While there’s been tons of speculation about how involved Canucks’ ownership is over the past few weeks – Elliotte Friedman nearly blew up all the fiber optic internet cables in Vancouver when he said the two disagree on the team’s direction – it’s becoming clear the desire to stay competitive while the team rebuilds is coming from Trevor Linden and Jim Benning.
Speaking to season ticket holders at a Town Hall meeting Friday, Benning and Linden were an open book on the team’s goals and visions for the team moving forward.
If you’re a fan who’d like the Canucks to embrace the idea of sacrificing the present for future seasons, you’re out of luck.
“We want to stay competitive while we’re transitioning our young kids, our next group of core players,” said Benning to ticket holders.
“We don’t want our fans to come to the game and get blown out every night so we can get a top-five pick every year. We want to be competitive and have our kids develop in meaningful games, so we’re trying to walk the fine line of being competitive and drafting and developing our players to get them up and going.”
If you’re unclear what that means – there will be no tanking in Vancouver, at least not by design as there has been in other cities.
Following one particularly direct question about the team’s lack of direction, Linden said the team is rebuilding, though he wouldn’t say the word: “We can talk all we want but I believe our actions have spoken louder than our words about where we’re going with this team.”
“You can call it any term you want,” he said (we’d call it a rebuild).
“I don’t like to get into that, but that’s where we’re going.”
Linden addressed the many reports out there on the trade deadline.
“Unfortunately we have some people in our media where the truth just gets in the way of a good story,” he said.
He explained there was never going to be a deal with Dallas as long as Kris Russell was available: “Kris Russell was in the pole position for them, we were sitting in second.”
Benning added that after Chicago dropped out on Hamhuis, they talked to Dallas and set up a framework. “We had it in our minds if they called back, we were going to do the deal. The next call we got from them was that they had done the deal for Kris Russell, so we were out on that too.”
The other notion Linden made a point of addressing was the idea of ownership involvement. Linden said he talked to ownership one week before the deadline, indicating the best deal on Hamhuis may be with Dallas, and he was told to do whatever was right for the team.
Linden said none of the ownership group was in the building on trade deadline day, he didn’t talk to them about the trade, and he had full autonomy to make any decisions.
He also made sure to address the idea the team hadn’t prepared enough, saying Jim Benning was speaking to teams months in advance of the deadline, gauging interest on certain players.
“It was kind of a different year because there weren’t a lot of buyers on the market… There was probably only four or five teams that were adding players,” said Benning.
Linden said he spent the ten days leading up to the deadline talking to players like Dan Hamhuis, seeing what they’d be comfortable with.
During question and answer period, one ticket holder mentioned the reports from Elliotte Friedman, saying Chicago was very interested in Hamhuis, and that the Canucks were unprepared to make a deal on Monday.
“I talked to Elliotte and I challenged him on that because Chicago wanted Andrew Ladd plain and simple,” said Linden.
“If they wanted Dan Hamhuis they would’ve traded for him. I don’t think you can dispute the fact teams have a priority list.”
After Linden mentioned it’s unlikely to acquire top-4 defencemen through means other than the draft, Benning addressed the team’s efforts.
Benning said the team made a full list of players with their pro-scouts during the meetings from February 13-16, and started making calls on the ones they were interested in right after.
One right-shot defenceman they looked into was Philip Larsen, who Vancouver obtained from Edmonton last week. Benning said when Larsen played in the NHL, he didn’t have the physical strength to stay in the league. That’s changed for a couple reasons, according to him.
“Every year the league changes. This year it’s been about speed,” said Benning.
“I think the speed this year’s really picked up. With defencemen it’s the ability to turn and get back and transition up ice.”
Benning said he believes “defensive defencemen are going by the wayside,” and the evolution of hockey benefits Larsen’s style of game. He also said the KHL is a hard league to score in because of the larger ice surface.
“I’m not making this comparison but we’ve seen that Panarin played in the KHL and he’s having an excellent season here.”
When a couple of fans brought up questionable moves from the past, such as trading Kevin Bieksa and using a draft pick to acquire Derek Dorsett, Linden said he and Benning were trying to stabilize the team in year one.
“(Dorsett) is a foundational piece who supports what we’re trying to do,” he said.
“He comes to play every night and battles his ass off. We’ll have that in our dressing room any time.”
“As far as the Prust trade, you do understand what we traded and why we did that, right? We were trying to alleviate ourselves some money we knew was going to be a problem.
“Last summer there was so much criticism for those three moves (Lack, Bieksa, and Prust), but looking back at those moves, as much criticism as we took, I would do any one of them again. We had to give a fifth round pick for them to do that (trade Kassian for Prust). We wanted to get out of that situation.”
A couple of fans pressed on why the team didn’t consider moving Hansen – what could’ve been a strong “sell-high” move.
“We need some players to support our young players… There’s a balance there,” said Linden.
“I know everyone wants draft picks. A second round pick is a few years away. We have to have a team that has some competitiveness so our young players have have a chance to flourish and have an opportunity to play.”
Benning later added: “We might make that move (trading Hansen) in the future. We couldn’t make that decision right now because we have too much uncertainty beneath him. When we can move up a player beneath him we can make those decisions.”
“Going forward, we’ll move our assets before they become diminishing assets. We have to be careful giving out no trade contracts because then they become harder to move.”
Benning addressed the team’s plans on free agents as well, saying the team’s pro scouts have already ranked the players who will be available.
“We’re not going to overspend. We’re going to offer deals in free agency we think are fair at the term we like. We’re going to be prudent with our money but we’d like to add some players to complement the young group we have.”
He added that with $17-million coming off the books this summer, the Canucks will be in good shape to “do something” with the five or six teams they’ve identified who could have cap trouble.
After one fan expressed he’d rather see the Canucks have a clear direction, as Toronto does, Linden said he always expects the Canucks to make the playoffs – he expects the Canucks to make the playoffs next season.
“It’s interesting, if you look where Toronto is, how young they are right now on the ice, I think we’re equally as young,” said Linden.
“What we really need is patience. It’s going to require some patience from our fan base and some patience from us.”