The Aquilini family didn’t even wait for the Vancouver Canucks’ season to end to fire Mike Gillis, the president of hockey operations and general manager.
Francesco Aquilini swung the axe on Tuesday, relieving Gillis of his duties after six years with the team, then installed a franchise legend into the chair on Wednesday, unveiling Trevor Linden as the new team president at a press conference.
Gillis held both jobs, but for now, it seems as if both will be separated, with Linden taking the top hockey operations job while overseeing the general manager and head coach.
Linden, a native of Medicine Hat, won the Memorial Cup twice with the Tigers, his hometown junior team, before getting drafted 2nd overall in 1988 and going on to a 20-year NHL career—17 of which were spent in Vancouver.
He has served as the president of the NHL players association, getting elected in 1998, and had a successful career as a business owner following his hockey career with a chain of Club 16 fitness centres in the Lower Mainland.
Despite his relative youth at 43, Linden believes he is ready for the challenge of serving as hockey operations president in a hockey-mad market.
“I’m passionate about the Canucks and I want to win – just like our fans,” Linden said in a press release. “I believe in this team and share the organization’s commitment to excellence on and off of the ice. I am looking forward to getting started – getting to know everyone in the organization, and working together to win the Stanley Cup for this great city and province.”
His first order of business is evaluating the organization, and that involves everybody—the management and coaching staff as well as the players.
That process will dictate what changes come in the offseason.
While Linden is doing that evaluation, he is also going to be searching for a general manager. He didn’t name any names, but said he’s got a profile in mind for what he wants in his GM and will have one in place by the NHL Draft in June.
Aquilini has promised Linden full autonomy to make any and all decisions related to hockey operations so the new president will get to hand-pick his new GM.
There are no shortages of viable candidates out there.
Canucks assistant GM
Gilman will get a good look due to his history with the team and his work with Mike Gillis. Gilman has developed a reputation as a capologist—someone who can navigate the complex contract issues of a post-salary cap league. Even though he never played hockey at a professional level, Gilman has been in the NHL for many years in management positions, first with the Winnipeg Jets and Phoenix Coyotes.
Hockey Canada CEO
Bob Nicholson has been president and CEO of Hockey Canada since 1998 overseeing national teams that have won 66 medals—41 of which were gold—in international hockey tournaments. Nicholson recently announced he was stepping down after 15 years in the job. He’s been involved with the organization through it’s change from the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association and is originally from Penticton, B.C. In his press conference announcing his resignation a week ago, Nicholson mentioned that he wanted to spend more time with his family. Good thing Penticton is only a few hours drive from Vancouver…
retired Vancouver Canucks player
Like Linden, Naslund is a former captain of the Vancouver Canucks who, like Linden, is revered in the city. Naslund came to to the franchise in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1996 and went on to earn the franchise record in goals after 12 seasons with the club. Following his NHL career, he returned to Sweden and eventually picked up the job of managing Modo, the same club where he played played professionally before coming to North America. Naslund recently resigned from his duties with Modo, so one can maybe read in between the lines there.
retired Vancouver Canucks player
Jim Benning’s name has also be bandied about by Big Media. He is a former NHL defenceman, spending nine seasons in the NHL, four of which were in Vancouver. Following his playing days, Benning served as a scout for the Ducks and the Sabres. He joined the Boston Bruins in 2006 as an assistant GM, winning the Stanley Cup with the team in 2011.
Other GM candidates [who may not get as much scrutiny from the media] include:
Mayor of Toronto
Hear me out. Here’s a guy who has gotten into all kinds of trouble—legal trouble, personal trouble, political trouble—yet nothing seems to stick to him. Smoking crack? Drunken stupors? Incoherent ranting? Nothing seems to deter this guy. Once the Canucks ran into troubled waters at the turn of the new year, fans started to call for Mike Gillis’ head and Aquilini didn’t hesitate to accommodate them. If Ford was GM, he’d find a way to evade the consequences of any questionable decisions, no matter what substance he was under the influence of. Plus he’s the best mayor Toronto’s ever had.
GM of the Oakland Athletics
Billy Beane currently serves as the GM of the Oakland Athletics of Major League Baseball, who was portrayed by Brad Pitt in the movie Moneyball. Beane pioneered statistical analysis, namely the sabermetric model, to identify and evaluate the strengths of his players. Advanced analytics is starting to take off with the NHL as teams are now tracking Corsi (Corsi equals shot attempts for minus shot attempts against) Fenwick (same as Corsi, but doesn’t count blocked shots) and PDO. The Canucks could hire Beane and he could, in turn, train an army of stats nerds to scour the world for the best free agent talent that got passed over in NHL drafts. Kind of like what Mike Gillis did. After all, when it comes to the numbers, baseball can’t be that different from hockey.
Daily Townsman Sports Editor
I would officially like to throw my name into the hat for the Canucks GM job. I don’t have any professional hockey or management experience, but I have watched a lot of NHL games, which should count for something. As an armchair critic, I feel like my judgement is certainly more educated than some of those that have been involved with the NHL for many years. It would be a bold move on Linden’s part, but I feel I can bring an outsider’s perspective and an ability to think outside the box. Heck, I can even think inside the box if that’s what’s needed.