A whirlwind tour of the week’s most important and least important hockey takeaways, with coverage extending to all four lines.
1. The Canucks lacked a goal-scoring mindset
They were looking for a cultured player when they made their offer to Mats Sundin. Mike Gillis, the former general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, took a risk in signing Sundin as a free agent in December 2008, when he was 37 years old and on the verge of retiring. This is true in both monetary terms (Sundin went from scoring 32 goals in his final season with the Maple Leafs to scoring nine goals in 41 games with the Canucks) and in terms of the public, media, and other league executives’ criticism of him. Sundin is widely regarded as one of the best Maple Leafs of all time.
The Maple Leafs’ general manager, Brian Burke, was quoted at the time as saying, “I’d rather have a player who wants to make sure in his own mind of what he’s doing, rather than a guy who plays (halfway) only to collect a paycheck.”
Sundin’s leadership and citizenship were more important to Gillis than his point-per-game production for Vancouver in the postseason, which he did before calling it a career, he said on Friday at the TeamSnap Hockey Coaches Conference in Toronto. Gillis made the remark in response to a question about whether Sundin’s point-per-game output for Vancouver in the postseason was more impressive.
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In Vancouver, there was a new generation of Scandinavian studs looking for a role model. Sundin’s teammates, including Sami Salo, Alex Edler, and the Sedin twins, were all in awe of him. Even though it happened during the final four months of Sundin’s career, observing how a European Hall of Famer went about his daily life and conducted himself professionally was extremely beneficial to him.
“We got hammered for it, but he was essential in changing the fabric of that squad,” Gillis said on Friday, referring to one of the most contentious decisions he has made.
He was responsible for raising the overall level of professionalism within our organization, even if it came at a financial cost. We had no idea people had such negative feelings about Mats. Despite the fact that he took some time to get started, the amount of criticism he received was truly astounding.
“We can’t even begin to quantify the benefits of working with that individual.”
2. Gillis also shed some light on another of his controversial moves, which was to name Roberto Luongo the NHL’s first goaltender captain in 60 years
Gillis and his team would identify a problem and then work toward a solution, without regard for whether or not the solution adhered to NHL standards.
When Vancouver’s mayor, Markus Naslund, resigned in 2008, the city was left without a leader. Nobody volunteered to assist. In an attempt to disprove a cliche, Gillis stated that “there are no born leaders.” “Leadership is a skill that can be learned.”
Alain Vigneault, the team’s head coach, suggested that their all-star goaltender take the C position to fill a vacancy and, more importantly, to provide the player with a new challenge.
Members of Gillis’ staff were initially opposed to the idea, but they eventually concluded that the benefits would outweigh the drawbacks. As a result, Luongo was named team captain, a position he held for two successful seasons.
“We appointed Roberto Luongo captain to try to get him in a leadership position because he was so hesitant,” Gillis explained. “We made him captain because he was so hesitant to do it.” As a result, we took a beating in the media. But that wasn’t the reason we made the goalkeeper captain. It was done in order to improve that player’s leadership abilities. It was successful in its endeavor. Throughout his career, he improved as a leader and as a player.
Would Gillis play it again if given another chance?
“You should know that this worked in our favor. In retrospect, I’m not sure I would have appreciated all of the scrutiny and hardship that it brought. I’m not certain. If I had known what I know now, I would have given it a lot more thought and time. However, we had no idea that such a response would be forthcoming at the time. Gillis stated that their main goal was “simply to help our squad grow better and to help our keeper.”
“I was very impressed by his response. In my opinion, he improved as a player and as a person. He concluded that playing goaltender is impossible for anyone. It’s a group effort, and as a group member, you have certain obligations and responsibilities to fulfill. He was fantastic. It was nothing that he or the organization had a problem with. It was specific members of the media who exaggerated the story.
Roberto Luongo had the demeanor of an unofficial team captain in his later years with the Panthers. Despite the fact that he would not wear the letter “C” in Florida, he served as a voice for the group and earned the ultimate respect of his teammates who did not wear masks.
3. Luongo was the catalyst for a hormonal study on the Canucks that Gillis had initiated prior to his dismissal in 2014; the study was completed before Gillis was fired
That was the idea of Roberto, who suffered from performance anxiety to some extent. “We were constantly trying to find a way to get him over that hurdle,” Gillis says. “However, we couldn’t figure it out.” “He appeared to undergo a physical transformation. And you could see it when he was answering media questions while getting ready for a game. It was quite obvious. It was quite obvious. He is an extremely sensitive man with a fantastic sense of humor, and losing his sense of humor would result in an increase in his sensitivity.
Gillis had heard about a study on an English rugby team in which the players provided blood at various points throughout the day so that the club could monitor the players’ cortisol levels. Cortisol levels in certain athletes were relatively consistent before, after, and even during games. Others erupted dramatically twenty minutes before the game began. (The US military is looking into the possibility of using a saliva test to protect nervous service members from high-stress situations.)
In order to find a solution to the problem, the Gillis administration was attempting to educate certain Canadians about the presence of a hormone surge. The initiative had made little progress in finding a solution to the problem. Gillis lamented the fact that they’d all been let go just as they were about to arrive.
4. Despite the fact that he is still available on the open market three weeks after free agency began, unrestricted free agent defenseman Ben Hutton is reportedly attracting interest from a number of teams, according to sources
Hutton stands out among the defensive options due to his youth (he’s only 26 years old) and extensive playing time (he averaged 22:21 per game in 2018-19, more than any UFA still on the market, including Jake Gardiner). Despite the fact that he does not meet Vancouver’s requirements, he is capable of contributing. He’s set on staying in the NHL, specifically on a spot on one of the middle two lines.
A number of the teams interested in signing Hutton want to make additional roster changes because they are unhappy with the composition of their defensive units as they currently stand. There is a sense that once a few of the high-profile Group-2 RFAs have agreed to new contracts, several teams will be free to begin filling in around the edges of their rosters, whether through minor trades or by acquiring some of the overlooked UFAs. This is something that is expected to happen once a few of the high-profile Group-2 RFAs finalize their new contracts.
5. The coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mike Babcock, was asked whether William Nylander found an extra gear when playing against David Pastrnak and the Boston Bruins
“When he’s on the ice, No. 88 plays to his strengths. All that was required, according to Babcock, was another 88 skaters on the opposing side of the ice.