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Capology 101

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

On the wall in Laurence Gilman’s office there are two twin drawings of the Grinch, one in black and white, the other in colour.

The original Chuck Jones drawn cells, authenticated with Jones’ signature and dated 1966, capture the Grinch as he is hatching his evil plan to rid Whoville of Christmas; his green grin as gnarly and wicked as his plot.

"That’s my favourite of all my pieces," said Gilman, "and truthfully, I think it’s me."

Gilman, Vancouver’s VP of Hockey Operations and assistant General Manager, is the man responsible for, among other things, the development of the club’s strategic salary cap plan. The University of Manitoba grad, who received his Juris Doctorate from the University of North Dakota School of Law before being admitted to the State Bar of Minnesota, is known in today’s league as a 'capologist'.

Cap-ol-o-gist n.
1. A numbers guy through and through who has the ability to do to numbers what MacGyver did with stationary items.
2. A tight-rope walker of dollars and cents that can make sense of all the intricacies the NHL salary cap has to offer.
3. A fictional word given to anyone brave enough to maneuver NHL contracts with confidence.

Confused? So is everyone else. Canucks management was as well, so in May of 2008 Gilman was hired to be the team’s money man and as you’d expect with the NHL Trade Deadline taking place Monday, February 28th, this is a busy time of year for him, GM Mike Gillis and the entire staff charged with molding the Canucks into Cup contenders.

Everyone has theories as to how Vancouver will approach this year’s deadline, but to truly understand the decisions that will be made, it’s crucial to first comprehend management’s plan for this season as a whole.

This year, Gilman said, is unique because the Canucks will not be handcuffed by the uncertainty of the deadline to add major pieces. After being eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round for the second consecutive season, management undertook some “soul searching” to analyze what happened and what needed to be addressed. The consensus of the meeting was that the areas in need of upgrading would be improved from the end of last season to the beginning of this year.

And they were.

Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres were brought in to revamp the third line and the defence was reconstructed with the acquisitions of Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard. Aaron Rome was re-signed to add depth and faith was placed in Cory Schneider that he could play a more prominent role than backups in previous regimes to take a load off Roberto Luongo, leaving the starter fresher for the playoffs.

All the aforementioned moves left Gilman and company with a trade deadline plan that if moves needed to be made, they’d be smaller ones bringing in complimentary pieces. The Canucks have suffered their share of injuries, especially on defence, but they aren’t in the same dilemma as a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are forced to deal with the losses of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

Considering where Vancouver is at this point in the season, the initial plan remains in place heading into the deadline.

“Every year there’s always pressure on every team to come out of the trade deadline better than they went in,” said Gilman. “We obviously have the unique position of looking down on the other 29 teams right now and we’re satisfied with how the team has performed, but we are certainly not content. If there is an opportunity to improve the team, without question we’ll look at doing it.”

Unlike back on the playground when hockey cards were swapped without much thought, there’s a methodical process that goes into deals in the NHL and Gilman’s elaborate understanding of the league’s salary cap ultimately gives trades the thumbs up or thumbs down.

If Gilman’s brain is the hard drive, then multiple spreadsheets, ones he utilizes at all times to provide guidance as different scenarios arise, are the programs used to make sense of the salary cap. Getting him to fully explain how everything works is a fool’s errand, what Vancouver’s cap situation is heading into Monday is all that really matters.

“We have operated at the cap or over the cap all year due to the fact that we’ve sustained significant injuries, which began last July when Sami Salo tore his Achilles tendon and Alex Burrows had shoulder surgery and have followed through to Alex Edler’s back surgery and Andrew Alberts’ broken wrist,” clarified Gilman.

“We’ve been over the cap and we’re going to finish the season over the cap and we’ve been operating under the long-term injury exception, which provides us an amount of money that we have the ability to build within. It’s complicated, but it’s manageable.”

Manageable as long he stays on top of everything, all the time, for not only the Canucks, but every NHL team’s cap situation as well – which Gilman said he has an intimate knowledge of.

“You need to walk through every step slowly. It’s like if you’ve ever taken a Stats course in university or Physics, if you stay with it from step one to step 500, you’re okay. If you lose track of it midway through, it’s very hard to come back and find yourself in the right spot.”

Vancouver finds itself in the right spot, currently sitting first overall in the NHL, seven points up in the Western Conference and 15 in front in the Northwest Division. Much has clearly gone right for the Canucks this season as they’re on pace to finish with 115 points, the most in franchise history.

The expectation every trade deadline is that making a big splash is a must for teams hoping to make a prolonged run deep into the playoffs. Although that is tops on the to-do list for the Canucks, Vancouver’s splash won’t likely come from a cannonball.

“If we don’t make a trade, and right now we are looking at various options, but if we don’t make a trade, it’s because we have complete faith in the group that we have in our dressing room.

“As we sit today, with 20 games remaining in the season, we have the best record in the National Hockey League. We’re in the top group of teams to say the least; we’re in the top group of teams that are competing. We want to give ourselves and our group every opportunity to win, but we have to objectively look at our team and what we have, and thus far things have gone fairly well for us.”

Fear not Canuckville, you’re in good hands.

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