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.
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.”