Fixing the team was never going to be easy for Trevor Linden and friends. The Canucks followed their 2011 Finals run with two first round disasters and a playoff miss – talk about getting fans’ hopes up then crushing them to a pulp.
“Change is coming,” they promised from the start.
Sure, it came, but let’s be real – change is coming much faster in Toronto, Edmonton, Buffalo and Calgary. They’ve gone through philosophical transformations, while Vancouver’s gone old school.
That’s not to say they’re a lost cause, but the Canucks need to play their cards right in these turbulent times.
The fans want hope. They want to know things will get better.
They want to know management has a clear vision, that the team is building a stronger future.
That said, how will a return to the postseason and six-game first-round dismissal affect general perspective? Have Linden, Jim Benning and Willie Desjardins inspired hope or have they already lost their sheen?
A rebuild, a retool, whatever you call it – let’s be clear on one thing – upon returning to the top 10 in NHL scoring, the Sedins proved they should lead the Canucks until they’re done with hockey, just as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will do in Detroit.
It’s what’s behind them that’s in question: depth forwards, defencemen and in net.
The selling points are not hard to sort out. The real question is will Benning recognize them, will Desjardins push them to succeed?
On forward, Bo Horvat’s a lock – he must be given the number-two centre role to start next season. On his wings, youth gets first crack – Jake Virtanen, Hunter Shinkaruk, Nick Jensen, Sven Baertschi – it’s time for the prospects to be given their shot.
At defence, the tire fire must be doused. Luca Sbisa can’t be allowed mistake after mistake while Frank Corrado, Adam Clendening, and Bobby Sanguinetti wait and watch in the minors.
Hockey is a “show me” sport, and the defence showed the Flames to the second round.
The decision in net is where the choice is clearest. Early in the season Eddie Lack’s popularity may have been more due to his personality, but his play down the stretch showed he’s a better player than comedian.
When fans chant “Eddie Eddie” as much as they do “Go Canucks Go”, they’ve spoken on who they want to see, who makes them come to the rink. Ryan Miller’s best days are behind him, while Lack’s have yet to come.
All this to say if Linden and Benning play their cards right, the roster’s poised for a jump. The cavalry’s coming to support the Sedins.
So it all comes down to the vision of the management team.
Benning and Desjardins were stuck on Ryan Miller, Luca Sbisa and Nick Bonino all year. They were trusted and preferred, despite empty performances.
During the playoffs, Desjardins showed a lack of clarity, an unwillingness to adjust with games on the line. And during the season, Benning showed a lack of ability to evaluate his meal tickets, overpaying Luca Sbisa while considering trading Lack and Zack Kassian.
If fans are to buy in, more change needs to come. Food offerings at the arena can only go so far.
The team’s direction must be discernible. Benning must push for the youth, while Desjardins must quickly learn from his mistakes and grasp his role as tactical commander.
That’s a lot of musts for management to execute. If they don’t perform, the Canucks are in trouble.