(photo source: http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Hockey)
‘Fire Gillis! Fire Gillis’
Anyone attending last night’s game in Vancouver heard the chants echoing throughout the arena. They also saw fans leaving their seats and the arena falling empty as the Canucks’ playoffs hopes ended in an uninspired effort against the Anaheim Ducks. The game ended 3-0 in favour of the visitors and officially eliminated the Canucks from this year’s playoffs. The Canucks will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
What fans attending last night’s game may not have expected was their chants to come to fruition a little over 12 hours later.
Shortly before noon today, the Vancouver Canucks announced that Mike Gillis had been ‘relieved of his duties’ as President and General Manager. A decision that – some say – has been brewing since the team’s downward spiral started in January.
Earlier this morning – several hours before the news broke – rumours were rife surrounding Trevor Linden, who coincidentally had a morning news spot on GlobalBC to discuss his line of gyms, Club 16. During the interview, Linden quashed any rumours and confirmed that while the city and hockey will always have a place in his heart, he is currently focusing on his fitness business. He maintained that he has always said he would consider returning to hockey if the opportunity and the time was right, but he confirmed he has not been approached by the Canucks and there are no imminent announcements relating to his involvement with the team. Good timing, as the GM post was open just two short hours later.
Francesco Aquilini, Chairman of Canucks Sports & Entertainment, said in a statement issued by the team today, “On behalf of my entire family, I would like to sincerely thank Mike Gillis for his hard work and the many contributions he made on and off the ice during his tenure. The Vancouver Canucks had success under Mike’s leadership, and we nearly reached our ultimate goal; but I believe we have reached a point where a change in leadership and new voice is needed.”
It is hard to fathom the sheer extent of the Canucks’ downward spiral within such a relatively short space of time. From Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in June 2011, to missing the playoffs and teetering on a full implosion of the leadership team and roster in April 2014, it is a long fall from grace and fans have voiced their frustrations in a number of ways. From the ‘Fire Gillis’ chants last night, to the rumours that season ticket holders are not renewing their tickets – a deadline that is due next week.
Francesco Aquilini addressed the team’s fans in today’s statement.
“I also want to thank our fans for their support for the Vancouver Canucks through a difficult and frustrating season. We haven’t met their expectations or ours. We are committed to bringing the Stanley Cup to Vancouver for our fans and we will continue to do everything possible to reach that goal.”
The Canucks won several titles under Gillis’ leadership –including two Presidents’ Trophy wins in consecutive seasons – but anything short of the Stanley Cup in a rabid hockey town like Vancouver is simply not enough. I remember those chants of ‘We want the Cup’ back in 2011, cheers ringing through the streets as the entire city hummed with excitement – the atmosphere was electric. Frankly, it’s sad to remember it now. I attended a game recently on March 19 and, while I personally enjoyed my time at the game with my hockey-obsessed friend and we were fortunate to have seats in the club section, the Canucks struggled through two goal-less periods before finally lighting the lamp in the third and moving on to win the game 2-0. But before the two third period goals, the team and the crowd were lackluster at best, and completely checked-out at worst.
The tenth General Manager in the franchise’s history, Gillis was named President and GM of the Canucks in 2008, replacing Dave Nonis. During his tenure, he led the team to Northwest Division titles every season since joining the organization (excluding 2013-14) and assembled the 2010-11 and 2011-12 Presidents Trophy winning teams, setting a franchise record with 117 points in the regular season, and winning the Clarence Campbell Bowl as the Western Conference playoff champions in 2011. He received the General Manager of the Year Award at the 2011 NHL Awards.
However, this record was fractured by two disappointing early playoff exits in 2012 and 2013, and questionable decisions including the trade of two number one goaltenders, Cory Schneider and Robert Luongo. Gillis also famously traded fan favourite Cody Hodgson for Zack Kassian back in the 2011-12 season.
Francesco Aquilini will address the media tomorrow at 10:30am PDT.