Francesco Aquilini, owner of the Vancouver Canucks, speaks about his team on the record about as often as we see a solar eclipse.
Prior to Vancouver’s game in Calgary, Aquilini appeared on Sportsnet 650 radio for an interview with hosts Scott Rintoul and Andrew Walker. While nothing he said will cause an earthquake in the Pacific Northwest, or even on “Angry Canucks Twitter,” as Elliotte Friedman calls it, he did drop a few tidbits.
First, the Canucks owner answered a hard-hitting question from Rintoul on whether he “meddles” with the team.
“People always have an opinion. If you look at Jerry Jones, he is actually GM of the Dallas Cowboys,” Aquilini responded.
“I’m not going that far. We have a GM. His name is Jim Benning. I mean, given what’s happened these last 15 games, you’ve got to be pleased. We beat the two-time Stanley Cup champions, we beat Washington. I mean, if this group continues to perform and work hard the way they do, I’m very pleased.”
Notice pivoting that answer onto the current success of the team? Of course you did. Kind of impossible not to.
With Benning in the final year of his contract, Rintoul asked Aquilini if the GM will be re-signed for the future.
“With Jim, those contract talks are private, so it’s not something I want to discuss here,” he replied. “I think from what Jim has accomplished in his last 15 games, it’s pretty exciting.”
Yeah, back to those 15 games. Guess he wants you to forget all the ones that came before.
While it’s understandable, it’s asking a lot of the fans who’ve had to endure some abominable hockey the last couple years.
Aquilini talked about what he looks at when appraising the team each day.
“What I tell [Trevor Linden and Benning] is look, I want to see continuous improvement. We have to be a little bit better today than we were yesterday.”
“The second thing we tell them is we want a competitive team that works hard on the ice. We can’t control the results. As ownership, we want to see these young guys develop.”
Recognizing that the owner must have a certain goal in mind when evaluating Benning’s future, Walker asked what “success” means to this team.
“A successful season is looking at the end of the year and looking at how our young players develop – whether they take that next step,” Aquilini answered.
“There’s a good group, and there’s a lot of players coming as well… everywhere within our organization we want to see these players take the next step. That’s really what it’s all about.”
For good measure, Walker pressed on, asking if finishing 28th or 29th again would hurt Benning’s job status.
“I think for now, and this conversation with you, I’m pleased with how Jim has performed.”
“His last 15 games have been pretty good. I can’t complain with the direction of the team. I think Travis has done a good job, so I’m optimistic we’re going to come to an agreement with [Benning].”
If you’re reading between the lines, what Aquilini did not say was, how the Canucks finish has no impact on Benning’s status. Of course, he did say earlier the most important thing is seeing if the young players develop.
Here’s my read on what the owner said: he’s happy with the way the team’s playing right now and wants to delete the past seasons from his memory. If that trajectory continues and the city remains optimistic about the team’s future, he’ll talk about re-signing Benning when the time comes.
Either way, just remember: focus on those 15 games.
The Canucks weren’t the only topic Walker and Rintoul discussed with the team’s owner. Rintoul also asked if Aquilini has been talking to BC Lions owner David Braley about purchasing the CFL team, and if he’s trying to bring an NBA team to Vancouver.
“We own a sports team in Vancouver and we’re always interested in looking into other sports teams,” he replied.
“We had conversations with David Braley but it’s not going to go any further than that at this point …
“As for an NBA team, I like basketball, I like watching basketball. It’s not something we’re pursuing but if the opportunity came up we would definitely be interested. We have the building, it’s plug and play, it’s ready to go …
“The fact is the NBA is not expanding anytime soon. You have to move a team – you have to buy a team and move it, which is complicated. All the stars would have to line up for that to happen.”