At the end of the day, I contend Burke was (rightfully) shipped out for his handling of the Bertuzzi / Moore incident.
When we returned after the lockout it was clear, to me anyway and presumably anybody who watched, that Bertuzzi, Naslund and coach Crawford were no longer playing for each other. The locker room was poisoned.
And Burke, as was his c
haracter, stood by all three as our team disintegrated. It cost TENS of millions of dollars over the next 2 to 4 years. He needed to move Crawford or Bertuzzi, a monumental fail. He was deservedly fired!
But yes, he single handily stood on a soap box and turned this franchise around when he started. By memory his first move was to sign Steve Kariya. The point wasn't that Steve became any good, but the platform was to make signings (we could afford) that made our farm team, training camp, third and fourth lines more athletic, talented, competitive... By the time he was done, he clearly made brought us out of an age where our franchise could fail, to sold out rinks and one of the most exciting teams (WCE days) we have ever seen. A justifiable firing, but also credit where credit is due as our best GM ever!
On to Gillis?
I am souring in my opinion, but will evaluate as objectively as I can.
Its not fair to say Gillis's success is on the coat tails of previous managements drafting and personnel. It's hogwash actually. Salo, Burrows, the Twins, etc., were all retained when they had UFA eligibility. And Gillis was credited with improved team culture, buy in and performance leading to their returning. At the SCF, only Kesler, Hansen, Raymond and Edler were players signed while restricted. Thats 4 players on the roster? Sorry, this was Gillis's team!
And where some say his early signings were a flop, I call them a draw at worst. Demitra was sort of ordinary, and we overpaid. But all (and we were at the time) small market teams have to overcompensate to attract talent to an average team. See Carolina signing Semin today, a near identical situation and similar (but better) playerand which will accomplish the same thing for them. And we had cap space and needed talent to compliment our young but athletic team. Without Demitra, we were a lottery team. With him, we were a play off team. I call that a success! Adding Sundin? I dont personally credit him for dragging the Keslers and Sedin's of the world into first world stardom as some do. And we certainly
overpaid. But we lost to Chicago in 7 games, and could have won a cup. People don't recognize how close we were! And we would not have been without big Matt's, however we did not win and tossed a whole pile of money away. Meh, a fail but yeomans try. It did raise our expectations, enthusiasm and swagger! Tie them together, and I call it a draw on Gillis's early days but we did move forward.
It is fair to say that Gillis's strategies are enigmatic, where his press clippings suggest painstaking process driven decision making. He talked about money ball, and bold moves when hired. These conflict with each other, and have in real life. Gillis married the two trying to get a beastly play off body out of a prospect to salvage Hodgson. Bad calculation! Currently, having failed to recruit (or develop) physical depth players, Gillis is trying to do it again drafting mature aged prospects who theoretically will be ready to replace the Byron Bitz's of the world soon enough to save us? I dont buy it.
Signing Tanev / Lack is positive, but it should not sway us into believing all players can be found amongst the forgotten. Before June the reality was we had only drafted two players in our system who were over 200 lbs. And we were
lacking physical players to bring up. The overage drafts are an attempt to jump a generation and recover for the fact we had not stocked any size of consequence. We are going to have to bite the bullet, and trade or sign for depth players with size as we did with Manny & Torres. Unfortunately Higgins is better than Torres, but that is just a tease. Higgins is a cheat, trying to get a medium size player to do a big bodied job! We needed to keep Torres, we loose waaaay to many physical match ups now. And Manny is unfortunate, but here Gillis is admirably (and I like this) showing Burke like loyalty. Hopefully he recovers! Hodgson/Bitz/Torres > Higgins/Kassian/Weise hands down. Too many money ball decisions which are not working without attending to fundamentals like size, speed and skill amongst veteran players. Since the SCF, to put it bluntly, Gillis has been too cute with his decisions!
His signature player moves are trading for Erhoff & signing Manny/Torres/Hamhuis which filled essentially every physical and talent need we could reasonably expect, plus re-signing Kesler, yes Lou (but one of the enigmatic under pressure moves), the Sedins and Burrows. They make him a pass as GM. He also bears the burden of making rash decisions and playing them off as smart use of money after blowing wads in others. My leash is growing shorter as he has made mostly mistakes since we were in the SCF.
We have upgraded Salo (Garrison), but screwed up with Hodgson (our best prospect since the Twins) not replaced Erhoff (even though K Connauton might be the guy down the track), not replaced Torres & not replaced Manny. With Lou and some cap room, we do have all potential to accomplish what we need. So Gillis is not a flop. These moves need to be accomplished by the trade deadline or I will move from questioning Gillis to calling for his scalp. I also believe we should be making moves that win!
you know, most canucks fans have long since turned on burke, in stark contrast to the outcry at the time of his firing. they were furious then at the mccaw regime (and stan mccammon in particular) for choosing not to renew the contract of the "best gm in hockey." this blow was softened when his protege took over, however, and the wound gradually closed and left a scar of bitterness at the lack of post season success burke achieved in his tenure in vancouver. fans also began shredding personnel decisions in hindsight as if they hadn't viewed them as the single greatest player acquisition(s) in league history a mere 2 or 3 years prior.
i've been guilty myself of badmouthing the guy and enjoying his failures with the leafs, but it's things like this (and many others) that make my respect for him as a human being, if not an nhl exec, grow more and more. sure the guy has a bit of blowhard in him (he is a lawyer, after all), and a touch of arrogance, but it's plainly obvious that he has a ton of character and is a really stand-up guy. we get on his case now for shooting his mouth off to the media, but do we really even disagree with the things he's saying, or do we just get indignant because he's saying them in public?
here's the kind of respect and loyalty this guy garners: remember dave nonis sobbing during the press conference where he was crowned gm, stating that "he hadn't expected to get the position that way," alluding to burke being forced down the plank?
this trickles down a lot into team culture. over the last year and a half, i've personally soured pretty significantly on the mike gillis regime. and this isn't just bitterness or disappointment with the on-ice success; it's the whole culture.
gillis rode in to town essentially unopposed upon the recommendations of tony gallagher (it's fun to point out, actually, that at this time gallagher and ed willes virtually swapped positions with the province, heel for face, in the way they covered the team -- it had previously been willes for the regime and gallagher the voice of dissension, but this flip started switching when the aquilinis gained sole ownership and the transition finished with the way nonis was fired and gillis was hired -- followed thereafter by willes writing gradually less and less about the canucks due, presumably, to either a lack of permitted access to the team or disgust) and a courtnall. he brought with him a lot of promises about becoming a "destination" market for players. he promised to vastly improve the team's drafting department and team facilities. he was going to build the team around character and work ethic.
he also brought his own culture with him. at first, it seemed like the emphasis was on professionalism and character, with things like community involvement taken into consideration. he also did everything in his power to stand on the big stage with the big market teams. in a lot of ways, he's succeeded. the media and fans consider vancouver a big market team now, where only 8 or so years prior the team was putting 14000 butts in the seats and was on the verge of being moved slightly down the pacific coast (oh yeah, burke is the guy who single-handedly turned that around, by the way). but what has gillis really accomplished? drafting is marginally better, at best, and vancouver still isn't a destination for big name free agents. the team had an incredible year in their anniversary season and have been consistently great, but they've still only been out of the second round once. there's also the fact that all of the canucks' success the last 4 years has been on the backs of acquisitions from the previous regime, from the scouting department, to the coaching staff, to the entire core of the team (sedins, kesler, burrows, hansen, raymond, salo, bieksa, edler, luongo, schneider). meanwhile, what have gillis's acquisitions done? bernier failed. demitra failed. sundin showed up and got paid and doesn't argue when the players and management talk about the great effect he had on the team. ballard eats cap space. the only prospect to make an impact on the lineup, gillis's prize prospect, the epitome of gillis's philosophy of character, turned eric lindros and was shipped out of town. his replacement, while too early to judge, looks like he has a lot of potential he won't meet. hamhuis is good. malhotra is unfortunate. samuelsson was shipped out, crippling the canucks' offensive versatility.
but as these realizations have set in, i've also realized that's it's not so much professionalism and character as it is robotic players and organizational small man syndrome. while their bid to appear as a big market team has succeeded to an extent in the media and entirely with canucks fans, i get the impression that the bluster hasn't really paid off within the league's inner circle of front office types, agents, players, and veteran hockey analysts. this attitude has lead to a league-wide perception of arrogance, overratedness, and dirty play, always keeping in mind that when there's that much smoke there's a pretty good chance you'll find at least a little fire. the other problem is that the napoleon complex has spread to the fanbase. no longer do canucks fans view themselves as the lovable underdogs, the small market team that can compete with the big boys. instead, they view their team as an indestructible powerhouse, mocking any albertan, ontarian or quebecer they luck into crossing paths with, boasting how even their ahl players could field a better team than the lowly flames or leafs.
gillis has no doubt done good things, too. the improvements to the facilities, the outside the box thinking and research, the financial investment in the scouting and player development departments, the expectation of professionalism from the entire organization, and some other things as well have all made a marked impact on the team. it has become a very well run business. hence why the aquilini family was happy to extend his contract.
what you end up with, in a nutshell, as the difference between the gillis regime and the burke/nonis regime is the trading of respectability, honour and character for a whole lot of money, both spent and gained. don't worry, though, it was a hockey trade.
Edited by Canuck Surfer, 26 July 2012 - 04:32 PM.