© The Canadian Press
Former Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis.
By Joshua Clipperton
THE CANADIAN PRESS
VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks have fired president and general manager Mike Gillis a day after being eliminated from playoff contention.
Team owner Francesco Aquilini will meet with the media Wednesday to discuss the move, which comes with just three games left in the regular season. The Canucks had the day off Tuesday.
“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,” Aquilini said in a release.
Gillis took over the general manager position with the Canucks after Dave Nonis was fired following the 2007-08 season.
The Canucks twice had the NHL’s best regular-season record and also advanced to within a victory of 2011 Stanley Cup under Gillis’ watch, but the team has been in steady decline ever since.
The Canucks lost in the first round of the playoffs for two straight seasons before missing the post-season entirely in 2013-14 for the first time in six years.
Vancouver fans chanted for Gillis to be fired in the dying minutes of the Canucks’ 3-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night, apparently fed up with the club’s downturn.
First-year head coach John Tortorella, who has also been a lightning rod of criticism for his defensive style, said after Monday’s loss that fans had every right to be upset with the Canucks’ downturn.
“(Fans) paid big money to come to these games. It’s their prerogative how they handle themselves,” said Tortorella. “As far as fans are concerned, that’s their call.
“They pay money to come see the games. They’re not happy. They can voice their opinion how they like to.”
Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa said after the game that he didn’t agree with the fan reaction directed at Gillis.
“Personally I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, but at the end of the day the fans come and they can do whatever they want,” he said. “Put it this way: we’re all going to take the blame for this. It’s not just one or two guys. It’s the whole team. We’re going to take what we get, move forward, push through this.”
Gillis signed a contract extension after the 2011-12 season but there were indications last week he and Tortorella weren’t on the same page.
Gillis seemed to criticize Tortorella’s style in a radio interview, saying that he wanted the team to get back to the type of game that got it to the 2011 Cup final against the Boston Bruins.
“I want us to play upbeat, puck possession, move the puck quickly, force teams into mistakes, high-transition game,” Gillis said in an interview with the Team 1040. “I think we have the personnel to do it. If we don’t have the personnel to do it, they’ll be changed.
“That’s my vision, that’s how I believe you are going to win in the Western Conference and the National Hockey League. If you look at the top teams in the West, there isn’t a lot that separates any of the teams in the West, but the top teams play that way. That’s the way we played.”
Tortorella has preached a defence-first, puck-pressure, shot-blocking style since taking charge of the club in June after Alain Vigneault was fired following last season’s first-round playoff exit.
Apart from the team’s decline on the ice, Gillis had also been roundly criticized for a poor draft record and his mishandling of the protracted goaltending controversy involving Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. Both netminders have since been traded, leaving the Canucks with the unproven duo of Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom.
The hottest ticket in town three years ago, the lower bowl at Rogers Arena was dotted by hundreds of empty seats throughout Monday’s demoralizing loss to the Ducks.
Many of those who did show up started heading to the exits long before the final buzzer sounded, and those who remained directed their vitriol at the now-departed Gillis.
In the release announcing Gillis’ firing, Aquilini also addressed the Canucks’ disgruntled fanbase.
“I also want to thank our fans for their support for the Vancouver Canucks through a difficult and frustrating season,” said Aquilini. “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.”