With Vancouver’s unwillingness to part with a top prospect in a potential Evander Kane deal, some of the dialogue around the team seems to have shifted from “playoffs or bust” to beginning to plan for a future post-Sedin twins. Whether we want to believe it or not, the Vancouver Canucks are not a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in 2014-2015, and don’t project to be in 2015-2016 or a couple years beyond that either, so a succession plan is necessary. And given the success of younger players like Zack Kassian and Bo Horvat of late, the Smylosphere seems more and more open to being patient for a couple of seasons before handing the keys to Horvat and company.
Still, it’s unlikely that we see Jim Benning go all-in on the next era of the Canucks this season. If we were in charge of the team, we’d likely look to move pending UFAs Shawn Matthias, Derek Dorsett, and Brad Richardson at the deadline and turn the bottom end of the Canucks roster over to the Ronalds Kenins of the world, but we’re also not under the same pressures as Vancouver’s actual front office. There are certainly differing incentives at play for the people in charge of the team and us fans, and these different incentives could push the Canucks into making the decisions that don’t explicitly benefit them in the future.
Join us after the jump to explore some of the reasons why the Canucks could be buyers come trade deadline day.
As we’ve pointed out before, the Vancouver Canucks aren’t a young team by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, Jim Benning has added some youthful role players to the lineup in guys like Linden Vey and Adam Clendening, while Ronalds Kenins and Bo Horvat have grown into 4th-line roles, but the bulk of high-leverage roster spots in Vancouver are filled by players over the age of 30. And even though many of these guys are still very effective within their roles, we can’t count on them to remain that way forever, or even into the mid-term future.
In this sense, the window to compete isn’t just closing, but so is the window to remain a competitive team in the playoffs and reap the benefits of gate revenue generated from home playoff dates.
The Aquilini family has made a massive financial investment in the Vancouver Canucks, beyond the emotional investment that us fans make. As this is the case, they can’t treat the Canucks like a massive money sinkhole. They have to keep the business profitable, and in an environment where revenues are driven by ticket sales and corporate advertising partnerships, fans appear to be tuning out a non-competitive team. Vancouver’s sellout streak is long over, and promotions and ticket discounts seem to be happening with increasing frequency.
Vancouver’s operating costs also go well above and beyond the salary cap. We know that Mike Gillis was a progressive-to-a-fault GM and insisted on having the very best facilities for Vancouver. The fabled Mind Room, a new state-of-the-art dressing room, investing in sleep science and maximizing human performance – someone had to cut a cheque for all of these things. And oh yeah, that same someone had to cut a cheque for nearly $12 million this past offseason to hand Gillis and John Tortorella their walking papers.
The point is that the Aquilini’s have spent a ton of money over the past handful of years on the Canucks, and the long-term forecast of this franchise seems to indicate that making that money back is going to become increasingly more difficult as the core of this team ages. The playoffs are a huge opportunity for an economic windfall for the people directing Benning’s decisions on how to manage the team, and this may be one of the last opportunities in a while to go on a bit of a playoff run.
With the team currently missing their two best defencemen and both middle-6 centres, some of the relative mediocrity that’s been on display at times will be repaired with some patience and the miracles of modern medicine. Furthermore, Vancouver’s biggest areas of weakness appear to be sorting themselves out from within. The fourth line is no longer a possession sinkhole that gets caved in at even strength, and players not named “Sedin” are putting the puck in the net again.
If Bo Horvat truly has taken the step he appears to have taken and is capable of decent 3rd line duty right now, then the Canucks have already addressed their largest area of concern and turned the bottom end of their roster from an area of weakness to an area of strength. If the fully healthy team can break even by shot attempt metrics with the Sedins and Edler-Tanev on the bench, then there’s a good chance that they’re an above average squad at 5-on-5 with an elite penalty killing group and decent first unit powerplay.
Furthermore, “above average” may be all you need to get out of the Pacific division this season. The Kings have reeled eight consecutive wins and look poised to be dangerous again, but between Jon Quick’s struggles and their depth eroding a little bit, they’re very mortal. The Ducks and Sharks also aren’t significantly better than Vancouver at even strength as it is right now, and the Calgary Flames are a percentage-driven mirage that are likely to fall by the wayside.
There is a door open in the Pacific for a surprise winner this season, and a smart addition or two at the trade deadline could definitely help the Canucks step through it. As the core is getting older, the pressure could be on Jim Benning and company to do something at the expense of a small part of their future to help improve their chances at a good playoff run in 2015, and it’s not as if there’s no value for the fans in a good playoff run either.
At the end of the day, we’re in this to be entertained and have fun. There’s no way I can express my sentiments better than Seattle Mariners writer Jeff Sullivan did upon Seattle being eliminated from postseason contention this past year, so I’ll let him sum it up:
An important, fundamental point to understand is that we aren’t really in this for championships. That would be stupid — if we were in this for championships, there wouldn’t be sports fans. That’s always a losing gamble. We aren’t in this for the ultimate triumph, in that the benefits are separate, but at the same time, what drives us is the belief that there could be a championship, sometime kind of soon. It’s all an exercise in misleading ourselves. Think of it like projections. We aren’t trying to get perfect player projections, and we wouldn’t want those anyway, because they’d ruin everything. We like that we’re wrong, all the time, but we always have to believe the projections are getting better, that we’re all getting a better idea of the future.
What the Mariners didn’t deliver was a playoff berth. They didn’t bring home a title, or even a won series. Yet they generated playoff atmospheres. They generated memorable moments. They ended on a far better note than they could’ve, and don’t underestimate the significance of ending like this, instead of ending with the four wins and the five losses swapped around. That’s a marketing thing more than it’s a baseball thing, since baseball-wise it doesn’t matter, but our emotions are easily manipulated and in this way the Mariners get to head into the offseason as having won at the end. The Mariners didn’t provide everything they could’ve. Rather, they provided enough. Maybe more than enough. Maybe you think I set my standards too low, but how seriously do you really want to take this? The game’s entertainment, and the Mariners entertained, and the show’s over, and it was a good show. Could’ve been better, but I’ve seen a hell of a lot worse, and overall that was a fine way to pass the time.
The Canucks have a chance to do something this year, and they may not get a better chance to do something for a whole bunch more seasons beyond this one. And if they’re content taking the chance of doing something now, which ownership is already incentivized to do, rather than taking the chance to do something later, then Jim Benning will be a buyer come Monday’s trade deadline.