from Nick Parsons
One of Dave Noniss greatest mistakes was to follow force of nature Brian Burke as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks of the National Hockey League.
Im being sarcastic here - Nonis had no option. Burke was fired and the owners picked his assistant to be his successor.
Even so, Nonis suffers by comparison. Quiet-spoken, bland, unemotional, seemingly devoid of ideas, not terribly interested in the larger issues facing the NHL, Nonis is pretty much antithetical to Burke.
Now in his third season and fourth year in charge of the Canucks Nonis has significant credits on his resume but equally significant soft spots too. Vancouvers entrenched shortcomings have defied resolution to the point where it seems fair to ask if Nonis could be in jeopardy of having the office rug yanked out from under his feet in the near future.
General managers usually have as much job security as owners but occasionally, Doug Armstrong in Dallas and former Leafs GM John Ferguson being this years examples, general managers do walk the plank.
The Canucks general manager can argue that he has wrought significant change to the club and rebuilt it in record time. Thats true. After the wreckage of the 05-06 season he did clear the decks with 13 or 14 players leaving. Plus the head coach. The following season another 11 departed. In the process he changed the culture of the club, changed the style of play, and changed the expectations.
But he was lucky too. The Roberto Luongo deal fell into his lap because Florida GM Mike Keenan loved Todd Bertuzzi. In addition Keenan hates goaltenders and at that time he particularly hated Roberto Luongo. That deal was on the table for weeks before Nonis said yes.
The 06-07 Canucks team took three months to sort itself out then finished in a rush and won the third seed in the Western Conference. It squeaked by Dallas in the opening round of the play-offs then was run over by Anaheim. Everyone in the organization congratulated themselves on exceeding expectations and we all went home happy.
Over the summer Nonis did little. He brought in Aaron Miller, Brad Isbister and Byron Ritchie. The entire hockey world knew Isbister wasnt going to be the banging second or third line winger the team craved. Miller would be okay and Byron Ritchie useful as well but the major flaws exposed by the Anaheim Ducks werent dealt with. The team played small. Their scoring came from two sources - the Sedins and the defence. Bang the Sedins and they disappeared. There is nothing much in the middle, like a second line.
Nonis's other major failing was his inability to operate effectively within the cap. Out of the lockout he handed out hefty contracts, including six million per season to a fading Markus Naslund, then discovered he had no room later in the season within which to maneouver. He gave too much money to Sami Salo, Matt Cooke, and Brendan Morrison. In fact matters were so bad at one point the Canucks were sending players on two-way contracts back to Manitoba Moose on the Canucks off days to save salary.
For the third year in succession he has had cap troubles. Salvation is at hand because Naslund and Morrison are unrestricted free agents at the end of the year and nine million dollars will be freed up. Perhaps with more money to play with he can find a Dustin Brown or Sean Avery type to play with Mason Raymond and Ryan Shannon.
For the past two years the Vancouver Canucks have been Roberto Luongos team - if he plays well they are in games but if he makes one mistake and they are doomed. Nonis has been powerless to alter this situation. The Canucks top two lines are unreliable. If everything meshes just right they win but if anything is out of sync, as it was when they had a 6-5-5 stagger and practically fell out of the Western Conference playoff race, they look less than ordinary.
Nonis didnt help his cause when he got nothing done at the trade deadline. Looking at the west Vancouver will be hard pressed to win in the first round, unless they are lucky, settle for eighth and play the Detroit Red Wings. Dallas, San Jose, Calgary, and Anaheim look too strong for Vancouver.
Vancouver has five difficult games against Calgary, Dallas, and Anaheim over the last three and a half weeks of the season however they are roughly even money to make the post-season.
The question about Nonis is: given his inability to improve his team this year does he come back for next year? I think he does but if he wants to keep his job hed be well advised to have a blockbuster summer. That and try avoiding walking on that office rug.
Thanks for the writeup Nick. If the Canucks re-sign Naslund I'll puke.