Laurence Gilman hired as Assistant General Manager: Who is he and where does he fit with the Leafs?

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Laurence Gilman of the Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo: Vancouver Sun

GM Kyle Dubas has made his first outside hire into the Leafs front office: Laurence Gilman has been named as an Assistant General Manager.

Gilman, 53, was hired by the Winnipeg Jets out of law school in the late ’90s to work in their finance department before advancing with the organization and serving as the assistant GM of the Phoenix Coyotes for five seasons between 2002 and 2007.

Gilman was then hired as the VP of Hockey Operations and Assistant General Manager with the Vancouver Canucks for seven seasons between 2008-2015. In that role, Gilman was primarily responsible for contract negotiations and salary cap management but took on a wide range of responsibilities as his tenure wore on. He was there during the highs of the Canucks’ back-to-back President’s Trophy-winning teams — including the Stanley Cup Finalist iteration in 2011 — before being let go by President Trevor Linden as part of a culling of the Canucks’ front office staff in 2015.

While Gilman’s time ran its course – and he faced some criticism for the number of burdensome No-Trade Clauses on the Canucks roster once their window for contention passed, even though they weren’t carrying more of them than the average team at the time – the Canucks benefited from a number of good-value contracts during the peak of the Sedin era. The Sedins ($6.1 million), Ryan Kesler ($5 million), Alex Burrows ($2 million), Kevin Bieksa ($4.6 million) and Roberto Luongo ($5.4 million) were all locked in at team-friendly cap figures. When Gillis was fired in 2014, Gilman was a name popularly bandied about as a possible replacement for the GM’s chair among Vancouver fans and media, and he’s still highly regarded among the fan base.

The infamous Luongo contract is worth talking about in and of itself — the 12-year contract was investigated by the league for cap circumvention, with Gilman questioned by the league as the Canucks’ cap manager at the time. The league went digging for evidence that the two sides had a handshake agreement in place for Luongo to retire late in the deal when the salary tapered off to $1 million-and-change in the final three years of the contract. GM Mike Gillis refused the league’s proposed compromise to lop off the final two years of the deal (that would’ve pushed the cap hit north of $6 million AAV), and the NHL said it ultimately did not have enough evidence to go on to reject the terms of the contract.

Of course, everything came back around with the new rules that emerged out of the 2012-13 lockout addressing cap-circumventing, back-diving contracts, and the Canucks will face cap recapture penalties for that deal at some point in the next couple of years as a result (Luongo himself also later mentioned regrets about signing that contract, as it forced him out of Vancouver and created a limited trade market for his services). But Gilman would have played a big role in finessing that deal through under the terms of the CBA at the time, and it’s clear he’s someone who is knowledgeable and creative enough to seek out every possible edge that’s available to an organization.

Combined with the knowledge and skill set of fellow AGM Brandon Pridham, the Leafs appear well-positioned cap/CBA wise heading into a summer with some very important contracts to negotiate internally. There are also some interesting names, to say the least, closing in on unrestricted free agency around the league. Gilman has vast experience negotiating contracts and a large network of long-standing relationships with prominent agents around the league, including Newport Sports titan Don Meehan, who Gilman mentioned in an interview as being close with for nearly 25 years.

“Laurence won’t talk to you till he’s ready to. Some guys just answer the phone and let the agents start the process before they’re prepared. Laurence only talks when he’s ready to talk. You don’t end up with a hasty deal that both sides are uncomfortable with.”
– Mike Gillis (source)

Since being fired by the Canucks in 2015, Gilman spent some time working for TSN 1040 before joining the league offices, where he helped formulate the rules framework for the 2017 expansion draft. In that job, Gilman created models to project what the Vegas roster might look like and was invited to meet with Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee to discuss strategies and make a presentation to the Vegas management team.

“One of the things that I felt, when we began the process and started to look at the application of the rules and how they would play out – in conjunction with the leverage that the GM of the expansion franchise would have, the advanced plan attack that I thought could be implemented – meant that, at the end of the process when all the dust got settled between the picks and the trades to exploit existing teams and their weaknesses or vulnerabilities, I felt that there were GMs of existing teams that would look at the final list on paper – all the assets that the expansion franchise had – and say, ‘I would rather have that team than mine.’ Clearly, that has played out. 

… It’s called an expansion draft, but this was not an expansion draft. Obviously, it was called an expansion draft in 2001 when Minnesota and Columbus selected players between them. This was, as I refer to it, an asset harvest event because Vegas was not competing with another franchise and had an ability to map out exactly what they wanted to harvest and get from the other 30 teams.”

– Laurence Gilman on the Golden Knights’ surprise season

Gilman had been highly sought after this offseason – he recently turned down a job offer with the Carolina Hurricanes, citing concerns about contract terms and the job description. Gilman was also recently considered the frontrunner for the job of ECHL commissioner, according to Elliotte Friedman.

In a 2017 interview with The Athletic, Gilman mentioned that he felt he had been unfairly pigeonholed at times as a numbers guy and capologist. In his new role with the Leafs, it sounds like he will be doing much more than just contracts and cap management.

Gilman’s portfolio will be wide-ranging, including taking over Dubas’ former job as GM of the Marlies. Worth noting is that Gilman was in charge of sorting out an arena for the Comets, among other responsibilities with the AHL affiliate, when the Canucks started in Utica during his time in Vancouver. The Comets made the Calder Cup Final in their second year of existence.

Gilman will oversee the player development staff, while also having a hand in the player personnel side of things. You can also bet he’ll be an asset when the next expansion draft comes around, with the Seattle expansion expected to follow the same rules as the Vegas one.

The fit seems like a sound one from the outside looking in: Gilman carries a reputation as being a sharp, creative analytical mind and as someone who sees a great deal of value in quantitative analysis. The 53-year-old is a philosophical match that way, while also complementing Dubas by bringing to the table ample executive experience and connections around the league.

Speaking to The Athletic, Gilman spoke of the type of environment he was looking for in his next job:

“What is very important to me, if I am going back to work for a team, would be to seek a situation similar to the one I came to Vancouver for: A collaborative, diverse group of people that enjoyed each other’s company, believed in the vision and were unified in their path to get there.”

That sounds a lot like the dynamic Brendan Shanahan has sought to foster in the Leafs’ front office.

“I’m the guy who can sometimes be telling people what they don’t want to hear. I could be telling an agent that we can’t afford their guy, or I could be telling my boss (the GM/owner) that we have to pay more for a guy than we want to.”

– Laurence Gilman (source)

What appears to still be missing in Dubas’ management team after the promotion of Pridham and addition of Gilman — and is likely to be addressed with a hire or promotion in the coming days or weeks — is a talent evaluator/top-end scout to specifically replace the departed Mark Hunter. Stay tuned.