Canucks management had some things to get off their chests, apparently.
With the team’s president, G.M., and coach making themselves available to media Tuesday, they spent a lot of time clarifying and correcting previously held notions.
First, Linden addressed the elephant in the room – that being the future of head coach Willie Desjardins.
Just one week ago, Jim Benning, asked by TSN Radio if the coach would be back next season, answered, “As of right now, yes,” leaving serious doubt in everyone’s minds.
On Tuesday, Desjardins himself said, “I know he’s in a spot where things can change for him,” when talking about Linden’s vote of confidence in him three weeks prior.
Linden stomped his final word on the subject Tuesday, leaving no room for speculation and doubling down on his previous comments.
“I think it’s unfair to blame Willie for where we wound up this year,” said Linden. “There was lots of things to go into that. He was given a challenge, he worked hard at it, he did a good job, and he’ll definitely be back next year.”
Last summer at the yearly season ticket holders’ meeting, when Benning was grilled by fans about choosing to keep Ryan Miller over Eddie Lack, he responded saying, “We received calls on Ryan Miller.”
Logically, fans understood that to mean a trade could’ve been made for Miller.
Asked Tuesday about those trade options of last year and if Vancouver might look to move him with Jacob Markstrom taking on a larger role, Benning backtracked hard.
“There really wasn’t any opportunity to trade him last year,” said Benning. “I think what you’re referring to is a team called about him, asked about him. It didn’t get to anywhere where it was going to be a trade. They inquired about him.”
Teams “inquired about him” but didn’t want to trade for Miller, in case you’re not following.
On Monday, the Vancouver Sun’s Iain MacIntyre wrote that Miller may want out if the Canucks don’t improve this summer.
But Benning spoke for Miller on his future in Vancouver.
“I think (Miller’s) an important guy to the development of Jacob as a goalie… Goalies develop later than players do, so Miller’s going to be part of our group. He likes it here and he’s going to be part of our goaltending tandem going forward,” he said.
Back to Linden, at another ticket-holders meeting just after this season’s trade deadline, he said the Canucks punched above their weight class last year and, “We knew we weren’t a playoff team coming into this year.”
Those comments were in stark contrast to what he and Benning actually said last summer. Asked by TSN’s Bob McKenzie if he thought Vancouver would be a 100 point team in September, Benning replied, “”Yeah, I think so… We’re going to be faster and harder to play against this year.”
Linden clarified/changed those comments as well.
“I think what I said was knowing where we were vis-a-vis our younger group and our older group, that we needed things to go right,” said Linden.
“We needed good performances from our older players and we needed our younger players to step up. We needed to stay healthy, we needed good goaltending, which we got, but I think that’s with any season.”
Linden was also asked if, compared to how Toronto’s communicated their intentions to rebuild with their fans, he thinks there’s been some confusion with his messaging in Vancouver.
“I hope not. When we came in in ’14, perhaps I didn’t explain it properly, but we knew the challenges in front of us,” said Linden.
“We knew we had to draft and develop a new core group of players. What we did in ’14 was we tried to supplement the group that was currently here. It was laden with veteran players with no-trade clauses, so we went out and signed a couple of players on shorter term deals that could help us do that.
“All the while we had a real good draft and we added a first round pick, but we’ve had our eye firmly on the future and we’ve never traded younger assets for older assets that set us back.
“We knew eventually we were going to get younger and this is the year it took place.”
What became clear after the trade deadline, and again Tuesday, is the team’s messaging has changed. They are now more focused on the future than a quick turnaround, though that could quickly change. If you’re not convinced of that, see what Benning had to say on the free agents he might target come July 1:
“We’ve got some money (to use) this summer in free agency where if we can look to add a piece that’s going to make our group better in that 22-28 age range, we’re going to look at all our options and everything we can do to make our group competitive, but keeping in mind we’re in a transition and we need to get our young players up and going.”
If you still don’t know if the team’s rebuilding or retooling, you’re not alone. At this point, management may not even know.