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Gilman wears multiple caps

by Jeff Paterson / Vancouver Canucks
As a reward for landing a high-ranking front office position with the Vancouver Canucks in May, Laurence Gilman bought himself a new set of golf clubs.

Unfortunately, the club's new ‘capologist' -- his official title is Director of Hockey Administration and his duties extend far beyond crunching numbers -- has only been able to use them twice. In just over three months on the new job, the 43-year-old Winnipeg native has simply had too much on his plate helping new general manager Mike Gillis with the day-to-day duties of running the hockey team.

The lack of golf, however, seems to be Gilman's lone regret about joining the Canucks. A casualty of an April 2007 house-cleaning in the Phoenix Coyotes organization which brought about an end to a 13-year relationship with the Coyotes and the Winnipeg Jets before they moved to the desert, Gilman spent last year out of hockey but certainly not out of the loop. He used the down-time effectively to pursue a couple of personal passions all the while plotting his strategy to return to the National Hockey League in an executive capacity.

Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight.

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"I took advantage of the fact that I was let go with time remaining on my contract. First and foremost, my number one priority was to spend time with my wife and kids (an 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter). To that end I was a reasonably well-paid soccer dad," he says with a laugh. "I took my kids to school every day, I went to the gym, I learned to cook and I trained for -- and ran -- the Phoenix half-marathon."

And as much as Gilman enjoyed his time with his family, he didn't allow himself to get too far removed from the game of hockey.

"I spent a lot of time watching hockey on the satellite dish and in a very different manner. I wasn't watching it through the lens of a particular organization and I didn't necessarily look at specific players from the vantage point of ‘how does this guy relate to players on our organization?' I just watched hockey in the pure sense. It may sound a little funny, but it improved my understanding of the game," he explains. "I also stayed in touch with the game. There were a lot of people who supported me and kept in contact with me. There were opportunities along the way to jump back in with other organizations, but the timing wasn't right or the job wasn't right. I was waiting for a better opportunity to come along and thankfully for me, this one did."

The opportunity with the Canucks came about based on the experience Gilman had as an assistant general manager for the past six years in Phoenix. In that capacity and even before he assumed that role, the budding hockey executive had on many occasions dealt with a player agent by the name of Mike Gillis.

"I first met Mike in 1995 when I worked for the Jets and he was representing players. And we began a relationship that grew over the years, although in all the years I worked for both the Jets and the Coyotes, I never negotiated a contract with him," he says. "When I saw that he (Gillis) got this job, I felt that there would be a chance that he would want me to be a part of it. And fortunately for me, he contacted me almost immediately after he got the job and that's why I'm here."

And almost since his first day on the job, Gilman has been buried under a pile of paper. The desk in his General Motors Place office is covered by stacks of spreadsheets and bound-booklets containing everything anyone could ever want to know about National Hockey League players and their salaries. Having a strong knowledge of the current collective bargaining agreement and how it affects not only the Canucks but the other teams around the league is a significant part of Gilman's job.

"Obviously a big part of the job is management of the salary cap. In order to be able to operate within the salary cap system, you need to understand the value of hockey players," he says. "In order to function within this job from the cap management operational salary perspective, you need to be part of the actual hockey decision that is being made. The level of complexity of operating an NHL franchise has grown exponentially in the last 10 years, particularly so with the advent of the salary cap. Today, the job of a modern general manager is significantly more intricate than it used to be. Decisions are not made without a tremendous amount of forethought and planning."

It all sounds so complex. And much of it is. "My job in various facets of the hockey department is to walk lock-step with the general manager, the coaching staff, the scouting staff and player development and provide them with the administrative and operational support so that they can make the best decisions, the most efficient decisions possible," he explains, trying to put it all in layman's terms.

One of the things that made Laurence Gilman the right candidate for this job was that he'd come from an environment where his past two bosses weren't traditional hires for the position of NHL general manager. Neither Bobby Smith nor Mike Barnett had any GM experience prior to taking control in Phoenix so Gilman seemed like the perfect fit to help Mike Gillis make the transition from agent to manager here in Vancouver.

"The fact that I have 13-years of management experience and have sat in the assistant GM's chair in my immediate past allows me to be a sounding board for him as he goes through his own learning curve as he learns how to be a good general manager," he says. "Having said that, Mike has an extremely good balance of intellect, ego and understanding of the hockey world so he will operate just fine."

When he accepted the position with the Canucks, Gilman jumped into the job with both feet and didn't look back. That meant leaving his family behind at their summer home in Winnipeg. Aside from a couple of quick trips back there and the occasional visit by them to the West Coast, he's basically been splitting his time equally between a hotel home base and the office.

But his family is about to join him now. They've found a West Side home to move into and with hockey season just around the corner; Gilman is ready to slip back into his comfort zone of making decisions that will help set the course of an NHL team. Although he – and the entire Canuck organization -- still have plenty of work ahead of them before they hit the ice for training camp next month in Whistler.

"I am extremely excited, needless to say, about the start of the season and if I had my druthers it would be starting tomorrow. But it takes a great number of people to work a great number of hours and there is a tremendous amount to do before we get started. So the fact that there is a little bit of time left between now and the start of training camp is probably a good thing," he says, hoping that things settle down enough on the job so that he can start exploring the city a little. "I love to eat. My wife and I can't wait to explore Vancouver's multicultural restaurants. I am excited that my family is moving to the most-beautiful city in North America and one of the premiere hockey markets in the world. It's very difficult for me to articulate just how excited I am to be here."

Imagine how excited he'll be – and how much he'll like Vancouver -- if he can ever find a way to use those golf clubs he bought a few times before the hockey season starts.
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