Vancouver's hiring of NHL player agent Mike Gillis as its next general manager is viewed as shocking by many inside hockey circles prompting most to speculate Gillis has been on the Canucks radar for quite some time.
What do we know about Gillis?
Well, we know that he's been a successful agent, representing stars such as current Canucks captain Markus Naslund and former NHL superstar Pavel Bure.
We know that Gillis played six seasons in the National Hockey League with Colorado and Boston, played 246 games, scored 33 goals and 76 points during that span before retiring in 1985 to pursue a degree in law.
According to Tampa Bay GM Jay Feaster who worked extensively with Gillis on contract negotiations with former Lightning forward Sheldon Keefe, Gillis has his strengths. ”He is a very bright guy, hard working and hard-nosed in negotiations,” Feaster said.
Edmonton Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe's experience with Gillis left a far different and less flattering impression.
As outlined in a team issued statement last summer, the Oilers reported they had a standard players contract for Michael Nylander not only agreed to, but confirmed and signed by Gillis, Nylander's agent.
However, while the Oilers were expecting the returned, signed agreements from Nylander and Gillis, news broke that Nylander had subsequently signed a long-term contract with the Washington Capitals.
Edmonton considered legal recourse, but later dropped the fight to focus on the season.
The memories of that experience are still very vivid for Lowe, who chose his words carefully when asked to comment on the Canucks new GM. “We haven't done many deals with Vancouver, although Dave Nonis and I had many conversations,” Lowe noted. “I suspect we won't be doing any in the future."
Lowe says the Nylander debacle could have been avoided by a simple phone call at the time acknowledging the player had changed his mind and the process was out of Gillis's control. According to Lowe, Gillis acted “unprofessionally” and “unethically,” adding he likely won't be able to deal with the Canucks new manager because of his lack of trust. “A lot of deals are done based on honesty and trust. He (Gillis) is going to be in tough earning trust. To orchestrate a trade, you have to have that trust going in.”
Gillis says he did call Lowe to explain Nylander's decision to turn from Edmonton to Washington, but admits the 15 minute phone conversation may not have happened as quickly as the Oilers GM would have liked. " I wish he felt differently. It was a terribly awkward situation," Gillis told tsn.ca shortly after being named the Canucks general manager. "I explained to Kevin I wasn't making the decision at the time. I was in a very difficult position."
Gillis added, "I would hope everyone gives me the opportunity to act appropriately and accordingly before making judgement."
The fact more experienced candidates weren't seriously considered also doesn't sit well with the NHL GM band of brothers.
Doug Armstrong comes highly recommended for his years of service as general manager for the Dallas Stars, yet Armstrong says Vancouver's interest was limited to a 10 minute phone conversation last Friday.
He never heard back.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs GM, John Ferguson also spoke briefly with Canucks president Chris Zimmerman last week, while Brian Lawton who walked away from a successful career as a player agent to seek a manager's job in the NHL was also included in Vancouver's brief search.
Following Dave Nonis' firing, Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini stated a change in leadership was necessary and his new GM would have extensive experience.
Mike Gillis will gain his management experience while on the job.