Mike Gillis’ Biggest Mistake

Earlier today, Mike Gillis found himself boxed into a corner, with no takers for the goaltender he wanted to trade, 34-year-old Roberto Luongo, with his massive and lengthy contract. Desperate, and not wanting to buy out Luongo, Gillis had only one other choice: trading his younger, cheaper goaltender, with the much better contract term, Cory Schneider. With Martin Brodeur at the very end of his long, legendary career, New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamiorello saw an opportunity to solidify his franchise’s future in goal, and offered Vancouver the 9th overall pick in today’s 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Gillis accepted.

While there are some contradicting reports out there that Gillis was offered significantly more from division rival the Edmonton Oilers for Schneider, but declined because he didn’t want to trade the star goalie inside the division, I’m not going to touch on that aspect of the story, other than to say that if these reports are true, that would also be a huge mistake by Mike Gillis. You should always worry about your own team first, and get the best return for your team, before worrying about any other team. The in-division factor when it comes to trading should be only be considered as a tie-breaker of sorts between competing offers, not an excuse to turn down a significantly better offer than the one you accept. A good GM should have the attitude and the aptitude to say, “I will build a better team than you, and I will beat you, no matter who your goalie is, or what you do.” A good GM does not base their decisions on fear of their rivals, and on what might happen if their rivals made the playoffs, and if you had to face them.

But that’s not the focus of this blog, or what I’m talking about with the title of this blog, “Mike Gillis’ biggest mistake.”

Here’s what I’m talking about. Mike Gillis has now traded his two best young trade assets of the last however many years, Cody Hodgson and Cory Schneider, without getting a single NHL player in return at the time of the respective deals, let alone a good NHL player. Think about that for a second. It’s frickin crazy. Cody Hodgson, Cory Schneider… and you don’t get an NHL player, even though you claim to be in “win now” mode. Meanwhile, far inferior packages, like Matt Carle, Ty Wishart, and a 1st round pick, have netted the likes of Dan Boyle, not to mention the package that acquired Joe Thornton. Jack Johnson and a 1st round pick got the Los Angeles Kings Jeff Carter, also an inferior package than Cody Hodgson and Cory Schneider would have been if packaged together in a trade.

Can you imagine the damage any competent GM would have done in the trade market with Cody Hodgson and Cory Schneider as trade assets? Any GM interested in “winning now” could have hit a home run with those two assets to work with. But that’s because he would know to trade them together, and that’s the (shouldn’t-really-be-a) secret to this whole thing. That’s why failing to package his best trade chips together, in exchange for a star NHL player, was the biggest mistake Mike Gillis made long before anything that happened today at the draft. When you’re a contending team, you never trade any prospect or young player, elite or not, individually, or for other futures back, if you can avoid it. You package them, two or three together, until you have a good enough package to acquire a true star player in return. That’s how Doug Wilson got Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton, and Brent Burns in trades. That’s how Dean Lombardi got Mike Richards and to an extent Jeff Carter. That’s how the Pittsburgh Penguins got James Neal.

Contending teams take a prospect or two, an underperforming young depth player on their roster with some promise, and a 1st round pick, and leverage all these assets to add the final, missing, star piece to their roster. For example, on the Canucks, Mason Raymond, Jordan Schroeder, a 1st round pick, and a 2nd round pick, and maybe another prospect like Kevin Connauton probably could have solved their top-line forward problem last year even without having to include Schneider or Hodgson.

Mason Raymond, Cody Hodgson, Kevin Connauton, and a 1st round pick would have been one of the better packages traded in the last five years for anyone. That definitely gets you your Jeff Carter or Dan Boyle.

Mason Raymond, Cody Hodgon, and Cory Schneider gets you whatever the fuck you want, probably even without adding 1st round pick.

Instead, what does Canucks GM Mike Gillis do? He trades Hodgson, one-for-one, the year after going to game seven of the Stanley Cup final, the Canucks still having one of their best shots ever at winning a Cup, and Gillis trades an emerging top-six playmaking center with hockey sense who many were talking about in the same breath of Logan Couture, and the quarterback of his team’s second power-play unit (which would prove itself hopeless without Hodgson), for a player who was literally in the AHL at the time, and had been almost all season, in Zach Kassian. And this is the AHL affiliate of a struggling team in the Buffalo Sabres, so if he couldn’t even stick with the Sabres, why did Gillis expect he could not only break into the Canucks roster in time for their run at the Cup that spring, but actually be able match the impact of Hodgson, despite Kassian not being a center and the Canucks not having another good third line center option, and despite Kassian being completely unproven on the power-play, and really never having been billed as that type of player?

In short, the Canucks went backwards; they dealt for the future, exchanging an emerging young star in the NHL center for a winger in the AHL, when they should have been in “win now” mode. Kassian has developed some since then, but he’s still not an impact #NHL player. To this day, Hodgson is still the better, more productive offensive player, and the one who excels on the power-play, which has been an area of the game that has declined drastically for the Canucks since losing Christian Ehrhoff and, naturally, Cody Hodgson.

And now Gillis trades Schneider, again without packaging anything else with him, and again for a future asset in the 9th overall pick, which they use to draft Bo Horvat. Horvat could be an excellent prospect for the future, but he’s no Jeff Carter, or Dan Boyle, or any comparable immediate impact NHL player. Not yet, and likely not while the Sedin twins are still playing at a high enough level to lead the Canucks to a Cup.

Of course, Gillis claims he couldn’t get a top roster player for Schneider. Well, then why didn’t he add to the package! He still has Mason Raymond’s rights. He had a late 1st round pick in addition to the 9th overall pick the Devils were offering (and maybe you let them take that out, and target Adam Henrique instead, for instance, or at least Travis Zajac). Naturally, in an ideal world, you don’t have to trade your 1st round pick and Cory Schneider, but this was not an ideal situation, and you do what you have to do to get that impact player when you’re in “win now” mode, and you have a very limited window with the Sedin twins getting older to capture your franchise’s first Stanley Cup victory. Of course, it would have been a lot easier, and a lot cheaper, if Gillis simply used Hodgson this way in the first place, instead of trading him for a prospect, and then the hole on his team would have already been filled years ago.

Or, assuming Kassian even still has the shine of a top prospect to other GMs, maybe he should have considered using that chip once it became clear after the 2011 season, and getting eliminated in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings, that Zack Kassian was not a ready-made top-six power forward in the NHL, if he ever will be. Maybe after taking his shot and missing with the Hodgson trade, Gillis should have at least tried to leverage Kassian like he should have leveraged Hodgson, and packaged him for someone proven in the NHL. But he hasn’t done that either.

Instead, while Gillis’ rival GMs of contending teams have vigorously used many of their best futures assets to acquire big NHL stars and fill their roster holes, trading away their best prospects often almost as soon as they acquire them because they are so determined to “win now” in the NHL before their own teams’ windows close, Gillis has dealt all his best young assets for more unproven futures instead, like a rebuilding team would, not a “win now” team, even though the Sedin twins already appeared on the decline last season.

And that is why Gillis dealing his best young assets for futures, and lessening the value of his best assets by dealing them separately instead of putting together an epic package with two or more of them together, was his biggest mistake. Instead of another young star forward or defenseman on their NHL roster, the Canucks, a team allegedly dedicated to “winning now,” and to winning last season, has as an asset in Zach Kassian who didn’t contribute much last season, particularly in the playoffs, and an asset in Bo Horvat who may not even play for the Canucks next year. That’s two future assets instead of a star player who could make an impact now, and for an alleged “win now” team, that’s terribly confused managing by Mike Gillis.

Written by Shark Circle