February 12 2014 12:35PM
Image via Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
For both the Vancouver Canucks and their fans, the Sochi Winter Olympics really couldn't have come a moment sooner. The final couple of days leading up to the break felt like they were dragging on at an excruciatingly slow place, with the team falling flat on its face as it approached the finish line.
They've gone 4-13-2 since January 1st, dropping all the way down to 21st in the league's overall standings. More prevalently, the likes of Minnesota, Dallas, and Phoenix have all leapfrogged them in the Wild Card race, with the Jets and Predators not too far behind.
The break will provide a pleasant and much needed reprieve. The Canucks are sending the 4th most players out of any team in the NHL over to Sochi, giving people something to follow as they cheer (for the large majority of our readers, I'd assume) the Canadian team on.
Beyond the actual games themselves, though, there seems to be a widespread belief that the two and a half weeks off will wipe the slate clean for the Canucks, suddenly turning their fortunes around. That the brain trust will be able to concoct some sort of bold moves that'll bring reinforcements to a team that finds itself in an exceptionally delicate spot.
The next few weeks - specifically the March 5th deadline and the days leading up to it - will go a long way towards determining how the Vancouver Canucks position themselves for not just the end of this season, but even more importantly, years to come.
I know that this is #MarekLate, but I just recently came across it, and think it provides us with a good discussion point to pivot off of. Plus, I feel like it was something that somewhat flew under the radar because of everything else that was going on.
Here's a quote from Pierre LeBrun on the Hockey Today podcast back on February 3rd:
"I don't think that's a possibility [on a potential Ryan Callahan trade]. I think the Canucks are entering a phase now where they're not doing rental trades. I think they have realized that they're not the 'knocking at the door contender' that they have been for a long time. If you look at what the Canucks are going to do over the next year, I think it'll be more about trying to get younger. It's not a rebuild, but I think you're going to see them have a longer-term view with their moves."
He went on to say:
"I don't think it's a big secret, but I don't see the fact that Tortorella is the fact there as an allure in terms of Callahan. I don't think it ended too well there in New York between the captain and the coach."
[For what it's worth, Katie Strang (who covers the New York teams, very effectively if I may say so myself) went on to confirm that last Lebrun point by laughing, then saying "I think you're correct there in your statement."]
I don't really intend on spending too much time focusing on Ryan Callahan specifically, because it's pretty clear at this point that he'd be a horrendous investment. There are some good notes on him here by Travis Yost. Callahan - who reportedly turned down a 5 year, $30 million offer from the Rangers recently - is a fine player, but also one who's breaking down before our very eyes.
His numbers are already cratering, and I don't even want to try to imagine what he'll look like by the time he's 32 or 33. All I know is that the way he profiles, he's most definitely not the type of player that I'd be wanting to shack up with for the rapid downswing of his career.
Moving beyond Callahan, I think Lebrun's comments are interesting because they speak to a much bigger, more important philosophical shift by the team. If his intel is correct - which I'd assume it is, since he's pretty plugged in, and has been fairly on point with his Canucks-related reporting in the past - then we've really got a lot to chew on here.
First off, it basically refutes what Darren Dreger said on TSN1050 the other day, as he speculated that Mike Gillis "could be in the crosshairs" were the Canucks to miss out on the playoffs. Dreger's claims only seemed to be further solidified when Francesco Aquilini, the team's owner, joined the team in the middle of their road trip out East.
After all, The Aquaman wouldn't be the first meddling owner to get frustrated and pull something rash and unexpected off when things turned sour. I'm sure that he'd like to be able to brag about his team's success to his new girlfriend, and other fancy rich friends as he sips overpriced drinks at snazzy Vancouver bars.
But according to Jason Botchford's most recent "Provies" following the loss to the Leafs, that's not actually the case:
"I saw speculation that Mike Gillis’s job “could” be in trouble if the Canucks don’t make the playoffs. I can only write about my experiences and after talking to Francesco Aquilini on this trip, I left with the feeling that is not the case. He is as upbeat as he’s ever been, and is onside the line of thinking that what we’ve seen lately is not a true representation of where the Canucks are really at. Gillis, for his part, remains very confident in his group. “We’ll be all right,” he vowed. I’m not saying he’s not planning a move or two. He is. But it’s not going to be much more and he’s not reacting to anything we’ve seen in the past six weeks."
A few days ago Bob McKenzie went on his radio program and pointed out that the Canucks would "explore all of their options" and that "outside of the Sedins there are no untouchables". The issue with that, of course, is that everyone and their grandmother has a NTC on this team. Only compounding that is that most of the guys you'd consider moving have markedly underperformed this season. You never want to be "selling low" on assets, and that's exactly what they'd be doing were they to move out some of the core players currently on the team.
In a roundabout way, I think that's a good thing. Without pulling any punches I'd say that, while I think Mike Gillis has done plenty of very good things during his tenure as GM of the team, his trade deadline track record is fairly abhorrent. I wrote about his resume in advance of last year's frenzy, and after failing to deliver in that regard yet again with Derek Roy evaporating into thin air, the list has only grown longer [with the players being acquired in bold]:
- Kevin Connauton, 2nd round pick for Derek Roy(*)
- Cody Hodgson, Alex Sulzer for Zack Kassian, Marc-Andre Gragnani(**)
- Sebastian Erixon for Andrew Gordon
- Taylor Ellington, two 4th round picks for Sami Pahlsson (***)
- Joel Perrault, 3rd round pick for Max Lapierre, MacGregor Sharp
- Evan Oberg, 3rd round pick for Chris Higgins
- 3rd round pick for Andrew Alberts(****)
- Mathieu Schneider for Sean Zimmerman, 6th round pick
- Pierre-Cedric Labrie for Yann Stastny
- Mike Brown for Nathan McIver
(*) Derek Roy could've pooped right at center ice in the middle of one of those games against the Sharks in last year's playoffs and it would've been considered an upgrade solely because of the fact that it would've proved that he was still alive.
I should also note that the Canucks actually lucked out in a big way, because they had offered a 1st round pick for Ryane Clowe (who ultimately picked the Rangers instead). Boy, imagine if you replaced Hunter Shinkaruk with a few weeks of a declining, overrated winger with a litany of concussion issues. Yikes.
(**) These were technically two separate trades, but I included them into one for the sake of brevity.
(***) This one stings - well, beyond Pahlsson having been completely and utterly washed up by the time he arrived to Vancouver - because the Canucks just missed out on Antoine Vermette, who went for a 2nd, 5th, and a backup goaltender. Pahlsson has long been out of the league, while Vermette is a legitimately fantastic two-way centre who despite logging the toughest of minutes will score 30 goals this season.
(****) Why not smooth skating, offensively dynamic defenseman Albert Andrews, though?
I don't think it's necessarily solely an indictment against Mike Gillis himself, either. Generally speaking the trade deadline is a sucker's bet; GMs tend to have their judgement clouded by the pressure that accompanies the ticking clock and the allure of what adding Player X could hypothetically mean to his team.
Sure, sometimes a rental veteran type comes in and provides a helping hand during a playoff run, but for the most part these trades rarely ever work, and usually wind up ranging from being a wash to being a boon for the team that was selling off its used parts.
It would behoove Aquilini to assure his general manager that he doesn't need to hit some sort of home run trade in the coming weeks to keep his job heading into next year, just as it would benefit Mike Gillis himself to make sure that he and his hand-picked coach are on the same page because..
Tanking Longer-Term View
I see this particular term very often misconstrued. When I say "tanking", I don't necessarily mean intentionally throwing games by Chris Campoli'ing it to your opponent. I get that veterans like Henrik Sedin and Kevin Bieksa are proud dudes, and that many of the players that signed on with this team took slightly less than they probably could've gotten elsewhere because they were assured that this franchise would be competing for a Stanley Cup Championship for the foreseeable future. I'd also imagine that John Tortorella doesn't want to have the stink of missing the playoffs in his first season on the job next to his name.
Trumping all of that, though, is that I think none of these guys are stupid. Well, maybe except for Zack Kassian. The point is that I don't see how anyone even remotely associated with this particular team can watch what they've done all season (yes, even when fully healthy for those fleeting moments) and think that they have any sort of realistic chance at running the gauntlet out West. It's not happening in 2013-14.
They're currently only 3 points out of being in the 6th overall draft slot (with the chance to move up even more thanks to the lottery), and have a 76.25% chance of missing the playoffs outright. That would probably be a good thing, sparing them from another 4 or 5 game beatdown at the hands of a far superior opponent.
With that in mind, here's a suggestion for how to approach the matter: you tell your banged up players to take their time coming back from injury, ensuring that they're fully healthy before they even consider suiting back up for the Canucks. It's not tanking, as much as it is not forcing the issue and having some tact.
Ideally, you chalk this up as a lost season of sorts, take the high draft pick (which, even in a weak class, has some fairly significant value), and reload this summer. The salary cap will be going up, freeing the team up to be explore potential moves that they simply can't even consider at the moment.
I don't think that "rebuilding" is an option, but reloading on the fly a la the San Jose Sharks is something that I'd view as the best case scenario for how the team could proceed. That would mean standing relatively pat at the deadline, and taking the lumps in the meantime as part of a, as Pierre Lebrun called it, "longer-term view". To do so, they need to be on the same page from top down; that page being the one titled "there's always next year".