’s the Aaron Rodgers of the NHL. Stuck behind Luongo (now Brodeur) with no complaint and he’s got the chops to be one of the best. Look at his numbers from last year, they’re Vezina like. Luongo is still a good goalie but when Schenider gets his chance, he’ll be really good. The Canucks were the reason he hasn’t won a playoff series, not him.

  2. GiveYourHeadAShake says:

    I’m not a fan of Gillis. I think he has made some very poor decisions while managing the Vancouver Canucks. One of those decisions was building a team entirely around skill, finesse, and European-style hockey. The game played in the NHL is never going to be conducive to a team which plays a soft, finesse-heavy style enjoying consistent playoff success. Gillis and fans can complain about this all they want but it will change nothing. MG probably waited too long to trade Luongo or Schneider but at least he has finally done something to end the untenable goalie situation on his team. Bo Horvat was exactly the kind of prospect the Canucks need right now: a strong, heavy center who can play at both ends of the ice and won’t be afraid to go into the corner to help battle for pucks. Now, assuming that Luongo will still play for Vancouver (and I admit that this is far from certain), the Canucks retain a great starting goalie, have dumped some salary, and drafted a prospect who will likely help the team succeed in the future.

    In fact, Gillis’ latest decisions have led to me having a somewhat more positive opinion of his ability as a GM. You may not like Tortorella, but as a coach he will make the Canucks tighten up defensively in front of their goalie and play hard at both ends of the rink; you won’t see our forwards cherry-picking at their own blue line waiting for breakout opportunities at the expense of defense like you did under AV’s system. Hiring Torts and pulling the trigger on the Schneider deal showed a lot of balls on Gillis’ part. Only time will tell how sucessful these moves will be but if Vancouver wants to compete for a Stanley Cup they will need to ice a team which plays tight defensively and goes about its business on offense with grit and tenacity; I think the recent moves by Gillis are a step in this direction. You don’t have to like this style of hockey but it is a type of game which has proven successful throughout many NHL playoffs.

    • Chris Ross says:

      Fair points but when you’re best player’s are the Sedins you can’t suddenly switch to building your team around gut and tenacity. I don’t mind the Torts hire but who knows how much of that is the owners doing and how much is Mike Gillis’ doing. Again, the team is in win now mode. Now, if the Schneider rumours are true then it’s hard to blame Gillis for making that move but we don’t know if it’s true. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Gillis has balls, I don’t think that’s ever changed. But having balls and sticking with a plan and doing the right thing for the roster you have in place is a whole different thing.

      p.s. sorry for the delayed response.

  3. Man without a plan ? How about a franchise without a plan ? It has been that way for years with the Raptors ! ,

  4. nalstradamus says:

    Hey Chris, thanks for checking out my post. As you know I feel exactly the same way about Gillis. Colangelo absolutely made a mess of the Raptors and this is sadly what Gillis is doing with the Canucks. Sadly the ‘Nucks probably won’t be players in Free Agent Friday since Gillis has maxed them out with awful contracts. Great post man, keep em coming

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