Press Round-Up - JUN.20.08
The Vancouver Canucks are trying to trade Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Unless they're not.
It's the National Hockey League draft, so anything is possible. Occasionally, even the truth.
The hottest gossip here Thursday on the eve of the annual draft lottery was that Canuck general manager Mike Gillis was pitching and fielding offers for the 27-year-old wondertwins, who have led Vancouver in scoring the last two years and are eligible for unrestricted free agency after next season.
"I've heard it from three different people since I arrived in Ottawa," one NHL executive said. "Word is if you want in on the twins you better move fast because Ottawa's talking to them."
Of course, the word in Columbus last year was that the Phoenix Coyotes were going to trade up to the No. 1 spot to draft New Westminster's Kyle Turris. Nothing happened, but the Coyotes drafted Turris, anyway -- third.
"We are not actively shopping our two highest-scoring players," Gillis told reporters near Parliament Hill, where no one ever lies. "The Sedins, people have called me about them. We are not actively trying to trade the Sedins in any form. A lot of teams have been calling but we're hoping to sign them long term and keep them in Vancouver.
"We're not initiating a whole lot at this point, but we're listening to a lot of different things."
If Gillis, who was to meet with player agent J.P. Barry here Thursday night to discuss the Sedins, signs the twins to long-term extensions, it will be nearly as surprising as trading them. Two months ago, at his first press conference in charge of the Canucks, Gillis offered only a tepid endorsement of Daniel and Henrik and said: "I don't think the group of forwards right now are ready to compete. I don't know if they [the Sedins] are players the team will be built around moving forward. That evaluation process will go on."
A top executive from another NHL team said he hadn't heard anything about a Vancouver-Ottawa blockbuster. The Senators reportedly are fielding offers for their top centre, Jason Spezza.
"I haven't heard that," Gillis said. "That would be interesting; Jason's a very good player. I'm sure he'd be highly sought-after. I'm not surprised teams would be interested."
The Senators, however, deny Spezza has been made available. Of course, they could be lying.
Everyone in hockey seems to think Gillis will sign former client Pavol Demitra when the Minnesota Wild scorer becomes a free agent -- despite the fact such a player fails to address the stated need for grit -- and Malone would be another big-ticket item.
The Sedins are due to split $7.15-million next season, and could command almost twice that on the open market after it's over. So, Gillis may wish to get something for the twins now rather than nothing later, which is why it's prudent to talk to Barry about the cost of an extension.
Trading the twins would indelibly mark the opening of Gillis's tenure as GM, just as acquiring the Sedins at the 1999 draft helped frame Brian Burke's reign as the Canucks' manager.
It was Burke, of course, who admitted then that NHL GMs will lie, deceive, confuse, distort and fabricate with impunity if its helps their position leading up to the draft.
"It's like a British officer who's taken prisoner; it is their sworn duty to try and escape," Burke reiterated Thursday of lying at the draft. "If I can get someone to take a player because they think I want him, that means the guy I really want drops one more space. Everyone does it; I'm just the only one to admit it. I think it's more fun to toy with the group when you have a high pick."
Anaheim picks 12th, two spots after the Canucks.
Gillis said he thinks he can get the player he wants at No. 10, so there is little need to trade up.
Kelowna power forward Kyle Beach met with Gillis for 40 minutes Thursday morning -- his third summit with the Canucks -- and if still available is expected to be claimed tonight by Vancouver.
As for the possibility of trading his pick for a proven player, Gillis is undermined by the availability of better picks being shopped by Columbus (6th), Phoenix (8th) and Nashville (9th).
"GMs are liars," one player agent said, as if stating the obvious. "That's their whole thing. If they want stuff out there, they know who to contact. You see a lot of media types who stand in front of television cameras holding their BlackBerrys."
Unfortunately, the guys most likely to believe anything are the potential draft picks. There are about 20 kids convinced they'll be drafted in the top 10 tonight.
Dave Gagner is hoping his latest tour with the Canucks will go better than the last one.
Gagner, who is joining the club as its new director of player development, was last employed by the Canucks in 1998-99 when Brian Burke famously declared him "not a throw-in" after he was obtained in the Pavel Bure trade.
Gagner managed just 14 points in 33 games with the Canucks.
"It was just the end of my career," Gagner said. "I think if I was in Vancouver 10 years earlier it would have been better."
Now, 10 years later, he's back. And he's working for his former agent, Canucks general manager Mike Gillis.
"I've known Mike for probably 15 years," said Gagner, whose son Sam Gagner was also represented by Gillis. "We've had a lot of talks over the years about these kind of things. I had my ideas on player development."
Gagner has spent the past two years working as an assistant with the OHL's London Knights. He recently opened a training centre in London to work with prospects.
"I just enjoy coaching and that's how I see this role," he said. "You're a personal coach for a group of guys.
You're not in direct control of their ice time, but hopefully you can convince them to play a certain way." Gagner said he was "pretty familiar" with the Canucks.
"I've done my homework," he said, adding he understands the struggles a player goes through after being drafted.
"There are so many ingredients that go into fitting into an organization. I was a part of six or seven of them. I know.
"There wasn't a lot of attention paid to me. That's the way it was done back then. They didn't pay a lot of attention to you unless you were on the NHL team."
Gagner takes the place of Canucks legend Stan Smyl, who has been named the team's new director of collegiate scouting.
"I don't know if another team has a person in that area but I feel it's vitally important to our health moving forward to have a dedicated guy in college hockey," Gillis said.
"We need to have a complete handle of all those available players. We don't have a history of signing college players. Other teams do, and they're getting results from it."
If the Vancouver Canucks played football or basketball, then appointing a director of college scouting wouldn't be abnormal.
But the Canucks play in the NHL, where teams generally organize their scouting departments according to geographical region, not necessarily by level or league. That was altered yesterday when new general manager Mike Gillis continued his shuffling of the front office, appointing former player Dave Gagner as the director of player development and reassigning Canucks legend Stan Smyl to director of college scouting.
Smyl's position is unique. While every NHL club follows the U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association — and to a lesser extent Canadian Interuniversity Sport, in search of players who slipped through the cracks — Gillis may be the first general manager to specifically assign someone to that role with a corresponding title.
It is another example of his unconventional approach to running an organization. The Anaheim Ducks had 11 former U.S. college players on their Stanley Cup championship team of 2007, including undrafted players such as Dustin Penner and Andy McDonald.
"We didn't have a presence I felt was strong enough in college hockey," Gillis said from the entry draft in Ottawa yesterday. "You're seeing college players now going into first year a little bit later than they did historically.
You don't see many 17 or 18-year-olds — you see more 19 and 20-year-olds. So they're missing their draft eligibility, they're not playing at that really competitive junior level, but they're emerging as really good players.
"I wanted to make sure that we were extremely well represented in that area, and I wanted a guy who had played a long period of time, who can talk to the coaches. I think Stan is the perfect guy."
Previously, Smyl served as Vancouver's director of player development, a job that now belongs to Gagner. Gillis and Gagner have known each other for roughly 15 years. A former player agent, Gillis represented Gagne's son, Sam, who is now a forward with the Edmonton Oilers.
The elder Gagner, who will be based in London, Ont., where he had spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach with the OHL's Knights, will oversee the development of young players, including those drafted by Vancouver this weekend.
Gagner said that, in his era, even prospects drafted in the first round had very little contact with their NHL clubs and were left to figure out how to become a professional on their own. That won't happen under Gillis.
"It's something I feel I've been through with two different generations now," Gagner said. "Things have changed obviously. I've stayed focused on that. I like that I came up the hard way, even as a first-round pick, I had to relearn my game and reinvent myself. That experience was really helpful to me — and to pass that on to players like Sam. … It feels like you can make a difference."