Mike Gillis’ philosophy has changed. Winning comes at the expense of entertainment.
Remember the Dave Nonis era? If you deleted it from your memory, I don’t blame you.
Low scoring games were the norm. So were empty seats at Rogers Arena. The Canucks were built with a defense first approach — Nonis said his only goal was to win games.
If entertainment value was sacrificed, so be it.
When Mike Gillis took over in 2008, he brought a breath of fresh air. Like Nonis’ predecessor, Brian Burke, he believed in up-tempo, exciting hockey. He spoke about the NHL trending towards becoming a faster league, one in which smaller, more skilled players would excel.
Three years into building his team using this philosophy, the Canucks came within one game of winning the Stanley Cup.
Many people argue had that Canucks team been healthy (key injured players: Ryan Kesler, Alex Edler, Mason Raymond, Henrik Sedin, Dan Hamhuis), they would have coasted on their 2-0 series lead to win it all.
After the year, Gillis said his strategy would remain the same.
“At some point, if you keep knocking on the door, you’re going to break through, you’re going to face a different set of circumstances, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
He’d stay the course, he said. His philosophy about the game wouldn’t change.
Yesterday, Gillis was on the Team 1040 with Matt Sekeres and Blake Price. Asked about the 1-0 Canucks win over the L.A. Kings, Gillis wanted to explain his team’s new strategy.
Based on our experience last year in the playoffs and the way things were trending this year, we’re going to have to learn to win games 1-0 all the time. There’s not going to be a lot of goal scoring.
That’s the way it’s going to be down the stretch and in the playoffs and we’re trying to make sure we’re really tight defensively so that we can compete in those games and come out with a win.
Blake Price: You were averaging over 3 goals per game up until February 19, and since then 2 goals per game. A lot of that is the adjustment you mentioned at the trade deadline. Do you do this begrudgingly?
Yes. I think offense in the game is critical. I think the opportunity for momentum shifts, the opportunity to watch great players offensively is really good for hockey. I think that’s one of the reasons there’s been such an incredible growth since the lockout, but having said that, it’s a fluid sport, things change, and we have to recognize change and try to adjust with it.
You can’t continue to do things that are counterproductive to winning hockey games. Sometimes I get a little annoyed when I hear people suggest we’re not winning the right way. Well, you’ve got to figure out ways to win games and in the playoffs. There’s no points for style. So, we need to be able to win 1 goal hockey games just as easily as the next team and if we can do that, I think we have a chance for success.
So here we are again. Five years ago, radio hosts repeatedly asked whether winning was more important than entertainment to Canucks fans. Then Mike Gillis came along and proved you could have both. Almost.
But it didn’t work, so prepare yourselves Canucks fans. As Gillis said, “There’s not going to be a lot of goal scoring.”