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Decisions, decisions, decisions

A fresh chapter has begun for the Canucks and optimism is in the air as Mike Gillis becomes Vancouver's new GM

Thursday, 24.04.2008 / 12:00 PM / Features
By Derek Jory
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Decisions, decisions, decisions
"This is an exciting day for the future of the Vancouver Canucks," said Francesco Aquilini, chairman of Canucks Sports & Entertainment, as he kicked off Wednesday morning's press conference introducing Mike Gillis as the new general manager of the Canucks.

Exciting is somewhat of an understatement.

With the appointment of Gillis as Vancouver's new GM, a fresh chapter has begun for a franchise that has made two appearances in the Stanley Cup finals in 38 years, but fallen short on both occasions.

Gillis said that the first order of business is evaluating this team as a whole, from the on-ice product to the off-ice workforce.

"I'm not predisposed to any notions or ideas about personnel at this point, I'm going to evaluate everybody moving forward; it's a clean slate," said Gillis, who had no prior relationship with the Aquilinis prior to being contacted about the vacant GM position. "Clearly there are areas that are of concern; I'm hoping that with my experience I can bring a different perspective to those areas."

What will come of Gillis' potential changes we have yet to find out, but what fans do know if that if Wednesday's press conference is any indication, Gillis handles pressure extremely well. In front of a room of elbow-to-elbow reporters, Gillis was frank and earnest in saying that he doesn't feel the Canucks are a contender right now. It was quite the bold statement from someone less than 30 minutes into their new position, yet it showed that the former NHL player agent, who has no prior experience in hockey management, is fully prepared for what's to come.

"I've gotten used to getting results for people and meeting expectations and I fully intend to bring those attributes to this job," said Gillis following the press conference. "This is pressure and it isn't without calculated risk, and I understand that."

Michael David Gillis, 49, of Sudbury, Ont., emerged onto the hockey scene as a youngster with the Kingston Canadians of the Ontario junior league. In 1978, following three seasons in Kingston, Gillis was drafted fifth overall by the Colorado Rockies - now the New Jersey Devils. He played six seasons in the NHL between Colorado and Boston, retiring in 1984 because of knee injuries.

Following his short-lived NHL career, in which he amassed 76 points in 246 games, Gillis attended Queen's University in Ontario and earned a Law degree in 1990. He first got his feet wet as an NHL player agent in 1991 and founded M.D. Gillis and Associates in 1994. In 2000, the company became part of Assante Sports Management Group, where Gillis represented, at most, 20 players at any given time in an NHL season. Some of his clients included Pavel and Valeri Bure, Russ and Geoff Courtnall and most recently, Markus Naslund.

He's now client-free, however, as the Vancouver resident follows in the footsteps of other player agents who have successful made the move to GM, a list that includes Pierre Lacroix, Dean Lombardi and Brian Burke.

"They were universally supportive to me doing this, in fact they were 100 per cent supportive and they thought it was a fantastic opportunity," said Gillis of the players that he can no longer represent. "Guys like Mathieu Schneider and Mike Cammalleri are acutely aware of this team and its position, they're competitors and they thought it was a great opportunity to put my stamp on something that had a good foundation moving forward. So they were completely supportive."

His former players fully endorse his move, but the question of why leave behind a solid career as a player agent for a position that, at times, is under more scrutiny than almost any other job in the country, still remains.

"There are a number of reasons for making the decision to take the position," said Gillis. "I don't want to portray it as a change that I wanted to make but when the situation presented itself, it had all of the ingredients I was looking for and when I found that to be the case, then it became something that I was interested in.

"I've been observing these organizations in hockey for a long period of time and managing a group of people like this will be the learning curve for me, but I think it's a quality group, I think it's a motivated group, I hope they'll believe that I'm going to bring positive changes to the organization and I hope they'll endorse that."

Helping Gillis with the learning curve will be assistant general manager Steve Tambellini, who Gillis said will remain in his current position. Next season will mark Tambellini's 18th year with the Canucks.

"I think [Tambellini] is a tremendous asset and I think he has been a tremendous asset for this organization. He's been loyal; he's had a variety of different experiences. I spoke to Steve today and I told him how important I think he is to the continuity of certain elements of the organization. I'm looking forward to him being a highly responsible, motivated partner in this."

Gillis will now take a few days to settle into his new position before diving head first into the on-ice and off-ice decisions at hand. There are many ifs, ands or buts surrounding the Canucks right now, which you can bet the new general manager will handle with the utmost care.

"I don't think anybody would be impressed if I came in here and took a bulldozer to this organization and made all kinds of change. I think these people need to be treated fairly, they need to be evaluated fairly, I need to get all the information about their capabilities and at that point we'll make decisions.

"[On the ice] I think this team needs to get faster, I think it needs more grit and I think it needs to be more competitive. We have a solid defence, solid goaltending, but there are a number of areas that need to be addressed. I think if they get addressed well, this team won't be far because teams are so flat now and there isn't a lot of separation. So a couple of very good decisions or a couple of really bold decisions might put this team in a position to win almost immediately. I'm hoping to be able to take advantage of those opportunities as quickly as we can."

One of the most important decisions Gillis is faced with is whether or not to re-sign Canucks captain Markus Naslund, whom he represented only a short time ago.

"Markus knew how passionate I was about representing him as effectively as I could, and he understands completely how passionate I have to be in representing this organization as effectively as I can moving forward. The decisions that we make about any player on this team are going to be based on his utility and his ability to compete and be a valuable asset in winning. That's not going to change with Markus or anybody else and Markus understands that completely. If we can't provide an environment here that makes perfect sense for him to be here, then he won't be here. If we can and it makes perfect sense for him to be here, then he'll be here."

The new general manager doesn't have to worry about re-signing all-star netminder Roberto Luongo anytime soon, but Gillis has made it clear that Luongo is the cornerstone of this franchise and he wants to build a strong relationship with him.

"Every member of the organization is a priority, Roberto is clearly a priority and I feel he's the best goaltender in hockey. I know that last year was troubling for him, I had dinner with him one evening and spoke to him about it, he was apart from his family in circumstances that would cause anybody concern. Roberto is a priority, he has to be a priority, if we don't have him as a priority our shelf life with him is about two years and we need to assure that that asset is utilized as quickly and as efficiently as possible. He is high on the priority list of a number of high things that I need to take care of as quickly as possible."

Of course the question of what’s going on with Fabian Brunnstrum was bound to come out at some point, as was talk of the future roles of Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

“They are front-line players but I don't know if they're players that the team will be built around going forward,” said Gillis of the Sedins.

Of Brunnstrom he added, “I am familiar with him. But I'm not going to answer that question because I don't know what the status is at this point in time.”

Decisions, decisions, decisions; new general manager Mike Gillis will have to make a million of them in the weeks and months to come. What he does could be a surprise to everyone as we still don't know much about Vancouver's new GM.

Fortunately what we do know is that to Gillis everything and everyone starts with a blank slate. It'll be interesting to see what happens when he picks up some chalk.


1st - Round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies in 1978
 
6 - Seasons played
in the NHL

76 - Career NHL points (33-43-76)

246 - Career NHL games