Benning and LeBron need to walk the walk

The Stanchion
July 10 2014 11:03AM

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Winning has a funny way of changing perceptions. When you win, all of a sudden everything you do turns to gold. You can stumble, you can make mistakes, but those get swept quickly under the rug under the bright lights of winning. Likewise when you lose, all of a sudden everything you do is seen as yet another sign of your incompetence. Anything you do can and will be used against you in the Court of Fan Opinion Law.

Mike Gillis enjoyed both sides of this equation during his time with Vancouver. Despite initial concerns about an agent with no previous front office experience running the team, Gillis quickly turned those criticisms aside by not only simply being different than his predecessor Dave Nonis (anything you do to differentiate yourself from the old losing regime is a bonus, which is probably why Dave Nonis, a Burke protege, was never really embraced in Vancouver), but more importantly, just by winning.

When Mike Gillis was enjoying the upswing of his time in Vancouver, riding Luongo, the Sedins and Kesler in their primes and winning President Trophies left and right (sweet, sweet President Trophies), he was viewed as a great GM. He was cold, he was calculating, he was an assassin who always got his man. Patrick White for Ehrhoff? My god, Gillis is a genius using the cap situation to his advantage. Picking up Higgins and Lapierre at low prices? Gillis strikes again! 

Even the weird things like sleep doctors and personal chefs for Kyle Wellwood were viewed as amusing side stories and just another example of Gillis doing anything possible to gain an edge over his opponents. He was thinking outside the box, people would exclaim!

Then came the losing. After the Canucks failed to win the Cup in 2011, and Mike Gillis began having his midlife Canucks crisis ("I should buy a David Booth"), the Canucks began to lose in the playoffs. And not just lose, mind you; they tanked out in the first round, putting up about as much fight as Kyle Wellwood resisting seconds at the buffet table (I own a Wellwood jersey so I'm allowed to make two outdated Wellwood references in one post. It was either that or a Sundin getting tired joke.) Then came the ultimate losing season in 2014, in which if you didn't know any better, you would have sworn it was done on purpose because there is no way someone stumbles by accident into a season that bad.

wellwoodcard

(Inserting a picture break to relax your eyes. Plus it's Wellwood with freaking frosted tips. That's amazing.)

Alas, Torts and Gillis somehow managed to make the Jeff Cowan-led Canucks seem like a real barn burner of an offensive team, which as we know ended in Torts and Gillis being fired. In the resulting autopsy of Mike Gillis' reign, all of the things that initially made Gillis seem awesome (cold, calculating, shrewd, thinks outside the box) became really bad negatives (never acts quickly enough, always over values his assets, wastes time on stupid things like sleep doctors, his cold attitude makes other GMs hate him). 

As Harvey Dent once astutely said "You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain", and that was certainly the case with Mike Gillis. Had the Canucks won the Cup in 2011, his best move probably would have been to retire right away. Hell, even though they lost he was probably better served jumping ship at that point.

Which brings us back around to Trevor Linden and Jim Benning. So far, they have done a remarkable job of winning the PR battle with the fans. As has been documented this off-season the Canucks season ticket waiting list dried up after last year, and ticket renewals are struggling. It has gotten so bad that the Canucks are actually advertising season tickets again. Joe Average is pissed off and the Canucks have noticed. This is why the new happy friendly regime is working all of the angles to make sure you know they're different than the last regime.

Mike Gillis seemed distant and cold? Don't worry, Jim Benning talks to the fans in the stands at prospect camp and Trevor Linden is taking pictures of fans with Stan Smyl. 

The Canucks seemed to take their fans for granted? Gone are the season ticket summits where Grimm's finest disgusting hot dogs were the food of choice, and now enter the lobster rolls and lamb chops.

The Canucks never draft local kids? Don't worry, Jake Virtanen is from BC! He's a local boy and he's coming home!

You might think this is a silly game of PR, but the fact is, it's working. Take a look at a poll I held recently, asking people's thoughts on the Canucks:

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Now it's only 1,330 votes, but it does go to show that almost 50% of the people polled thought Linden and company had done enough to win them back. The die hards who never leave were at 26%, and 19% were still undecided, but that is still a good chunk of people coming back on board due to the changes made. 

So if you look at the new regime as a two-phase project - with part 1 being "win back the fans", and part 2 being "winning the Cup" - the new management team has aced phase one. The problem is phase two. As much good will as they have generated by their actions, as much good will they have sucked out of the Trevor Linden name, that all goes down the drain if the Canucks keep losing.

That's what it comes down to in sports at the end of the day. Winning. So while I applaud the Canucks for their remarkable job of changing the atmosphere around the team (and let's face it, a little effort goes a long way, especially compared to the end of Gillis regime, when he was basically angrily yelling at Blake Price on the radio every other interview), I cannot wait to see if the changes they made effect them positively on the ice. If they win the Cup during the new regimes time in power, Trevor Linden basically becomes a man-God in Vancouver. Jim Benning will get some free cars, and Willie Desjardins will get to do some radio commercials talking about car insurance. 

If they lose, however, it will be really interesting to see how quickly the city turns on Trevor Linden and Jim Benning. All of a sudden they might become "too nice" in their approach to hockey and not ruthless enough. Maybe they become too old school in their ways of thinking and they get hammered for drafting with too much meat and potatoes in mind.

Either way, the next season should be one of the most intriguing seasons we've seen in years. And if you do win a Cup Trevor? Retire right away. Go out on top.

Ed73c95199a7c52e70a7ff5fe66a1e13
Current freelance writer for The Province and Canucks Army. You can find me on twitter @thestanchion screaming about sports and making fun of Eddie Lack's gaming skills.
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#2 timothydas
July 10 2014, 11:35AM
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Great article!

Although I'd like to mention that the fans who have completely lost interest/faith in the nucks probably don't visit blogs and participate in polls - hence those numbers being skewed.

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#5 canuck4lyfe
July 10 2014, 01:23PM
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You don't have to win me over, the firing of MY was enough for me. However I've backed the Canucks in the darkest of dark eras. One thing you could do to win over the casual fan is something that has been mentioned time and time again, but never acknowledged by ownership and management. You NEED to lower the ticket prices. You shouldn't have to save up a couple of months to be able to afford a regular season game. I was in Tampa Bay last year and got to see a Lightening game for $35 for mid tier seats. I know there's a big difference in attendance for the two cities and teams but the exploitation of the fans by the Aquilinis is absolutely disgusting.

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#7 RandomScrub
July 10 2014, 05:27PM
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I don't know how many others are like me in regards to this, but I'll always support a team whose character I like, win or lose. The only time in my 32-year-old life I was not a Canucks fan was the Keenan era, not because they lost, but because I didn't like Keenan as a person and the management of the team (i.e. not HAVING ANY management post-Quinn) was a mess ultimately overseen by a guy from the energy industry. When Burke/Crawford started to build something back up, I can back onboard. Let's just say they had me at Harold Druken.

Last season, with Gilles growing ever more prickly and Tortorella getting himself suspended I started to lose interest a bit, I have to say. Throw in the treatment of Roberto and the crap forced decision to trade Schneider and I was losing interest a bit more. I'd always ultimately support a team led by Daniel and Henrik, but I wasn't really paying much attention.

Now, although I'm not a fan of the Miller signing, and I'm not sure I'm a fan of the Virtanen selection, I am with your poll as being back on board and it's because I do like the guys running the team. Maybe hiring Linden was a cheap trick to win my support, as is so often alluded, but it's working… so…

Anyways, good article!

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#9 JFR
July 10 2014, 05:46PM
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Gillis was good at one thing and that was resigning guys before they hit the open market. That eventually came to bite him in the butt, because for less money he offered up NTC and extra years. An agents work.

His adding to a team in their prime was hit and miss, Higgins/Ballard. Ehrhoff/Booth Ect

His end was drafting. The guy had no plan! Started out size doesn't matter, pure skill, the over age guys that developed late, then finally guys with some size for, OHL and WHL.

Biggest difference is Benning is a hockey guy that knows how to build an organization from Utica to Vancouver. He also is a scout not an agent. Something tells me our first round picks will play for the Canucks and produce.

Last thing that wasn't mentioned about Gillis's success was that his teams were VERY fortunate to play in the worst division for quite a few years! Presidents trophy. Benning won't have that luxury

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#11 antro
July 10 2014, 08:03PM
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@Stanchion:

First, in reply to your response, yes, I think you are right. We need to change something about our relation to the hockey gods. ("Change is coming?")

Second, I love reading your columns, and especially think it's great the way you take the time to answer comments thoughtfully. Aaand, you are one of my favorite follows on twitter. Highly recommended. Funny, serious, but never too serious, and never angry. All around positive presence on the smylosphere!

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#12 PB
July 10 2014, 08:24PM
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@Kevin D. McKee

Jeez. Calm down and stop taking yourself so seriously. Stanchion is the best writer on here -- funny and insightful.

Maybe you could do some "research" on humor and lightening up...

He is bang-on in this article -- if there's one thing the Canucks fan base is well-known for it's being fickle and fair-weather. It's easy now to talk about how much we hate Keenan (and I really did) but when he was brought in it was all about how the Canucks post-94 had become a country club, that Linden, McLean, Bure, Ronning and the rest were all too soft and self-satisfied, and that they needed the hard edge of Keenan and Messier to bring up that "compete" level. Sound familiar?

I'm curious to see how much patience there will be in this market. My sense is that Benning is actually committed to a long-term rebuild and has done an excellent job of starting to restock (and Gillis for all his flaws at least had a decent final draft even if his first ones were at a Transformers 4 level of terrible). But if we're in for a few years of treading water it'll be interesting to see what new direction may be demanded sooner rather than later.

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#13 PB
July 11 2014, 07:44AM
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@islander

Yes, after all who wants point-a-game players like the Sedins or Naslund or Gradin or Lumme or whoever. I remember when Jim Sandlak and Craig Coxe won the Stanley Cup for us because of fear and grit. And when we got Steve Bernier? That was an awesome cup too.

I love how it's only now because of the "Boston Model" or some other such nonsense that the idea of "size and skill" has become popular. Because no team in history has ever thought having a physically intimidating player with high skill might be an asset.

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#14 antro
July 10 2014, 11:21AM
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"And if you do win a Cup Trevor? Retire right away. Go out on top."

We all know that a Linden-led organization is going to have a bunch of lunch pail, hard-working, character guys (well, with one loose cannon who can really skate and score) losing in seven games to an AV-led NYRangers.

Or is the AV-led NYRangers, with a number of injuries, going to lose 4-0 in game 7 to the bruising, unapologetic Canucks, coached in part by Doug Lidster?

Predicting the future based on past Canuck failures is confusing...

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#15 Neil B
July 10 2014, 12:08PM
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timothydas wrote:

Great article!

Although I'd like to mention that the fans who have completely lost interest/faith in the nucks probably don't visit blogs and participate in polls - hence those numbers being skewed.

While the poll is self-selective to an extent, it's worth remarking that the likely responders are primarily the gung-ho and the rage-filled. The apathetic and the we'll-see crowds will be under-represented.

With that in mind, the 19% that are on the fence with the new regime is likely representative of a much larger number, and the nearly 75% that are all-in (do we still use poker metaphors since you-know-who is you-know-where now?) are probably less representative of the general sentiment.

A heartening note is that the angry crowd, whom one would expect to respond (especially given the comments sections over the last few months) is remarkably small. That suggests to me that even those who are critical of the way the team is trending are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, at least until October 9th.

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#17 Cyrus the Virus
July 10 2014, 05:47PM
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"too old school in their ways of thinking...drafting with too much meat and potatoes in mind."

sounds about right.

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#18 Qualicum Wayne
July 11 2014, 08:05AM
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New here ... I would like to tip my hat to the authors for contributing interesting reads. Thanks.

Was a fan when Towel Power was created and have been since.

What I've observed is that winning the cup has more to do with lady luck than pure skill or style of play. Skill and style of play can get a team into the playoffs, but once there, too many variables determine the ultimate champion in any given season. Injuries, lucky bounce off a stantion, etc.

Over the past decades, I think the team has lost alot by overly obsessing about winning the cup. They have chased what is trending on cup winning teams rather than develop an identity, style of play, and then getting really good at it. As mentioned by others, it's like the Canucks are chasing a new identity with each draft. Well, those chasing the leaders will never be leaders themselves.

Linden and Benning are currently talking about an up tempo skilled brand of hockey. Good. Deep pockets means that the team can certainly afford to ice that style. But stick with it and get good at it! Get it into the playoffs consistently every year for a decade or two and then we will see a team with a decent shot of winning the cup.

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#19 Mr. Donald
July 10 2014, 05:44PM
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Let it be noted that I voted on the fence and I'm still on the fence.

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#20 Doug Broome
July 11 2014, 12:32AM
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Next June a Smythe-winning Kesler leads the Ducks to the Cup while the Canucks miss the playoffs by three points blown in their last three games.

Or,

Ducks players sign a petition to management asking for Kesler to be given his own dressing room to scowl in while the Sedins double their points and the Canucks get to the second round after beating the Kings in seven. Either way, Linden and Benning are the same men, but media reaction not so much.

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#22 Kevin D. McKee
July 10 2014, 05:00PM
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The Stanchion wrote:

It was meant purely in the sense of the average every day ticket buyers, many of whom either dropped off the season ticket waiting list, or decided to not renew their tickets, as opposed to corporate company box seats. Basically the people that would be writing to the Canucks, or speaking with their actions, by not buying tickets.

Has nothing to do with intelligence or their outlook on the team, I consider myself Joe Average to be honest. I was not happy with the team last year at all and I wanted to see some changes too!

Edit: I am like the least advanced stats guy on Canucks Army by a mile hahaha.

I found the poll amateurish. The questions had underlining positions that would psychologically drive certain types of fans to take positions. Polling is a science and should be left to professionals. This is meaningless. I also found the underlying attitude of your article cynical and biased. Yes all you say about Gillis is true, and is consistent in his actions prior to taking the job. However, you imply that the new team in particular Linden and Benning are mainly interested in PR and ticket sales and are acting in their current manner as a result of concerns in that area.

However, I have done some research on past articles about both individuals and found that they are acting in a manner consistent with their characters and personal conduct codes. Benning for example has had a reputation since he was a player of being willing to hang around and talk hockey with anyone at a rink. Linden has a rep as a reconciler, in fact that was the problem for him when he led the union. I look at the moves they have made and argue that they are acting in character. Your snide comment about a local boy Virtanen is an example of a typical cynicism. It is in reality a desire on the part of the club to bring in locals who care about the Canucks as a team, because over time locally oriented individuals do better when in a home environment. Recent example: Santorelli last year, compared to him in Winnipeg. Best long term example is the stream of Quebec players whom Montreal developed in the hayday of the club. From my research 80% performed better in Montreal than in any other market.

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#23 wes
July 11 2014, 01:34AM
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Just wanna agree like crazy with Antro and give a shout out to The Stanchion. Great work with Canucks Army. Really glad to see you here after reading your funnier stuff over at the province. By far the thing I enjoy the most is your responses in the comments section. Always so cool, so sensible and human. I love it! Keep it up Stanch!

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#25 Matt
July 11 2014, 02:14PM
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@dan

Must be good times for you then ;-)

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#26 Jeff
July 10 2014, 11:39AM
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@The Stanchion

Tis the ONLY way!

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#27 Spenny
July 10 2014, 01:36PM
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timothydas wrote:

Great article!

Although I'd like to mention that the fans who have completely lost interest/faith in the nucks probably don't visit blogs and participate in polls - hence those numbers being skewed.

just over 1000 votes. I think everyone is accounted for...

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#28 Ehorn
July 10 2014, 04:10PM
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Man, do you realize how arrogant you sound when you refer to Canucks fans as joe average? Does this refer to non advanced stats informed people, or just men named joe I working class jobs? Please enlighten me. -some average joe

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#29 Chris
July 10 2014, 08:53PM
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The Stanchion wrote:

Unfortunately that's the supply and demand monster rearing its ugly head (which isn't solely an Aquilini thing, it's more of a big business likes its money thing).

Canucks will do anything in their power to bring fans back at the same prices as last year without lowering them (in fact, that was their "nice gesture" to the fans for next year, they weren't raising prices after the nuclear bomb that was last season) and keep the money flowing.

In Tampa, they have to fight for the fans, when the hockey is hot in Vancouver, they have to fight the fans off.

Which ultimately, really sucks for the families that want to go watch a Canucks game. It's frustrating to see Dads and Moms not being able to go to a game with their kids to experience a game (and let's be honest, seeing a game as a kid is a magical experience, it was so much fun) and watch their heroes on the ice.

Luckily Vancouver has the Giants, so there is some affordable hockey out there, but yeah, it sucks how high prices have gotten. And not just prices on the tickets, it's the parking, the food, etc, it all adds up really quickly.

They do have the family packages, in which you are required to have a child with you(shocked that during the 2011 run kid-rental services weren't a thing) in order to go, so there are ways of getting a family to go, but I do agree it isn't anything like when we were kids.

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#31 dan
July 11 2014, 12:39PM
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Interesting read - However, there is a huge difference between fans being 'back on board' and scooping up season tickets. And, Canucks fans in large part are too emotional and check their intelligence at the door. Botchford pointed out correctly that if Gillis had made the exact same moves in this market he would have been 'roasted' by media and fans alike. Therefore, either the fanbase was extremely unfair in evaluating Gillis (based on emotion mot reason) OR they are in a honeymoon phase with Linden/Benning. Either way it is not the substance/quality of the Linden/Benning moves that are re-energizing the fanbase.But the emmotional connection they have rebuilt through PR.

Years of losing in this market has left media/fans with a complex. Linden/Benning represents a return to the comfort zone for fans. They 'like' them and will have far lower expectations for them than for the 'outlaw'/inaccessible Gillis. The end result will be a competitive' hard working team with zero chance at winning the cup. Basically what we had here for 35 years before Gillis came on and raised the bar.

Very Sad times for knowledgeable canuck fans who want to have a decent chance at the cup!

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#32 dingo
July 11 2014, 03:22PM
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gillis was a master tweaker and shopper at the bargain store. The guys he got for nothing or minor deals were amazing. It's when it came to shopping retail that he blew. Hamhuis was a great signing but pretty much all else he did including trades whenever big names were involved were laughably inept.

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#33 rgishere
July 10 2014, 08:12PM
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I like what they're doing so far. There's going to be good competition from the young guys to get a spot on the team. No line is locked so there with a good push for playing on a better line.

If you look at what they were give you have to say they did pretty good. With their first pick I'd like to have seem them draft Ehlers though. But I get what they did because they want physical play and hey finally home town boy to cheer.

It's nice to see a mix of guys on the team too. I've always wondered why we've never really had any Eastern Eastern European players for what seems like ever? It's almost like it was a personal agenda to keep them out.

All and all I say trades aren't done. They're real plan is to be a contender in around 3 years. In the mean time it's damage control and fighting for a play off spot; which I say will happen this coming year. Though it won't be easy.

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#34 Lemming
July 10 2014, 10:17PM
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@antro

Win da turd is coming.

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#35 islander
July 11 2014, 07:33AM
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Size and skill is the order of the day. I like what Benning has done so far to the lineup and I like the Western Canadian flair that has finally come to the team.Virtanen is a North South guy with skill and speed who plays with an edge. 205lbs now and still 17, that is what the Nucks need and less of the euro perimeter player types.

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#36 argoleas
July 11 2014, 07:40AM
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Doug Broome wrote:

Next June a Smythe-winning Kesler leads the Ducks to the Cup while the Canucks miss the playoffs by three points blown in their last three games.

Or,

Ducks players sign a petition to management asking for Kesler to be given his own dressing room to scowl in while the Sedins double their points and the Canucks get to the second round after beating the Kings in seven. Either way, Linden and Benning are the same men, but media reaction not so much.

Might as well make the call now. Canucks finish second in division. Ducks will take it. Sharks will suck more than people realize, and LA always saves best for playoffs.

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#37 dingo
July 16 2014, 11:23AM
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The Stanchion wrote:

Yeah, this is very true. Imagine how different 2011 is if either a) Patrick Sharp buries his chance in OT or b) Malholtra never hurts his eye and the Canucks have four lines again.

It's crazy how at the end of the day, one small bounce can change a teams entire philosophy on hockey. This is why I hate hearing the "so and so team won the cup, time to copy them" trend.

It happened in 1994 as well. Pat Quinn became convinced the league was going to a faster, quicker league, so Greg Adams was dumped out and in came Russ Courtnall, and it signalled the team teams trend to quicker small guys, but lo and behold, in came the dead puck era where huge guys like Derian Hatcher began to make their bread and butter in a bogged down, slower game.

Teams should just focus on a plan and stick to it, instead of reacting to what amounts to, as you said, a lot of luck sometimes choosing the winner in the playoffs. You can certainly help yourself by having an immensely skilled team like LA, but luck always manages to sneak in there to play a part at times.

I cannot tell you how many times that exact thing has pissed me off. Not just with Canucks. Yeah Samuelsson and Malhotra were hurt, yeah we lost our Conn Smyth candidate when Kes was rendered ineffective in game 5 vs SJ and yes we lost our best defenseman for the whole cup final in game 1. We still went 7 (painful) games with Boston. Even still Had gillis retained Willie Mitchell at the bargain price he could have kept him at and just gave him his 2 year deal it wouldn't have mattered.. so Gillis stayed the course right? No gets lost in his own decomposing mind and we pay the price for enjoying some great seasons.

Same thing in Washington when caps were insanely good mowing down teams, lost to habs in 7 Halak stands on his head, can happen to anybody..they get lost trying to fix what wasn't broken.

The only thing I will say from then is that I do like the emphasis on tough, two way players with size and skill. Those guys make more difference in post season but don't tell Marty St.Louis or Patrick Kane that.

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