Vancouver Canucks, 2008-present
NHL General Manager of the Year Award, 2010-2011
Northwest Divisional Titles, 2008-2012
President’s Trophy, 2010-2012
Playoff Appearances: 2009-2012
Stanley Cup Finals Appearance: 2011
Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis is one of the brightest stars in the NHL managerial ranks today. After only four complete seasons he has become the finest GM in Canucks franchise history; managing the team to its finest performances in four decades. Since his arrival there in 2008, the Canucks have had a stranglehold on the Northwest Division title and made its third Stanley Cup finals appearance ever—falling one victory shy of winning the 2011 Stanley Cup. That same season (2010/11) Mike Gillis became the second recipient of the newly minted NHL General Manager of the Year Award.
(Why haven’t they given the trophy a historic name yet like they have with all the other trophies??? That should be NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s next major task).
Last season, Mike Gillis became only the sixth NHL GM (since 1986) to manage a team that won two consecutive President’s Trophies. (Jim Devellano is another one of the six and you will learn the names of the other four in the weeks and months to come).
But that’s not all: according to my rating system (and not counting this present season) Mike Gillis is the best GM of the 2010s with a one point lead over Boston’s Pete Chiarelli. He is also the fifth best GM of the 21st Century (ranked between Pittsburgh’s Ray Shero and Pete Chiarelli).
Among active GMs today, Gillis is the seventh best GM between Nashville’s David Poile and George McPhee in career value.
And, even more significantly, Mike Gillis is the second best NHL GM today in terms of Average Season Rating (which measures the quality of a general manager’s performance).
Gillis’ ASR is a stupendous +11.25. Based on my research only three other NHL GMs have ASRs at +10.00 or above. One is Chicago’s Stan Bowman and the other two names will be revealed in the weeks and months to come.
Although his rankings will possibly change after the completion of this present season, Mike Gillis’ performance is a glorious one. He has ascended rapidly through the ranks of the great general managers in NHL history.
Mike Gillis was a young phenom with the Kingston Canadians in the QMJHL, scoring 132 points in 111 games as a left winger. He was drafted by the Colorado Rockies now the New Jersey Devils) in 1978. Gillis spend the next six years bouncing back and forth between the minors and the Rockies and the Boston Bruins before his playing career ended for good in 1984.
He came back to Kingston and pursued two goals: coaching the Queens University hockey team while pursuing a law degree at the university.
He got his law degree in 1990 and by 1992 he established himself as a player agent. During the next 16 years Gillis accumulated a solid clientele; represent NHL players like Mike Richter, Bobby Holik, and, rather presciently, Vancouver Canucks stars Pavel Bure and Markus Naslund.
In 2008 Gillis moved to the other side of the bargaining table when the Canucks named him to be their general manager.
Gillis’ touch with regards to procuring playing talent is uneven. His drafts have been unspectacular. His only notable draft choice was Cody Hodgson in the first round in 2008 (in 2012 he would trade Hodgson to Buffalo).
His touch is more sure and solid in the free agent draft. Ironically one of his first acts was his refusal to renew the contract of his former client Markus Naslund. To replace him Gillis signed Mats Sundin and skillfully retained the services of the Sedin twins, Alexandre Burrows, and goalie Roberto Luongo.
The problem with all this is that today Vancouver is stretched tight in terms of salary cap space. Only the Philadelphia Flyers have less wiggle room than the Canucks.
Still, one cannot argue with the results. The Canucks have enjoyed their greatest years as a franchise under Mike Gillis. The only prize that eludes the team (and Gillis) is the Stanley Cup.
Today Vancouver no longer has a monopoly on the Northwest Division lead. This season they are being tested by the Minnesota Wild and Gillis has expressed concern about the team’s inconsistent play. Since February 12, the Canucks have 3-5-4 and are way below par as a team. One wonders if the Canucks endure another humiliating first round playoff loss (like they did in last year’s playoffs) then will Mike Gillis make any sort of radicals to shake up and reconstitute the team once more after a brilliant five year run?
Is this the year when Gillis will have to strike a match and start anew?
(My next column will feature former Chicago Black Hawks GM Bob Pulford.)