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July 14, 2013

Mike Gillis

Believe it or not, the above picture is of the same person. There's about 30 years difference between these two photos of Mike Gillis, powerful player agent turned Vancouver Canucks general manager.

But did you know he was once a NHL player? In fact, coming out of junior he was so highly thought of he was drafted 5th overall in 1978! The Colorado Rockies selected the Kingston Canadians junior star ahead of the likes of junior teammates Ken Linseman and Behn Wilson, as well as Brad Marsh, Steve Tambellini and Al Secord.

Gillis was a swift skating playmaker from the left side. He never dominated the OHA scoring races due to several injuries, most notably a badly broken leg that cost him most of the 1976-77 season. He also broke his collarbone in his draft year.

Gillis' high draft billing may have been based more on potential than accomplishment. Unfortunately Gillis was never able to achieve his potential in the NHL, again due to injuries.

In fact, in his very first NHL training camp he suffered torn knee ligaments that cost him to missed significant time early in his rookie season. The knee surgery would create complications for Gillis throughout his two year tenure in Colorado.

After a total of 91 games, 15 goals and 27 points, the Rockies gave up on Gillis and his bad legs. He was traded to Boston in 1981 for Bob Miller.

Gillis played in 125 games over 4 years with the Bruins, but he was never able to come close to the impressive numbers he was able to post in the AHL. He was versatile though, as he took shifts on defense.

Gillis playing career came to an abrupt end in training camp for the 1984 season when he broke his leg badly again. This time he was unable to return to the ice, and retired the following season after Boston did not renew his contract.

Gillis was represented by Alan Eagleson at the time, and he was one of the earliest to realize just how corrupt the now-disgraced NHLPA czar was. Unable to play again, Gillis began receiving disability insurance payments from the National Hockey League. Eagleson duped Gillis into believing that it was he who successfully negotiated for the disability clause in his contract, and therefore Gillis owed him 15% of the disability money. Gillis later sued successfully for $570,000 in back payments, although much of the award went to lawyer fees.


Perhaps it was this bad taste in Gillis' mouth regarding player representation that encouraged him to become a player agent himself. He returned home to Kingston, earned a law degree from Queen's University by 1990, and by 1994 he had become a successful player agent. Some of his clients over the years included Pavel Bure, Markus Naslund, Mike Richter, Bobby Holik, and Pat Verbeek.


Gillis still had a dream of running his own NHL club though. In 1998 he lost out on the job as the first GM job in Atlanta Thrashers' history. Ten years later he became the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks.

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