an interview with Steve Simmons earlier this week, Toronto's Dave Nonis (and former Vancouver Canucks GM) preached patience for a long road ahead towards returning the Maple Leafs to respectability.
Nonis shared how his tenure in Vancouver was a chapter in a long tale of bringing the Canucks from the bottom to the top of the NHL standings.
“We had an awful lot of growing pains in Vancouver, believe me,” said Nonis, the Leafs senior vice-president and director of hockey operations. “What we’re going through here isn’t a lot different to me. You have to remember, people were all over Daniel and Henrik (Sedin) in the early years. They were drafted in 1999. That’s a long time to get to now."
“And a lot of people in Vancouver thought we should have taken the second-round pick (as compensation) for Ryan Kesler (when Philadelphia made a restricted free agent offer at what was considered a very high price). A lot of people said that. He was only being used as checker for us and a lot of people said he wasn’t going to put up any numbers. The fact is, he was a young guy developing, and the reason we call it development is because it takes time.
“I understand the impatience of being a fan. They want a winning team. Believe me, so do we. But we have a blueprint, and I believe it’s a proven blueprint, and we can’t be impatient.”
Okay Nonis, hang on...but I've got a lot of problems with what you're saying. I'm not sure if you understand what you mean when you say 'blueprint'. Are you following your blueprint? Burke drafted the twins in 1999 with TWO FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICKS. You dealt yours for Phil Kessel.
A lot of people thought you shouldn't keep Ryan Kesler? A whole lot of people felt that you SHOULD keep him because he was one of the best young players Vancouver had seen since the early 90s. A lot of people say to fire the coach every time a team loses a game - that doesn't make you a genius for recognizing that Kesler was worth keeping for a second round pick. Come to think of it, did you not project Kesler as a #3 center? Are you taking credit for him blossoming into the player he is today when you set your expectations so low for him?
If the Burke-Nonis blueprint began in 1999, do the Leafs have an 11 year plan to look forward to? 11 years to what - leading the NHL standings in the regular season at the halfway mark? This Canuck team is exciting but it has yet to prove itself in the post-season.
Simmons meanwhile seems to agree with Nonis:
"Some truth about team building: Burke has been gone from Vancouver for seven years and Nonis has been gone for three seasons and together they were responsible for 12 of the best Canuck players today. It’s their players that general manager Mike Gillis now benefits from, having added a Mikael Samuelsson here, a Dan Hamhuis there, to deepen the roster. Gillis may, in fact, may wind up with the kind of Stanley Cup Stan Bowman won last May: The team wasn’t really his but he ended up holding up the Cup on mostly someone’s else work."
Excuse me? Dale Tallon built that exact Blackhawks team and left within a year. Burke has been out of Vancouver since 2003! That's eight years ago! Not only that, but Brian Burke's 'blueprint' was Todd Bertuzzi, Markus Naslund, Ed Jovanovski and Mattias Ohlund. Of course, he and Nonis inherited all of those players. A young core built to resemble the 80's Oilers style of growing together as a team. Wait, that sounds familiar. Oh right, Nonis also said "You want to have a young core you can believe in and you need that core to grow together."
Of course, Burke and Nonis' group had little secondary scoring and lousy goaltending and therefore never won a thing - aside from one round in the playoffs.
Simmons gives Burke and Nonis too much credit for their 'legacy' here in Vancouver. When Mike Gillis took over, he inherited a team that had an aging Markus Naslund, and aging Mattias Ohlund. The Sedins and Luongo were the core of the team. Gillis changed the culture of the team and provided a refreshing perspective - trying to win.
See, Vancouver fans were sick and tired of hearing this same speech from Burke and Nonis. "Patience". For a team out west that has not won a Stanley Cup, there isn't time to sit back and be patient for a 1-2 year window 10 years from now. Gillis made Vancouver an attractive destination for free agents. In fact, in the short time Gillis has managed the Canucks, he has turned Vancouver into a player in the free agent market and an attractive destination.
With players such as Mats Sundin, Pavol Demitra, Mikael Samuelsson, Dan Hamhuis, Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres, Gillis has signed more worthwhile free agents for Vancouver than Nonis and Burke did in their 10 year reign. If Anson Carter is the best free agent signing you can muster in 10 years, you shouldn't take credit for anything. In fact, Burke's best acquisition via trade or free agency was Sami Salo. If that doesn't signify how minute his legacy is over this current roster, I don't know what does.
The fact is, Burke and Nonis can be proud of having common sense and drafting some decent players, but taking credit for the Canucks' success this year and suggesting it's part of their blueprint is absurd. Gillis is responsible for creating an ambitious championship-hungry culture, and for a lot of the current talent. Gillis retained the Sedin twins, locked up Luongo long term - convincing them to stay for less than market value to win. He stole Christian Ehrhoff from the San Jose Sharks, added two top four defenders in Hamhuis and Ballard, and has signed role players around the Sedin twins such as Samuelsson, Torres and Malhotra to score, kill penalties and provide a spark. Those are the types of players that you need to win championships.
But that brings me back to my original point. Championships. Burke and Nonis' blueprint is not what vaulted Vancouver to the top of the NHL standings. Despite what they may lead you to believe, the Burke and Nonis plan is a bust. They can ride Gillis' coat tails, but even Gillis hasn't won anything yet.
If Gillis' management leads the Canucks to a Stanley Cup this spring, then let's revisit how much of that success is owed to Burke and Nonis. Until then, Leaf fans can look forward to more preaching of patience, but a lot of mediocre hockey.