It wasn’t that long ago the blueprint was so clear: the Vancouver Canucks were going to move Dan Hamhuis, Radim Vrbata, Chris Higgins, Brandon Prust and potentially another piece or two ahead of the National Hockey League trade deadline and the heavy-lifting required to complete a full-fledged rebuild was going to be fast-tracked by the assets assembled through the shrewd moves of management. At least that was the plan.
The reality, however, looks considerably different after the deadline lapsed and the Canucks were left with all of their devalued trade pieces and nothing in the way of new building blocks for the future. In a word, the day was disastrous for the Canucks who not only accomplished nothing to help themselves, but watched as one of their chief rivals, the Calgary Flames — in the midst of a rebuild of their own — pulled off the deal they couldn’t.
This will be a day that is talked about for years to come in this city. Remember where you were on trade deadline 2016 when the Canucks did absolutely nothing? And sadly, it’s the kind of thing that will stay with long-suffering Canucks fans. So yes, for years many will recall exactly where they were as the clock struck midday and word got out that the team had been left holding the bag.
Were there challenges to making a deal? Sure there were. However, none of them would have come as a surprise to the Canucks. They knew the parameters they were dealing with and had to find a way to concoct the best move possible. Doing nothing wasn’t an option for a team sliding the wrong way on a slippery slope in both the standings and in relevance in the marketplace. Yet nothing is exactly what they did (actually it was less than nothing if you consider the fact they lost Adam Cracknell on waivers to Edmonton early in the day).
In a season so short on excitement, this occasion was supposed to offer Canucks fans a glimpse of better days to come. Instead, it has to remind so many of 46 years of organizational failings — of coming close, but ultimately not coming through. Now, those same fans will be asked to stick with their team over 21 meaningless nights of hockey as the Canucks play out the string on a season that has gone sideways. To make matters worse, 11 of those are home games that will only serve to test the patience of the ticket-buying public.
The goal the rest of the way has to be to get the youngsters on the roster as much experience as possible. Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen represent big pieces of this organization’s future and they must play and play regularly — for their continued development and to give fans something to hold on to through this time of transition. The same goes for the rest of the under-24 set — Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, Emerson Etem, Markus Granlund and Ben Hutton. If that means Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows have to sit on some nights, so be it. This is no longer about loyalty to fading veterans. The final six weeks of the season have to be an exercise in figuring out what the Canucks have moving forward and what they still need to add to the mix.
It’s going to be a few years still until top prospects Thatcher Demko and Brock Boeser are injected into the line-up. In the meantime, it’s hard to see how things get better for the Vancouver Canucks in the short-term. Top end scoring talent beyond the Sedins remains a massive issue as does quality on defense. Sure, there will be some improvement from within if the young players on the roster are developed properly, but has there been any indication this season that the youth movement as currently assembled can make the Canucks competitive any time soon? That seems like a stretch at this point in time and probably for longer than fans want to hear.
That’s why the trade deadline should have meant so much to the Canucks. These instances don’t come around very often and Monday was an opportunity to stockpile a few pieces to speed the rebuild. Instead, all Monday turned out to be was an opportunity lost.