Canucks GM Mike Gillis expects significant changes
'Unlikely' Luongo returns next season
Mike Gillis had reason to be angry, but instead he was a picture of calm.
With the disappointment of Vancouver's first-round exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs still fresh, the Canucks general manager displayed a resolve Thursday not to veer too sharply from the current course.
Gillis said it's time to reset the organization, but he wants to retain the team's veteran core while introducing bigger, stronger and younger talent.
"Five years ago, we came in here and reset this organization, and it's time to do it again," Gillis said during a season-ending media availability at Rogers Arena.
Gillis spoke publicly for the first time since the Canucks were eliminated Tuesday night by the San Jose Sharks. The 4-0 sweep came a year after the Canucks were ousted in the first round by the Los Angeles Kings.
Vancouver fell well short of its goal of returning to the Stanley Cup finals, where it came within a game of winning the coveted silver chalice in 2010-11.
Gillis said he, his support staff and the Aquilini family, which owns the team, will do a review of every element of the organizatio including the performance of head coach Alain Vigneault before any decisions are made.
"Like anybody else, he'll be evaluated for the way this season went and the way that the last two seasons have gone, particularly the playoffs, with myself at the forefront," said Gillis, who later expressed support for the coach.
Gillis called the just concluded campaign the most challenging of his five seasons at the Canucks' helm. He said the lockout and subsequently shortened season prevented him from making trades that were to his liking.
"When I look at every other team, this was such a messed up season from start to finish," said Gillis.
A long off-season and traditional pre-season should offer him more time to do the deals he wants. Roberto Luongo's future is one of the most pressing matters, because a trade could bring in young talent or draft picks, and a buyout of the remainder of his 12-year deal worth $64 million US could free up dollars needed to sign high-end free agents.
Gillis said it's unlikely that the veteran goaltender will be with the team next fall.
"Who knows what's going to happen?" said Luongo. "I think we're all aware of what the situation is. We want to make sure that everybody is taken care of.
"My main goal is to be a starter, I want to play, and I feel that I have, still, a lot more years in me."
Gillis also wants to ensure that the Canucks have the big, skilled and physical players that will help the club adapt to what he indicated is a rougher game. The shift is not temporary and the style will continue in the future, he added.
"When I took this job, we decided on a style of play that resulted in great success and, clearly, the landscape has changed — and we have to address those changes moving forward," said Gillis, who leaned towards small and fast players with his draft picks and trades.
But Gillis also wants to ensure that the NHL still enables gifted stars like the Sedin twins to work their artistry.
"I believe you have to have skill in the game," said Gillis. "When people have the privilege of watching Daniel and Henrik for a year for how they play the game, and how good it is, I don't know why we'd want to see that eliminated from the game."
Despite Gillis's concerns about the direction in which the game is going, many clubs have enjoyed the fruits of an era of young stars who use more skill than brawn.
Only one Gillis draft choice, Cody Hodgson, who has since been traded to Buffalo, has gained regular employment in the league thus far. The GM said it has been difficult to draft NHL-ready players because of the team's success, which has resulted in later points on the draft list.
But he vowed to introduce more young players into the lineup.
"We are going to have to get younger," said Gillis. "In this league, that's the way it has to work in this day and age, and that's what we're going to do."
Core to stay intact
However, Gillis indicated he does not envision drastic changes. While some observers have suggested changes are necessary to the group's core of veterans, Gillis would prefer to keep it relatively intact.
"I think we need to supplement our core group as best we can and then look at the possibilities down the road," said Gillis.
Captain Henrik Sedin would prefer to see modest changes rather than the dissolution of the core. Centre Ryan Kesler and defenceman Kevin Bieksa shared his view.
"I think our core's strong," said Kesler. "We believe in each other, and I think our core is better than anyone in the league."
"I still believe in the group that we have here, in the core group," added Bieksa. "I still feel that we have a lot of good years left in us. But it's about winning games in the playoffs and doing the right things at the right times."
Players also expressed support for Vigneault, the team's all-time winningest bench boss, who was not present at the availability. The coach has guided the Canucks to the Stanley Cup finals, led Vancouver to a pair of Presidents' Trophy titles and won six division crowns, including the last five in a row.
In seven seasons, his clubs have also smashed team single-season win and point totals almost routinely, and he earned 2007 NHL coach of the year honours.
"Guys respect our coaching staff," said Kesler. "We felt that they gave us a game plan. We didn't execute."