That is a question that Joe Pelletier from Greatest Hockey Legends.com is asking. Joe is saying that Gillis inherited talent that was already in place before he got there and that is the biggest reason for the teams' current success. You have to read his post to see why he says that.
I've had to think about this question for a while to come up with the best answer. My verdict is that it's a combination of both. Yes, the Sedins maturation and the emergence of Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows are huge factors. Roberto Luongo was brought here via a trade by Nonis (for which I still love the man for, by the way.)
Those are all good pluses for Nonis. But Gillis came in with a fire in his eyes to change the overall team and organization into a winning one. He started with the office personnel (scouting, head of player personnel, and even adding assistant coach Ryan Walter plus much more.) He built what he believes is a committed, winning management team.
-A complete list of Mike Gillis' transactions can be found here, by the way.
-A list of Nonis acquisitions here.
The argument that Gillis' Canucks roster is closer to winning than Nonis' is what I'll now tackle. I believe it is. When Gillis let long time Canucks like Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison go last summer, he and we knew that he was going to need to find offence not only to replace those guys, but to find more in general.
In comes Demitra, Wellwood, Bernier, Johnson, Hordichuk... Demitra was a huge question mark in my head because I never liked him. Over the year he has grown on me. He can still be that perimeter-useless player on occasion...but at $4 million per season, he put up Naslund numbers (and showed more emotion) at a cheaper price.
Wellwood and Bernier were reclammation projects in the sense that both came with baggage. It was a gamble that I think paid off, possibly more with Wellwood because of his sick hands and faceoff ability (and now his checking ability). Bernier costed us 2 higher picks on 2009 and 2010 and gets paid $2.5 million per season
He is commonly referred to as "Hands of Stone", yet has found a suitable home on the 3rd line while we wait for his hands to develop into something more consistent.
Gillis' crowning achievment was signing Mats Sundin. Yes, there were a bunch of naysayers at the time and there still are. I am not one of them. Sure, he started slow and still looks out of place sometimes, but that presence on Line 2 is worth it as it takes some heat off the Sedins. Let me ask you this: if we still had Morrison and Naslund and put Kesler with them on Line 2 instead of Demitra and Mats, would Kesler's offensive output have been less? My answer is yes. For one, Morrison and Naslund are not the same combined calibre as Demo and Mats.
In the 50 games before the RPM (Ryan, Pavol, Mats) Line was formed, Kesler scored 11 goals and 33 points in 50 games. In the final 32 games of the season on the RPM Line Kesler scored 15 goals and 32 points. Demitra scored 13 goals and 25 points in 37 games before the RPM Line was formed, but improved to 7 goals and 28 points in 32 games mostly with Kesler and Sundin. That's a difference between .675 points per game and .875.
Stats can be skewed, I know. I'm just giving you the basics here.
Is Shane O'Brien a better d-man than Krajicek was? Skill-wise not quite. Size-wise yes. Remember one of the big reasons we lost to the Ducks in Round 2 a couple of years ago? They kicked the crap out of us physically. Our defence is big and mean throughout now, and it's getting the job done.
What I really liked about Gillis' goal was that he wanted to acquire players with leadership character. That becomes very valuable at times like these. He has that especially in guys like Sundin, Johnson and Hordichuk. Do I even have to say anything about Ryan Johnson? No. His play does the talking. I'll take him over a Matt Pettinger any day.
Most importantly, the real evidence that Gillis' Canucks are "closer" will come next round. If the Canucks can get past round 2, they will have gone further than the Nonis-Burke Canucks. They will have gotten farther than any Canucks team has since 1994. The proof will be in that pudding right there.