The Province

How will front office shakeup affect team?

Short answer: turmoil in the Canucks’ executive ranks is not a good sign for on-ice cohesion

- ED WILLES @willesonsp­orts

The story first broke a couple of days ago, not through an official release from the Canucks but rather through Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman who, come to think of it, might as well be the Canucks.

Jeff Stipec, who had been on the job for two years, was stepping down as the Canucks’ chief operating officer to be replaced by Trent Carroll. Elsewhere in the organizati­on, T.C. Carling, the vice-president of hockey administra­tion and arena operations (as well as a close friend of Trevor Linden), was being removed from his post.

The announceme­nts came as something of a surprise. I mean, you usually don’t restructur­e your front office a couple of months into the NHL season.

But if you’re familiar with the inner workings of the Canucks, maybe it wasn’t a huge surprise.

“Jeff just got tired of the crazy” a source familiar with the Canucks’ inner workings said of Stipec’s departure.

Again, this doesn’t exactly register as a shock.

There is a long-held belief in hockey circles that, if there’s dysfunctio­n in the boardroom, it will inevitably finds its way to the locker-room. Maybe that’s not always the case. Maybe there doesn’t have to be perfect alignment between ownership, the front office and the coach’s room.

But common sense suggests it helps if the key decision-makers occupy a residence in the same area code. Then there’s the Canucks. Stipec and Carling now join a long list of executives who’ve been dumped over the life of the Aquilini ownership group.

Stipec succeeded Victor de Bonis, the longtime chief operating officer who brought a measure of calm and reason to the business side during a decade on the job before he was dispatched 1½ years ago. Linden you know about. Carling’s major failing appears to be his relationsh­ip with the former president.

Before Linden there was Mike Gillis whose two chief lieutenant­s, Laurence Gilman and Lorne Henning, didn’t survive the regime change. Chris Zimmerman served a three-year stretch as the team’s president before he was jettisoned. If you go back far enough there’s Dave Nonis and the Aquilinis also signed off on Brian Burke.

OK, the Canucks don’t win and lose games because they make changes on the business side of the operation. Carroll isn’t going to make the power play more efficient nor will he fix the goaltendin­g.

But ask yourself this. What does the continuing change say about the direction of the organizati­on? What does it say about the vision of ownership? Is it reflective of a patient, coherent approach to building a hockey team and a business? Or is that approach rash and impulsive?

More than four years ago, the hiring of Linden was hailed in this space not because he guaranteed success but because he represente­d the best chance to bring stability to the organizati­on and create clear separation between ownership and the hockey department.

The phrase used at the time? He’d get the Canucks off the, ahem, crazy train.

Linden believed he had that commitment from the Aquilinis. In January of 2017 he was asked about interferen­ce from the owners, a reasonable question based on the freeagent signings and win-now trades undertaken by Linden’s administra­tion.

“I can certainly see where that notion can come from based on the past,” Linden said. “But I can tell you they’re absolutely supportive and know where we need to get to. They’ve been excellent to work with and really supportive.” And then they weren’t. Linden has his own sins for which to answer. You just had to look at the Canucks’ record over the last three seasons to understand his job might have been in jeopardy. But Linden wasn’t dumped because of the team’s place in the standings. He was dumped because he told ownership it would likely be another four years before the Canucks would compete for anything meaningful.

Suddenly the Aquilinis weren’t as supportive.

The job of leading the hockey department now falls to Jim Benning and John Weisbrod who believe the rebuild doesn’t need another four years to take hold.

If that’s the case, if they can turn this operation around in two years with the Canucks’ impressive collection of young talent, they’ll be building statues of the two outside The Rog. But what if they can’t?

What if the Canucks, who had lost eight straight games going into last night’s match with the Los Angeles Kings, are destined for another 28th-place finish?

You can easily make the case that would be the best thing for this franchise. But are the Aquilinis going to sit quietly and watch another wasted season?

“They can only play the draft-and-develop card so long,” one voice said of the Benning-Weisbrod management team.

In the meantime, consider the following. De Bonis is now the COO of the new franchise in Seattle, Zimmerman is the president of the St. Louis Blues and Gilman is the assistant general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Stipec, a respected figure within the organizati­on, doesn’t figure to be out of work for long.

Once, they were all Canucks. They’ve moved on but their former team seems stuck in the same place.

 ?? — THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES ?? After last week’s front office shakeup, and the Canucks’ declining performanc­e on the ice, many are asking how long team owner Francesco Aquilini will quietly sit by and watch another wasted season.
— THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES After last week’s front office shakeup, and the Canucks’ declining performanc­e on the ice, many are asking how long team owner Francesco Aquilini will quietly sit by and watch another wasted season.
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