Canucks president Trevor Linden was interviewed at length on the Team 1040 on Friday morning. As you might expect, we have a bunch of scattered thoughts about some of the topics discussed, so read past the jump for that.
When Trevor Linden was first hired by the Canucks in the wake of the landslide consumer confidence crisis that marked the tail end of Mike Gillis’ tenure, it appeared at first blush to be a bit of a reactionary maneuver. This was a beloved former Canucks player, arguably the beloved former Canucks player, but Linden was also a guy with absolutely zero NHL front office experience.
It seemed like Linden was named president of the Canucks for the same reasons Louis-Napoleon won the French presidential election in 1848. In business, hockey, and politics – name recognition matters.
Its become apparent since, even though the six week long Linden-era has been accompanied by only one actual player personnel decision so far and it was an absolute gimme, that there’s at least one major rationale for the former Canucks captain to be serving as the top hockey executive in Vancouver. Linden may lack in hard hockey experience as an executive, but his political and business instincts have proven very impressive so far.
That was apparent again on Friday during Linden’s appearance and extended interview on the Bro Jake Show with Mr. Bro and Dave Pratt, though it goes beyond Linden’s polished public speaking abilities. Pratt actually managed to get a subtly interesting, genuine response when he asked Linden about what he’s learned in his six weeks on the job in Vancouver.
Linden searched for a bit, and bought himself some time. “That’s a tough one Dave,” he paused. He then answered with a fitness metaphor – when it doubt, go back to what you know – and surprisingly missed an opportunity to plug Club 16. Linden basically compared the way he had to hit the ground running as the Canucks’ president to being on a treadmill that gets going right off the bat at level 10. “I’m looking forward to getting through the draft and free agency and catching my breath a little bit,” Linden admitted.
It was a reminder that this time of year, for NHL executives (and beleaguered NHL news editors), is a grind. It’s a grind that, perhaps, Linden wasn’t quite ready for – not having actually lived it in the past.
Then his tone changed a bit, like he caught on to something that genuinely excited him. “The amount of people I know in the business, I didn’t even realize,” said Linden gaining a bit of steam. “And just kind of connecting them and the web of the NHL is pretty detailed and pretty great.”
That quote is Linden in a nut shell, it seems to me. Fitness analogy – check. A backdoor admission of inexperience – check. An allusion to a certain view of life that – while probably healthier for a normal human person – may also be a bit disconnected from the type of overwhelming compulsion to dedicate oneself entirely to being an NHL executive – check. Indicating a genuine, heartfelt affinity for building relationships and networking successfully – check.
Linden still has a tonne of work to do, but when you look at what he’s done so far, the relationship building stands out. Just look around the league this summer and the defensive promotions or extensions top NHL clubs are handing out to talented people like Jeff Blashill, Ron Hextall, Mike Futa and John Stevens; and it becomes clear that what Linden pulled off by snagging Jim Benning out of Boston ahead of the draft for what was, ultimately, more of a paper promotion in Vancouver, is pretty impressive. Maybe even wildly impressive.
In the next week, the Canucks and Linden will be busy. The draft is a week from today, the free agent interview period begins in five days, and the market opens at noon 11 days from now. Also, at some point, the club is expected to trade Ryan Kesler, and there’s a coach to hire.
For whatever reason, its been apparent for a bit, just like it was with Benning*, that Texas Stars coach Willie Desjardins is the guy Vancouver is waiting for.
* Linden on Friday: “Jim Benning wasn’t necessarily my front runner really until I sat down with him.” Is there anybody who believes that?
It was reported this week (reminder: take anything reported out of Pittsburgh in regards to this coaching search with all of the pink salt in Pakistan) that Desjardins was set to choose between the coaching vacancies in Pittsburgh and Vancouver. Desjardins was even reportedly on his way to Pittsburgh at nearly the same moment as Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford was being quoted by Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review talking about how a Penguins coaching hire is getting “real close”. Then something reportedly changed overnight per TSN’s Darren Dreger, or perhaps that situation just remains insanely opaque and fluid. Would Desjardins really choose Linden, over coaching Sidney Crosby?
In an environment where NHL teams are more protective of their intellectual property, key personnel and coaches then ever, if Linden can keep picking at his “web,” and leveraging his people skills to get his guys into key roles with the Canucks, that will be a tremendous accomplishment.
There are, however, questions remaining (at this time of the year all we have is questions. In 13 days we can start picking through the answers). Will Linden’s web help him make effective trades on the draft floor? Will it matter as the Canucks attempt to trade Kesler, and his no-trade clause, in a three-dimensional deal for fair value? Can Linden be as effective at making player personnel decisions as he’s been, so far, at recruiting his people? Stay tuned.
An assortment of other thoughts in point form:
- Linden was greeted on the interview by a painful, heretical Clash cover “Linden Calling” (sample lyric, to the tune of the “I live by the river” hook: “he always delivers”) and had a solid deadpan response “Are we the only city that does songs about people, or is this normal throughout the NHL?” Can’t wait for Linden to get his first glimpse at a Clay Imoo joint.
- Asked about the compliance buyout that the Canucks will exercise on David Booth’s contract, Linden’s answer suggested that, while the Canucks intend to be players in a historically weak free agent class, the club might not spend to the cap this season. Seriously. “David’s situation, that just gives us maximum flexibility headed into free-agency and throughout next season. We’ve got some people we’re very interested in speaking too and hopefully that happens, but we’re going to sign people for the right reasons. Certainly it’s not about spending to the cap, and having that mantra is a bit of a dangerous place to go. We want to make sure we bring the right people in here and that’s what we’re going to do.”
- It doesn’t sound like the Mike Santorelli negotiations are going anywhere. “Obviously it comes down to dollars and cents and that’s ultimately where we have to feel comfortable – as does Mike,” Linden said Friday. “We’d like to have Mike back, local kid, versatile, had a great first half of the season until he got injured…” So basically: we’d like to have Santorelli back, but we’re not going to give him a big payday. For what it’s worth, I’d say there’s a reasonable chance that Santorelli returns to Vancouver, but I think there’s no chance of him signing with Vancouver before the interview period. If you’re in his shoes you might as well find out if any teams are going to give you term and security (since it doesn’t appear like the Canucks will). If someone will, great, if no one will, evaluate your options and make the best “rebuild your value” gamble based on the depth and opportunities on offer from interested, but clearly not that interested, clubs.
- The only thing Linden said that on Friday that really made me roll my eyes was his discussion about the club matching up with the heavyweights in California going forward, and how that reality might impact how the club uses the sixth overall selection. “Where we sit right now, this division is tough,” Linden said, singling out the size of the Californian clubs. Then he pivoted to talking about “really dynamic” players like William Nylander and Nikoljaj Ehlers and essentially suggested that it’s “a challenge” to pick them over bigger bodied, less dynamic players because of all that beef in California. As a smarter blogger than me said recently, Jake Virtanen is very good, so? Don’t draft him.
- In his first few weeks as general manager Benning has been “everything we want this organization to be,” Linden said on Friday. A note of caution though, as we learned from the Tim Murray/Pat LaFontaine situation, words are wind until a president and general manager have legitimately made at least one potentially transformative roster decision in a cooperative fashion.
- More on Benning: “I’ve been thrilled. He’s been excellent. To see him work his draft room, at the combine, his knowledge of the players, his direction to our scouts, his communications with these guys is incredible. Every kid who walked in the room, he knew. “Oh that goal you scored there,” or “I saw you there, or this happened,” it was really amazing.” That’s great Trevor, but how does he handle a Kona?
- Linden suggested that former Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell probably isn’t a fit in Vancouver, which is pretty obvious I think. The more interesting question would’ve been: “Trevor, will you get into a bidding war with the New York Rangers over Aaron Rome?”
- Ranking of coaching candidates for whom Linden showed the most enthusiasm: 1) Mike Johnston 2) Marc Crawford 3) Dan Bylsma 4) Willie Desjardins. My best guess for Linden’s order of actual preference, despite Pratt’s latest big scoop: the complete opposite.