The following article was written by Jordan Clarke, whose work you’re likely familiar with if you’ve been a reader of this blog for longer than just the past few months or so. He’s back from his soul searching mission, and we’re happy as ever to have him back. Enjoy.
“Change is Coming”, or so says the Vancouver Canucks’ latest marketing slogan.
While the fact that the team feels they need to spell this out for everyone doesn’t say much for the intelligence level of the average fan, it does tell you how desperate they are to rebuild their image in the eyes of Vancouverites.
While every piece of NHL PR seems to scream “please like our sport”, in Vancouver it’s “please like us”. The front office and coaching staff is now stocked with humble, unassuming “hockey people”, and the prospect pool is beginning to look like it follows the same CanCon regulations as your local rock station.
The rebuild is on, in image as much as player personnel. Trevor Linden, Jim Benning, Willie Desjardins, even the first round selections from last month — it’s all about airing out the stench of the last few seasons. The mishandling of Roberto Luongo, the sudden trading of Cory Schneider, the John Tortorella hire, the one playoff win since 2012, the team’s MVP asking out. All of these issues are now buried, and the team is finally free to build a new identity for itself and its city.
Say what you will about the Ryan Kesler trade, but in acquiring two younger roster players and a first round pick, Benning somehow drew more value from a guy with two (maybe even just the one, depending on who you’re listening to) teams on his list than the Penguins did with James Neal.
Dumping Jason Garrison’s salary and flipping the return for Linden Vey was perhaps the most impressive transaction this team has made in years. The Canucks shed a ton of salary in the form of a guy with legitimate questions surrounding his ability to continue playing at a high level, and in return added a player who is as good or better than anyone they were likely to draft with the 50th pick (and is much further along in his development).
In that deal, Jim Benning showed the kind of shrewd asset management that we rarely saw from Mike Gillis, whose strengths were in signing players to reasonable contracts and hitting the odd home run on a reclamation project. There were quotes at the draft from other General Managers about Benning being easy to work with, and while I never saw it stated explicitly, the obvious overtone was that Mike Gillis was not.
And that circles back to the image makeover. After years of being accused of arrogance, the Canucks are repairing their goodwill with the rest of the league as much as their fans. But through all the PR, all the lip service about getting younger and deeper, and all the newly-stiched Ryan Miller and Radim Vrbata jerseys, there is the basic reality that the Canucks are still likely to be a very average team next year.
But you know what? Maybe it’s time we embraced the cold comfort of mediocrity. Maybe we should simply try to watch and enjoy a hockey season that isn’t weighted with expectations. Maybe mediocrity is okay as long as it’s building towards something better, instead of spiralling downward from once great heights.
Stop stressing out about Nick Bonino being the 2nd line centre. Is he a 2nd line centre on a real Stanley Cup contender? No, but he’s not being asked to be that; he’s being asked to be a 2nd line centre on the Vancouver Canucks.
Radim Vrbata and Ryan Miller were signed for 2 and 3 years, respectively. Were they brought in to put the Canucks over the top? No, they’re stop-gap solutions for positions where the depth is too young to step in next season. They’re still serviceable players, and their contracts are structured as such so they won’t sink the team if things don’t work out. Well managed teams don’t throw players into key roles who aren’t ready, and besides, someone has to score goals on this team in the meantime. A shootout goal once in a while would be nice, too.
The next couple of years are going to be about biding time to see if one or two of Nicklas Jensen, Brendan Gaunce, Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, Dane Fox, Linden Vey, or Jake Virtanen can become stars. Elite teams boast elite young talent, and the Canucks have strung together a few promising drafts. With most of the core on the wrong side of 30, there’s not a whole lot to do other than wait, and that means embracing mediocrity for a while.
The Canucks aren’t winning the Stanley Cup next year, and they’re also probably not going to be as bad as they were last season. The truth of the matter is almost assuredly somewhere in between. So relax. Take a breath, crack a beer, and come October, turn on your TV and try to enjoy watching your team as it builds a new identity.