CANUCKS HAVE TO BE CERTAIN THEY HAVE THE RIGHT BUILDERS IN PLACE
franchise has young talent, but it takes more than that to turn fortunes around
In the long and morbid history of the Vancouver Canucks, there have been three moments when the franchise stood on the precipice of greatness; three moments when the heartbreak kids were poised to deliver the faithful from their suffering.
We won’t spend a lot of time on the details, but the first such moment came in the early 1990s with the Pavel Bure-Trevor Linden team. With a little luck and some adroit drafting, the Canucks held three top-23 picks in the rich 1990 draft. That team should have been a power until the turn of the millennium.
Instead, it produced a couple of decent regular seasons and one Stanley Cup run before it imploded in spectacular fashion. Then everyone was fired. The second moment came in the early 2000s when Todd Bertuzzi blossomed into the NHL’s premier power forward and the West Coast Express became the league’s best line. All that team needed was a couple of moves around the periphery, a goalie and a couple of decent drafts. Instead, the three drafts from 2000 to ’02 failed to produce an impact player and Bertuzzi was a spent force after two glorious seasons.
Then everyone was fired again. The third moment, of course, is the most painful, largely because it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds. The Sedin-led teams, circa 2007 to 2013, were the deepest, most talented in Canucks history. All that team needed was one or two trades — and their payroll and depth left them ample room to swing major deals — or a couple of draft picks and there would have been at least one parade down Georgia Street.
Instead, well, you know what happened. And, yes, everyone got fired again.
Patience. This is going somewhere.
Now, understandably, it’s hard to think of a team that sits 28th in the NHL standings (heading into Wednesday night’s action) as sitting on the verge of something special. But in the next two, three years, the Canucks are staring at another watershed moment in franchise history.
This statement isn’t the result of an over-indulgence in hallucinogens. Rather it’s a reflection of the consensus view of the Canucks’ list of prospects; a list regarded by everyone from TSN analyst Craig Button to Troy from White Rock as one of the two or three best in the NHL. The players in question are well known to Canucks fans, although Button’s assessment of forward Elias Pettersson as the game’s top prospect (drafted fifth overall in 2017) was a lightning bolt.
The plain fact is, in terms of quantity and quality, this is the best group of prospects the Canucks have ever assembled and, with some adroit manoeuvring, this team should be relevant again.
How relevant is the next question.
Linden, as president of hockey operations, and Jim Benning as GM, are about to enter Phase 2 of The Plan, a phase that presents a more complex challenge than assembling the raw materials. Talent, to be sure, is a big consideration for any franchise trying to resurrect itself. But the real art of team-building lies in other, murky areas.
I mean, if it was as easy as showing up at the draft and picking in the top five, Arizona wouldn’t be dead last and fans in Edmonton would be a lot less angry.
The more pressing issues concern chemistry, leadership, coaching and the assignment of roles — and that’s where the hard questions will be asked of Linden and Benning.
To date, they haven’t exactly inspired confidence with their game plan and we trust this point doesn’t need further illumination. You need only look at the standings over the last three seasons to understand the organization has failed in its attempt to remain competitive while integrating younger players into the lineup.
But, beginning with the expected signing of forward Adam Gaudette later this year and the promotion of goalie Thatcher Demko, this same management team will be entrusted with the prime assets that will shape the Canucks’ future. So, should they oversee this crucial stage of the franchise’s history? Should they be allowed to make those key decisions?
These are the crucial questions for the Aquilini ownership group.
Linden and Benning have made some glaring errors. They’ve also put together a group of players who could evolve into an NHL power. If you believe this management team can take the next step with that group, the best group in Canucks history, then you extend their contracts.
If you don’t, you look elsewhere.
It’s really that simple, but the consequences of that decision will determine the fate of this franchise. Get it right and the Canucks will be destined for great things. Get it wrong and, well, we know how the last three seasons have felt.
And everyone will get fired again.
If history has taught us anything, it’s taught us an NHL organization is a fragile ecosystem and long-term success is as elusive as true love. With so much at stake, you would like to see the team’s stakeholders get the next step right.