As much as Wednesday was about the hiring of Trevor Linden, it was also about the firing of Mike Gillis.
At 9 a.m. on the button Wednesday morning, the Canucks officially announced that Linden had been named the club’s new president of hockey operations. At 11:49 a.m. the previous day, the Canucks sent out a press release stating Gillis had been relieved of his duties as the team’s president and general manager.
That was fast.
Francesco Aquilini, the chairman of Canucks Sports and Entertainment, tried to steer clear of blame, thanking Gillis on numerous occasions during a press conference at Rogers Arena.
“It was a time for a change. I’m disappointed. I think all the fans are disappointed. I’m a big fan. We need a new direction in the organization, a new voice,” said Aquilini.
Gillis began his reign as general manager in the spring of 2008. His six years on the job brought about a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy titles, and as close to glory as a team can get without actually winning a championship.
But there were criticisms, too. Take, for instance, the fact that this time last year he had Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider as a goaltending duo and now, through two separate trades, was soon without both.
Two elite goalies gone. The return for Schneider was the ninth overall pick that turned into Bo Horvat, who is still playing junior hockey. For Luongo, the Canucks got centre Shawn Matthias and goalie Jacob Markstrom.
His trade history over the past three years, as well as how the goalie saga was handled by Canucks management, has been scrutinized many times over.
The night before Gillis was sacked, the Canucks lost to the Anaheim Ducks on home ice. The result officially eliminated Vancouver’s team from playoff contention. Chants of ‘Fire Gillis’ rang out from some of the fans still remaining in the waning minutes of the third period.
His last stand came on Team 1040 radio last week, when he said he wanted the Canucks to get back to the skilled, puck-possession game that made them so successful only a few years ago and that the organization needed to have the guts to carry out the plan he had in mind.
“Whenever a GM gets fired, it falls on the players. It’s our performance on the ice that cost him a job,” said forward Daniel Sedin.
“That’s the bottom line. It’s always tough to take as a player. That was tough. But then waking up this morning, seeing Trevor’s name, that brought some excitement back for sure.”
The Canucks practiced Wednesday morning, although no one in the media seemed overly enthused about line combinations or special teams.
The season is lost. Only three games remain, and it all comes to an end on Sunday against the Calgary Flames.
Gillis is gone. Will the same be said for head coach John Tortorella, too?
There is controversy over the hiring process of Tortorella, and whether the decision to bring on the fiery coach was made by the former GM Gillis, or ownership.
Aquilini pinned that decision, made last June, on Gillis.
“Mike hired Tortorella and I supported that decision,” said Aquilini. “I have to take responsibility for that, and that’s why we have a change of direction today.”
Tortorella said he has spoken with Gillis since Tuesday, but wouldn’t get into detail about that conversation.
“I feel responsible for Mike. Mike’s a friend of mine,” said Tortorella. “Someone was let go. Someone was told he can’t do something he loves.”