blank'/> THE PUCK REPORT: Mike Gillis Interview - 2011 NHL Awards

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mike Gillis Interview - 2011 NHL Awards

Last month we spoke with Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis at the 2011 NHL Awards about chirping officials, management philosophy, the season that was, and preparing for the season-to-be. These are his stories.

Q: In the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks you made a statement about the officiating.

A: Yes.

Q: With the benefit of hindsight do you regret making that statement?
A: No. I made what I thought was a factual statement at the time. You know, you can’t look back and regret things. We’re all competitors. We’re trying to compete as hard as we can. I don’t look back and regret those things. You try to learn from them and move on.

Q: Were you surprised that the NHL fined you for the comments?
A: I don’t know. I guess, yeah. I wasn’t surprised. No, I guess. I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. I mean, I didn’t really consider it at the time. The league felt it was an appropriate thing to do. In hindsight I agree with them and we moved on.

Q: How do you build a team that can respond to varying officiating standards throughout the season and playoffs?
A: Well we designed our team around being the best possible team and I’m not going to deviate from that because of one opponent or one circumstance. We’ve played every team in the league and were successful. The circumstances are what they were. We didn’t win the 7th game. You know, you can look back at a lot of reasons why we didn’t win the 7th game or didn’t play as well as we might have.

We had a lot of injuries. That’s not an excuse it’s just the way the NHL playoffs go. The healthiest team at the end of the day may be the team with the best opportunity to win. So, I‘m not going to comment any further on the officiating. Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson.

Q: Talk about the management team you’ve built in Vancouver.
A: It’s all about people. I’m incredibly fortunate. I’ve got three people I talk to every day in Lorne Henning, Laurence Gilman and Stan Smyl. They’ve got years and years of experience. We don’t make any decisions without everyone’s input. We have great young people that we’re developing that we include in the process as best we can. We have a very open environment where people are encouraged to say what they are feeling and what’s on their mind, and it’s never held against them. So, I’m very proud of the accomplishments we’ve made. I’m proud of the people that work with us. I still think that as we evolve we have an opportunity to continue to get better, so I hope that’s the case.

Q: Do you have a management philosophy?
A: I do. I came with that. I don’t believe in being in isolation. I don’t believe in making decisions in a vacuum. I don’t believe in going off and doing my own thing. We make all of our decisions as a group. I think it’s a healthy environment and at this point I can’t argue with the results. You know, it’s difficult to maintain those environments so we have to work very hard at it everyday to encourage it, foster it, and allow it to grow.

Q: Does your philosophy about group decision making include the coaches?
A: That includes the coaches but there are some decisions that the coaches don’t necessarily want to be involved in. They are very focused on the next day and what’s happening directly with the team. We give them autonomy as well. We let them run our hockey team and coach it the way they see best. In the clear light of day we have discussions about it but we allow them the autonomy to coach the team.

Q: What level of interaction do you have with coaches and players during the playoffs?
A: Oh, everyday.

Q: What do you talk about with them?
A: Not players necessarily, other than just being around. We talk about lots of different things. We talk about how to relax, how to stay balanced, what the lineup is going to look like, what we need to do to improve, how to make changes in the course of a series. You know it’s one of those things where you have to keep thinking all the time. The moment you stop thinking and hoping that you’re going to get a result is the moment when you begin to fail. So we try to think and work our way through different problems that we’re facing and hopefully we’re successful at the end.

Q: You recently remarked that your skill set as a former player agent would make it easy to get deals done with other agents in a short period of time. What are some of the more difficult tasks you have as a GM that maybe you didn’t develop as a player agent?
A: Well working with a lot of people, you know, having a lot of moving parts. I ran my own business and ran it a certain way. So other than being at a large law firm, which I was at earlier in my career, I didn’t have a whole lot of experience in working with multiple layers of people where they have multiple layers of responsibilities. I’ve been fortunate to have good people around me that have helped with that process. So that’s been maybe the biggest learning curve for me.

Q: Have you spoken with other GMs that have taken their team as deep as yours about how to best manage the short summer before your players are back at training camp?
A: Not yet. We’ll see everyone at the Draft this weekend. I’ll have a chance to catch up with some of the guys. I haven’t had that opportunity yet.

Q: Do you have any mentors or strong relationships with other NHL GMs?
A: Yeah, I have a lot of strong relationships. Other guys have asked me for different advice about what it was like to be an agent and how they thought. And I’ve asked them for advice about operating teams and their philosophy. So there’s a number of people I know I can ask questions of and get answers.

Q: What lessons did you take from this past year and what are you going to do over this short off-season to prepare the Canucks for next year?
A: Well I think we’ve learned a lot of lessons this past year. We didn’t let anything that happened in the past effect us moving forward. So every day, we don’t look at what just happened, we look at how to get better the next day. And if we continue with that process I think we’ll be OK. We have to get our players healthy and ready to play. We have a lot of depth. We have a lot of good young players and they’re going to get opportunities. I hope we’ll be OK. Maybe we’ll have a slow start, I’m not sure. I hope we’ll be OK.

Q: What are the next steps for the Canucks?
A: We have to get back to the final round. You know, there is so much success built on failure and understanding what it takes to get that little bit extra as an organization. There is a ton of material out there about how you have to fail before you succeed. I'm hopeful we can keep our players together and have another opportunity to push through again and get to the Stanley Cup.

I think there are some areas that we're going to try and focus on this summer. We'll change the role of certain players that we need to focus. We need to have some younger players get the opportunity to play. We have a couple of ideas. I'm happy with this group, I don't think you can argue with the results for the most part. I think we need to keep getting better as a group. If we do that we will have an opportunity to go far.

Q: Your coach Alain Vigneault received a Jack Adams nomination for the second consecutive year. Talk about his accomplishments this season.
A: Well we had the best powerplay, were second in the league in penalty kill, led the league by a fairly wide margin in points and got to the 7th game of the Stanley Cup Final. So that’s a pretty good coaching job in today’s NHL. To be the top of the league in goals for and bottom of the league in goals against I think it’s quite an accomplishment. I think he’s very deserving of the nomination and I would certainly vote for him myself if I could. But I don’t have that choice.

Q: How does it feel to be named GM of the Year?

A: Well, I don’t know. It’s great I guess. It’s nice. I appreciate it. But I’d trade it anytime for a Stanley Cup.

Q: When do you get to take a vacation?
A: I don’t know, we’ll see. Maybe after July 15th for a few days. I’m not sure yet.

Many thanks to Mike for speaking with us. Best of luck next season.