Meet Mike Gillis
"The agent business is full of guys with big balls", says one high-ranking NHL management figure. "But Mike Gillis has the biggest balls of all."He's had five days on the job, and we're only now getting an idea of just what the Canucks new GM plans to bring to the table.— From Money Players by Bruce Dowbiggin
To be perfectly honest, my knowledge of Mike Gillis prior to last week was along the lines of Tom Benjamin's: I knew he was a former player who'd become a relatively successful agent, and someone whose name had popped up every so often when management roles became available.
It's a description that fits many in the hockey world.
Actually, the closest to the "limelight" — other than a well-publicized run in with Al Eagleson — Gillis has really been was his star turn in Money Players, a book written prelockout about the high stakes involved with NHL agents and free agency. In an era when goofy contracts became the norm, Gillis was on the players' side for some of the goofiest, including $45-million over five years for Bobby Holik in 2002. (He was bought out three years later.)
Even six years on, Money Players is a good read. For the purposes of learning about Gillis, and his role an agent, there's a great excerpt available online at ESPN that offers an inside look at his negotiating tactics.
Of course, how he performed as an agent and what he'll now do as a GM aren't quite the same thing. Agents have, in my experience, a narrow focus, one that involves talking up their stable of clients to anyone — GMs, agents, media — who'll listen. A lot of it's built on B.S., but there is truth there, and it's that that becomes important in a management role.
The game is no longer about finding the biggest patsy; it's a hunt for bargains in a field full of land mines. (Exhibit A: The $24-million stinker Gillis served former agent Mike Barnett in the form of a 31-year-old Tony Amonte.)
And that's without mentioning the aspects of the job that stray far from free-agent bidding wars: the draft, player development, staff management, etc.
Over the weekend, Gillis spoke to the Vancouver Sun regarding his strategy going into his first off-season in management, something Lowetide today called Moneyball.
"Everything that has happened in Major League Baseball sort of preceded hockey by about 10 years. They went through the wars before we did, went through massive change on the labour front before we did."Unconventional" already applies given how few times we've seen agents jump right into the hot seat, but the real questions are (a) what, exactly, does he have planned, and (b) will it work?
"I think people will see more non-conventional management people [in hockey]. I'm hoping to bring that here — a philosophy like that. I don't think this is without precedent."
There's no track record here to judge him on, other than a laundry list of deals he (and his clients) won, and I think Benjamin's right when he says it'll take time to determine if there's any foundation to the dream home being floated out there.
Gillis sold himself to the right people in order to get the job, but what comes next is what'll be truly interesting. Talk here in Toronto regarding the search for a new GM has centred solely on finding an "experienced" candidate, someone who has built a team in the past, but does bringing in a Doug Armstrong-type who has failed elsewhere make any more sense than the Canucks' move?
We've already seen what he can do; Gillis remains a mystery. But not for long. Sports is a pretty monkey-see, monkey-do business, so if the agent-turned-GM becomes a hit, expect others to follow suit.
Even the Maple Leafs.