Can Canucks management stomach a rebuild?

Mar 2 2017, 7:31 am

The Vancouver Canucks have made some great moves leading up to the trade deadline this year, everyone agrees with that.

By trading Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen – two aging wingers – for Jonathan Dahlen, Nikolay Guldobin, and a draft pick, the team gave up competitiveness now for a better roster down the road.

The Linden-Benning management team showed they’re finally ready to go hard at a rebuild, though they believe they’ve been doing it the entire time.

“I think that (the rebuild) started when I took the job here three years ago,” said Benning to the media, minutes after the trade deadline passed.

“We wanted to get younger, get faster, build our core group up, and I think these past couple days has just been a continuation of what we’ve been trying to do since we got hired.”

Canucks fans, for their part, are happier than they’ve been since 2011 – and that might be the hardest thing for management to understand.

Many media members have speculated repeatedly that fans wouldn’t have the stomach for a rebuild – that they’d rather see a “retool” while the team tries to stay competitive.

Now, the question going forward is this: will Linden and Benning – and ownership, whatever role they play – have the stomach to rebuild aggressively in the coming months?

That is what the fans want to see – no more wasted time.

To be clear, when I use the word “aggressively” I mean they should consider all options that will help them acquire draft picks and prospects in order to fully kick the rebuild into overdrive.

It means not signing 31-year-old wingers forwards such as Loui Eriksson to massive contracts with massive term, and including no-trade clauses that make trading difficult.

It means looking at Alex Edler – a 30-year-old defenceman who can help any team win now, and cashing in that top-two defenceman currency for more draft picks and prospects this summer.

It means considering Brandon Sutter – a player touted as “foundational” when he arrived – who has turned out to be an O.K. third line centre payed expensive second-line money.

It means looking at Chris Tanev – another legitimate top-pairing shutdown defenceman, who has unfortunately been snakebitten by injuries this year and who may be at the peak of his value right now.

It means scrutinizing Erik Gudbranson – a hulking defenceman whose contract ends this summer, whose worth on the market as a trade-and-extend likely far exceeds his unimpressive underlying numbers on the ice.

To all those pushing for the Sedins to be moved out as well, the above four should be traded first, before tackling the particular challenge of finding a fit for the twins.

On the ice, it means allowing Jacob Markstrom to start at least half of the games next season, regardless of who the team signs to be his co-goaltender.

It means giving skilled young players opportunities to succeed and fail on the ice, though it may cost the team wins – and no, playing Jayson Megna on the power play does not count towards this.

Speaking with TSN 1040 Wednesday afternoon, Trevor Linden was asked if the same sort of transition – from old to young – witnessed in the days before the deadline will continue in the off-season.

“I can’t say how important it is for Troy Stecher and Nikita Tryamkin and Ben Hutton to have the veteran presence of Chris Tanev and Alex Edler and Erik Gudbanson and Luca Sbisa to kind of give those guys the support,” he replied.

“Same thing up front. When I think about the contribution Alex Burrows made this year with Sven (Baertschi) and Bo (Horvat), and Brandon Sutter’s a tremendous leader in our locker room and a real pro – his influence on those young players, and of course Daniel and Henrik and Loui.

“That’s going to be be an important part of this group – to give these players the support they need, not only on the ice, but off the ice, is important.”

If you read it like I do, Linden used a bunch of words to say just one – no.

No, the remaining veterans will not be traded because they’re needed to help develop the youngsters.

While that may be true, the question becomes how many veterans does the team need to serve as mentors? In theory, shouldn’t the Sedins and one of Edler and Tanev be enough?

Fact is if the Canucks want to compete with the up-and-coming teams in the NHL – Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Arizona, and Carolina – all stacked with young prospects, they’re going to need a ton of elite skill.

The only way they’re going to get that is by being aggressive and acquiring more picks and prospects.

Listening to Linden and Benning speak, they might not yet be ready to fully embrace this.


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