Every now and then I like to dip into one of the prevailing narratives that surrounds the Canucks and disprove it in a little something I like to call: arguments I hate. Today’s argument I hate is that the Canucks have been successful despite Mike Gillis, not because of him.
Under Mike Gillis’ reign as Canucks general manager since 2008, the Canucks have been more successful than they ever have been before. Five straight division titles, two Presidents Trophies, five playoff series wins and an appearance in game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. To refresh your memory, success like that wasn’t exactly commonplace before Gillis’ arrival.
But Gillis has his critics. His critics like to point out that the main pieces of the puzzle were already present upon Gillis’ arrival in 2008. While this is true (the Sedins, Luongo, Kesler, etc weren’t brought in by Mike Gillis), he still had to re-sign them. A decision had to be made to keep every one of those players, just as decisions were made to add pieces like Christian Ehrhoff and Mikael Samuelsson.
But my main issue with this argument that Mike Gillis somehow doesn’t deserve credit for his team’s success is that with few exceptions, every general manager inherits talent.
Here’s a look at every other good team in the NHL and what their general manager inherited:
Stan Bowman (Chicago Blackhawks):
This is an obvious example, but Stan Bowman inherited a team poised to win a Stanley Cup before the 2009-10 season. Dale Tallon was fired because of a clerical error that caused a couple of restricted free agents to get more money than they would have otherwise. Bowman sat back and watched the team he inherited win the Stanley Cup in 2010. The only move he made was to trade Cam Barker for Kim Johnsson and Nick Leddy. Bowman has made some good moves since his hiring, but it was previous general managers that brought him Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Keith and Seabrook.
Ray Shero (Pittsburgh Penguins):
Ray Shero has been a good general manager for the Penguins for sure, but look at what he inherited back in 2006. He inherited the best 2 players in the world (at age 19 and 20 respectively), Sergei Gonchar, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Malone, Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski, Tyler Kennedy, Max Talbot and Brooks Orpik.
Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles Kings):
Lombardi won the Stanley Cup this past season as general manager of the Kings, and made some key moves that helped. But he didn’t build it out of nothing. Lombardi inherited Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick and was able to get Drew Doughty with a draft pick that I could have made (Doughty was a no brainer pick as #2 overall).
Peter Chiarelli (Boston Bruins):
Chiarelli is full marks for the team he has in Boston, but many of his key players were acquired by the previous regime. His top two centres, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron were draft picks made before he got there. The Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Tim Thomas, was also not a Chiarelli acquisition.
Ken Holland (Detroit Red Wings):
Ken Holland is commonly thought of as one of the best general managers in the NHL, and I agree. But when he took over the Detroit Red Wings in 1994, he inherited Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Niklas Lidstrom, Paul Coffey, Slava Kozlov, Keith Primeau, Vladimir Konstantinov, Kris Draper, Darren McCarty, Martin Lapointe and Chris Osgood. Not bad.
The point in showing all of these comparables is not to prove that the most recent Stanley Cup winners are idiots, far from it, they are all likely very smart hockey men. But when people state that Mike Gillis doesn’t deserve credit because most of his core players were acquired by a previous regime, they don’t realize that this is a fact of life. Every general manager inherits either a good group of veteran players or a good group of young players. It’s what that GM does with it that counts.
Brian Burke and Dave Nonis were able to bring in the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, Roberto Luongo and others. But when Brian Burke was hired as Canucks general manager in 1998, he inherited a team with Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, Pavel Bure and Alex Mogilny. Other young players like Matt Cooke, Brent Sopel, Mattias Ohlund and Adrian Aucoin were also acquired by Pat Quinn, not Burke.
A general manager gets credit for the moves he makes, but just as important are the moves he doesn’t make. So lets give credit where credit is due.