‘They panicked and didn’t recover’: Tony Gallagher explains how the Canucks got here

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‘They panicked and didn’t recover’: Tony Gallagher explains how the Canucks got here

Every time Tony Gallagher comes out of the woodwork to talk about the state of the Vancouver Canucks, everyone tunes in to listen.

And last Wednesday, the legendary Vancouver Sun columnist stopped Donnie & Dhali – The Team to discuss the issues piling up around the Canucks franchise, both on and off the ice.

For someone who has watched the Canucks from the very beginning, Gallagher has seen all the best and worst times the organization has faced. But even with a few lean, lean years in the history books, this season looks like a potential new low for him.

“We’ve seen it before, maybe not so bad. The tradition here isn’t strong, and that’s a problem,” Gallagher said.

The main problem in Gallagher’s eyes stems from ownership and their inability to let the Canucks properly rebuild the team in favor of mediocrity.

“You have to start at the top with the Aquilinis. Their inability to find successful management is quite astonishing. And yet we know they can do it,” Gallagher said. “I mean, they found it early in their tenure as owners when they brought in Gillis and that crew and they had a lot of success modifying the talent that they inherited and improving it by taking a serious run, then coming back, and then I think the property freaked out a bit and moved Gillis out of there and there was a lot of public heat on them. It was their first introduction to public heat back then, around 2014-2015…and they freaked out and they didn’t recover.

“The proof is in the pudding when it comes to ownership. The owners are responsible for hiring the management team. How many times have they appeared in the playoffs? Where are they now in the standings? This is your answer.

He went on to detail how the loss in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals completely changed the owner’s mindset towards the team and how it should be built.

“After the loss in 2011, I think there was a real push on the part of the ownership to move away from the speed and skill that Gillis was trying to do and had been able to do. In 2011, the Canucks were so [clearly] the best team in the league, it was ridiculous. But after that, I think there was some interference,” Gallagher said of the sudden change in philosophy.

“There was a push to make the team tougher like Boston at the expense of speed and skill. And I think management realized they wanted a bit of that too, after 2011. But there was some interference at the time. Over the past six years, I have no idea.

The root of the team’s current on-ice problems is obvious to Gallagher; the unbalanced build path.

“There is no doubt that there is a huge imbalance in the team. They have all these forwards making money, they have no defense and the pressure on Demko is remarkable,” Gallagher said.

“The management team that they have is just grabbing at the straws and virtue cues, and it’s starting to reflect on the ice. You look at the product they gave you, and you have a lot of very well paid attackers who have reached the square root of Sweet Fanny Atom, and yet they are all making huge amounts of money.

And Gallagher wasn’t just referring to Jim Benning, either. He has reservations about the new front office in charge and his real end goal.

“The first thing I thought was, why does Jim Rutherford want to come here? He’s getting longer in the tooth, and I just don’t understand these guys wanting to stay in hockey until their last breath,” Gallagher said of the Canucks Hockey Ops president.

“Managing the Vancouver Canucks is a huge challenge. You have so many kinds of geographic strikes against tradition. The fan base is impatient and has been badly abused over the years. He is a solid person and he has a very good management record. But I just couldn’t understand why you wanted to get involved here.

Gallagher also questioned Rutherford’s decisions to fill the front office with largely new names, inexperienced in the positions for which they were chosen. Although he has praised assistant general managers Cammi Granato and Ryan Johnson, he still feels that much of the front office work currently revolves around learning rather than fixing, while wondering what Dale Tallon’s job as Senior Advisor actually entails.

“Patrik Allvin is a rookie general manager… I don’t know if he makes decisions. Emily [Castonguay] and Cammi are new to the business and Ryan Johnson has a good young track record under his belt,” Gallagher said. “I don’t know much about Derek Clancey, but Dale Tallon, his senior adviser, I don’t know what the high-level advice has been so far, but I’m not sure that’s too exciting.”

“I’m sure they’re learning on the job and maybe one day they’ll all be hugely successful. But right now, there’s a pretty steep price to pay.

If he were to offer the ownership some wisdom on how to turn things around, it would be to make sure they listen to the right people when it comes to hockey decisions.

“I would say that the people whose advice they sought at one point are different from the people whose advice they sought at a second stage. And they should take that into account,” Gallagher said. “Obviously when the Aquilinis go make decisions, they need advice because their focus is business and real estate… But when it comes to hockey, they need advice, they need help, and where they go for that advice is critical.

“So far the returns to the places they’ve been to haven’t been very fruitful or they haven’t paid off very well.”

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