Graphic Comments: Not So Great Expectations

So in the last few weeks we’ve had a rash of blog posts and commentary about Jim Benning’s “plan” for the Canucks. The takes range from “Benning has a great plan and he’s making great deals just like when Gillis brought in Sundin” to “Benning has a plan, and don’t worry if it makes you uneasy because look at the dumb moves Gillis made in his first couple years, like bringing in Sundin.”

Now, do I think Benning has a plan? Sure. He has a plan. I don’t particularly think it’s a great plan, but he has one. The question, really, is whether or not this plan to retool on the fly, rather than tear it down and rebuild it is the way to go.

The interesting bit to me, is that Trevor Linden doesn’t seem to think the full rebuild can work in this market. That the fans won’t put up with it. But I’ve been around here long enough to know that what this fan base really won’t put up with, is unrealistic expectations.

Now, there’s been plenty of digital ink spilled on the topic of whether or not the retool can actually work in building a contender. Over at VancityBuzz, @RobTheHockeyGuy put together a qualitative analysis of what makes a Stanley Cup winner and concluded that a) winning teams rely on elite players, and b) you can acquire elite players without blowing up your team and building through the draft. It’s less likely to lead to success, but it’s doable.

Our very own @Moneypuck_ put together a great five part series on how to build a contender, which concluded:

It’s hard to avoid the reality that in today’s NHL reality, elite players are more often found in the top 5 picks in any draft than anywhere else, and it’s not even close.

Of course this approach doesn’t guarantee success. Far from it. The Sabres may never become contenders, despite the additions of Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. Critics are quick point to the Oilers “lost decade” as the prime example of how a tank rebuild can fail. The point of a tank isn’t to guarantee success at all, but rather the choice to follow the highest probability path to creating a contender, and sacrificing the present to attempt to meet that objective.

The real issue, however, goes back to Linden’s contention that this market wouldn’t put up with a full tear it down, rebuild it from the ground up strategy. It has to come incrementally, in dribs and drabs, or the fanbase would desert the team en masse. And hockey is a business, after all, so egads! we can’t have that. As a result, here we are with Linden and Benning taking one bite out of the cherry.

The problem is, nobody takes just one bite of a cherry.

I borrowed that idiom from a recent Paul Krugman blog post on China’s devaluation of their currency, which I thought was a rather apt comparison to the situation we have here.

If you’ll bear with me as we diverge into the world of international macroeconomics, here’s the crutch of the matter: much like the Canucks, China’s economy has had a good run for the last decade or so, but has hit hard times recently. Investors (fans) see this and they are starting to head for the exits.

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So what does China do? Well, they are one of the few countries that has a fixed exchange rate tied to the US dollar. So in an effort to stem the outflow of investment, they have devalued their currency, but just a little bit. They hope this will make their economy more competitive again, and thus keep investors from pulling their money out.

But here’s the problem with that strategy, as Krugman explains it:

When Japan loosens money, it creates an incentive to move funds abroad, causing the yen to fall. This process only stops once the yen has fallen enough that investors consider it undervalued, and are willing to buy Japanese securities in the expectation of a future yen rise. Exchange rate overshooting is an essential part of the story.

China, however, did not let the renminbi float, nor did it devalue by enough to persuade investors that any future move was likely to be up. Instead, it only devalued a little.

The result is that investors see this, and realize that (a) there China is willing to devalue the currency in the face of a serious problem, but (b) this devaluation wasn’t nearly enough to solve the problem. So the expectation is that the exchange rate will need to fall even further. Rather than ripping the band-aid off and letting the exchange rate float to find its own bottom, the Chinese are trying to rebuild their economy on the fly.

But the result has been even more capital flight as investors realize that the future direction is still down, not up.

The same is true of the Canucks.

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This team is slowly getting worse. The core is aging and/or being shipped off one piece at a time. Yes, there are some potential younger pieces coming along, but not nearly enough to fill the holes. The fans, as a whole, see this and if there’s one thing this market has had enough of, it’s mediocrity.

But if the expectation is that the team will continue to get worse for years, the bleeding of season ticket holder support will continue until such a time as those expectations turn positive.

So with all due respect to Linden, I believe this current course of action will actually make the business side of the franchise worse in both the short and long term than if you let it bottom out quickly and got fans excited about an upward trajectory.

Yes, that strategy could falter if the players and prospects you bring in don’t pan out as well as expected. But as we’ve seen, the probability of succeeding on the hockey side, is much better going that route.

And I’m here to say that the same is true on the business side.



You can also check out the monthly collections of Graphic Comments over at The Sporting News.

  • wojohowitz

    ” The interesting bit to me, is that Trevor Linden doesn’t seem to think the full rebuild can work in this market. That the fans won’t put up with it. ”

    Trevor didn’t even like a rebuild when Messier came because it meant that he was no longer the king of the country club. But f course Trevor couldn’t go quietly so he had to start a revolt behind Messier’s back. Messier called him out later but Trevor wanted nothing to do with because he would have to admit that he was and is a weasel.

    Mike Keenan was right about Linden when he scolded him in the locker room by saying , ” STFU Trevor, what have you ever done in this league?!” It’s going to feel so good when 50 years hits and Trevor is the mascot for futility.

  • Double Dees

    The bottom line is linden has ZERO experience in hockey operations. He fronted gyms for crying out loud! Benning is a second tier GM who was hired cause his former Bruins team won a cup against the lowly Canucks!

    Rebuild, retool, revamp, re-suck it!!!

    This team will be bad when all their dead weight (grandpa contracts) is gone.

    But u got the sedins right?

    • Double Dees

      Hey bud, you asked the same question on another thread about the Sedins? If you go to the Canucks official web site, there is a tab that will show you their current roster, this way you can check on whether the Sedins are still on the team or not. Wasn’t sure if you knew who the Canucks players were heading into the upcoming season. It’s a pretty cool site with lots of info on the Canucks, but more importantly will have the most up to date roster. But to answer your question, yes sir, Sedins still with us. I think they will play on the top line this year, more than likely on the top line together, with another player. That can change though, it’s only August ?

      • Double Dees

        He didn’t ask if you guys have the Sedins or not. He meant to say that the Sedins are all you’ve got and it’s sad.

        Why didn’t you guys do something about the Sedins after the SCF? You had lots of time? Did the Sedins threaten the owner with Black mail? How come Vancouver is so afraid of getting rid of the Sedins? We all know they’re never going to win the cup here.

        His question was more of a statement than a question, you know.

  • Double Dees

    U never hire ppl that played for ur franchise. Believe me. Lowe brought the oilers down….can’t u see what’s happening here??

    Wake up ppl..linden is doing the same and u don’t even know it yet. Take off ur beer goggles ppl.

    This Canucks franchise is going down in the dumps. Get ready for some heavy losing…maybe not next year or after that but believe me it’s coming and then it’ll be 10 yrs since ur last playoff win.

  • bigdaddykane

    This is a Valid analogy. The Reason oilers fans were content to sit through 8 years of a rebuild was because there was an expectation that it would get better (things were starting to get ugly in Oiler land prior to the McDavid Lottery Miracle but the decision by the Oilers to win the McDavid Lottery was a stroke of genius that brought the faithful back en-masse)

    Like you mentioned fans won’t invest in the team if they do not think there is a good chance of a return (winning) Like you mentioned their approach of a slow descent just means that the team is a long ways away from ever being in a position where a rational fan will believe that the team will actually be better one year to the next.

    However, this doesn’t mean that Linden is wrong when he suggests that a complete tear down rebuild won’t work (from a results standpoint)

  • bigdaddykane

    I actually might have appreciated the insights into China’s currency snafoo more than the rest of the article, but it all makes sense to someone like me who has never studied much of anything to do with investing and macroeconomics.

    Thanks, this was actually one of the most interesting posts I’ve seen on CA.

    • andyg

      As usual, the writer of the article had is head and ass stuck in his spread sheet and missed the point of Trevor`s words. In the article, the writer states Linden doesn’t believe a full, tear it down rebuild can work in this market. This is wrong! Trevor believes a full rebuild can`t work in any market. It is his contention that you need quality veterans that can provide leadership and tutoring to the youngsters so they develop properly. Looking at Buffalo and the Coilers, the proof is in the pudding! It is high bloody time this website starts hiring some journalists who know a thing or two about hockey and in particular, the Canucks. Your elementary deductions and goofy graphs are failing. Before you go pointing your finger at Linden, Benning and anyone else, clean up your act first!

  • YouppiKiYay

    It’s hard for me to argue with the notion that Vancouver as a market won’t tolerate a fallow period. Canucks haven’t been mediocre in 15 years, and still the team is starting to struggle at the box office. The last time the Canucks were poor, the team almost moved. In the 80’s, crowds were sparse.

    The Whitecaps are starting to draw well, but they are at the top of the league. Lions crowds have dwindled, the Giants draw poorly — Vancouver is not a real sports city. It certainly isn’t like other Canadian markets, where the building will stay full while the team spends years compiling high draft picks.

    Some fans will buy hope, but I doubt very many will.

  • YouppiKiYay

    I think your analogy is deeply flawed. China’s crisis has to do with overheated industrial production not matched by domestic (or international) consumer demand coupled with multiple stock bubbles brought on by speculation. To suggest that the Chinese state has only minimally intervened and not gone “full teardown” just because of the rate of their currency devaluation is not correct (and isn’t really the gist of what Krugman is saying anyway) — they have poured massive stimulus packages into multiple sectors and tried to curb expectations in many other ways but the underlying problem remains the same.

    You could say that the Canucks had their own speculative bubble and crash in the playoffs but I just don’t think this analogy makes sense beyond the most superficial level. The either or option — tear it down or slow rebuild — is a false one. There are very few teams I can think of that have actually set out to suck — last year’s Sabres and Coyotes were two obvious examples, as are the pre-Mario Penguins and a few others. Besides the Pens I don’t know of many who have made this strategy work. The Oilers were mismanaged, they didn’t try to lose. And there’s no more guarantee that getting top 5 picks will get you a winner in a few years anymore than in the pre-hard-cap era waiting for established FA to hit the market could remake your team in a hurry (which is why I think the folks who think Benning is clearing cap room for next year are wrong too, highly unlikely that any really good UFA is going to actually hit the market). You’ve got as much chance of picking a Thomas HIckey as a Drew Doughty — or as in our case a Pavel Brendl or Patrik Stefan rather than the Sedins. This line of analysis keeps seeming to suggest that there’s an intentionality to sucking and succeeding — is there any proof that the Kings or Blackhawks took this on as a strategy? Even if this was something that teams embarked upon you have to be pretty sure in your fanbase (Oilers, Leafs) or have a deep-pocketed owner (Sabres) or don’t care in the least if you move (Coyotes) to do it. At the end of the day this is still a business which is why relentless sucking gives you as much chance of having your team move as it is of getting you a winner down the line.

    If you want to give a clear connection between the Canucks and economics then you’d be better discussing the ways in which declining revenues from ticket sales and ancillary sources combine with a weak Canadian dollar to leave real dents in the ability of the team to make certain kinds of moves. We fans treat the salary caps as if they are pretend money but for owners there is a bottom line (which is why we hear about things like internal team salary caps). It’s foolish not to think that those things go into the consideration of management and if I was an owner I’d be appalled NOT to hear what Linden has said. As a fan I don’t know that I’d want to go watch the kinds of teams that the Sabres ice, at least not at the prices charged in Canadian stadiums.

    • Mantastic

      “I think your analogy is deeply flawed. China’s crisis has to do with overheated industrial production not matched by domestic (or international) consumer demand coupled with multiple stock bubbles brought on by speculation”

      You know what’s even more deeply flawed? The fact both of you guys have an opinion based on what comes out of the TV and the media, an organization owned by rich families and the very same people who own your banks, your wall street, your institutions, your government and even Hollywood. No proof, no hard evidence, just some man or woman on your boob tube or computer screen and that’s the truth. BTW, do you know during the cold war the Russian pupets told their own citizens the same thing about the States?

      Next thing you know your fat money grubbing politicians may want you to fight a war that they and their families will never participate in. That would be a shock right? LOL PT Barnum was right, there is a sucker born every minute…. It’s true, cause the man in TV said so!

      • andyg

        I’m all for critiquing someone quoting a krugman article (because, well he’s ventured a long way from his nobel prize days). I’m also all for critiquing money grubbing politicians who vote for a war they’re families will never participate in.

        But this is a sports blog. So stay relevant.

    • andyg

      “To suggest that the Chinese state has only minimally intervened and not gone “full teardown” just because of the rate of their currency devaluation is not correct”

      How does a country go “full teardown” while simultaneously leaving the biggest tool a country can have basically untouched?

      “We fans treat the salary caps as if they are pretend money but for owners there is a bottom line (which is why we hear about things like internal team salary caps).”

      When has Vancouver’s “internal team salary cap” ever been less than the league salary cap?

  • wojohowitz

    I guess you either have faith in management or you don`t. They are trying to follow the Detroit model of a continuing upgrade while always making the playoffs (24 years in a row). With that mantra the Canucks remain competitive, respectable and entertaining. It is where a guy like Sutter fits in. When the twins are gone guys like Sutter will (hopefully) provide the leadership necessary to the team being competitive and respectable.

    Nothing will increase the pressure on management like booing during an ugly home ice loss and they are very aware of that scenario and hope to avoid it.

  • wojohowitz

    Messier was the disruptive force on that team. Quinn didn`t want him but McCammon saw a chance to increase revenue with jersey sales. It still galls me that Messier is considered the optimal leader around the league because he sure wasn`t a leader here. He had nothing but disrespect for the Canucks – understandably so with McCammon interfering in hockey operations.

    • Mantastic

      And after Messier was gone the Canucks went on to win SC and lived happily ever after…not.

      The whole team tanked and you blame Messier? As a Down town hipster would say….Wow…just wow. You need to accept the fact that the team didn’t deserve respect because it was nothing short of Linden’s country club, then and now. Quinn didn’t want anyone accept his cronies and without Quinn, Lumme, Mclean and Linden would have been long gone.

      In fact, once those 3 were traded, they didn’t do didly-squat with their new teams and retired shortly after. Only Trevor the weasel he is realized that the only team and fans who would want him in their organization was Van city. You will eat your words when 50 years hits. It’s round the corner, trust me, it’ll be here soon enough.

      No one who’s any good in the league wants to come play here. The Canucks and their fans have no one to blame but themselves for that rep.

      Pavel Bure was the only reason they even went to the SCF and look how the management pissed him off. That’s the Canucks though, get rid of the cream, keep the scum. Market the mediocre and deny blame deny.

      • East Coast Smooth

        Hey moron, English your second language? You should learn about the topic before you spout inaccurate information, otherwise you look look like a moron. Messier was a cancer on this team, maybe the worst signing in Canucks history. If you knew details you would know this to be fact. Nobody wants to play here? Another stupid comment. Canucks are known around the NHL as a team that gets hometown discounts on a regular basis. You also obviously are limited in your hockey knowledge when it comes to that Canucks team. McLean carried the Canucks to the final in 94, as did Linden. As for Bure, he has been back with the Canucks alumni for many events and has many interviews about his love for the Canucks. We traded him for JOVO as the main piece back and his health went to crap shortly thereafter. Pretty good trade. Go to Wikepedia and learn about hockey and the Canucks before you try to look like you know about the team. As for Quinn, one of the most respected hockey people in the NHL and for what he did for Team Canada. You may hate the Canucks, but Quinn did way more good than bad while with us. Your comments only prove that you are limited in your hockey knowledge and I assume you never learned to skate or play hockey, so you are a bitter little man.

  • Mantastic

    Between 1977-1991 we had a top ten pick every year but one (a couple of 11s, quite a few top 5). None of that combined to produce a winner. The previous cores of our team during up cycles were a combination of drafts (Bure, Linden) and good trades (McLean, Ronning, Courtnall, Lumme, Adams) or in some cases almost entirely trades (Naslund, Bertuzzi, Morrison). There’s no one way to build or rebuild; I just don’t understand why tanking is suddenly a viable strategy either economically or in terms of building an organization. There’s no evidence that it really works — even the Pens wouldn’t still be in Pittsburgh if Mario hadn’t stepped up after retirement and they hadn’t lucked into the Crosby pick.

  • Mantastic

    If the Red Wings can do it, so can ….

    How do you blow up a team when most players have a NTC. Even if veterans wave their NTC, who is left to mentor young guns entering the league. Guys like the Sedins, Hamhuis, and Verbata can still play. Combined with young talent like Horvat and Baertschi this could turn out well. The rebuild on the fly makes sense, and tanking is no guarantee of success. Detroit can do it, so can Vancouver.

    • Mantastic

      Every team in the NHL, tries to be Detroit but always fails. Detroit is the exception to the rule. Rebuilding on the fly also is no guarantee of success. There is no guarantees in hockey.

  • YouppiKiYay

    The Canucks will either exceed expectations and be a good, entertaining hockey club to watch or will meet expectations and be pretty terrible. Either way, fans are getting what they want so I don’t see what all the complaining is about.

    There is NEVER mention of the changes to the draft lottery rules in these tanking discussions. Being really, really bad no longer gives you particularly good odds to be at the top of the draft. You can be mediocre and still hit the jackpot.

  • Double Dees

    sorry for the way I have been acting guys, clearly I am an idiot.

    I am 30 years old and still live in my mamas trailer. like NM00 my father also left our trailer park when I was young and never came back.

    I still have daddy issues. I even tried to be a stripper at the local club and got told I look like a troll.

    I will try to be more positive however I am full of hate for the world as Don Cherry, my father from what I mother tells me wont return my phone calls.

    again sorry for being an immature tool like NM00.

    • Not Dressed For Tonight's Game

      What a shameless Canuck PR fanboy. Imagine that, a Canuck PR fanboy who wants to eat the cake and have everyone else pay for it. Who could have expected that?

      It’s the leagues fault, it’s the refs fault, it’s the Oilers fault, it’s NM00’s fault, it’s Don cherry’s fault….but it’s never the Canucks and their employee’s fault. Bahahahaha.

      PS. Marchand called to say that your captain is still his gloves B%tich. Hhaha!

  • Not Dressed For Tonight's Game

    Man, I can’t wait til the season starts, so we can have a little more to discuss than this tired debate. Seriously, who is going to buy merchandise or buy tickets to the game if the Canucks were going to go full-tank. Not to mention the heat that the local merchants would give the Canucks organization for the lost playoff revenue. This is a business, there is no way any business would sacrifice these kind of losses. At least five years to ten years of losing, who wants to sit through that, I want to watch entertaining hockey and with the new playoff lottery rules, there is no guarantee whatsoever that that you are going to land that top pick.

    It is so easy to promote this but the reality is a lot uglier, and all those that really like this idea won’t be supporting the team in the interim. You play to win, if you are not measuring hallway through the year, you speed up the rebuild. That is what every team does.

    Do you really want to cheer on a team that plays to lose?

  • Not Dressed For Tonight's Game

    I think its largely a fundamental difference in incentives between ownership and fans.

    Fans would prefer a team that wins a cup, even if infrequently. The optimal strategy is to have elite players, who are typically acquired via high end draft picks. This means having extreme periods of awful teams and broken up by short bursts of contending teams (see tampa bay)

    As a business, its far better to make the playoffs every year and lose in one or two rounds than to miss most of the time, and occasionally make deep runs and win. 4 years of making the playoffs and losing in one round is worth far far more to the teams bottom line than missing 4 years and then making the cup final. The upside of one or two great years doesn’t cover the lost revenue of the truly awful years.

    It’s also less risky attempting to retool, as a year of bad luck will cause you to miss the playoffs (like the canucks year under Torts), but that will be balanced out by years of good luck in the long run (i.e. winning two or three rounds). The tank/contend strategy runs the risk of missing (like a stefan or brendl or daige), or completely mismanaging the opportunity to contend with high end assets (like edmonton).

    Linden and Benning have their marching orders – just make the playoffs each year, nothing more.
    However, this last year was different for canucks fans. It was the death throes of the hope that this core could rekindle some magic and win a cup. If comments on this blog and others are representative of general canuck fan sentiment, then it seems most fans won’t tolerate just making the playoffs as a sales pitch to keep them paying, and don’t see any saviours in the prospect pool to sell long term hope. The result is this melancholic disdain for what will likely be a modest couple of years at least.

  • andyg

    I find it hard to believe that teams purposely tank. Teams like Edmonton were just badly managed. Now regressing while going through a rebuild is inevitable. Falling out of the playoffs as you work in youth will happen and can help to replenish the ranks.

    With players like the Sedins, Edler,Tanev,Sutter and now Horvat there is no reason for a 10 year downer.