What They’re Saying: Trevor Linden’s ‘Tell-All’

With the Vancouver Canucks playing host to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the visiting team’s media circus has followed them across the Rockies and into Rogers Arena.

This trip, though, is a bit out of the ordinary. When these teams last played a month ago, each side wreaked physical havoc on the other. Naturally, the media wants player responses and to see if those same fires burn within them a month later.

There are those, though, who’d prefer to take a path less travelled. Count Sportsnet’s Luke Fox among them. He’s one of a handful of Toronto press members who’ve traversed Rogers Arena already, and he has the inside track on interviews as a result. He spoke with Canucks President Trevor Linden, in a lengthy question and answer format interview.

Obviously, the first topic on the agenda was tonight’s game. It appears that almost all Vancouver-Toronto match-ups seem to be high-tempo and high-scoring. Historically, the winning team has scored at least four goals in 10 of the last 12 meetings. November 3rd was no exception, but the Nazem Kadri hit seemed to overshadow the score and put a shock on Canucks fans’ faces. Here’s what Linden thought about the hit: 

Linden on the Kadri hit: “It’s interesting. I appreciated the Department of Player Safety’s opinion on it based on the rulebook – It wasn’t late. The primary contact wasn’t the head, and they’re going very much off the rules, which they have to do. I do believe there has to be some small test whether the hit is dangerous. You’ve got a player in a vulnerable position, and a repeat offender in a predatory way. I ask you this: If Danny Sedin is face-down on the ice in a pool of blood, getting stretchered off, do you think differently that the hit should be allowed in the game? The department of safety needs some leeway to say, ‘That’s a suspendible hit. We don’t want that in the game.'”

When Linden and Jim Benning replaced Mike Gillis in 2014, the team charted a reset. The focus was to place a heavy emphasis on the future without compromising the present. By no means has it been an easy road, but you’ve got to be impressed by how management has stuck to their word. They wanted to revitalize the roster and get younger, which meant that the 2010-2011 core players had to go. It’s honestly pretty remarkable how much they’ve done in the last three seasons. Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, Chris Higgins, and Dam Hamhuis were amongst the handful of core players moved elsewhere. Only six players – Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows, Alex Edler, Jannik Hansen, and Chris Tanev – remain on the roster from that Game 7 team. All the other players, with exception to Manny Malhotra, are no longer in the organization. The Canucks have gone from easily one of the oldest teams to now a mix of quality veterans, some up-and-coming, mid-20s players, and a solid amount of youth.

Linden on the Canucks’ transition: “There was a core group of players that meant a lot to this organization, a lot to this city. Game 7 losers in ’11, Presidents’ Trophy in ’12. A core group starting to move on (on age). Eleven no-trade contracts. Two guys that, quite simply, were just never going to be moved. That’s 33 and 22. They’re going to be here until they decide not to be here. Now look at this year. Tonight we’ll have the youngest defence core in the NHL. Our oldest defensemen will be 26 year-old Sbisa and Larse. Gudbranson’s 24, Hutton’s 23. Stecher and Tryamkin are 22. That’s a new group. We’ve rebuilt that defence. We’re in a significant transitional period as an organization, it’s a matter of being patient. But (the biggest positive) is the growth of young players like Stecher, Tryamkin, and Hutton.

It’s honestly pretty remarkable how much of an overhaul the Linden-Benning regime has completed. Comparing the rosters from 2013-14 (what they inherited) to now, there’s been lots of movement in such a small amount of time.

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 Linden on attendance at games: “We started the sell-out streak in November 2002. That ran 12 years to ’14. That was a good run. The West Coast Express years, then a pause. Luongo came, then the Sedin-Sedin-Kesler-Burrows-Bieksa-Edler core took the city through 2009 to 2012. There’s a bit of a pause [now]: What’s going to happen next? There’s a recognition that, although [fans] love that core group that was here, they’re waiting to see what the next chapter looks like.”

Linden on that next chapter: “The veteran leadership – be it Daniel, Henrik, Alex Burrows – is certainly important to the growth and development of the Granlunds and Baertschis and Horvats and Virtanens and Stechers and Tryamkins and Huttons. 18 months ago, we lost to Calgary in the playoffs. As disappointing as that was, we understood we had to keep transitioning, keep getting younger. We’ve done that. maybe not as quick or as dramatic as people would like that to happen.”

It happens more than one would think – that one would go out and wish that the Canucks embraces a Toronto-like approach to managing the team. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and everyone has their take on management’s plan. Whether it be the casual tweeter, a caller on TSN 1040, or even journalists and writers, there are a range of suggestions that are made public or internally. Despite the disappointment, Linden gives extremely valid reasons as to why the team is forgoing that route. 

Linden on a Toronto-like rebuild: “What people fail to realize is the older group of players we had here – the Garrisons and Keslers and Bieksas and Higgins and Hamhuises – which are no longer with us, these are good people. These are leaders. Perhaps in Toronto, that wasn’t the case. We have Daniel and Henrik Sedin here, who are very important to this organization and icons in the city. They’re not going anywhere. i don’t know how I walk into the room and tell these guys, ‘Strip it down.’ I’m not sure it’s fair to these guys. There’s different circumstances, be it in Toronto or Carolina or Vancouver, requires different routes. It’s not perfect, but I’m encourages by the young players we’ve introduced, and we’ve got some young prospects.”

At the end of last season, it was thought by many that Alex Burrows had played his last game in a Canucks jersey. The shootout goal that he scored vs. Edmonton, followed by the arrow to the skies for Luc Bourdon – it was a storybook ending for a guy who had climbed his way from the ECHL to the big leagues. He’s played 12 seasons with the Canucks and arguably stamped his name as a Ring of Honour inductee. At the age of 35, Burrows finds himself making $4.5 million with an expiring contract. Playing on a line with Horvat and Baertschi, he looks to have an extra jump in his step. He’s the veteran mentoring two young players, but that wouldn’t have happened had he been bought out in the summer.

Linden on Burrows handling buy-out speculation: “[He dealt with it] exactly the way I’d expect Burrows to deal with it. I remember talking to him in my first year, he was on the fourth line. He was like, ‘Trev, listen. I don’t care where I play, I just want to win.’ I know with Alex it’s not just words. If you want him on the fourth line to kill penalties or on the first line, he’ll come to the rink the same way. We could’t ask for a better guy that works his tail off and practices great habits. Having someone like that around the young players, it’s hard to coach that or do that from here.”

With regards to prospects, Trevor Linden pointed out Brock Boeser, Olli Juolevi, Thatcher Demko, Adam Gaudette, Will Lockwood, and Guillaume Brisebois as being players that he is excited about. For a recent, in-depth review of all Canucks prospects, navigate here for Ryan Biech’s weekly edition of Blackfish.

Linden on Boeser: “The guy we thought about when we watched him in the USHL is Joe Pavelski. He’s not a burner but he’s got a great shot, a great release. He’s a really intelligent offensive player. Brock is a quality kid, the type you want on your team.”

Back in October, it seemed like Willie Desjardins’ fate on the team was in jeopardy every day. After each game, the same discussion occurred as to whether or not he would be fired tomorrow. The Canucks, it appears, have started to settle into their shoes and hover around a certain area of the standings. The story of the past few weeks has been win one, lose one, and gone are the ‘I can’t see Willie making it past Saturday’ statements.

Linden on Desjardins: “Willie’s concern is one thing, that’s winning. In professional sports, people look to point the finger. The eastiest one to point the finger as is the coach. He went to work every day and worked hard at getting our group better. It’s a tough spot to be in, and we talked a lot through it. I try to be consistent (with the number of conversations). Honestly, I try to be present enough but not too much.”

Some exciting news came out earlier this week when Hockey Canada announced that the 2019 World Junior Championships were going to help in Vancouver and Victoria. The last time BC hosted this international event was back in 2006. Canada won gold, and the late Luc Bourdon put up six points (one goal, five assists) in six games. This tournament coming back to Vancouver is huge. Here at Canucks Army, we’re all ecstatic. The world’s best U20 hockey players will all be in our province to play in the biggest junior hockey tournament in the world. For the full press conference at Rogers Arena, click here.

Linden on the bid process: “We were involved early in the process. Ronnie Toigo, Vancouver Giants owner, approached us. A friend of mine who owns the Royals, we got together. Ron asked if we would like to support with the building and other things. We were like ‘Absolutely.’ The city got on board, so we were part of a big committee to bring it. [I was] very (nervous that another city would win). I thought Edmonton and Bob Nicholson were going to get it. He seems to have an inside track on all Hockey Canada, IIHF stuff.”

Lastly, a few weeks ago, Elliotte Friedman made a report that there were ramblings of Trevor Linden contemplating resigning as President. Those reports were shut down, but the speculation will always remain. Here’s what Linden has to say regarding how long he expects to remain with the Canucks:

“As long as I enjoy what I’m doing, and I enjoy what I do. I feel very fortunate to be part of an organization that’s meant so much to me. I care about this team, this city, the fans of this team. I understand the business. But at the same time, if someone knocks on my door tomorrow and says, “You’re done,” well, I go back to my old life. That was good, too.”

Source: Sportsnet

  • Jimjamg

    The thing that grinds me about the “rebuild” controversy is the narrative primarliy from the TO media that there is only one “right” way to do it, their way. It is a ludicrous assertion. Did Montreal strip everything down? the Rangers? San Jose? Of course not and they are all Cup contenders. As Linden points out Vancouver has the benefit of quality veterans with tremendous experience, character and talent, something the Leafs and Oilers never had, so a veteran mentored rebuild was never a possibility for them (unless you see Kessel as a great mentor type). With the Sedins and Burrows it is a no-brainer, and no doubt this is the year that Burrows will get moved at the deadline to a Cup contender for good value, however much we will all miss his character, energy and grit, it is probably the right time. That will leave only the Sedin’s (ok and Edler) from our rebuild. What their assertions belie is their envy of the decade of relevance that the Sedin’s gave us and the nightly entertainment, something the TO media was not so fortunate to enjoy this past decade.

  • wojohowitz

    Quite right about the Toronto media circus. They want to know: Does Trevor resign before or after the game? Does Willie get fired today or tomorrow? Is Virtanen for Kane a done deal? Are the Canucks really going to ship Tanev to Toronto for an eighth round draft pick?

    Here`s a few questions for the Toronto media: Lucky Lou hasn`t been seen in months. Is that a variation of; `Weekend at Bernies`? Does Shanny has compromising photos of Bettman? Both Taveres and Stamkos have absolutely no intentions of playing for the Leafs because they hate the Toronto media? Is it true Matthews is thinking about a career in baseball? Nylander wants ten million a year or he`s going home? Somebody ask Elliotte when he stopped beating his wife?

  • Locust

    Well written article – I think Vanessa is starting to rub off on some of the other contributors too. Funny how that works when you ‘write about hockey’ and constantly get schooled by a university chick….

    Toronto sucks – in every possible way.

    A one vowel town that doesn’t have one redeeming quality.

    Maybe someone could ask the Toronto media why the rest of the league has to touch their toes every Saturday night so the Laffs can be on in prime time….

  • Who cares what Toronto thinks. Everyone knows Vancouver is the center of the universe. Why can’t these people just mind their own business.

    I agree with Linden. Just keep doing what you have to. Canucks management knows the Canucks, so do what needs doing.

    • Whackanuck

      Overall, hockey exposure and a good team in a very major market is good for the NHL. When Torontonians are more interested in the Jays than the Leafs it’s not good for hockey. When the Toronto media circus comes to town a litle idiocy gets published-so what? Is it really worse than what the local writers put out?

  • Brent

    so Virtanen was not mentioned as a “prospect”. Does that mean something, or is that because he has played in the NHL already? Even though he is in the corner with the dunce cap on in Commetville.

    • Braindead Benning

      Some may argue that he is only 20 and needs to develop however, he was never very dominant at the junior level and he is not even able to produce at the AHL level so far or even make any sort of difference to be noticeable.

      I still shake my head how he was positioned so high in the draft… he should have been in the 20 -30 slot, been a big disappointment thus far

  • UKCanuck

    Lots of variables you can’t control at play with the strip down rebuild. No guarantee you come last, could be 29 or 28th. You then have to win the draft lottery. Finish 28th or 29th, lose the lottery and you could find yourself drafting at 6 or 7 quite easily. You then still have to develop the player you pick. Will Leafs management still look like geniuses if Austin Matthews turns into Nial Yakupov? Where would the Leafs rebuild be if they’d picked at 4 and taken Olli Juollevi? The Oilers had to wait a decade to get lucky with McDavid. The entire concept of the strip down rebuild is based on getting lucky in the lottery at a time that a generational player is available.

    • Dirk22

      1 – Austen Matthews is unfortunately not going to turn into Yakopov

      2 – contrary to many opinions on here- the Oilers never really did a strip down rebuild. That involves selling off veterans for future assets. They did trade Smyth and Pronger about 10 years ago but they were forced by the players to do that because of contract demands or unhappy wives – it wasn’t a conscious choice to rebuild. The only other veterans they really unloaded over the years were Dustin Penner and Erik Cole – not exactly tearing anything down as people want to believe. Oilers were brutal for a long time and have been saved by McDavid. The reasons for this were not because they did a strip down rebuild – it was because they were managed poorly and drafted poorly.

      3. You’re right that you can’t guarantee your draft pick spot or that there will be a top tier talent with a 1st overall. It’s not all about that though. It’s about giving yourself as many chances to hit on a difference maker in the draft. That player might not even be a first round player.

      No matter what your opinion on how the Canucks should go forward, no one can deny that they are going to need plenty more impact/difference maker type players before they become a team that has any chance to compete for the Cup. Even the most optimistic fan has to admit that. So the question becomes, where are those players going to come from?

      4. Even if the Leafs got stuck with Juolevi instead of Matthews, they’d still be light years ahead of us. Everyone realizes the Sedins aren’t going to be here forever right? in order to compare the two rosters and where they are at with a rebuild you need to remove them from the equation.

      • DJ_44

        I agree with your first two points.

        With respect to #3: I do not completely buy the argument that it is about giving you as many chances to hit; it is about drafting as smart as you can with the picks you have.

        I agree we need some impactful players. It is a very reasonable assumption that Boeser is such a player. Juolevi is probably also in that category. Let;’s not write off Virtanen just yet either. He appears to be starting to find his way in Utica.

        The Sedin’s are not the Canucks long term future; that is obvious. But they are valuable now in the re-building process. Are the Leafs ahead of the Canucks? Overall, yes. Primarily because of 2 players Matthews and Marner. I think the Canucks are slightly ahead on the blueline, and way ahead in net.

      • TheRealPB

        The problem with the quantity over quality argument is that it assumes that this scattershot approach somehow guarantees more of a chance for success. Does it in fact work out? The Leafs — the only team to actually do a tear-down rebuild – have in the course of those three years managed to do some smart things including getting out from the terrible contract to Clarkson (by taking over the dead contract of Horton), flipped a few vets for some good prospects in Kapanen and Harrington (Kessel) and Lindberg, and changed over their core. You say they are light years ahead of us – sure because they were sucking for a decade before us and so have accumulated a few earlier good pieces (Gardiner and Reilly). But even in this rebuild period they have arguably had much less success in drafting than we have, despite all the bellyaching about what Benning’s given away. They’ve hit home runs with Matthews (#1), Marner (#4), and Nylander (#8 — that one I’ll concede is certainly better than ours). But comparing what they got in those three drafts to ours? You really think those are superior? Even if we traded away McCann and Forsling, it’s pretty impressive to pull 5 possible NHL players in 2014, 6 possible players in 2015, and at least 2 who are looking solid so far from 2016. None of that is guaranteed but overall I’d say our prospects are looking much better and from a much poorer drafting position than TO’s.

        If the Leafs, Oilers, Flames and Panthers — all of whom are supposed to be “light years ahead of us” in their rebuilds — have shown anything this year, it’s that hockey isn’t a game that’s played on paper. You have to have a lot of things go right – for the Flames and Panthers serious injuries have taken their toll on what might otherwise be better teams. For the Leafs and Oilers despite having generational players on their teams they are still a few bounces away from having very different kinds of seasons. Rebuilding is a long process. I don’t know how long it will take the Canucks to be truly competitive — far into the post-Sedin years I’m guessing; we have to wait and see if the impatience of Canucks fans can take it. People often point to the Blackhawks, Bruins and Kings for examples of how high draft picks can help you eventually succeed — but all three of those franchises went literally a decade each with being bottom 10 in the league in attendance (Chicago was second last in the league for about five years) before improving. Can the Canucks actually succeed in a prolonged slump like that given the already shaky attendance figures?