Patience is needed with Canucks management

Apr 10 2017, 6:23 am

This team is crap! Time for a management overhaul!

Patience Canucks fans, patience.

Much has been made of the lack of continuity of message from Canucks management this season. One minute they are going for the playoffs, the next they are talking about the year being all about the youth. In the end, they are a team that is simply not competitive and this should not come as a surprise. It appears that Trevor Linden and Jim Benning finally understand that the message needs to be consistent from top to bottom.

While Linden and Benning certainly have made mistakes, this is not the time for Canucks ownership to switch course and start fresh with new management.

Here’s why…

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Benning and Linden inherited a hot mess

Any discourse into the success or failure of an NHL team’s management regime has to take into account the situation inherited. When Linden and Benning took over Mike Gillis’ Canucks, the team was a shadow of it’s 2011 self. The core was past its prime and stocked with no-trade clauses. Years of potential Stanley Cup runs left the prospect pool virtually empty.

When Trevor Linden was named Canuck President of Hockey Operations on April 9, 2014 the team had four players under the age of 25 that potentially could be considered part of a new core; Bo Horvat, Ben Hutton, Chris Tanev, and Jacob Markstrom.

Chris Tanev, an undrafted UFA steal, was essentially the only player under the age of 25 inherited by the Linden-Benning management group that was a known quantity. Alex Edler and Jannik Hansen, both age 27, were locked up long term with no-trade and modified no-trade clauses.

Meanwhile, players like Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Jason Garrison, Chris Higgins, and Alex Burrows (all players aged 29 and older) were signed to contracts with no-move, no-trade, or modified no-trade clauses. Kesler had reportedly asked for a trade prior to the regime change.

In short, the team inherited by Linden and Benning was one that allocated most of its salary cap resources to players who were on the decline or well on their way to decline with contracts that hindered trade possibilities. The prospect pool was bleak after years of trade deadline deals involving futures.

Mike Gillis did what he had to do at the time and, many believe, never had a chance to start a rebuild of sorts when he actually wanted to. It’s hard to blame Gillis for the team he left behind him and it is equally folly to ignore the state of the team when Canucks current management took over.

Restocking the prospect pool

There wasn’t a next wave behind the Sedins other than young Bo Horvat, who was projected incorrectly by many as nothing, but a third line centre.

Early on, Benning made some smart moves. He found a way to unload Kesler despite having only one trade partner and he unloaded Garrison to the Lightning for a second round pick. The Garrison trade was noteworthy in that it was the first instance for which Benning asked a player with a no-trade clause to waive.

Early UFA signings were palatable. Ryan Miller was signed for three years at $6 million per season while Radim Vrbata was inked for two years at $5 million per. The salaries may have been a tad high, but the term of contract was nothing that could cause long term pain.

As time has gone on, trades under the Benning and Linden regime have been mixed. The transactions that brought Markus Granlund and Sven Baertschi look like big wins for Vancouver while moves for Brandon Sutter and Adam Clendening may be ones they would like back.

Linden and Benning made mistakes on the contracts of Derek Dorsett, Luca Sbisa, and Brandon Sutter. All were signed for above market salary and Sutter’s contract, in particular, was much longer term than expected given his resume.

The signing of Loui Eriksson looks to be the worst signing under the current regime. Eriksson struggled in his first season, but, even if he rebounds into form, it seems disjointed to sign a player at age 31 to a six-year deal at $6 million per season given where the Canucks find themselves. In fairness, the contract extension of Chris Tanev to a five-year deal at $4.45 million annually is a gem.

Linden and Benning have done well via the draft.

Brock Boeser and Nikita Tryamkin are already playing for the Canucks while Thatcher Demko, Jake Virtanen, and Olli Juolevi are close to being regulars on the NHL club. The Virtanen pick is the most controversial given the offensive impact William Nylander and Nikolaj Ehlers, both players picked after Virtanen, have already shown in the NHL. Adam Gaudette, drafted in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, looks extremely promising after a breakout scoring season in the NCAA.

Every NHL management team makes mistakes and the Canucks are no exception, however, Linden and Benning have done a good job restocking the team’s prospect pool. They have a stud goalie in the waiting with Demko, a group of good young defencemen (Stecher, Tryamkin, Juolevi), and some help in the top-nine (Baertschi, Granlund).

The glaring weakness, outside of Boeser, is a high-end bonafide top line scoring winger and an elite offensive centre. Recent trades for Nikolay Goldobin and Jonathan Dahlen are a step in the right direction on that front. At the very least, progress is being made.

The shocking coaching of Willie Desjardins

Desjardins was a revelation in his first year of coaching in Vancouver. He rolled all four lines on a nightly basis and somehow managed to lead the Canucks into the playoffs.

Then crap hit the fan!

Desjardins was out-coached badly in the first round of the 2015 playoffs by Calgary’s Bob Hartley. The rookie Canucks bench boss continued to roll four lines while Hartley shortened Calgary’s bench. Unfortunately, Willie has been lost every since.

As his veterans aged, the coach leaned more and more on them. The Canucks losses mounted and Desjardins continued to double down on his strategy with predictable results.

Canucks management had no choice, but to fire Desjardins and their next choice for coach will ultimately decide the length of their tenure. If they hire another coach who plays veterans irregardless of results, this regime is doomed.

In the end, the Linden-Benning era should be given at least five years before any determination is made as to their fate. If you take an honest look at what the duo had to contend with when they took over, you have to conclude that they need more time.

Benning pronouncing that he can turn this team around quickly in his first press conference was simply a mistake (although you could say he did follow through on his first year on the job) and this really has tarnished some of the “rebuilding” type moves that have been pulled off.

The Canucks are getting younger and faster. They are going to get another high end draft pick in this year’s draft to add to a diverse (ie. multi-positional) group of prospects  (although not plentiful).

Linden and Benning may not be perfect, but they are moving in the right direction.

Ian LusherIan Lusher

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