Vancouver Sun

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

- ED WILLES ewil­les@post­media.com Sports · NHL Hockey · Ice Hockey · Vancouver Canucks · Pavel Bure · Trevor Linden · Georgia · Elias Pettersson · Arizona · Thatcher Demko · Todd Bertuzzi · National Hockey League · Adam Gaudette

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.

 ?? JIMMY JEONG/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/FILES ?? Jim Ben­ning was hired as the Van­cou­ver Canucks’ GM in 2014 by then-new pres­i­dent of hockey op­er­a­tions Trevor Lin­den. They are over­see­ing a team with young ta­lent that in­cludes for­wards Brock Boeser and Elias Pet­ters­son and goalie Thatcher Demko.
JIMMY JEONG/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/FILES Jim Ben­ning was hired as the Van­cou­ver Canucks’ GM in 2014 by then-new pres­i­dent of hockey op­er­a­tions Trevor Lin­den. They are over­see­ing a team with young ta­lent that in­cludes for­wards Brock Boeser and Elias Pet­ters­son and goalie Thatcher Demko.
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