Trevor Linden: ‘we were hoping for the best and it didn’t work out this year’

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Screen cap courtesy: CBC.ca

It was less formal and more revealing than what had just taken
place on the other side of the wall at Rogers Arena. 

Moments after Jim Benning
and Willie Desjardins descended from the podium where they had been pressed on
the many failings of the Vancouver Canucks this season, President of Hockey
Operations Trevor Linden offered his thoughts and observations.

In a
wide-ranging media scrum, Linden once again backed his head coach, broke the
news of his captain’s broken finger, shot down rampant rumours of a front office
shake-up and seemed to offer a glimpse into the team’s plans for the ample spending
money the Canucks are likely to have to work with this summer when the salaries
of Radim Vrbata and quite likely Dan Hamhuis come off the books.

On
Tuesday, Linden, who had previously given his head coach a strong vote of
confidence prior to the team’s March 5th game in San Jose, once
again stood by Desjardins despite the Canucks late season tailspin.

“He was given a challenge, I
think he worked hard at it, I think he did a good job at it and he’ll
definitely be back next year,” Linden said.

So from
that, it certainly seems safe to assume that Desjardins will return for a third
season behind the Canucks bench. As for his assistants – Doug Lidster, Glen
Gulutzan and Perry Pearn – the future appears a little less certain. That doesn’t
mean the staff won’t remain intact, although Linden wouldn’t commit to that
today.

“We’re
going to meet with the coaching staff next week and drill down on their various
areas of responsibilities,” he said. “With young players, it’s a lot more work
with the amount of video and teaching. I’m pretty happy with the job they did,
but we will review everything in the next week.”

As Linden
spoke to the media, he revealed one of the reasons for Henrik Sedin’s second
half struggles. Although the Canuck captain himself had claimed he was healthy
after the All-Star break, it was clear to anyone who watched the team closely
that he wasn’t able to compete at his highest level. Linden says some of that
was due to the fact the Henrik finished the season with a broken finger that he
had refused to reveal publicly instead trying to play through the pain to help
the hockey club even when he wasn’t 100%.

“Henrik
through his injuries wouldn’t take himself out — he broke his finger and
nobody knew about it,” Linden explains. “He battled some challenges through
Christmas there with his hip and back and obviously the shoulder in Long
Island. These guys you don’t hear anything from. They suffer in silence, but
they’re warriors. They’re tough and they’re going to continue to battle and be
leaders for this group.”

The
challenge, as it has been for years now for Canucks management, will be to find
players to ease the offensive burden on the 35-year-old Sedins. To that end, Linden
will be part of the Canucks management group in North Dakota next week taking
in the World Under-18 hockey championship. As the team brass eyes potential
future players, it will surely continue to reflect on where this past season
went off the rails.

Yes
there were injury issues that played a role in the Canucks struggles, but Linden
admitted Tuesday that the way this team was constructed, it needed a lot of
things to go right for the club just to be competitive. Obviously, many of
those things didn’t happen.

“We
needed good performances from our older players, we needed our younger players
to step up, we needed to stay healthy, we needed good goaltending – which we
got,” he said. “The year before we had things go right. When we came in in
2014, we knew we were eventually going to have to go down this path and the
risk we were going to run is exactly what we saw this year. And that was the
scary part of it. You know you’ve got an older group and you know you’ve got to
get younger, you know you’ve got to plan and develop the next core and how that
meshes together is the challenge. We were hoping for the best and, you know, it
didn’t work out this year.”

While
losing seasons in professional sports are often accompanied by change at the
top, Linden bristled at the suggestion that the Canucks are looking at adding
someone with NHL managerial experience to their front office. The rumour mill
has been churning lately with former Washington general manager – and current
co-GM of Canada’s entry at the World Hockey championship – George McPhee’s name
linked to the Canucks. If it happened, it would see McPhee come full circle
after getting break in hockey management when he worked in the Canucks front
office under Pat Quinn back in the early 1990s. But on Tuesday, Linden was
quick to shoot down the story.

“I have
no idea, honestly, where that comes from,” he said while backing his current
GM. “Jim has been put in a very difficult situation. He’s made some difficult
decisions. I’m really happy with where we are. I think Jim has done an
excellent job with the challenges in front of us. Currently, I’m not looking at
bringing in anybody.”

The
Canucks may not be making changes in the front office, but there will most
certainly be moves made to a roster that produced 31 wins and 75 points. When
pressed on the team’s plans heading into free agency and the possibility of
landing a big name available on the open market after July 1st,
Linden seemed to be offering the fan base a message of organizational caution
with an eye toward a handful of big-ticket extensions in the years ahead. Sure
the Canucks have money to spend this summer, but Linden didn’t sound like he
wanted to lock into long-term deals that could impact the club’s ability to
resign any of its own key pieces.

“It
depends on who we decide to bring back, but we also have to consider 2017-18
and what that looks like with Horvat and Hutton and Markstrom  and we’re in those planning stages now and
looking at how all that comes together,” he said. “We need to establish that
mid-tier veteran leadership – Edler, Tanev, Sutter, Dorsett – who are going to
be mentors to our younger players. We need to be careful. I don’t think there
are any quick fixes in free agency. There’s no magic that happens. If we can
add a player that makes sense we have to be mindful of where this young group
is in two years and what that looks like.”

Some of
the players the Canucks will depend on in years to come are currently gearing up
for the American Hockey League playoffs. Players like Brendan Gaunce and Andrey
Pedan were re-assigned to Utica to bolster the farm team’s line-up with a week
to go before the post-season begins. Linden says the Canucks will be monitoring
the progress of their players in Utica, but denied as he has in the past any
plans to relocate the farm team from the other side of the continent.

“We
have such value for the environment that Utica presents,” he says. “It’s an NHL
environment with the pressure and the fans there care. We never had a problem
getting players in – even on the day of a game. It’s hard, but I think the
value outweighs the geographical closeness. We’re going to continue to look at
it but right now we have no plans to move.”

One
place the Canucks are hoping to move is up the draft board in the April 30th
lottery. Currently holding the third best chance of landing the top pick, Linden
is hoping the ping pong balls fall the Canucks way. If they do, he made it
clear that there will be no mystery when the Canucks get to the podium on draft
day in Buffalo.

“I think
Auston Matthews is the guy,” he says of the consensus top pick. “We’ll look at
everything. I don’t want to get too excited. I think there’s potential for the
top three players to come in and have an impact. I think, after that, it’s
probably unlikely.”

As for
who will represent the Canucks at the draft lottery, Linden says that remains
to be determined.

“I’ve been talking with (NHL deputy
commissioner) Bill Daly about that and what that looks like, but we don’t know
that,” he says, adding that he has resisted the temptation so far to test his
luck ahead of lottery day. “I have not touched the simulator.”

In all,
Linden spoke for close to half an hour, expressing disappointment about the way
things unfolded over the past six months, but remaining optimistic about what
lies ahead for the hockey club. He’s under no illusion that there is plenty of
work to be done and no easy way to accomplish all of the tasks at hand.
However, he made it clear that while no one in the organization is happy with
the current state of affairs, the management group has the green light and the
authority from ownership to do whatever is necessary to make this team competitive
again.

“I sit with our ownership group
monthly, I talk to Francesco regularly and they’re completely on board with
where we are in the cycle and what needs to be done,” he says. “Our fans have
been tremendous. They’re loyal. But there’s going to be some challenges moving
forward, no question.”

Tuesday was a day for talking, however
words can only accomplish so much. Now it’s time for the Canucks actions to
speak for themselves. One of the most-important off-seasons in franchise
history is officially underway and it figures to be more exciting than the
hockey club was on most nights throughout this past season of disappointments.

  • Good article Jeff. My gut feeling tells me change is coming, and it’s coming soon. Coaches, management, and players. Failure has a price and someone has to pay. The Vancouver Canucks will have a different look next year.

  • Marvin101

    Ownership group? Aquilini and his flunkies or have other people bought a piece of the team?

    Hire Dale Talon as president, keep Benning as manager and let Linden be Aquilini’s gopher.

  • pheenster

    I know we’re still on the bleakness bandwagon, but maybe an article about the Canuck selections for the upcoming worlds? We had heard about Tanev but no mention of the fact that Hutton got selected? And apparently Granlund has been selected for Team Finland which is confusing since Shinkaruk (an obviously far superior player) doesn’t seem to have been picked by Canada…

    Also I know we should be screaming at Benning for not having signed Boeser and Demko yet; he irresponsibly met with both players’ parents after the Frozen Four to consult with them about their options and said Boeser will go back to school next year while he hopes to sign Demko within two weeks. Yet more signs of his clear incompetence!

    If we really want to replace Benning I hope to god it’s someone not named George McPhee. Or has everyone forgotten about that wonderful trade of Martin Erat for Filip Forsberg?

  • pheenster

    I wish that were true backupbob. I would love us to cut hammy and a few others go then signa tough Lucic or goal scoring sniper in Stamkos.

    However Linden has tunnel vision and hasalready told the world Willy is comming back. The same drwamer of a coach who publicly declared we were having a breakthru when we somehow pulled a mini miracle and swept the 3 california games.

    At least this was too much even for Henrik Sedin and he called Willy on that. Then reality stes in and we get hammered by 2 non playoff teams in calgary/edmonton. We will be better just from an effort standpoint next yr. with a healthy Sutter/Edler etc. but without grabing a front line player thru ufa,and having Willy behind the bench we should be out of the playoffs again in 2017. Where will the changes be??

  • pheenster

    Canucks have a 1 in three chance of getting one of the first three picks who will be Auston and the Finns, all of them offensive dynamos on first division clubs so could add offensive power immediately.
    Otherwise they probably draft fifth and Tkachuk and Chychrun are a couple of years away from the NHL.

    Horvat, Hutton and Markstrom will be getting huge salary increases in 2017 so that figures in strongly on free agent signings. Canucks need an elite scoring forward so here’s hoping they beat the 2:1 odds against for a top three draft pick.

  • Cageyvet

    Massive ownership bashing that is unwarranted. As someone commented on this board in the past, all owners meddle, and it’s all rumour anyway, get over it.

    We have local owners who are invested in the team, spend to the cap, and aren’t afraid to buy out their mistakes, be it coaches or players.

    In all my years of watching hockey, the most common theme from a new management group is a 5 year plan. Cut this management group some slack, fringe players being shuffled, lost, or overpaid is not a big deal.

    If you don’t value their overall drafting ability and resolve to retain and develop those assets, you’re of a different mindset than me.

    I see a team that is finally stocking up on the young talent you need to succeed in the cap era. I enjoy the game more focusing on the positives I see ahead of us than the negatives that are in the rearview mirror.

    One more good draft this year where JB could pull 2 solid NHL’ers from the top 36 picks and we’re not looking too bad.

    • Condorman

      Thing is… All this ownership group has show is that it meddles.
      How else would you explain

      The Torterella hiring (against the will of GMMG)
      The Linden hiring (against the conventional wisdom that he is too inexperienced)

      For all that is said about the ownership group, all I can see is a group that is scrambling to maximize revenue despite their stated goal of bringing us the Stanley Cup.

      • Condorman

        Why do Gillis apologists complain about Linden’s lack of experience while glossing over Gillis’ lack of experience?

        Linden was at least intelligent enough to let someone competent run the draft.

        Did Gillis do that?

        “The Torterella hiring (against the will of GMMG)”

        Is that you Mike?

        Teaching at UVic must be a breeze if you have time to troll delusional Canuck fans…

        • Condorman

          I’m not an GMMG apologist by any means for there are enough warts on his hairy behind that we can hang our gripes on.

          In my mind, GMMG did the following things wrong

          1) retained the scouting department (although drafting did get much better in his later years when he figured out which scouts to trust)

          2) failed to renew the core after each successful season and allowed his assets to depreciate by not selling high (instead signing them to long term contracts with NTCs). A more progressive system would be what Bowman has done in Chicago when he sells his non core assets (Ladd, Byfuglien etc) for prospects after each playoff run. I am a firm believer that the core needs to be rejuvenated each year, especially if you have an excellent coach like AV. I would have moved Edler, Kesler (and perhaps Burrows prior to the end of his last contract).

          3) being fair to arrogant in dealing with others, thus reducing the number of positive working relationships with other GMs.

          4) giving into his owners and firing his head coach AV for Torts.

      • Condorman

        If you believe my goal is the Stanley Cup over maximizing profit (not revenue), I hope you do not run a business.

        If you do not like my product, you are welcome to shop elsewhere.

        But you’ll be back in September as desperate as ever to watch the National Hockey League team that I have given this city.

        And you know it.

          • Condorman

            You do not have my ear.

            But I do have your wallet.

            There is only one Stanley Cup awarded per year.

            If my team incidentally wins a championship, I will not protest.

            But it remains a peripheral objective.

            Fortunately, there are enough people in my city that treat hockey as religion.

            Blind faith is its own reward.

            For The Godfather at least.

        • pheenster

          Dear Francesco. I had already given up my pair of $20,000 (per year) lower bowl tickets 2 years ago. Been taking the family on yearly vacations trips to Europe and the Far East Asia. My wife and family says it’s the best decision I’ve made when it comes to spending my entertainment dollars.

          Rusty
          (eating a taco in Kihei looking at all the beautifully tanned body)

          • pheenster

            Dear customer,

            Nobody cares.

            I still profit from ownership of the hockey team as part of my larger portfolio.

            The fact that you kept season tickets until 2014 – well after the end of the golden era of Canuck hockey – is your own issue.

            I enjoyed the money, though.

            One can never have too many ivory backscratchers.

  • Condorman

    Linden “hopes” his team to failure. Great managers mitigate failure with tactics and plans. Linden bristles at adding experienced management because he knows they will make him look bad and then his cushy job will be in jeapordy. Stop blowing smoke at this fan base and step down and admit you are way over your head.

  • Condorman

    At least Shanny got it right. We do need a Dale Talon type here,but instead we got the 3 blind mice.Well 2/3 I am giving Benning some slack, he knows how to draft

  • Condorman

    Just wondering…..
    If we somehow manage to get the #1 overall pick, would we trade it to Arizona for Dylan Strome and their first pick (which would be in the 7-10 range…unless they get a lottery pick too)?

  • Condorman

    We should sign Lou Erikson. guy potted30 goals his yr.andhehas played with the twins at the worlds. This would be an upgrade, simplylet any of burr andhammy or vrbata go and it can be done!

    And how about throwing Willy out too and grabbing Julien?

    • JuiceBox

      Signing Eriksson will cost 4 years and $20M. He scored 30 last year, so did Vrbata, look how quickly the bottom can fall out once a player is on the wrong side of 30. Before you know it Eriksson is 32 with 2 years left on his contract making $5M per season and scoring 10-15 goals.

      The amount of cap space the Canucks will have this summer is dangerous and worrisome. At least Trevor can see passed this to the next couple of years when most of these young players will be needing raises. By signing Eriksson they could be putting in jeopardy the potential to sign some of our young players a couple years down the road.

      Chasing talent via free agency is a fools game. Unless Eriksson can be had for 3.5M – 4.0M per year on a 2 year deal, it’s not worth the risk.

      • The only big ticket FA I’d chase is Stamkos and that’s due to his age. However, I would wait to check out his medical situation prior to any huge deals.

        Other than that, let the youth and existing vets grow together (and maybe this year’s draft pick).

    • pheenster

      You do realize that the Bruins ended both of the last two years with disastrous collapses and missed the playoffs right? And that Julien has been heavily criticized for his (mis) use of players and lineups?

      I don’t know why people always think the grass is greener elsewhere.

      It’s not like we traded away a 21-year-old #2 overall pick with superstar skills for a package or a or 21-year-old stud defenseman for some draft picks. Or signed 35-year-old plugs to multi-year big contracts. But by all means let’s talk now about emptying the management ranks right before the one thing that this group has shown a clear talent in — drafting.

  • pheenster

    hillbillydeluxe I am merely voicing my displeasure at Willy.s incompetance. I know full well that he is not going anywhere next year,unless Linden gets canned.

    And Erikson signing for 3.5-4 mil is what we currently are paying Burr and Hamhuis. I would much prefer the goal scoring Lou on a top line with the Sedins. Heck Stamkos is the best choice for an ufa as someone mentioned but I do not believe he would entertain comming here?

    And maybe Julien is not a good fit here but that just shows how much I despise and have zero confidence in Desjardins. For those of you who would rather see another 2 yrs. of hammy/willy then where is the change comming from? Well if you do not mind a crappy pp, an overused Dorsett and getting creamed by the mortal alberta teams,guess what? You likely will get your wish!

    • I wouldn’t be against LE for a couple seasons.

      I am not a big fan of how WD has made up some of his lines, but not sure any different approach would have yielded different results. and I don’t think Linden is going anywhere, just a figure head because he is so popular.

      Wanted to see more of Pedan down the stretch over Weber, Bartkowski or Biega.

      I’d be curious to know how much of WD’s player deployment is just his decision or with JB’s input?

      I’d like to see a ufa like McGinn signed, add toughness and scoring.

  • Condorman

    no need to panic. it’s all under control. canuck management has the situation under control. trevor has the situation under control.

    and I’d be comforted… if i could somehow erase the memory of trade-deadline 2016 and canuck managerial incompetence.

    naming dorsett as a key part of leadership group also didn’t do much for me. it seems like trevor wasn’t watching the games either.

  • Condorman

    When will people start to see and understand you can’t just play a good player like Eriksson with the Sedins.
    As much as I hesitate at the idea of signing Lucic, he may be a perfect fit for them. The Sedins play perimeter catch with each other and use their third line mate sparingly…..that is why Jake Virtanen will not work out as a winger for the Sedin’s. They don’t like to pass to other players and prefer to keep the puck themselves. Eriksson prefers to have the puck on his stick more and may work better with someone like McCann. Lucic on the other hand will dig the puck out of the corner and drive to the net hard….something they desperately need.
    Do we have a Lucic style player in the system? Virtanen doesn’t stand still yet and is more of an up and down winger who is will gain confidence with the puck on his stick.

  • Dirty30

    Fair enough hillbillydeluxe,I concur with all your recent points of view. Lets really hope we do not draft past the number3 first round picks, then we likely solidify a top 6 scoring forward.

    I did not know that Pedan won the fastest skater and hardest shot at the nucks superskills competition. Surely he is worth a hard look see in september. But I am worried Willy has closed his mind on him?

    • Dirty30

      I think one of the challenges with JB trading for players a little older + more developed is if they don’t make the club or are borderline, you either sit them in the press box or expose them on waivers.

      all we can hope for is WD gives Pedan a fair shake.

      I am okay with JB picking the bpa whatever place we pick. we need dmen but if we upgrade with a forward, that would be great to get some scoring help.

  • Condorman I love the kings and there coach. They are big/tough/nasty and most importantly skilled. That Toffoli is amongst the best young forwrds in the game today.

    Do we have a Lucic type? No we do not,and yes we need 1 or 2. But Willy does not seem to like big/tough forwards. He would rather see Dorsett skating up/down doing nothing but agitating

    • Condorman

      Yeah, good point. Far too often this year I saw some really strange line combinations that made no sense to me. As much as I want give “the so called hockey experts” the benefit of the doubt, there were far too many questionable choices.

      ….unless, that was the actual management plan…..to let us think they were trying to win all the while putting out questionable lineups just so we would lose….aka, not pairing Vrbata with the Sedins….then it was BRILLIANT!!!