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Recapping the tenure of Stan Smyl, the greatest Canucks GM of all time

“There’s no more finger-pointing here; it’s on us to get the job done.”
Stan Smyl GM
Stan Smyl spoke to the media as interim GM of the Vancouver Canucks.

Stan Smyl was the 13th general manager in the history of the Vancouver Canucks but that unlucky number is not befitting of his tenure.

Incredibly, the Canucks were undefeated under the management of Smyl, something no other Canucks GM can come even close to boasting. Mike Gillis only managed a .652 points percentage as GM of the Canucks, atrocious in comparison to Smyl’s 1.000.

After Smyl was appointed as interim GM on December 5, 2021, the Canucks thrived under his leadership, immediately embarking on the team’s longest winning streak of the season: two games.

Knowing when he’d hit his peak, Smyl bowed out as GM of the Canucks on the morning of December 9, 2021, replaced as interim GM by incoming president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford.

Let’s take a look back at Smyl’s impressive four-day run as GM of the Canucks and all that he accomplished.

Smyl’s trade history

Incredibly, Smyl didn’t lose a single trade as GM of the Canucks. 

Unlike his predecessor, Smyl didn’t lose a bunch of draft picks in win-now trades. He didn’t trade away a single player who went on to tremendous success away from Vancouver. Nor did he acquire any players that went on to struggle in Vancouver and earn the ire of the Canucks fanbase.

Of course, that’s because he didn’t trade away or acquire any players or picks at all. 

Smyl’s draft history

There have been many Canucks GMs who have made a lot of questionable draft picks but Smyl isn’t one of them. Smyl didn’t waste any picks on big, physical defencemen who couldn’t skate. He didn’t reach for a player expected to go much later in the draft. Not a single high first-round pick was thrown away under Smyl’s watch. 

In fact, Smyl didn’t pick a single prospect that went on to become a bust. 

That’s because he didn’t pick any prospects at all, as his tenure was in December and the draft is typically held in June. 

Smyl's history of signings

Impressively, Smyl didn't sign a single free agent that will hurt the Canucks' salary cap in the future.

Because he didn't sign anyone.

Coaching changes under Smyl

Smyl made just one coaching change during his tenure as GM but he managed to bring in the coach the best winning percentage in Canucks history, winning 100% of the games he coached for Vancouver.

Hiring Bruce Boudreau was the first thing Smyl did as GM of the Canucks and it’s hard to argue with the results. 

To be fair, it’s entirely likely that Smyl had very little to do with hiring Boudreau, whose agent contacted owner Francesco Aquilini directly to negotiate, but, at the very least, Smyl never brought in a coach that lost a game. Very impressive work.

But seriously, folks…

It’s easy to joke about Smyl’s four days as GM of the Canucks but it’s important to underline just how much he actually did.

Smyl is a lifelong Canuck, who played all 13 seasons of his NHL career with the Canucks and even played junior hockey in Vancouver, winning two Memorial Cups with the New Westminster Bruins. He’s tied with Henrik Sedin as the Canucks’ longest-serving captain at eight seasons and his number 12 was the first retired in Canucks history.

When Smyl retired, he didn’t leave the Canucks, instead immediately joining the coaching staff as an assistant to Pat Quinn. He was behind the bench during the run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994 and was so respected that he kept his job as an assistant coach even as the head coach changed to Rick Ley, Tom Renney, and Mike Keenan.

Smyl took over as the head coach of the Canucks’ minor league affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, in 1999 and continued to coach their affiliates — first the Crunch, then the Kansas City Blades, then the Manitoba Moose — until 2004, when he was named the Canucks’ director of player development.

In 2008, Smyl became a senior advisor for Mike Gillis, and was also responsible for overseeing collegiate scouting. The signing of Chris Tanev out of the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2010, for instance, happened under Smyl’s purview as director of collegiate scouting

All that is to say, Smyl is a Canucks lifer. Ever since he was drafted in the third round in 1978, Smyl has been in the Canucks organization and he was in Vancouver even before that. That’s over 43 years of being a Canuck.

Accordingly, the Canucks mean the world to Smyl. The most important thing that Smyl did as GM is let Canucks fans and players know exactly how much the Canucks mean to him.

“There is pride in wearing this Canucks jersey.”

Smyl’s passion for the Canucks was evident from his press conference with  Aquilini. 

“This is my team. My only team. I will always do what’s best for this organization. I will always step up when asked to help,” said Smyl. “There is pride in wearing this Canucks jersey. There is also a huge responsibility that comes with pulling on that jersey.”

Smyl was authentic and spoke with candour, addressing issues within the organization that had been left to fester for too long.

“I think everyone was waiting for something to happen,” said Smyl. “What happens when you get to this point is that you start finger-pointing — players point at the coach and the coach points at the GM and the GM points at the coach and the coach points at the ownership. 

“We all have a responsibility here. You’re all professional athletes. The only people that are going to make any difference is the players in the dressing room and the sense of direction we want to go as an organization and I think we lost track of that.”

“There’s no more finger-pointing here; it’s on us to get the job done,” he added.

In other words, the players need to take responsibility and be accountable for their play, but leadership also need to provide a clear vision and they need to be accountable for not doing so. According to the players, this was essentially the same message Smyl delivered to them that morning. 

“That was basically the message, we need to not point fingers,” said Pettersson after they won on Monday. “We need to do this together because no one else is going to do it for us. It's the guys in that meeting we had this morning.”

Smyl knew he had to step in after the Canucks’ loss to the Penguins on Saturday, which was capped off by booing, “Fire Benning” chants, and a jersey thrown on the ice. 

“The end of that game was difficult, just hearing the fans, so the end of that game was very difficult to watch,” said Smyl. “And that’s when I felt I had to get involved here a lot more and express my views maybe a little stronger.”

One of those key views: the Canucks need to get their identity back.

“I talked to Francesco about an identity — what is our identity? Where does it start? It starts with your accountability, it starts with your effort,” said Smyl. “Make [the team] hard to play against. That’s the identity I want in this organization. Be hard to play against. If I’m lining up against you, I’m going to make it as miserable as possible. That was my message, I talked to the players about that this morning.”

Smyl doesn’t just preach being hard to play against. He lived it. A hallmark of his game as a player was making opposing players miserable, whether he was throwing big hits despite his small stature or stealing pucks and driving hard to the net. 

Smyl didn’t outskill opponents and he definitely wasn’t bigger than his opponents, but he worked harder than anyone. It must’ve been painful to see the lack of effort at times this season.

No one else could have spoken so authentically to the players after Jim Benning and Travis Green were let go. No one else could have told the fans that the Canucks were going to change their direction as convincingly as Smyl.

He may have only been GM for four days, but he had a legitimate impact.