Picture a scene in a movie where one of the characters takes out a match.
Maybe they’re lighting a cigarette.
And as they walk away, they take one puff and toss that cigarette over their shoulder.
A ball of fire careens into the sky behind them and a wave of sound wallops you in the face, your sub-woofer straining to keep up.
Since cool guys never look at explosions, the character keeps walking, face straight ahead, with a wry smile on their face.
Content in their knowledge that they just lit the world on fire and people are gonna be talking about it for weeks.
That scene is what essentially played out on Tuesday night, when Elliotte Friedman talked to Sportsnet 650’s Scott Rintoul and Andrew Walker about the prevalence of negativity in the Canucks market on Tuesday.
Jim Benning looked beaten down. Trevor Linden like a boxer against the ropes. #Canucks
"I see your market right now and I think it's a really brutal place to be. Those guys feel like they are under siege," says @FriedgeHNIC.
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) February 28, 2018
“The way it’s going there in Vancouver, it just seems so edgy and so nasty every day, that it just affects the way things get done there,” said Friedman.
At one point he mused if the current Canucks management had ever felt the negativity was one of the reasons they had never won a Cup. I won’t lie when I say I had to rewind to make sure I heard that correctly. That’s one of those takes you just hope Elliotte warmed up on before he made the stretch, so he didn’t pull anything.
Things got so intense that James Cybulski got ratio’d to death when he offered up a poll on the cause of the negativity:
If you believe the Vancouver hockey market is too negative around the Canucks, who is to blame?
— James Cybulski (@JamesCybulski) February 28, 2018
We haven’t seen a ratio that bad since Mark Messier Appreciation Night was voted on.
In fact I don’t even know the current results of the tweet because it feels unfair to partake when one thing is missing from that poll…. Canucks management.
More fuel got thrown on the fire when The Province’s Paul Chapman let it be known he had heard from a source that Canucks management was fairly unhappy with how the team was being reported on:
Heard from another connected media guy this morning who told me the Canucks were furious at the negative coverage from 'all outlets' in Vancouver. Seems to me someone is finding outlets to broadcast their complaints that Canucks are being treated unfairly and blame fans/media.
— Paul Chapman (@PaulChapman_) February 28, 2018
“I watched that press conference yesterday and Benning just looked like he couldn’t wait to get out of there,” Friedman added. “I listened to Linden on the radio yesterday and you could tell he was like a boxer in the corner getting pounded.”
At their introductory press conference four years ago, Trevor Linden and Jim Benning were beaming like two kids who just got told they could skip math class and just go ahead and play some video games instead. They talked with enthusiasm about how they were going to fix the team, and how they were going to put their stamp on the franchise. Gosh darn it, isn’t hockey just swell?
Linden’s eyes danced with an inner fire, the inner fire only a former Hockey Prince can have. In a scene straight out of Black Panther it was as if the crown Prince had come to assume his new role as King, sure in his belief nobody would challenge him for that right.
Fast forward to the presser where they announced Benning’s re-signing, and man alive, it felt like they’d just been told that that math class they skipped? Well shoot, sorry, they actually needed that to pass high school, so they have to go back to grade 8 and start over again. We have no idea why the janitor said you could skip math class, sorry, and whoops, looks like we have several people lined up to challenge your right to rule Canuckanda.
There was Linden, playing with a water bottle cap, staring at his hands, offering up answers with far less energy and car salesmanship than normal. Gone were the affable grins, in their place was a man who looked like he was talking to his unruly sons who won’t stop talking back to him.
“Those guys are in that phase right now where they feel they’re getting torn apart by wild dogs, and it’s a really difficult place to be,” Friedman explained.
Jim Benning looked anything like a man who had just been told he’d get to keep his job for another couple of years. He had the road weary look of someone who’s attended one too many an office meeting on the day and just wanted to find a corner to hide in and have a cup of coffee in peace and quiet.
As Friedman said, they looked beat up. They looked tired. They looked, generally, pretty unhappy.
Such is life in a hardcore sports market when you’re captaining a sinking ship.
“In a Canadian market, when it’s good, it’s great, you’re a hero. You’re a legend,” Friedman said. “But when it’s bad – some markets are worse than others and it is bad there right now – I do wonder about the toll it takes on people and if people just sit there and say I want no part of this.”
It’s certainly not just a Vancouver thing, as much as we’d like to think we’re a unique snowflake. If you spent any time with the Ottawa Senators fanbase leading up to the trade deadline, you would have seen the tension running rampant. Apparently the spectre of trading your generational defenceman makes people a little on edge.
Montreal has a well known history of high expectations and the negativity that comes with that. Edmonton, well, they’ve been steeping in mediocrity for so long that even hearing stories of Connor McDavid jerseys being thrown on the ice in protest isn’t shocking.
But there remains the idea that Vancouver is somehow more negative than most. That Vancouver fans should be sad about the team, but not mad. And I agree, the negativity, it can get to you after a while. If every day you’re watching a team lose games, if every day you’re wondering what the teams direction is, and if every day you have to watch and listen to people break down just how crappy everything is, you can see how that would get to people.
Especially people who are trying to be positive.
There remains a rather large, silent supportive group of fans who try to stay positive. They are made up of people who cheer the team on no matter what (“the boys need our support!” group, such as your grandma who still to this day talks about how much she misses Alex Burrows) and people who don’t think things are all that bad, and would prefer to be optimistic that things will all sort of pan out for Vancouver. That Jim Benning and co. are doing the best they can and they were given a raw deal from the previous regime. That the prospect depth has never been better and that the next golden age is just around the corner, all you need is some patience to let the team do its thing.
And to those people, they absolutely loathe the current climate in this city. The climate that is constantly breaking down the Canucks, and examining the parts. The climate that has people asking questions about management, a climate that scrutinizes every move they make, as they try and figure out what’s going on. In a perfect world this scrutiny would be done in logical efficient manner, but sports is gonna sports, so it usually ends up being done with some negativity. And you can completely see why sometimes positive people wish negative people would just shut up, even for an hour, from talking about the downside of the Canucks.
But, if we’re being honest, the Canucks shouldn’t be immune from negativity. No sports organization should expect blind loyalty from its fans, much less the media. Especially this current regime.
You want to know why there is negativity? Because this regime walked in supremely confident it could turn things around quickly (they’ve been quoted saying as such) and it fell flat on its face.
It’s a team that hired their first coach who ended up leading the team into a playoff loss that looked decidedly one sided, then limped through the rest of his contract into bottom-five finishes.
It’s a team that initially refused to even say the word “rebuild” as if it was akin to mentioning Lord Voldemort on a nice summer picnic.
It’s a team that presented itself as having all the answers, but was a team that most assuredly did not, as they definitely had a “learning on the job” curve for several seasons.
It’s a team, through no fault of its own, would drop in the draft lottery repeatedly, which only added fuel to the fire that nothing good ever happens here.
It’s a team that since day one has never been able to fully explain its vision to the city of Vancouver. Whether it’s Linden and Benning saying seemingly contradictory things, whether it’s Jim Benning being a little too honest for his own good, whether it’s Benning’s lack of ability to spin things like other GMs might have been able to, it’s all added up to a large section of the fan base just not quite knowing what the hell is going on.
And that’s a big problem for a fanbase. The end goal is always the Stanley Cup. Always has been, always will be. And if you don’t have a clear road map of how you think you’re going to get there, that’s when the negativity really starts to ramp up. It’s like looking at the driver of your car and wondering if they’re asleep behind those sunglasses. You can’t help but panic a bit when the car starts to veer off the road a bit. And since day one, people have wanted that path to be through youth.
It’s why when a contract like Loui Eriksson’s is handed out, people were perplexed. This isn’t even a “well that’s just hindsight” issue, it’s a “moments after that contract was announced people were wondering why that much money was being spent on a player of that age” moment. Obviously this Canucks regime puts a lot of stock into “veteran mentorship” but as we saw this past season, that could be had for much cheaper in a player like Thomas Vanek. And Eriksson’s contract is about as buyout and trade proof as you can get.
And yeah, when you look at a lot of the things the Canucks have done in a vacuum, they honestly aren’t as horrible as maybe they’re perceived. This team is very good at batting for average on individual moves.
This year’s deadline, taken on its own, without context, isn’t the worst thing in the world. They got the best value they felt they could get for an expiring asset in Vanek, and flipped a guy they signed at the start of the year for a younger player with some upside. That sounds like an ok day for a franchise trying to rebuild. But it’s not a home run, though, and it never is here. There are very rarely clearcut wins, and instead, a bunch of moves that feel like they are teetering on the edge of failure.
And so in Vancouver, it’s death by a thousand cuts. Because that trade deadline was yet another time the Canucks failed to add bullets to its strongest arsenal, draft picks to its strong scouting strengths. It was made worse by other teams acquiring several draft picks. T
The New York Rangers alone gave many in the city a healthy dose of “rebuild envy”, while the Canucks went back to the well of adding mid 20-ish forwards they hoped could find a way to jumpstart their NHL careers.
So yes, Vancouver can be a very negative place at times. And people who watch this team, who support this team, who report on this team, they take different approaches to it.
In a winning environment the positive approach and overly analytical approach can co-exist peacefully. In 2011 there was just as much scrutiny on the Canucks in this city, except the scrutiny was “Oh man this team is incredibly good, let’s break down just how awesome it is,” because, well, it was. The negativity appears when the scrutiny looks at the team and the result is “Oh man, this team looks like it’s incredibly bad, why is this happening and how do we stop it.”
And yes, the negativity, it can get out of control.
Like anything on the internet, you will have people who take it too far (not an article goes by where someone doesn’t wish me ill). Players and management get attacked to the point of it feeling personal, with people laying into things that are more off-ice than on it. Lines are crossed and I don’t doubt this city can be incredibly tough to play in. But there is a lot of valid questions being brought up daily, questions that haven’t been answered well enough by this team, that deserve answers.
And unfortunately for the Canucks, those questions aren’t going to go away anytime soon, until one of two things happen. One, they start winning again. Two, they lay out a clear, consistent plan for the team’s future. And while only winning will truly make the negativity disappear, at least having a clear plan will let people sit back and have more patience to watch things unfold, versus wondering every day just what the hell we’re all doing here.