Why is Willes so pissed at Gillis? (And a giveaway.)

I don’t know exactly what happened between Vancouver Province writer Ed Willes and Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis. I don’t know if Gillis spit in Willes’ coffee or ran over his dog or what. Whatever the reason, it’s obvious Willes has a beef with GMMG. And a beef he doesn’t try to hide either.

Take, as an example, what Willes said in a column this week.

The Canucks are 22 games over .500 since Gillis moved into the big office. They also have a Northwest Division pennant and a playoff series win. That’s all you need to know about his managerial accumen.

And that’s true to a point. But when you look at the roster this season, you wonder what the team’s record would be if Gillis hadn’t fallen into a made bed.

There are currently 13 players on the Canucks’ payroll who were brought in by Gillis and, collectively, their contributions to the greater good have been uneven.

His best acquisition has been defenceman Christian Erhoff who might be the Canucks’ best all-around blueliner. True, Erhoff was the result of the Canucks’ ability to take on his $3.1 million salary–along with Brad Lukowich’s ticket — but Gillis still gets credit for the move.

The rest of the list includes backup goalie Andrew Raycroft, defencemen Shane O’Brien, Matt Schneider, Aaron Rome and Lukowich and forwards Ryan Johnson, Tanner Glass, Steve Bernier, Darcy Hordichuk, Mikael Samuelsson, Kyle Wellwood and Pavol Demitra.

Now, before I go on, I will admit that I agree with Willes that the Canucks could use more production from the bottom-six forwards. What I don’t agree with is his constant insinuation that Gillis’ moves have been nothing but crap.

I think the consensus among Canucks fans is that the acquisitions of Ehrhoff, Schneider, O’Brien, Rome and Lukowich has helped give the Canucks one of the deepest group of defensemen in the NHL. As a group, they’re 6th in the NHL in goals, 1st in assists, 6th in points and tied for 2nd in powerplay goals. Sure, they’ve had their share of shaky moments in front of their goal, but Gillis’ moves to shore up the defense pretty much ensures that the Canucks won’t be calling up a Zach Fitzgerald or Patrick Couloumbe-type anytime soon.

I understand where Willes is coming from in that the forwards – i.e. Johnson, Glass, Hordichuk, Bernier, Samuelsson, Wellwood and Demitra – aren’t difference makers, but let’s put this into perspective.

The first three are fourth-line players, but they’re fourth-line players who do their job well. I don’t get Willes’ comment that “Glass is a nice pickup but, at best, he’s a third-liner”. If the intent was to criticize these pick-ups and compare them to bottom-six pick-ups by the previous GMs, then the more appropriate comparisons would be, say, Glass to Byron Ritchie, Johnson to Marc Chouinard or Tommi Santala, and Hordichuk to Jeff Cowan – I can’t think of anyone who would prefer to have Ritchie, Chouinard, Santala and Cowan in the lineup. If the intent was to criticize Glass for not being a more than a bottom-six forward, then I wonder if Willes expected Marian Gaborik on the fourth line. (For what it’s worth, Glass already has more goals now (4) than Ritchie had all of the 2007-2008 season (3); Glass is also a plus-7 while Ritchie finished a minus-10.)

The other four were acquired to provide more secondary scoring and I would offer that they have. Bernier’s on pace to reach 20 goals while playing mostly on the third line. Samuelsson’s on pace for 20 goals as well. I agree that Wellwood’s had a rough season and obviously Demitra’s still hurt, but remember that both provided some timely secondary scoring last year. In fact, the Canucks had five 20-goal scorers last year. (Giveaway time: If you can tell me the last time before the 2008-2009 season that the Canucks had five 20-goal scorers, I’ll send you a copy of the 2009-2010 Vancouver Canucks yearbook. First correct entry in the comments section wins.) This year, seven Canucks are currently on pace to reach 20 goals.

No one will deny that Gillis “lucked out” by inheriting a core that includes Roberto Luongo, the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler. But while some would like to think about what the Canucks would look like if he hadn’t, I prefer to look at the team as it’s built right now. IMHO, the current version is a playoff team. Not a powerhouse team like San Jose or Chicago, but simply a team that it good enough to make the playoffs (and then hopefully make some noise). Whether or not some would like to admit it, Gillis has done a decent job of building this team and adding depth to the point that they can sustain injuries to key players like they did in the first couple of months of the season, remain in the top 5 in the league in scoring, and not completely fall apart like they did in the 2007-2008 season.

You know, the season when the Canucks had the same core, but obviously not a good enough supporting cast.

J.J. Guerrero

Founder and Executive Editor of Canucks Hockey Blog. Proud Canadian, hardcore Canucks fan. I would like nothing more than watching the Canucks win the Stanley Cup. Against the Leafs.

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20 Responses

  1. Cam Davie says:

    Nice article JJ!

    The last year the Canucks had 5 20-goal was 1996-97.
    Gelinas, Mogilny, Bure, Naslund and MIKE RIDLEY.

  2. Cam Davie says:

    Nice article JJ!

    The last year the Canucks had 5 20-goal was 1996-97.
    Gelinas, Mogilny, Bure, Naslund and MIKE RIDLEY.

  3. Jeff says:

    The answer would be 1996-97. Can’t believe it was so long ago!

  4. Jeff says:

    The answer would be 1996-97. Can’t believe it was so long ago!

  5. Willes isn’t a fan of Gillis for a couple of reasons, most of which relate to the ownership struggle over the Canucks that was finally resolved. ( http://www.cbc.ca/sports/story/2005/01/20/businessmen050120.html )

    Nonis was a seen as being a part of the side that lost out: Tom Gagliardi and Ryan Beedie. Willes supported Nonis and Beedie/Gagliardi. Gillis was seen as Aquilini’s ‘man.’ Willes isn’t shy of letting his feelings on the Aquillinis be known ( http://www.canada.com/theprovince/news/story.html?id=ba14286e-5a49-4bfb-9c54-7687fba7e3d4 )

    This becomes even more obvious when you look back to the rather public feud between Brian Burke (close friend of Nonis) and Tony Gallagher. For years, Gallagher spewed venom towards Canucks management, letting to the ‘I wouldn’t use it to toilet train my dog’ comment regarding the Province. Here’s Gallagher’s take on Nonis’ firing, which is the polar opposite of Willes’ take: http://www.canada.com/theprovince/news/sports/story.html?id=4f290c04-607a-4ce6-bba2-8f346ee91c83

    The Globe and Mail also featured a piece that speculated that Willes was asked to stop criticize Nonis’ firing: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20080501.TRUTH01/TPStory/Sports/columnists

    Logically, the best course of action to take after being asked to stop talking about the firing of the last GM is to start bashing the new guy. 😛

  6. Willes isn’t a fan of Gillis for a couple of reasons, most of which relate to the ownership struggle over the Canucks that was finally resolved. ( http://www.cbc.ca/sports/story/2005/01/20/businessmen050120.html )

    Nonis was a seen as being a part of the side that lost out: Tom Gagliardi and Ryan Beedie. Willes supported Nonis and Beedie/Gagliardi. Gillis was seen as Aquilini’s ‘man.’ Willes isn’t shy of letting his feelings on the Aquillinis be known ( http://www.canada.com/theprovince/news/story.html?id=ba14286e-5a49-4bfb-9c54-7687fba7e3d4 )

    This becomes even more obvious when you look back to the rather public feud between Brian Burke (close friend of Nonis) and Tony Gallagher. For years, Gallagher spewed venom towards Canucks management, letting to the ‘I wouldn’t use it to toilet train my dog’ comment regarding the Province. Here’s Gallagher’s take on Nonis’ firing, which is the polar opposite of Willes’ take: http://www.canada.com/theprovince/news/sports/story.html?id=4f290c04-607a-4ce6-bba2-8f346ee91c83

    The Globe and Mail also featured a piece that speculated that Willes was asked to stop criticize Nonis’ firing: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20080501.TRUTH01/TPStory/Sports/columnists

    Logically, the best course of action to take after being asked to stop talking about the firing of the last GM is to start bashing the new guy. 😛

  7. Ruth says:

    The canucks had 5 20 goal scorers in the 1996-97 season.

  8. Oops, a couple points of clarification.

    1, Burke was the one who made the toilet training joke. I left that ambiguous

    2, The Globe and Mail piece isn’t available publicly. Here’s the relevant bit:

    ‘Then, last week, Ed Willes, another Province sports columnist, took holidays, and speculation, denied by The Province and Willes, quickly arose whether he had been pressed to stop criticizing Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini over his decision to dismiss Nonis.’

  9. Ruth says:

    wow i don’t know how i missed the first two comments

  10. Ruth says:

    The canucks had 5 20 goal scorers in the 1996-97 season.

  11. Oops, a couple points of clarification.

    1, Burke was the one who made the toilet training joke. I left that ambiguous

    2, The Globe and Mail piece isn’t available publicly. Here’s the relevant bit:

    ‘Then, last week, Ed Willes, another Province sports columnist, took holidays, and speculation, denied by The Province and Willes, quickly arose whether he had been pressed to stop criticizing Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini over his decision to dismiss Nonis.’

  12. Ruth says:

    wow i don’t know how i missed the first two comments

  13. Damn you guys are quick!

    Congrats Cam! If you email me your mailing address, I’ll send you the yearbook.

  14. Damn you guys are quick!

    Congrats Cam! If you email me your mailing address, I’ll send you the yearbook.

  15. Trevor – Thanks for the links. I remember the chatter when these articles first came out. I guess I erroneously assumed that a “mainstream” columnist like Willes could look past it and at least give the semblance of *gasp* being objective.

  16. Trevor – Thanks for the links. I remember the chatter when these articles first came out. I guess I erroneously assumed that a “mainstream” columnist like Willes could look past it and at least give the semblance of *gasp* being objective.

  17. To be fair, he is a columnist and is paid for his opinions. I wasn’t a huge fan of Nonis being ousted at the time, either, but Gillis has really started to show that he is more than capable of being GM.

    David Pratt gave Willes hell on Monday over that piece, too. Was pretty funny.

  18. To be fair, he is a columnist and is paid for his opinions. I wasn’t a huge fan of Nonis being ousted at the time, either, but Gillis has really started to show that he is more than capable of being GM.

    David Pratt gave Willes hell on Monday over that piece, too. Was pretty funny.

  19. Ramzi says:

    very nice piece of writing… i think a major point is along with inheriting luongo and the sedin’s he also managed to secure the future of the canucks by coming through in the clutch and signing both to long term contracts, that to me was the biggest indication that he’s good for this franchise!

    And who would have thought that they would be in the top 5 in scoring, that’s absolutely ridiculous… defensively they are 8th i believe…

    they just need another selke type player who can score 20 plus goals and we are good to go…

  20. Ramzi says:

    very nice piece of writing… i think a major point is along with inheriting luongo and the sedin’s he also managed to secure the future of the canucks by coming through in the clutch and signing both to long term contracts, that to me was the biggest indication that he’s good for this franchise!

    And who would have thought that they would be in the top 5 in scoring, that’s absolutely ridiculous… defensively they are 8th i believe…

    they just need another selke type player who can score 20 plus goals and we are good to go…

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