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Canucks GM: Screw this, we’re getting back to how we used to play

Apr 3, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT

Mike Gillis

“I want us to play up-beat, puck possession, move-the-puck quickly, force teams into mistakes, high-transition game. I think we have the personnel to do it. If we don’t have the personnel to do it, they’ll be changed.”

“I’m tired of chasing a moving target. We’re going to get back to the fundamentals and principles that I believe in, and that’s how we’re going to play. If people don’t want to comply – we did this six years ago, we made hard choices – those hard choices are going to come again if we don’t see people that get on the same page.”

Both quotes courtesy Canucks general manager Mike Gillis, this morning in a revealing interview on TEAM 1040 radio in Vancouver. (For audio, click here.)

And that, folks, is why we’ve been writing so much about the Vancouver Canucks’ style of play under head coach John Tortorella.

—- Is Tortorella’s system to blame for Canucks’ woes?
—- Three things the Canucks haven’t done well under Torts
—- ‘They play so slow,’ says scout on Torts-coached Canucks

And you didn’t need to read too closely between the lines to hear Gillis deliver a strong message to his coach — either get on board with how the GM wants the team to play, or you’re gone.

Unless, of course, it’s the GM who’s fired and not the coach, a possibility Gillis admitted was real.

After all, it would be completely unfair to ignore Gillis’s role in the Canucks getting away from the “fundamentals and principles” in which he believes. Unless it was his evil twin who said in May that, after losing to Boston in 2011, losing to Los Angeles in 2012, and losing to San Jose in 2013, Vancouver needed to adjust its style away from the one in which he “principally agrees.”

Let’s be clear: it was Gillis who was calling for his team’s style to change first, not Tortorella. The hiring of the coach — a coach, it should be noted, whose philosophy couldn’t have been more different than the one the organization had so carefully cultivated during the GM’s tenure — came after.

Which is why today’s interview was as close as Vancouver sports fans have come to hearing Gillis admit he was wrong. He thought the Canucks needed to change. It was an error in judgment.

“The running of this team is my responsibility,” Gillis said. “I really feel that over the last couple of seasons, we’ve chased goalposts that have been moving and got away from our core principles of how I want this team to play, and how we want to perform, and the tempo that we want to play with.

“People love to pick someone to blame, but the reality is, as an organization, we’ve deviated from some of the things that made us successful, and some of the things that I know will be successful. We’re going to get back to those levels. We’re going to get back to that style of play that we started six years ago. We have the personnel to do it, and we just have to be committed and have the guts to be able to carry it out.”

  1. patthehockeyfan - Apr 3, 2014 at 1:19 PM

    I believe that this is what is referred to as a swan song.

    • kaptaanamerica - Apr 3, 2014 at 3:35 PM

      The torts hiring was entirely on ownership. That’s why MG is safe. He wanted to get bigger not leave the transition game. Booth, Kesler, Santorelli, Hansen, burrows, Dalpe, Higgins, Matthias, Richardson can all skate. Doesn’t really make a difference in the transition game if the Sedins are fast cuz they are fast enough that on a breakout they can get into the other teams zone and start cycling to score.

    • clarke16 - Apr 3, 2014 at 6:15 PM

      This is a message directed to Canucks ownership by Gillis. Essentially what he is saying is–here’s my vision. I rolled with you this season. It was an abject failure. You want me back next year–then we’re doing it MY way this time. You wanted Torts. You got Torts. I gave it a try. Next season it’s either me or him. Make your choice.

  2. canucks30 - Apr 3, 2014 at 1:20 PM

    The entire front office and coaching staff needs to go along with most of the aging core in exchange for prospects/picks.

    Build around Horvat, Shinkaruk, Jensen, Gaunce, Fox, Tanev, Corrado, Lack and whoever the Canucks draft with their lottery pick this year.

    Acquire as many draft picks as you can and do whatever it takes to draft Connor McDavid next year.

    • AppealToReason - Apr 3, 2014 at 1:54 PM

      What you have there is what looks to be a terrific crop of supporting players, but no one to be the on-ice leader as far as being competitive goes. AND thats only if those guys pan out.

      Years of trading 2nd and 3rd rounders has begun to show its effects as guys the once “young” early 23-ish guys have become damn close to 30 and little has come along since.

    • nobandwagoners - Apr 3, 2014 at 3:09 PM

      The Canucks don’t have a great roster to play that up-tempo, puck pressure, high scoring style anymore. That was the problem in the last few playoffs when that style – with players a couple years’ younger – ran into the clutch, grab, interference and smothering, whistles in the pocket-playoff style of hockey.

      That’s why Gillis reached the conclusion that he NHL really didn’t reward teams built with speed and skill (despite the NHL’s stated desire to crack down on obstruction and promote free-flowing games and showcase skilled players). Gillis moved to towards the style that the teams with success seemed to had – bigger, more physical and defensively-responsible teams; less flash and more “grit”. Not to mention the Acquilini’s desire to see Torts man the bench after last year’s early ouster from the playoffs.

      Turns out trading two blue chip goalies for little if anything in immediate returns doesn’t help, but I don’t see too much in the current line-up that could play that way and have playoff success. The Twins aren’t fast as it is and they’re slowing down, we have a bunch of pluggers on the 3rd and 4th lines who don’t have much finish, those with skill are inconsistent players and, if Kesler jumps ship at season’s end, then the Nucks get even slower.

      • jaguar0413 - Apr 4, 2014 at 1:08 AM

        @nobandwagoners Gillis made a critical error. He believed that losing to Boston validated the idea that the Canucks weren’t tough enough and therefore they needed to become bigger and more physical. He saw LA win the Cup playing that way and thought it was a trend he needed to follow. What he failed to realize is that the new NHL is all about puck possession. The best teams possess the puck beyond all else. Some teams, like Boston and LA do it by bodying off opponents with big bruising defensemen and wings and dumping and chasing in the offensive zone. Other teams like Chicago do it with mobile defensemen who don’t hit as much but can skate the puck out of the defensive zone at all costs so that they can rush into the offensive zone and create scoring chances. Both work if you have the personnel.

        Under AV, the Canucks could do what Chicago did and skate out from the back end. Torts is trying implement a chip and chase style with a team that is not built to play that way. He is doomed to fail because his defense isn’t physical enough and his top six are seeing their scoring chances plummet at 5 v 5.

        Don’t feel bad, George McPhee and Adam Oates have done the same thing with the Capitals. Sadly for us fans, the result is that two of the most exciting teams in hockey over the last 6 years have been reduced to boring, ineffective teams laden with star players incapable of turning things around or rising to the expectations of the fan base.

    • kaptaanamerica - Apr 3, 2014 at 3:59 PM

      So basically you think the Canucks should fire everyone and start from zero? I’m glad you aren’t in charge.this isn’t buffalo. The players can play in the right system. A/V had these same players essentially on pace to a 101Pt. Season last year, nothing to sneeze at, all things considered. Injuries, New system, torts in Calgary, etc… did the team in. But remember, the Canucks lost like one game in December in regulation. Not like the team can’t play…

      • nobandwagoners - Apr 3, 2014 at 4:59 PM

        Ah, no, that’s not what I’m saying (little excitable there?). But there does need to be a bit more significant change. You can’t ignore the last few seasons – sure, great regular season success (some would say in what was then one of the easiest divisions), but abject failure in the post-season when, in essence, all teams had to do was shut down the Canucks’ one-line scoring threat.

        So what recent improvements have been made that would result in actual, greater playoff success? Dalpe? Has decent size and positive attitude but he hasn’t shown enough offence to make a significant contribution from the bottom two lines. Sestito – you don’t points or wins for number of penalty minutes and chances are he’s in the press box for the playoffs. Richardson – good checking winger/centre, stablizes bottom 6. Matthais – promising but that’s all we can say right now. Stanton – good, stable stay-at-home defenceman. Yannick Weber – decent third pairing d-man.

        Kassian – been around a couple of years now and is improving but lacks consistency. Booth – ditto. Santorelli – he’s been the one bright spot this year until his injury. He seemed to help Higgins too (love Higgins’ compete).

        Now subtract a bona fide number one goalie. I like Lack (and Joacim Eriksson) but for right now, he probably could have used another season as back up before stepping into the number one role.

        Further tinkering needs to be done and a realistic assessment undertaken. I just don’t think the Canucks are a legit Stanley Cup contender even if they were to playing a most entertaining, wide open style.

      • kaptaanamerica - Apr 3, 2014 at 5:17 PM

        If you look at the thread my comment was directed at Canucks 30. You actually made some sense.

      • nobandwagoners - Apr 4, 2014 at 5:10 PM

        Ah, my mistake @kaptaanmerica re: who you were responding to.

  3. imleftcoast - Apr 3, 2014 at 1:23 PM

    Dear John,

    No more chip and chase.


  4. killerpgh - Apr 3, 2014 at 1:27 PM

    “I want us to play up-beat, puck possession, move-the-puck quickly, force teams into mistakes, high-transition game. I think we have the personnel to do it. If we don’t have the personnel to do it, they’ll be changed.”

    Not that long ago you had a coach that coached that way. Then you fired him and hired a coach with a completely different style of coaching and gave him a 5 year contract.

    • bigtganks - Apr 3, 2014 at 4:53 PM

      Which though I wasn’t sure if murmurings about it being an ownership hire instead of Gillis’ hire were true, this DOES now confirm that. He didn’t want a coach like Torts. It has ownerships fingerprints all over it.

      That said, if Gillis stays and Torts goes (I want both gone preferably, but lets just say Gillis stays and says I told you so to FAquilini, and Torts is done) who do you bring in??

      • imleftcoast - Apr 3, 2014 at 6:29 PM

        Please not Carlyle. If the Canucks do another coach trade in the offseason, I’m tuning out.

  5. roblo76 - Apr 3, 2014 at 1:31 PM

    Ironically, I had JoJo’s “Too Little, Too Late” playing in my head while reading this.

  6. sjsharks66 - Apr 3, 2014 at 1:31 PM

    Back to the old way? So dive yourselves to the finals?

    • cambannedloinstache - Apr 3, 2014 at 1:50 PM

      Supremely rich coming from a Sharks fan

      • elvispocomo - Apr 3, 2014 at 3:04 PM

        No kidding. People in glass houses, eh?

      • elvispocomo - Apr 3, 2014 at 3:06 PM

        Oh wait, they haven’t made the Stanley Cup Finals…

    • c9castine - Apr 3, 2014 at 3:13 PM

      uh…boston did it twice. lets atleast spread the love around and not limit it to just your divisonal foe :)

    • bigtganks - Apr 3, 2014 at 4:54 PM

      Do you know what the finals look like?

  7. phillyphanatic77 - Apr 3, 2014 at 1:39 PM

    Why did you hire John Tortorella if you wanted to play an “upbeat…move the puck quickly…high transition game”?? Everyone could you see you didn’t have the proper personnel to play his defense-first, shot blocking scheme and it’s unfolded just as most have suspected. The Sedins no longer look like first liners, the pipeline is pretty bare, and you traded away two #1 goalies without a legitimate replacement ready… Gillis is a disaster.

    • phillyphanatic77 - Apr 3, 2014 at 1:40 PM

      *could see

    • bruinsfaninvan - Apr 3, 2014 at 2:37 PM

      Gillishad very little to do with hiring Torts. It was all ownership.

    • c9castine - Apr 3, 2014 at 3:16 PM

      because quite honestly their dumb fan base was yelling for more grit and toughness and yada yada…

      and gillis was dumb enough to listen to them. sometimes you should, most of the times not.

  8. joey4id - Apr 3, 2014 at 1:44 PM

    This interview is part message that Torts is out, and part payback for Torts throwing Gillis under the bus during the presser which followed immediately after his first game back from his 15 day suspension.

    joey4id – Feb 4, 2014 at 1:21 PM
    Van 4 wins 13 loses in the last 17. If he doesn’t get it together quickly he won’t be needing a dog walker next winter. He comes back from a two week suspension, the team was in disarray before that, and then he throws his players and GM under the bus after the first game when he returns. And, what message is he sending to the Van fan base? “We’re pathetic. We need to change the players.” If you’re the GM you’re getting an ear full from the owner, and you want answers. WTF is Torts doing? Like I said, I think he’s lost the locker room.

    • kaptaanamerica - Apr 3, 2014 at 10:54 PM

      so i tried searching out this comment of yours, how are you finding it on PHT?

      • joey4id - Apr 3, 2014 at 11:28 PM

        It’s actually pretty simple. Why are you searching for my comment if it’s copied in this article?

      • kaptaanamerica - Apr 4, 2014 at 1:08 AM

        cuz i want to search other comments that i recall on some topic or the other as well.

      • joey4id - Apr 4, 2014 at 9:26 AM

        It’s a combination of memory, google, and/or sorting through PHT’s archive of previous articles, which can be viewed using page numbers. For more recent posts you can view the archive for your notifications on Understanding how to search you then can write a small program that does the searching.

  9. esracerx46 - Apr 3, 2014 at 1:48 PM

    Gilli’s is a fraud. How a player agent became president and gm of a hockey club is beyond me.

    • AppealToReason - Apr 3, 2014 at 1:56 PM

      Almost no one in hockey gets hired because they’re actually qualified. If any other multi-billion dollar industry hired this way the business would be bankrupt.

      Imagine Microsoft appointing a CEO because he knows how to use Word. Thats hockey for you.

      • esracerx46 - Apr 3, 2014 at 2:52 PM

        I know how to use word! Anyone know their email? I’d like to apply

      • imleftcoast - Apr 3, 2014 at 6:30 PM

        Remember to u/c ‘word.’

    • joey4id - Apr 3, 2014 at 2:00 PM

      Hardly the first time this happens. Matter of fact, one that I know of went on to win the cup in Colorado. Don’t let your limited view of things fool you.

    • elvispocomo - Apr 3, 2014 at 3:09 PM

      Because he’d already dealt with GMs for years and specialized in evaluating players and maximizing their value? He just has to work to go the other way on their contacts in a switch to a GM role, but because he was an agent doesn’t mean he was ignorant to how hockey works. What experience did Joe Sakic have, for example, before getting hired to the Avs front office?

  10. bricktop02 - Apr 3, 2014 at 1:55 PM

    See ya Torts…

  11. rdk - Apr 3, 2014 at 1:57 PM

    Brough, you should bragging about this piece from last summer:

    • imleftcoast - Apr 3, 2014 at 2:03 PM

      I’d say Sather has the joey4id told you so here:

      “If you look at these playoff games (like the Stanley Cup Finals matchup) you’re gonna see tonight, the style that they play, I mean there’s not a hell of a lot of dump-ins,” Sather said. “I mean, (if) you have to dump the puck in, you have to dump it. But there’s a lot of puck control and hanging onto the puck and moving the puck out, and there’s not stopping behind the net to gain control. There’s a lot of things that are done differently than what we were doing. So you have to look at the style of play. That had a lot to do with (the decision to fire Tortorella), too.”

      Although I did post this on Tuesday:

      imleftcoast – Apr 1, 2014 at 4:32 PM
      On team 1040 last night, Gurdeep Ahluwalia from tsn was on, and he was adamant that Tortorella shouldn’t join the tsn broadcast team after his behavior in New York with the media. Tortorella had done a segment with tsn, but I think this is going to be the worst-kept secret.

  12. AppealToReason - Apr 3, 2014 at 1:59 PM

    The worst thing is that the Canucks, unlike a lot of teams, don’t have a single guy who can be a game breaker. For anything to work for the Canucks they basically need a lucky bounce, or an entire line to go nuts.

    Even most bad teams have players that can single handedly make plays but the Canucks really don’t have one. The closest is Jensen and thats pathetic. But he is the only one on the roster in a while who has shot the puck from more than 10 feet and you think for a second “This could go in…”

    • mackstrong2013 - Apr 4, 2014 at 2:27 AM

      Ryan Kesler says hi

  13. drewsylvania - Apr 3, 2014 at 5:32 PM

    Why did anyone think do-everything-slow was a good idea?

  14. drewsylvania - Apr 3, 2014 at 5:33 PM


  15. letsgopens8771 - Apr 3, 2014 at 7:52 PM

    So he doesn’t like sleeping in the bed he made, then. Tell me something I don’t know.

  16. govtminion - Apr 4, 2014 at 8:10 AM

    “It’s cool everyone, I’ll fix this, we’ll be back to normal in no time, all is well, just don’t fire me and we’ll be fine… please, don’t fire me? I’ll say we’re signing a clone of Gretzky to play center if you want, just don’t fire me?”

    Total damage control move here. And really, not a great one.

  17. mackattack29 - Apr 4, 2014 at 4:25 PM

    What happened to the sedins… I don’t get how 90+ point players decline to THIS so quickly. I realize they’ve been injured… but even still… they were two of my favorite players to watch just like last year…

  18. mackstrong2013 - Apr 5, 2014 at 8:27 AM

    I wish we could have missed the playoffs two years ago, best thing that could have happened. Maybe we’ll luck out in the lottery and end up high enough to land Bennett.

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