Gillis & Gilman – A Vancouver Canucks State of the Union

Canucks GM Mike Gillis and Assistant GM Laurence Gilman were on the TEAM1040 on Wednesday afternoon with Don Taylor. The interview was wide-ranging and about as candid as could be expected from the two. They covered essentially all of the major issues surrounding the team right now, from the lockout, to Ryan Kesler’s injury status, to Alex Edler’s development, and more.

Instead of transcribing the entire interview in chronological order, I’ll share some of the more interesting news and notes:

The Lockout

Where else would you expect this to begin? On comparing this lockout compared to the lockout of 2004-05, Gillis had this to say:

“There are so many differences between the two lockouts. [In the last lockout] there were significant philosophical changes.”

On the sense of apathy that seems to be growing:

“There is apathy because the sport is doing better [than it was in 2004]. It is difficult to reconcile.”

On the reasons for the lockout:

“Behind the scenes it is a really complicated business. A re-evaluation and reconciliation is needed after six of seven years of an agreement. It has turned out very differently than people thought it would.”

An example:

“The Canadian dollar was 65, 67 cents [in 2004], and now it is at or above par.”

Gilman weighed in, and even got philisophical while making a reference to chess.

“It is about having a business that allows everyone to operate.” Also known as revenue sharing. “We are pawns in the game of life.”

An homage to D’Angelo’s speech during Season 1 of the Wire. Even high-ranking executives have little-to-no say with what goes on. That has to be frustrating.

The Window to Win

Gillis on the Sedins:

“They are not going through the wear and tear of a regular season at this point in time.”

Nor are any other NHL players. The Canucks have invested a lot in programs to keep players healthier and playing longer. And, as Gillis says, all of their core players have emulated how the Sedins approach things (training, practicing, community relations, and so on).

Taylor then asked what they are looking forward to seeing if/when hockey returns.

Gillis:

“Winning. I have a lot of confidence in our team. I think it will be a sprint when we get started. Health will be a major issue, particularly in the West. I think we will benefit from experiences we have had.”

Those experiences include a Game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup Final to Boston, and a first-round shellacking at the hands of the LA Kings this past year. On what he is looking forward to, Gilman had this to say:

“Our players are going to come back with passion that they didn’t have last year.”

The Stanley Cup (losing) hangover, if you will.

Zack Kassian

Gillis:

“Like any young player, the thing they don’t understand is the level of consistency you need. AHL and NHL is a fine line for a number of players. What separates them is consistency that coaches can rely on.”

There is no denying Kassian’s talent and upside, and people I have spoken to in the Buffalo and Rochester organizations have echoed similar thoughts – Kassian will be best served in a situation with strong role models and leaders. And Vancouver has that in spades with the Sedins, Manny Malhotra, and Kevin Bieksa.

On Kassian’s recent benching:

“Zack is going to be a very good player. He has all kinds of features that are difficult to find. He needs to learn how to be consistent. It was well deserved.”

So there’s some support for Scott Arniel’s decision from Gillis. Gillis also mentioned practice a bit – that sheds more light on why Kassian got the scratch, as his in-game performance hadn’t fallen off noticeably.

Ryan Kesler’s recovery

Gillis:

“We talked yesterday. He looks good, he’s happy. We are all very confident that he will be back on the ice and at full speed. It won’t be long after we start. We are all confident of that.”

Gillis did a great job wording his answer with extreme care and caution. Don Taylor obviously caught wind of this and pressed a bit further into the recent comments from Kesler’s agent, Kurt Overhardt.

Gilman mentioned that the Canucks had a very “one-sided” discussion with Overhardt after he made his comments (Overhardt recently told Ben Kuzma that Kesler would be out for “months”).

“I spoke to Ryan about it. He is working very hard to get better. These things happen. You have players represented by agents. Agents voice their opinion.”

Taylor asked if they knew why Overhardt made those comments.

Gilman:

“I don’t know.”

Gillis

“I would be astounded if there was some nefarious reason for him doing what he did.”

Gilman:

“This is why we were upset with him. The perception of this does not serve our club well.”

The perception he is speaking of is two-fold. On the one hand, Overhardt made it sound like the Canucks were rushing Kesler back. And on the other hand, it would be blatant rule circumvention if the club kept a healthy player with an injured tag (injured players are receiving full salary during the lockout). Gillis said he is confident that Kesler will be healthy for January, based on reports from their own team doctors, as well as doctors outside the organization.

On the reports that Alex Edler’s back will never be 100%:

Gilman:

“People don’t realize how much abuse these guys take on a regular basis. Our players play with some measure of chronic pain at all times.”

This is true of all athletes. Sports like hockey are very taxing on the body, and it is a constant struggle to slow down the inevitable wear and tear. All players have some sort of chronic issues they deal with.

On Edler’s back:

“It is not an unnatural thing, he is accepting the fact that will be some measure of pain with a particular part of his body.”

On Edler’s play:

“Alex is still an evolving hockey player. People need to temper their expectations. We hope he becomes a pantheon NHL defenseman, but he still has more of his career than less ahead of him.”

Gillis:

“Lidstrom didn’t win first Norris until he was 29.”

On Frankie Corrado and his cut from Team Canada:

Gillis said he was upset that Corrado was cut, but pleased he turned so many heads at the camp.

“[Corrado] continued to impress people and continued to improve in every facet of the game.”

Gillis added that the Canucks would have Corrado in the AHL right now if they could:

“He’s a very bright player. Really good skating ability, good size. More defensive than offensive.”

Gilman:

“He has good hockey sense. Very good poise and presence.”

Gilman believes the reason Corrado got as far as he did for Team Canada was that Hockey Canada had very high risk, high reward players, like Ryan Murphy, and Corrado’s reliability endeared him to the coaching staff:

“[Corrado] some Chris Tanev qualities. [He] enables your skill guys to take the puck and run.”

On club/media relations:

Gillis:

“During our tenure here we have seen an evolution in social media. I am more patient than I was a few years ago.”

Interestingly enough, they didn’t discuss anything relating to David Booth.

Gilman:

“It can be an exceptionally brutal hockey market in terms of the level of scrutiny.”

The example of Keith Ballard was then introduced. Ballard had never really played many meaningful games before in his NHL career with Phoenix and Florida, and didn’t have a good idea of what playing in a big Canadian market would be like.

“He sustains an injury, sustains a concussion, and has a tough start. The media onslaught was merciless. There was a great deal of effort to put forth to help him through the process. That’s what it is like to play in a big Canadian market. It took him a little bit of time to get acclimated.”

To date, Ballard’s play in Vancouver has been average at best with a few highlights mixed in.

And finally, gut feeling on any sort of NHL season?

Gilman:

Hopeful.

Gillis:

Optimistic.

All in all it was a reasonably candid interview, considering that these two men who are quite careful with their words. Now let’s hope their hopeful optimism about whether or not we’ll get an NHL season in 2013 is well grounded.