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Canucks fans got their wish with Mike Gillis firing 0

By Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency

Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis speaks at a news conference in Vancouver, British Columbia June 17, 2011, two days after losing to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. (REUTERS/Ben Nelms)

Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis speaks at a news conference in Vancouver, British Columbia June 17, 2011, two days after losing to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. (REUTERS/Ben Nelms)

Angry Vancouver Canucks fans spoke Monday night and general manager Mike Gillis, one of the targets of their wrath, was fired Tuesday.

Now, Gillis wasn’t fired just because the fans asked for it. It’s never that simple, of course.

The Canucks were officially eliminated from the playoffs Monday in their shutout loss to the Anaheim Ducks, which also was symbolically significant after their precipitious downward spiral.

But the firing does bring up the nature of the relationship between a city, its fans and one of its professional sports franchises.

There have been lots of rumours in Vancouver about who actually calls the shots when it comes to the team, and how involved the Aquilini family is in the hockey decisions. It’s a sensitive topic apparently, given reports the Canucks owners have sent lawyers’ letters to two reporters requesting a retraction or apology after the reporters suggested they played a significant role in the hiring of coach John Tortorella.

You would think, of course, any NHL owner would have to sign off on the hiring of a coach so you can argue as long as you like about how much that constitutes an owner “hiring” a coach.

Francesco Aquilini, the chairman of Canucks Sports and Entertainment and the man who signs the cheques, can do whatever he likes, of course, and he did Tuesday.

“On behalf of my entire family, I would like to sincerely thank Mike Gillis for his hard work and the many contributions he made on and off the ice during his tenure,” he said in a statement. “The Vancouver Canucks had success under Mike’s leadership, and we nearly reached our ultimate goal; but I believe we have reached a point where a change in leadership and new voice is needed.”

Fair enough.

Gillis’ disasterous handling of the Roberto Luongo-Cory Schneider goaltending situation would certainly been enough grounds for dismissal. It was a couple of years of distracting soap opera material interspersed with some brilliant Luongo tweets that concluded with two bonafide starters turned into unproven goaltenders and potentially modest returns up front.

Aquilini is supposed to address the media -- and by extension the fans -- Wednesday morning. There are plenty of rumours: ex-Canuck Trevor Linden, years removed from the NHL, could be be brought back as president of hockey operations or ex-Hockey Canada honcho Bob Nicholson as president. Jay Feaster, the GM who won a Cup with Tortorella in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning, has also had his name come up.

It wouldn’t hurt if the owner explained how things work with the Canucks and where the buck stops, but don’t count on it.

When fans invest their passion and money in a team one of the things they want in return is knowing who to blame when things go wrong. It’s part of the fan experience.

When your team’s season goes into the toilet -- especially when it goes down the toilet less than three years after being one win away from the Stanley Cup -- you want to know whose great ideas caused the damage.

“People love to pick someone to blame, but the reality is that as an organization we've deviated from some of the things that made us successful and some of the things that I know will be successful,” said Gillis in his radio address last week. “We're going to get back to those levels.”

In a normal chain of command, the coach would report to the GM and do the GM’s bidding when it came to the concerns expressed by Gillis, concerns like organizational values.

It didn’t sound like that was happening in Vancouver and the Canucks sound like they were putting the “fun” in dysfunctional.

The fans got what they wanted in demanding Gillis’ head.

With the club apparently in a listening mood, maybe the fans should next ask about accountability within the organization.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

@CJ_Stevenson

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