Sunday, January 17, 2010
It’s not very hard to make fun of us fans comprising Leafs Nation. There is the obvious 1967 angle, the bogus trade history, botched drafts, the entire 1980s, and pretty much anything else that falls under the category of disappointments. Leafs Nation as a collective is also a source of hilarity. We’re just as despondent as we are optimistic. After one win we’re thinking playoffs and after one loss we’re lamenting Taylor Hall. The vacillation is incredible. Rick has been on and off the bandwagon so often this year he’s bought a monthly pass. We take everything a little too seriously and we love to get way ahead of ourselves. After one beauty goal we’ve penciled in Tyler Bozak as the number 1 centre for the foreseeable future. That’s Leafs Nation.
Being a maniacal member of Leafs Nation I keep my ear to the streets for any slight against the Leafs. That’s another characteristic, we’re extremely loyal and very quick to defend (no matter how rational an argument against). Fights over disparaging Mats Sundin remarks aren’t uncommon. However, there is a new source of criticism being thrown at Leafs Nation. That criticism concerns the bold new management team led by brash Brian Burke. Much of this criticism developed as a response to our proclamation that Burke was the saviour (not that we’d go all Jesus Price on everyone). We’re Leafs Nation; we work in hyperbole, not necessarily reality. I don’t need to defend Brian Burke. He’s loud and outspoken and his Stanley Cup ring speaks for itself. However, poor Dave Nonis gets lumped in with the Burke hate from traducers and receives ridicule for his role in the brief demise of the Vancouver Canucks (missing the playoffs twice in three years). The worst I’ve seen is him labeled as the man who ruined the Canucks. This is so malicious I just had to stick up for Nonis. I'm no hero, just doing my duty as a Leafs fan.
First, Nonis pulled off the biggest trade of the decade when he pillaged Jacques Martin and the Panthers by stealing Roberto Luongo for absolutely nothing. Well, that’s not entirely true; he did give up Todd Bertuzzi. Nonis simultaneously acquired one of the best goaltenders in the league (which every Canuck fan dreamt of for years while watching Dan Cloutier attempt to stop pucks), while ridding the team of a player in the midst of a messy lawsuit, declining production, and a large contract (not to mention being an all-around asshole). This move was Nonis' response to missing the playoffs by three points in the first year after the lockout and propelled the team to a second-round playoff birth the following year. For this reason alone the citizens of Vancouver should erect a statue of Nonis in front of Dan Cloutier’s old home.
Dave Nonis should also be lauded for his staunch refusal to trade the Canucks young players for a scoring forward at the 2008 trade deadline. The scoring forward in question was Brad Richards, who Dallas eventually received from Tampa Bay for a package involving Mike Smith and Jussi Jokinen. If the Canucks did acquire Richards they probably would make up the three points that they ultimately missed the playoffs by. If this happens Nonis probably keeps his job, but the Canucks would certainly be in a worse state.
Including Brad Richards’ $7.8 million monstrosity would certainly have affected the Canucks’ ability to re-sign the Sedin twins this past summer, not to mention the loss of whichever young players the Canucks would be forced to deal (possibly Kesler or Edler plus). Brad Richards and his career -72 are not worth this, especially considering that the Canucks young players play a large role in the team's current success.
Most importantly, missing the playoffs in 2008 was hardly the fault of the GM. That year the Canucks defence was absolutely ravaged by injuries, especially down the stretch. Willie Mitchell missed 10 games; Kevin Bieksa missed 48 games; Sami Salo missed 19 games; Alex Edler missed 7 games. Under these circumstances, combined with the fact that Nonis stole Roberto Luongo, you’d think he’d at least be given another season considering the amount of payroll the Canucks had coming off the books. Plus, the Canucks were a 49-win, 105 point team in 2006-2007, which was predominantly the same team that missed the playoffs the following year. Ownership went in a different direction and brought in Mike Gillis as GM for the 2008-2009 season.
The Canucks won the Northwest division last year and placed 3rd overall in the Western Conference. This year they are 6th in the conference and are only one game removed from the division lead. The correlation between Gillis and success and Nonis and failure is pretty compelling, right? But correlation does not mean causation (look at me putting that fancy book learnin’ to good use). The major pieces of the 2008-2009 Vancouver Canucks were the same as they were in 2007-2008 and even 2006-2007 (Sedins and Luongo). The difference between the three seasons is that in 2007-2008 injuries derailed the team. The acquisitions made by Mike Gillis did not cause the improvement. His major acquisition were a mediocre Pavel Demitra at $4 million and an out-of-shape Mats Sundin at a pro-rated salary of $8.6 million (sorry, Mats!). The team’s success is based around players acquired during the Burke era and the Nonis era. The Sedins, Ryan Kesler, Alexandre Burrows, Kevin Bieksa (Brian Burke); Alexander Edler, Willie Mitchell, Roberto Luongo (Dave Nonis). These are the players that comprise the Canucks core. The impact Gillis has made on the team is negligible, so far.
Despite my insistence that the dismissal of Dave Nonis was irrational I am actually happy it happened. I’m happy because Nonis followed his mentor, Brian Burke, to the Leafs and is now a member of a vastly improved front office. Anyone who mocks Burke and the rest of the Leafs management can make countless valid and impartial arguments against them, but it doesn’t matter because they replaced JFJ. Leafs Nation endured years of torment from the hands of that man, so replacing him with a hard-boiled egg would have been an improvement. In fact, that little hard-boiled egg would be revered in this city just like Burke is now. Leafs Nation: endorsing hard-boiled eggs as GMs since 2010.