Mike Gillis took the witness stand Thursday and for 45 minutes was grilled about the playoff failure of the Vancouver Canucks, his culpability and when he might get around to firing coach Alain Vigneault.

It may have been the easiest day of his summer.

The Canucks general manager acknowledged at his year-end news conference that the team has fallen behind the National Hockey League curve toward bigger, grittier, defence-oriented teams.

"From my perspective ... it’s been a terrible season for us," Gillis said. "We’re going to have to reinvent ourselves and do things differently in order to be successful. The macro look at this team is that changes have to be made."


The Canucks’ need for more size and grit, particularly among the top three forward lines, was evident when they lost the Stanley Cup Final to the Boston Bruins two years ago.

It was reinforced by first-round playoff exits this season and last to the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings.

When officiating standards abruptly and inexplicably slackened halfway through last season, smaller, skilled, puck-possession teams like the Canucks became endangered.

So, Gillis’s declaration that the Canucks will adapt to the changing NHL landscape was excellent news.

The obvious question was: What took Gillis so long? The more important one is: How exactly will he achieve this "reset?"

For all the discussion about windows closing and eras ending for the Canucks, the reality is the team has eight core players who possess no-trade clauses and another three who will get them on July 1 when contract extensions kick in.

With the salary cap making a one-off bungee dive next season to $64.3 million from $70.2 million and already some bad contracts on the Canucks’ books, it is going to be extremely difficult for Gillis to orchestrate major lineup changes.

He said he expects to finally trade backup goalie Roberto Luongo ($5.33-million cap hit) this summer, but would not speculate on potential buyouts for spare defenceman Keith Ballard ($4.2 million) and balky winger David Booth ($4.25 million).

Fortunately, the Canucks’ best players are still young enough to challenge for a Stanley Cup. But they need help and Gillis is severely hindered by NTCs and economics in what he can do.

The core of the team probably is not changing. The Canucks will still be led by Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa and Jason Garrison on defence, and Cory Schneider in net.

Unless Gillis can work in a straitjacket, there’s no reason to think next season will end any better than this one.

"We don’t have the luxury of having picked first overall in the last 10 years," Gillis said. "We have to use the players we have, the core group that we have, and we have to build around them. There will come a point where that core group is going to be dismantled or will no longer play, but it’s not today.

"When I took this job, we decided on a style of play that resulted in great success. And clearly, the landscape has changed and we have to address those changes. We don’t have a choice. It’s not something I necessarily agree with. But that’s what we face, and that’s what you have to do.

"We have to make the changes and adjustments necessary to compete for a Stanley Cup. It’s my intention to do it and recognize what’s going on and make sure we have a team that’s better equipped."

It was understandable that Gillis was wary of changing much when the Canucks had two chances to win one game for the Stanley Cup only 23 months ago.

But why was there so few adjustments after last season’s first-round ejection? And why did nothing change this year? When the Canucks needed size for the playoffs, Gillis acquired 5-8 centre Derek Roy, who looked a lot smaller than that against the Sharks.

"It was a messed-up year from top to bottom," Gillis said of the lockout-shortened season. "Our ability to do things in this messed up season was really limited and hindered by a lot of factors.

"We tried to get things done. But for various reasons, it wasn’t to our satisfaction and we need to do better."

Gillis said the internal review of all operations and personnel will be based on what has happened the last two seasons and, especially, in the playoffs. That may as well have been code for: "I’m firing Vigneault."