Finding some comfort in mediocrity for the time being

change-is-coming

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. 

  • andyg

    The problem with allowing a team to crash and burn to draft high is that you are telling the players that it is OK to loose. The oilers have been bringing youth into a losing environment and it shows. Some of their players may never see their true potential.

    I would rather see a team push to win every year and let the natural progression of things take its coarse. Last year injury’s showed our lack of depth and we drafted 6th. If we are out of the playoffs at trade dead line this year then they can make some moves aimed at the future.

    Don’t rush players in but develop them properly.

  • MM

    Being mediocre sucks. It wouldn’t be such a bad thing to suck again for another year. McDavid and/or Eichel are up to bat, and the draft is supposedly deeper. I think they are adjusting the lottery for the #1 too.

    As much as it pains me to say, and as difficult as it may be to accomplish, i’m hoping we can out suck Edmonton this time around, and see some development from our young guys like Kassian/Vey/Bonino/Stanton/Tanev, and have our draft class develop at Utica/Juniors.

    • MM

      Mediocre is by definition not terrible. We’d have to be terrible to compete for one of those real lottery picks and I have a hard time seeing we’d be that.

      If you can really bottom out and get talent to build a core around (Sedins, Toews/Kane, Crosby/Malkin) I suppose it might make sense. But a number of today’s elite teams are not built around a #1/#2 pick (or at least not one that they picked themselves) — LA, St. Louis, and Anaheim over the past few years have combined good trades, reasonable signings, and decent mid-late round picks (with a few exceptions) into their cores. I’m not suggesting that the Canucks are anywhere near any of them but I do think that it says something about an alternative strategy to flat-out sucking. Not just the Oilers, but the Panthers, Islanders, and Sabres aren’t exactly ringing endorsements of the tanking approach.

      • Mantastic

        Toews was drafted 3rd overall, Doughty was drafted 2nd, Peit was drafted 4th. being top 5 in the draft is key for getting core players. regardless of how bad Edm, Flo, NYI and recently buff have been, they still were able to acquire core top tier talent.

        • Mantastic

          Yes, I did say in my post that some teams are successful with the bottoming out strategy, with Chicago and Pittsburgh being prime examples. LA flipped Schenn and have Doughty from their three top five drafts, with Thomas Hickey being the obvious dud there. St. Louis has Pietrangelo but he’s one part of a much larger core, none of whom were top-five picks. And Anaheim has arguably done a far better job with their non-top-five picks over the past fifteen years than the high end ones (Getzlaf, Perry, Fowler, Etem, Andersen vs. Lupul, Ryan).

          My point is not that one can’t get high end prospects at the high end of the draft. It’s that this is not the only strategy nor is it guaranteed to work. Detroit is also proof that another approach might work better. Perhaps this is not the case when a generational talent — a Crosby or a Stamkos — is available that really can completely transform your roster. I’m not sure that Hall or RNH — though they do look like the real thing — are generational talents but maybe they are enough of a core to build around. I don’t know, it’s hard to tell with the woeful mismanagement of the Oilers.

          • Mantastic

            Don’t forget that St. Louis also traded their first overall selection erik johnson (not a great pick) for more assets/depth. I hate to say it ’cause I wish it wasn’t true but all sports teams are cyclical. You can see it in Detroit now, they fought the cycle for as long as they could but late draft picks add up, its simply harder to find depth when everybody else is getting a crack at the kids before you every year. Inevitably, a team must fade. Off the top of my head, I think every great team in the NHL right now was bad a decade ago… maybe not San Jose and Anaheim… if you think they count as great. So yeah, I’m not sure if we are ultimately trending down or if we’ve bottomed out yet but we are looking like a mediocore team at best right now… I wish we spent the miller money on depth

          • Mantastic

            the Sedins are enough of a core to build around, I don’t get what you’re trying to say. it’s very easy to build off a core of 1st line players… because scoring is the hardest thing to obtain, 2nd would be depth. which is an issue for both Oilers and Canucks.

          • Barnabas

            I love the Sedins but they are hardly a core to build around. They were a core to support and to be the nucleus of an elite team which they have been for multiple seasons. They are aging and past their prime now as should be readily evident. A replacement core would be of course first line players; the question is how do you get those. Your argument is that it’s only through the draft and through top-five picks. I’m saying that there are multiple teams that are evidence that there are other strategies that can be successful. Unless you think that former top-five picks Cam Barker, Patrik Stefan, and Luke Schenn gave their respective teams a core to build from.

          • Mantastic

            correction, i said the easiest way to get top line talent is trough the top 5 of the draft, you can obtain it other ways but it significantly harder; like drafting deeper in the draft, trading, signing free agents, etc.

          • andyg

            Holding the coarse and pushing to win every year is the best way. As you said not all teams have built around top 5 picks. Some of the best players in the league were drafted out side of the top 10. La is a good example of the that.

            Any team can have a bad seasons, like we did last year. You are going to have the odd year when you draft in the top 5.

            The twins are not players to build around for the long hall but will be great supporting cast for a number of years yet.

          • Mantastic

            LA is a bad example of this. Doughty drafted 2nd overall and Braydenn Schenn was drafted 4th overall and was flipped for Mike Richards, Jack Johnson was drafted 3rd overall and was flipped for Carter. Kopitar was even drafted 11th overall.

          • andyg

            I was not looking at how the players were acuired but just where they were drafted.

            People say we need to draft in the top 5 to find top end talent.

            Most of that teem was drafted outside of the top 10.

          • Mantastic

            Dallas is another example of a team that has built a good core without being dependent on premium picks.

            They haven’t done well on their higher picks (Campbell, Glennie) until Nichuschkin (so far).

            And they haven’t had a top 5 pick since 1996.

            Of course, that required hitting a homerun on Benn, the Seguin trade and picking up Spezza & Hemsky on the cheap.

            Boston is another example since their cup had little to do with the return on the Kessel trade.

            It’s possible.

            But I wouldn’t count on it…

          • Mantastic

            yeah, you’re right, most people don’t see Dallas like a contending team now but next season they will.

            Jim Nil has done a great job with his assets and have come out ahead with the talent they had before.

          • Mantastic

            I’d say the Canucks were in a better spot than Dallas until April 2013.

            It’s amazing how 15 months of ridiculously good asset management (compared to 15 months of poor asset management) has changed the outlook of two franchises.

            If only Tom Gaglardi wanted to own the Canucks…

  • andyg

    What is it with Oiler fans, every time I read the comments on a Canuck’s article there is an Oiler troll spouting off. They have the worst team in the league yet they fell they need to trash better teams. Every sports article in every paper I read there is a coiler there, I don’t get it.

  • andyg

    What is with this fantasy/Xbox GMing that you’ve done? Not at all realistic in today’s capped NHL, either.

    Tell you what. You hate the Canucks franchise so much, then leave your fan card at the front desk. There are half a dozen contenders that would love to have you jump on their bandwagon. Don’t let the door hit you…

    • andyg

      “Tell you what. You hate the Canucks franchise so much, then leave your fan card at the front desk.”

      Dear delusional Canuck fan,

      Send a cheque directly to Francesco Aquillini and your merit badge will be shipped to you in 4-6 weeks…

      • andyg

        I’d much rather be “delusional” than surrounded by negativity like yourself.

        Life is way too short to live it that way: dressed in all black, constantly brooding and moping, “this sucks, that sucks, everything is terrible”.

        Your friends and family must absolutely love it when they see you coming…

  • Rhino122

    I am happy to support any team that continually tries to become better, gives good entertainment value by giving effort and honestly tries to win. It is extremely hard to win the Cup, as we see every play-off year, so making the play-offs and battling hard, even if losing, will keep me as a fan.
    Now that we’re in “change” mode, it’s time to retire Fin and the corporate whale to the background (could still be used as secondary branding for the west coast flavour) and get Johnny Canuck front and centre. Finally, people outside of BC could understand what a Canuck is! The west coast identity of a rugged, hard-working lumberjack, with a secondary theme of the killer whale and ocean.

  • andyg

    Bo Horvat is not going to be a first-line scorer. Chris Tierney and Max Domi were better at that role in London.
    Horvat will be a top checking centre, penalty killer, and face-off specialist in the NHL. The 10 to 15 goals he scores will be a bonus.

  • andyg

    Through much of the 70s and 80s the perennial question for Canucks fans was “Will we make the playoffs?”–and this was an era when just about everybody made the playoffs.

    The highest aspiration for fans was winning as many games as losing. Mediocrity, a .500 record, was the goal but sub-mediocrity the major record.

    So it’s a return to tradition for the Nucks, for one or two seasons anyway. The teams of the 70s and 80s were not as well stocked with prospects. And though none of these prospects projects superstar, they do project reliability and a solid game.

  • andyg

    Excellent assessment. As a fan; Shinkaruk looks like he might be a gamebreaker. Let’s hope Bo is as advertised and yeah! With Virtanen, McCann, Gaunce, Fox and Jensen maybe. There’s enough of a case for hope. Bonino in his prime? Kass takes a big step? Vrbata 3rd Sedin? Vey? What if in 2 years Bonino is centering the 4th line between Higgins and Hansen? That’s alright. Whatever happens come October happens anyways, what you’re think right now doesn’t mean a damn. If you want to believe it’ll all bust, then you get to say “I told you jerks”. If you want to hope you risk disappointment. This article seems to imply taking the middle ground and expect mediocrity for 1 year and then see make a decision. Seems sensible.

  • @Barnabas,

    Can’t ever see that happening. Luch made sure of that when he went on the record to trash the city and it’s public. Not to mention the hate many Vancouver fans have for the B’s. Even if Van WAS luch’s home city, he has only cemented the hatred towards him as of late.

    As much as I like his hard nosed play, I would never want him on the Nucks, and believe he would bring more problems than solutions to the team in the long run.

  • @Barnabas,

    Can’t ever see that happening. Luch made sure of that when he went on the record to trash the city and it’s public. Not to mention the hate many Vancouver fans have for the B’s. Even if Van WAS luch’s home city, he has only cemented the hatred towards him as of late.

    As much as I like his hard nosed play, I would never want him on the Nucks, and believe he would bring more problems than solutions to the team in the long run.

    • Barnabas

      I hear you but remember … if Jim B wants you, it will be hard to say no! If he was signed and coming here, you can bet there would be excitement and he would quickly become a fan favorite. Heck, his parents would become celebrities and all would be good and put in the past.

      Assuming Kesler’s assessment of 4 years before we are a true contender, bringing Lucic in for the 2016/2017 season (3 years into Jim B’s tenure) may coincide with a changing of the guard and accelerate our transition. He would fit right in when we play the Californian teams ……

      I would be excited to have him on our team. Why would you not be?

  • Barnabas

    Looking ahead 2 years … the Sedins will be nearing the end of their career but that could be revitalized by signing Milan Lucic to come home and perhaps play with them – he will be an UFA that summer.

    With the youngsters ready to step up, things should only get better by then …..

  • Well I guess if we are going to talk about mediocrity, then it is good to read a mediocre article. I for one am getting tired of the woe is us view of a lot of people. Are Linden, Benning and Coach Willy humble hockey people, you bet and thank goodness. This is not artifice, it is a genuine recognition that the team was going the wrong way, by becoming another bombastic Toronto, or any team with Burke in charge.

    I think the best move was getting rid of Kesler who clearly always put himself ahead of the team (for example whining about being asked to play RW with Sedins). The fact that Benning got a younger healthier Centre who might be 10% less than Kesler, plus a serviceable number 5 dman with an upside who is still developing plus a draft pick who may one day eclipse Kesler. All good. I figure getting rid of Tortorella just increased goal scoring by 40 goals per year and points by at least 12 to 15 and maybe more.

    It prevented the destruction of Lack. Overall are we as good as L.A., Anaheim, St. Louis and Chicago (dead next year due to salary issues) – NO. Are we as good as Colo., Dall., SJ, Minn. – yes I think so. Are we better than Edm, Calg., Wpg., Ariz, Nash. no question in my mind. We could be as high as 5th in standings. Then as one or two youngsters improve to line 1 then the Sedins have a shot at the Cup they so desparately want as the number two line.

      • andyg

        Liked that the article actually reflected on both the pros and the cons regarding the change that is here.

        None of us really know what this “new” team is really capable of, so I’m one person who’s really excited to find out how we will do 🙂

    • Mantastic

      Your comment makes little sense since you seem to be agreeing with much of what the article is actually saying. It’s hard to imagine that the Canucks are going to be much more than fighting for a playoff spot and towards the bottom end of the conference. What part of this article is “woe is me”? It’s a realistic and sober assessment, giving credit where it’s due and to the notion that the Canucks have done a necessary job of trying to excise the bad attitudes and bad apples — from Gillis to Tortorella and Sullivan and Kesler on. I like having a plan in place and we’ve yet to see whether or not it will work long term but it seems a much better strategy than the flailing we saw in the last 3 years.

      We’re not in the same league as that top tier you mention, not only because of their present success but because of their relatively well-stocked prospect pools. And we’re closer to that third tier than the second (in which I’d put Nashville and possibly even Arizona); I’d also bump down SJ who are these days in the same kind of fragile self-doubt spiral we’ve been in recently.

    • Mantastic

      wow, straight up delusional. Avs, Stars, Wild and Sharks are still a better team than the canucks. no one in their right mind would trade those rosters straight up for the canucks. I would also put Preds right in he mix of the 2nd tier team

      • Mantastic

        I would trade the entire Canucks roster for a handful of Oilers or Flames even though the Canucks may very well be the best Canadian team in the division next year as sad as that is.

        The Canucks do not have a foundation to contend anymore and there isn’t a realistic franchise player (or potential franchise player) on the roster or in the pipeline.

        It’s going to get uglier before it gets better barring multiple ripoff trades or two of Virtanen/Horvat/Shinkaruk magically turning into legit 1st line players.

        Welcome to the axis of mediocrity…

        • andyg

          This seems a little extreme. I agree that we’re in for a few years of treading water and righting the ship, but I don’t think there are no good prospects on the horizon. The picture — at least longterm — looks more promising now than in the last couple of years where a combination of aging, poor prospect depth and potential, and general mismanagement lead nowhere but down. It’s still to be seen whether Benning and Linden have the right strategy. As the article implies, there’s room for cautious optimism but a lot of pieces will need to fall into place.

          • andyg

            It’s not just about the prospects.

            Where is the potential impact young talent on this roster:

            http://www.capgeek.com/canucks/

            At least Edmonton has Hall/RNH/Eberle/Yakupov & Calgary has Monahan/Bennett around which to build.

            The Canucks don’t necessarily need to tank to get impact talent.

            They can cross their fingers that one of their draft selections turn into a Couture or Hertl (rare).

            Or they can hope that a first liner like Seguin becomes available and they match up on trade (even more rare).

            One way or another impact talent is needed and it is the hardest thing to acquire.

            You couldn’t trade the 4, 8 or 12 most valuable players on the Canucks NHL roster (whoever you think they are) to acquire those 4 Oiler forwards.

            Edmonton may very well (hilariously) continue to piss away the core which they inherited via tanking.

            But at least they have a core.

            The Canucks do not any more irrespective of the number of hard working hockey lifers they hire to appease the delusional segment of the fanbase…

          • andyg

            Actually I think this raises a really interesting conundrum in terms of how one goes about acquiring a core. For the Canucks’ recent strong years you basically had a draft of generational talent (Sedins) coupled with a few ripoff trades (Luongo, Ehrhoff) later picks panning out (Kesler, Bieksa) and key free agent signings (Hamhuis) for the core, with the depth provided by some few draft picks, signings, waiver steals and trades.

            But a lot of things had to fall into place for all that to work out, from Burke’s wheeling and dealing to SJ’s need to dump Ehrhoff to clear space to get Heatley and on. I think there’s no question that the Canucks’ current core (Sedins, Hamhuis, …?) is aging rapidly but I’m not so sure I’d write off the entirety of the prospect pool so quickly. Or at the least, if you’re saying that our prospects don’t compare to Edmonton’s 3 x #1 overalls that’s probably right but also kind of obvious. I would disagree that overall our prospect base is worse than Calgary’s. But perhaps it’s the comparables you are using. Edmonton and Calgary have done zero to make me think they are headed in the right direction, even with high all their high picks.

            So what would you do rather than tanking in the near future? How do we reacquire a core?

          • Mantastic

            It’s not about writing off the prospect pool.

            All teams have prospects.

            Strictly looking at the farm system, the Canucks might be in the middle of the pack now.

            In this sense, it’s better than two years ago when the Canucks were probably bottom five.

            But shouldn’t it be?

            The Canucks diluted the NHL team to acquire the pick to select Horvat.

            The Canucks selected a player in Shinkaruk who slipped at the draft but, injury aside, hasn’t really lost his prospect status.

            A mixture of an aging core, inferior save percentage (compared to previous years) and some bad luck gave the Canucks a high pick to further bolster the farm system with the Virtanen selection.

            And the Canucks diluted the NHL team to acquire the pick to select McCann.

            Four 1st round picks in two years including a couple of top 10 picks.

            Of course the farm system is going to be better.

            But the NHL team is much worse even though many of the same characters from 2011 are still here.

            Aside from tanking, it’s going to be very difficult to acquire a new core.

            It will pretty much acquire a ripoff trade or two a la Seguin or a couple of our prospects turning into legit 1st liners.

            Neither option is particularly likely.

            While I agree with you that Edmonton & Calgary have not done anything to suggest they are on the correct path, acquiring premium talent via the draft is the most common way to acquire a core (Pittsburgh, Chicago & LA, St Louis to some degree).

            The San Jose path (ripoff trade for Thornton, hitting on Pavelski, Couture) or the Dallas path (ripoff trade for Seguin, hitting on Benn, Nichushkin so far) is pretty rare and the time for the Canucks to supplement the Sedins in this fashion may have already past…

            It doesn’t always work

          • andyg

            I don’t disagree that the acquisition of the draft picks/prospects was only by diluting the NHL team — that is, after all, what you have to do. The bigger problem may be as you and others have pointed out previously that the return on some of those trades was of less value than they could/should have been. It’s easy to chalk it all up to Gillis (and a large share of the blame must be his) but years of mediocre drafting before and during his years haven’t helped. Given what a crapshoot getting value in the trade market is and how middling the return on FAs usually is, it really still remains the development of players (perhaps even more so than the drafting of them) that is the hallmark of the reliably competitive franchises (especially and obviously Detroit).

            None of that is particularly earth shattering, but It would suggest that following Detroit’s approach of properly “seasoning” prospects in the minors rather than rushing them into roles they might be inadequate for would be a good policy. I would hate to see Horvat and Shinkaruk thrown into the mix here just for the sake of appeasing fans who want us to get younger. If they really make the cut then sure but I have a hard time thinking they’re ready.

          • Mantastic

            if you look at the current core of the canucks and look at which players would be the hardest to acquire and replace it would start and end at the Sedins. Like NM00 said, clear top line players are extremely hard to acquire and the clear easiest way to acquire said talent is to suck and suck hard, and draft them.

          • andyg

            Your problem is that you think only about high end offensive talent like what the oilers have.

            What they are missing is what we are starting out with. Solid 2 way players that play the 200 ft game.

            Players that are hard to play against are more difficult to find than goal scorers.

          • andyg

            I’ve commented before that what the Oilers have the Canucks need and vice versa.

            Back when the Canucks had Kesler and Luongo at least…

            Hall/RNH/Eberle

            Sedin/Sedin/Yakupov

            Higgins/Kesler/Perron

            Burrows/Gordon/Hansen

            Hamhuis/Bieksa

            Edler/Schultz

            Stanton/Tanev

            Luongo

            Pretty good team eh.

            No argument that the Canucks have/had the type of veterans that the Oilers need.

            But you’re delusional if you think that the Canucks could package their best players to acquire the Oilers’ best players…

          • andyg

            I am not talking about our veteran core of players. I am looking at the youth that we presently have. You say they are just a bunch of checkers. I say they are the type of talent that knows how to play a 200 ft game.

            This is what the oilers lack. Players like Horvat.

            Here is a Canuck trade that I never forgot.

            Peca.

            I would have kept Peca over any 50 goal scorer.

        • andyg

          This is a no loose year for real Canuck fans.

          If some of the young players step up and surprise negative people like you then we could do some damage.

          If it takes another year or so (more likely) then we just keep adding more high end talent. Maybe the franchise player that you want.

          You don’t need to draft 1 st overall to land what you want.