If You Build It They Will Come
Good players are attracted to other good players. It’s a simple premise, but in reality, one of the GM’s biggest and toughest jobs is to make their team a desirable place in which other players want to play. When it comes to the city of Vancouver, I doubt there are many people – or many NHL players – who wouldn’t want to live here. But if the team isn’t winning or players don’t perceive the team to be a team worth playing for, Mike Gillis’ job all of a sudden becomes increasingly difficult. With that in mind, one of the things that Gillis has been able to do better than any Canucks GM before him is to make Vancouver an attractive destination for players.
It’s been a long time since we have seen a Canucks GM who would get the players we wanted. In previous years, we’ve usually talked about signing the big name free agents and then seeing them sign elsewhere. Somehow now, Gillis has managed to set his sights on a specific player – and even within the restrictions of the salary cap – convince him that Vancouver is the place to be.
On paper, Vancouver is arguably the best team in the league. This has been largely due to the fact that Gillis has been able to convince the team to buy into a system, execute on his vision of what the team should be, and put his players in place. In no particular order, Gillis has been able to re-sign Luongo, the Sedins, Kesler, Burrows and Raymond at market value or lower than market value. He’s been able to sign Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres despite competing against higher offers from other teams. Gillis sold them his system and his vision; these players believed him. He hasn’t been perfect and some of his decisions may have been controversial (i.e. Luongo’s captaincy) or WTF-worthy (i.e. sleep doctors), but he’s stuck with his vision, and as such his players have stuck with him. As he sets his mark on this chapter in Canucks history – do we call this “the Gillis era”? – he’s created a Canucks team that players want to play for and has made Canucks fans genuinely optimistic that they can win the Stanley Cup.
At first I doubted Gillis’ ability to be an effective GM because his previous role was as a player agent and had no experience running an NHL team, but with each move and signing, he’s continually proven me wrong. Simply, he’s been specific on what he wants in a team, has identified who wants to fill those roles, and gone out and acquired that player. He wanted defensive depth so he traded for Ballard and convinced Hamhuis that it was better to leave a reported $1 million per year on the table and sign with his hometown team. He wanted to upgrade his third line center spot so he targeted Malthotra and signed him away from a team that won one playoff round more than the Canucks did last spring. He wanted more grit so he targeted Torres and signed him for a mere $1 million this season even though he scored 19 goals, all before the trade deadline. What does that tell you? These guys obviously want to win and Gillis convinced them their best chance to win was with the Canucks.
For one reason or another, it seemed like players have always wanted to play for teams like the Red Wings, Habs, Devils or even the Rangers. Well, add Vancouver to that list now. In his two-plus years as Canucks’ GM, Gillis has made the Canucks as desirable as those teams, and in the process, has made his team – our team – a legitimate contender. And if good players keep wanting to come, the Canucks can be a contender, not just for this year but in future years as well.