Thursday, July 02, 2015

Canucks re-fire Gillis by proxy, firing Gilman, Henning, and Crawford

In retrospect, my reaction to the Zack Kassian trade may have been over-the-top. My take was tinged by how much I like Kassian, who is an odd, if troubled, character. I felt like he got a raw deal last season, getting scratched when it was undeserved, which ultimately submarined any trade value he might have had. I didn't take into account Kassian's back injury or whatever off-ice issues he might have, because when he was healthy and on the ice he was an effective player, just not always effective in the way the Canucks wanted him to be.

Having been up since 6:30 am with two sick kids might have also played a role.

I still don't like the trade, but I can accept at least some of the reasoning behind it. It feels like the wrong move to make even if Kassian had to go, but maybe Benning is right and Kassian will never reach his potential. The trade could very well be just a minor move with little impact.

Today, however, the Canucks made a move that could be far more damaging to the team's future, sweeping the front office clean of the remains of the Mike Gillis era, firing Assistant GMs Laurence Gilman and Lorne Henning, and Director of Player Personnel Eric Crawford.

All three are great people who are intelligent and good at what they do, but it's entirely likely that they have a different vision for what makes a good hockey team than Jim Benning does. It's entirely likely that they disagreed with a number of Benning's moves and said so. And it's understandable that Benning would want people in those positions who agreed with his vision for the future of the Canucks.

I only know Henning and Crawford by reputation, but I had the opportunity to meet and speak with Gilman a couple of times. He was always incredibly accommodating and willing to talk, including when I was even more of a nobody than I am now.

One occasion in particular sticks out in my memory: it was when the Chicago Wolves were the Canucks' farm team and they were in Abbotsford to face the Heat. Gilman and some of the Canucks scouts came out to the game and I ran into Gilman in the hallway near the press box. He was clearly on his way somewhere, but when I said hello he immediately stopped and spoke to me for several minutes about prospects and the Canucks. He only stopped when we both realized that the intermission was over and the puck had dropped again.

Gilman was Gillis's salary cap wizard, helping the Canucks through some tricky times with the cap, constantly shifting players to the IR and AHL to keep the team cap-compliant and somehow always find space to add players at the trade deadline. He will be missed in the Canucks front office and I'm sure he'll have another job in hockey as soon as he wants one.
Henning and Crawford's contributions are harder to quantify -- it's always difficult to parse out each individuals contributions in hockey management -- but Crawford was brought in to help clean up some of the mess left by Ron Delorme. He was primarily responsible for Gillis's final draft as a GM in 2013, which was easily his best and one of the best in recent history. Somehow, Delorme remains employed by the Canucks and Crawford does not.

Henning, meanwhile, had the Utica Comets in his portfolio of responsibilities and they just made a run to the Calder Cup Finals.

This isn't a surprising move, by any means. Really, it was inevitable that Benning clean up the front office and bring in more of his own people and it's surprising that it took a full season for it to happen. It's still upsetting to see good people lose their jobs, particularly in the wake of the moves made in the last week by the current management team.


  1. I suspect Gilman is happy to be fired. I suspect he was not happy and at least this way he gets some severance rather than just quoting. Big loss though. Kind of confirms the non-analytical bent to the new administration.

    And I don't think you were over the top on your reaction to the Kassian trade. If they are trying to get "younger" this doesn't do it.

    And if they want to get "better" why resign Vey?

    And if they want goalies for the future why keep Miller and get rid of Lack? Although that one I can understand somewhat because who the hell would want miller for that price. But since we only got a 3rd (and a 7th) for Lack, why not just trade the enigmatic Markstrom for a 4th?

    Crazy stuff. I feel a large period of darkness coming on for Canucks fans.

    1. Listen closely to Benning's rationale: toughness (Proust replaces Bieksa = younger); winger (one of the rookies replaces Kassian = younger). From Benning's perspective they are getting younger in key skill portfolios. Not saying I agree but I think I understand what Benning is doing. I would love to see the whiteboard in his office right now to see who he is targeting in 2016.

    2. you hit on a good point. we can't look at any one of these moves in isolation. (good thing too as some of them seem counterproductive when you do.) we have to look at the whole package of moves.

      clearly it looks more and more like the prospects are going to be given a real shot at showing they belong in the league next year. so, virtanen, mccann, shinkaruk, etc are going to get that opportunity (corrado and clendening too i hope). after that it's up to them.

      glass half-full? maybe. but let's wait til october before throwing the whole organisation under the bus.

    3. Agree completely. Only when we see the team performance at around Christmas this year can we really say if the Canucks are better/worse than they were this past year, and start to pass judgement on Benning's moves. What if Virtanen takes off like Horvat did? What if the D improves dramatically with more speed on the back end?

      It is going to take longer than that--after 2016 free agency--to really assess how Benning wants to shape the team going forward. In the medium term he has to work around the Sedins which is both a good thing (they are still amazing players, and the best the Canucks have ever seen I would argue) and a bad thing (they are getting older, and they are expensive in terms of cap space). The guy has a plan--let's see how well he executes it.

  2. That's it then.

    We are now officially the new Oilers.

    1. Or, as someone noted on hfboards - the Edmonton Maple Leafs.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I heard that Gillman had lost a step and was reluctant to get into the dirty areas.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I don't have a clue what went on behind closed doors, but I'll speculate. Henning was due for retirement I'd say and his health may be a factor. Gilman either didn't like what was going on or Benning and Linden did'nt care much for the mess they inherited. As for scouting, well it speaks for itself. NTCs were probably an abrasive subject in discussions, Burrows, Hansen and Higgins at the forefront. Probably lots of scenarios that went bad.
    I'm a Canuck fan and I'm not going to second guess Linden and Bennings decisions, we will get younger and its not going to happen overnight. Hopefully more moves coming to open up space for the youngsters.

  6. Gilman's firing is an expected (in the sense that Benning wanted to clear out for his staff), but still awfully stupid move.

    I'm sure he'll be fine, but... Still... Just seems like a poor decision.

  7. I wish Linden never took the president job. Cause so far I think he is just screwing it up. Unless Benning is doing this all himself and Linden is just playing his part well he is just as much to blame. Too bad.

  8. How ON EARTH is everyone getting their undies in a bunch over this?? Gillis' running mates who have their handprints all over this franchise WHO SO MANY OF YOU WANT BLOWN UP are fired and this is a signal of impending doom? Are you kidding me?

    If Linden cleaned house immediately no one would have blinked. "Fresh start" "had to be done" and the like would be filling comment sections all over the intraweb and on we went. But the former captain was prudent and rational, took a year to evaluate and asses, and made his move. Fair play, I say.

    But Canuckledom is filled with people running around like their hair is on fire screaming prophesies of destruction and the second coming of The Messier.

    Calm down. It will all be okay. shhhhh shh shhhh.... This is a good thing.

  9. The real problem I have is with the replacements. Jon Weisbrod was the guy who famously bungled the O'Reilly offer sheet when he was a Flames executive, and who has generally made a mess everywhere he's been. Benning has basically replaced one of the most plainly competent NHL executives with one of the most demonstrably terrible, just because it was one of his "guys". As Willes said in this morning's Province, it's becoming less and less obvious that Benning is actually capable of doing his job.

  10. The drafts of 2008 -2012 were very bad . The Ballard trade - two 1st round picks for a big cap player they had to buy out . The prophet Booth a big cap hit later bought out . The brilliant Torts hire. Fair or not isn't it reasonable to hold these executives at least partly responsible These were not 3 Scotty Bowmans that were let go . It seems unreasonable to criticize Linden Benning for wanting their own team .

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