If you’re the Vancouver Canucks and you want to piss off your fanbase, I know exactly how to do it.
Bench one of your young players.
A question the mainstream media has asked for years in this city is “will fans support a rebuild?” It’s been a puzzling question to me, because fans appear consistent from where I sit.
Fans want wins, sure. But they also want hope.
What the 2015 playoffs proved was that fans in Vancouver aren’t just satisfied with one winning season. They were given wins without hope. As one fan famously put it at the team’s town hall after that season: “I wanna win a Cup.”
And that’s the feeling from every fan – diehard or otherwise – that I know.
The Canucks played a longtime rival in the 2015 playoffs, and sure there was some excitement, but the mood in the city was more subdued than any other playoff year since the 1980s.
Fans knew they were watching a playoff team, one that could even win a round (they didn’t), but they also knew what they weren’t watching. They weren’t watching a team that could compete for the Stanley Cup.
The Canucks are a ways away from being considered a playoff team, never mind a Cup contender, so what can fans hang their hat on?
It’s the most magical four-letter word in a Canucks fan’s vocabulary. The players that represent hope, of course, are guys like Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, Brock Boeser, and Nikita Tryamkin. Young players with potential.
Everyone loves a winner, but as long as you have hope, you have something to get excited about.
The Canucks host the LA Kings on Friday night and they could win or they could lose. But if Brock Boeser scores a couple of goals, fans will have something to cling to. If Bo Horvat wins the team’s scoring race, dreams of him becoming a bonafide #1 centre will be intensified. If Nikolay Goldobin…
D.Sedin H.Sedin Chaput
Baertschi Horvat Boeser
Eriksson Sutter Boucher
Molino Shore Biega
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) March 30, 2017
Wait, where’s Goldobin?
‘Goldy,’ as he’s known to a large section of fans, appears set to be a healthy scratch against the Kings.
Has he been very good for Vancouver? No, not lately anyway. He scored in his debut, but has been left off the scoresheet since in six games since, albeit in limited minutes. But he’s young (21), and he’s got potential. And with six games left, fans want to see him play.
And I can’t blame them.
Defenceman Alex Biega has played remarkably well as a fourth-line winger in recent games. But to play him in a meaningless game, a game that Goldobin needs more than him, is frustrating for Canucks fans.
Young players need discipline, and young players need to be taught lessons. But they also need to build confidence, be given a chance to succeed, and be allowed to to play while they learn.
And what better time to do it than in NHL games that don’t matter much in the standings?
You can understand if head coach Willie Desjardins wants to put the best lineup possible to win games (development be damned), given that his job is likely on the line. And you can make a case that Biega gives them a better chance to win. But that’s where the general manager needs to step in (at this point in the season, anyway) and mandate that young players get to play.
In a long season, players like Goldobin will need a dose of both honey and vinegar. But with just six meaningless games left, on behalf of Canucks fans, please, just play the kids.