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Photo Credit: theprovince.com

Don’t Believe Anything Iain MacIntyre Tells You About The Canucks And Rebuilding

Iain MacIntyre was on TSN 1040’s midday show yesterday to discuss the team’s direction and the job Willie Desjardins has done as head coach. MacIntyre provided about six minutes of analysis, but it was an early exchange that caught my ear and struck me as a bit misguided:

Iain MacIntyre: “The one thing that I’ll say, that I think is unfair about criticism of the hockey team generally is that it seems often now people are advocating… that the priority needs to be on development and bringing kids along and making the team younger… and yet they’re outraged and hyper-critical when the team loses.” 

Don Taylor: “There you go. That’s well said.” 

IM: “You can’t have everything. You can have one or the other. If people think that the young players are already better than the experienced players I’m afraid that’s just not reality. Older players, even ones that might be considered journeymen, or pedestrian, or depth players in the NHL, if they’ve been around they still have more know-how, they have more trade craft than younger players who have, granted, perhaps more talent, and certainly more potential, but haven’t learned to play the game.”

There’s a lot to chew on here, so I’ll deconstruct this point by point.

It seems often now people are advocating… that the priority needs to be on development and bringing kids along and making the team younger… and yet they’re outraged and hyper-critical when the team loses.  

This is perhaps the greatest misconception to plague the Vancouver hockey media over the past three seasons, and to be fair, this isn’t unique to Iain MacIntyre in the slightest. He’s just the most recent example. The purpose isn’t to put him on blast, but rather to finally put a group of misconceptions that have permeated the local media to bed.

What MacIntyre is completely failing to understand here, as others have before him, is the distinction between criticism of process and criticism of results. I don’t claim to have insight into the thoughts and feelings of every Canucks fan, but the majority of the criticism I’ve seen and the majority of which we’ve published in this space and others like it, has very little to do with the fact that the Canucks are losing, and much more to do with how they’re losing.

They’ve been raked over the coals for playing boring, low-event hockey, for doling out undeserved ice time to marginal players, or for scratching promising youngsters, but they’ve rarely been criticized simply for failing to close out games.

You can’t have everything. You can have one or the other. 

This was the highlight of MacIntyre’s radio hit for me. It’s funny to see one of the management’s biggest defenders in this market suggest that the team can’t have it both ways considering having it both ways has been their stated goal from day one. It’s even funnier in the context of the rest of the interview, where IMac goes on to defend the Canucks’ attempts to be competitive and rebuild at the same time, something he just said doesn’t work. Hmm…

In this instance, IMac has provided us with a classic example of moving the goalposts. The message from the outset from this management group has been that they could compete for the playoffs, and that a winning environment will help the development of their young players. There have been many people in this market that disagree with that direction, but it only seems fair to judge the team based on the criteria they themselves have established.

If people think that the young players are already better than the experienced players I’m afraid that’s just not reality. 

It’s difficult to know what players IMac is talking about specifically, but at face value, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In general, this line of thinking is incredibly flawed from the outset, as it can be used to imply that experience makes Paul Gaustad a better forward than Auston Matthews. That’s likely distorting MacIntyre’s point, but his assertion doesn’t ring any truer when applied to the Canucks. This season, only three Canucks’ players produced offence at a top-six clip: Bo Horvat, Jannik Hansen, and Sven Baertschi. Those players rank 5th, 7th, and 8th among Canucks forwards in TOI/GP, respectively. So, the idea that ice time has been divvied up in a manner befitting a meritocracy doesn’t exactly hold water. Even Hansen, one of the team’s most established players prior to the trade to the San Jose Sharks, wasn’t being used to his full potential at even-strength, and certainly not on the power play.

Older players, even ones that might be considered journeymen, or pedestrian, or depth players in the NHL, if they’ve been around they still have more know-how, they have more trade craft than younger players who have, granted, perhaps more talent, and certainly more potential, but haven’t learned to play the game.”

Given what MacIntyre says immediately following his claim that the Canucks’ veterans are still better options than the team’s youth, it’s likely he’s actually referring to less established players like Nikolay Goldobin and Reid Boucher. That doesn’t make MacIntyre’s claims any less ridiculous, though. While players like Brandon Sutter and Jayson Megna may have the edge over these players in terms of experience, that experience isn’t driving results. They’re among the team’s worst forwards by both offensive and defensive metrics, whereas Boucher’s numbers have been positively glistening, albeit over a small sample. Goldobin is still an unknown commodity for the most part, and carries a reputation for poor defensive play, but he at least provides the team with some form of tangible value, which is more than can be said for some players in the team’s lineup.

I think I speak for most fans when I say that frankly I’m sick and tired hearing that this team has to fight tooth and nail to finish 20th overall because the market won’t support a team that finishes 30th overall. Clearly, this market can’t stand the thought of a rebuild, right? I assume that’s why the trades for Jonathan Dahlen and Nikolay Goldobin, transactions that clearly substituted short-term pain for long-term gain, where met with almost unanimous approval by the fanbase? And why the moves the team has made with it’s eye on the present day have been much less well-received?

Anyone who suggests this market isn’t accustomed to losing needs a serious history lesson, not only regarding the past three years, but also the majority of the thirty or so that preceded the West Coast Express Era. What’s made the Canucks’ recent run of awful play so unpalatable hasn’t been the losses themselves, but the amount of assets, money, and effort that’s been poured into putting lipstick on this pig. Brandon Sutter, Erik Gudbranson, Loui Eriksson… those aren’t transactions that were made with the intention of making the team’s future brighter. They were made for the express purpose of improving the team in the here and now. From that standpoint, they failed spectacularly.

To his credit, IMac does have enough sense to see that the team’s young players have more talent and potential than their older counterparts. They just have to learn to play the game. From where I stand, it would seem that the easiest way to learn to play would be for those players to get as many reps as possible while the games don’t mean anything, rather than by sitting in favour of players that won’t be here next season.

Maybe that’s unfair criticism. You can’t have it both ways. Unless you’re the Canucks from six months ago, apparently.

  • apr

    Sorry, I have to agree with Ian on this. You have to look no further than Edmonton to see that playing kids who are not ready over veterans not only prolongs losing seasons, but in fact creates unreasonable expectations on the kids and often ruins their careers. Sam Gagne, Magnus Pulvarri, and Yakapov were absolutely rushed when they were not ready. They got a ton of ice time, and it not only ruined their team’s prospects of winning short term but hampered the team’s long term success, and demoralized their careers. Not every young player has the same trajectory, and there is no steadfast blueprint in developing young players. Perhaps there is with generational players like McDavid, Stamkos, Crosby, Matthews – but the vast majority of players develop in a longer, more progressed manner – and chucking them in the deep end does more harm than good.

    • drcopper

      You’re going to extremes. Edmonton was a failed case because the team refused to rebuild until all their vets were gone and then had no one to help shoulder the load except for waiver-wire quality players. They also had terrible coaching and management. EDM is not anything like what the author here is advocating. He is saying keep the vets but reduce their ice-time and give the kids more. Balance it out. No one is saying play Goldobin 20 minutes. But 12-13 minutes and some PP time is a no-brainer.

  • Bud Poile

    No,you don’t speak for me so I would appreciate it if you don’t.
    You admit you don’t even understand what he is implying and yet you choose to humiliate him with your implications.
    Anybody that supports management and speaks a language you have little to no idea about is criticized and ridiculed.
    You’re sick and tired and yet some of us have been fans since inception and we have had to learn to be a little more patient.
    I suggest you phone IMac and ask him what he is talking about next time before lashing out at him.

  • LTFan

    IMO many of the writers for CA write an article just to get a response. Jackson you sound like Donald Trump – make stuff up as you go. As apr said it takes time and patience before a young guy becomes an NHL player. Baertschi, Granland and Horvat are only know coming into their own as ‘bona-fide’ NHL players. Not often they can make the leap from Jr. right into the NHL. There are exceptions but not that many. That is why there is an AHL and ECHL. They are there for development and most who play there never make it as a NHL regular.

    • Olands

      Any time someone calls out the Canucks PR rep, IMac, I’m happy. I can’t even listen to him. Boucher and goldobin are beyond the ahl. Both are well seasoned and have proven their ability to put up points.

          • Olands

            Well enough seasoned in the A, if you read the first comment you would not have taken mine out of context. Boucher was on Pace for 46 goals in the A last year. The fact that he has been waived three times and not cleared makes my point even stronger. Thanks.
            No one has given him a shot to play an offensive role, which the Canucks should be right now. Instead of players like chaput or Megna who have worse output in the A and have seen an opportunity in these roles and have not produced anything.
            Goldobin,objectively is more skilled than these players. Also .95 pts/GM in the A, better than either of theaforementioned.

          • crofton

            That MAY be right, he hasn’t been given that chance, but those 3 teams that waived him apparently gave up on him for some reason. Did his ability to “put up points” come because he liked to play seagull? As other posters have observed, many coaches and GM’s don’t gift ice time to players. Some do, yes. So his being waived suggests something else is happening. The players that get ice time are the ones that do what the coach tells them to do….or else they sit. Playing on a team means more than scoring 20 goals but being on the ice for 40 against. He score 32 points? Yup. That’s an average of just over 10 per waiving team. Maybe now you may grasp that I’m not supporting your point. As to the future, there may be hope that he can be “straightened out” . Goldy? Again, learn to play within the system. The coach will play you when you have proven you can be trusted.

          • Olands

            Do you think they’ll make the plahoffs or something?
            I am not saying Boucher can make any team in this league. But as this roster sits, he should. You’re arguing for continued over use of chaput and megna because theyve been here and know the system. Despite their tragic point output and suspect defensive play.
            Not only is Boucher 4 years younger, he is more skilled and has more upside. Obviously you don’t agree with the premise of Jackson’s article but I do. Young, skilled hockey is more entertaining than what we’ve been putthrough this year. When this hasn’t worked, why bother continuing with it?

          • pheenster

            The difference here is that you and Jackson are managing the game on a spreadsheet while the Canucks are doing it in the real world. “Earned coach’s trust” is hard to quantify as a mathematical variable. As please don’t mix this up with the “is Willie the right coach” question. That’s a different discussion.

  • Friendly Neighbourhood Canucks fan

    It is funny how they change their narratives. And they pick and choose who has experience warranting a longer leash and who doesn’t. I’ll concede that Sutter may have a good degree of experience, but Cramarossa, Boucher, Goldobin and Megna are all in the same boat to me yet some get much different looks from Willie without tangible results.

    Look at the game against Montreal, Goldobin gets benched for poor play in his own zone, and I actually agreed with the slight demotion. But then he puts in Cramarossa instead of Boucher. Is it experience? No, Boucher has played almost twice as many NHL games as Cramarossa and has been here for months not a week. But he plays the experience card with Megna all the time.

    Yesterday, Megna pulls a full Goldobin. Except this time it resulted in a goal. The goal itself may not matter as Goldobin was benched. But where was the punishment for Megna? Clearly WD has memory loss.

    Again the point isn’t to give Goldobin the moon and you should give veteran players longer leashes. But look at this team and tell me why guys like Jayson Megna get such long leashes when 3 years from now we are going to forget he existed? A long list with the likes of Linden Vey on it as well of undeserved minutes handed out to guys who don’t produce. I don’t know about you, but I put more patience behind a 21 year old recent 1st round pick rather than a 27 year old who’s ceiling is in the AHL.

    THAT is our frustration

    • mathonwy

      >> But look at this team and tell me why guys like Jayson Megna get such long leashes when 3 years from now we are going to forget he existed?

      Easy. Because Smegna reminds WD of the son he had in a different life time (Linden Vey).

    • Roy

      Exactly. I don’t get that frustrated with Willie, but his stubbornness to play boring vets, roll four lines and play the same formations over and over and over, even if he line juggles is totally irrational. He is so conservative he might as well go into Albertan politics and start a Wild Reform party.

    • Neil B

      Because they don’t see Megna as a part of the future; they see him as an object lesson to the talented players who are cheating on their play, not minding gap control, etc. etc.

      “Look at this guy. He’s getting good ice time. Why? Not because he doesn’t make mistakes; not because he’s better than you. He’s getting good ice time because he regularly does all the things we talk about in video room, in on-ice practices, in one-on-ones.”

      “Imagine yourself doing the little things. Now imagine yourself getting the better ice time because of that. Now go out & do it.”

  • Stojanov

    Mr. McDonald, you make good points, but I struggle to take you seriously when you make the most basic of grammatical mistakes. For example, the word “where” as in “where met”, does not mean “were”. Also, “it’s” does not mean “it is”, no matter how much you would like it to mean that. Perhaps you should ask someone to read it over before you publish it next time?

    • Gino über alles

      Don’t forget “…improving the team hear and now….”.

      Jackson, seriously….please fix the elementary grammatical mistakes before you challenge an established member of the media. Whether or not your opinion has any merit gets completely lost when you appear in print the same way Burrows sounds in interviews.

      #oops #failarmy #backtoskool #atleastiaincanspell

      • Olands

        I can get past grammar when the arguments are sound, as they are here.
        Canucks army seems to have a problem with their editor though. How hard is it to have someone read these before posting them.

    • Wanda Fuca

      “It’s” is an acceptable contraction, just like “he’s” or “she’s” or “there’s”. “It’s cold today” and “It is cold today” are both grammatically correct. That said, I will acknowledge that CA writers are notorious for regularly mangling grammar, punctuation, spelling, and idiom. Sometimes these are typos; in other cases, the writer should have paid a little more attention in high school English classes. That is, if they teach English in high school these days.

    • pantsthecat

      “It’s” is literally the proper contraction of “it is”. “Its” is posessive”. Come on dawg, if you’re going to make a comment criticising someone’s grammar you gotta at least double check the correctness of the examples you’re going to use.

  • TD

    I both agree and disagree with the author, but am not a fan of the over the top negativity.

    The Canucks were in a playoff spot just before the Allstar Game. Their overall play and the schedule post the break meant they weren’t likely to stay there and that has proven to be the case. But I think Bo, Baer, Granlund, Hutton, Stecher, Tryamkin and Gaunce are all better off for having been in those games. I think they will have learned more than the young players in Colorado and Arizona.

    I agree with Jackson about the Ericsson signing. That was not a great acquisition for a team looking to rebuild. Although good teams bring rookies in slowly and mix them in with veterans. I believe Sutter is a year or two younger than Bonino and Gudbranson was only 24 when the Canucks traded for him. That trade was also made before Stecher and Tryamkin proved they could be right side NHL d-men. Jackson can dislike Sutter and Gudbranson because he doesn’t believe they are good players, but they will likely both be in the NHL for years to come.

    I like they way this season has gone compared to last year. The results will be the same, but the young players have taken over the mantle from the Sedins. That’s the right direction and should continue in the future.

    A bottom 3 finish no longer guarantees a top 3 pick, ti sure didn’t for the Canucks last year. As horrible luck as the Canucks have had throughout their existence, I’m holding out hope for a good lottery this year.

    • crofton

      They were in a playoff position pre-All Star Game in large part because of the run of weaker teams they played. Once their schedule got tougher, the slip began. They were never likely to stay there . The only word I can come up with is lucky. They would have been lucky to stay there, no other reason. The jury is out on Ericsson, I believe. If he was about to put up another 30 goals, there likely wouldn’t be a murmur about his signing. I think they got him in part, to mentor younger players in a post Sedins era. I agree about this year vs: last year too. And if the pattern continues, once established, the Canucks should have no further succession problems, whatever the reason for that was, mostly poor drafting and Gillis’ penchant for trading picks such that the cupboard was left bare.

  • DogBreath

    Like it or not, Megna gets the breaks because the coaches have seen him throughout the year and have developed a level of ‘trust’ that he understands the system etc and generally does what WD is trying to preach. Generally speaking, the young guys (Bo, Baer, Granlund, Gaunce, Tri, Stech and Hutton) who have been successful have been brought along slowly, and have had to earn their place in the organization by being better than others. This is how you successfully develop talent and teams. The shiny new toys (Boucher, Goldy, Cramarossa etc) each have their own flaws, need to learn the system and need to earn their way into and up the line-up. Attempting to short-cut this so often brings sets guys up to fail. The league is littered with guys who were handed roles before they were ready and ultimately failed. Virtanen and McCann may be good examples of this. Lets not do it again.

  • mrh54

    until the sedins are retired or let go we will be spinning are wheels.daniel has been hit in the head too many times and has been ineffective for 2 years now.hendrik has one ppg in approximately 200 pp this season not good.until management and coach see this decline we are going know where.they had there day in the sun so please no extension when their contracts expire.we have the oldest core players in the league.time to move on from the 14 million dollar twins.

  • Pronto

    I agree with most of the author’s comments especially the general focus of the article – that fans are not crying about losses as much as process. During the building of a really good team in the mid-oughts the losses were often there, but so to was the effort and the clear vision that the WCE was driving the bus while players such as Burrows, Bieksa, Kessler, and the Sedona learned their craft. Heck the only thing we had back then were goalie controversies. The fans can accept losses if they see work ethic and development.
    Willy says the right things then does crazy things. He and Benning too often seem to be working from different play books. I can’t believe they haven’t discussed this one on one. The kids on the PP seem to know where the net is, but Poor Willy still sends out so called unit 1 to give fans a display of passing around the perimeter. The only positive with this team is the strange stat around winning one goal games. Normally, the positive stat is associated with winning teams, otherwise their PP, PK are dismal, as is their ability to clear their zone. To me that is coaching and showing no improvement season to season speaks to process.

  • TrueBlueGreen

    I have to agree with JMc here. I like that Bo has been able to ease his way into the league a little slower than other younger players (EDM) with more pressure. Taking these years while the Sedins are here is extremely valuable. Even on the back end with Stetcher / Tryamkin playing alongside Edler / Tanev. It was the same way Tanev developed next to Hamuis to learn. (And in the future, Demko / Markstrom or Miller, Boeser / Bo ) A good mix of young and old, fresh and experienced, alongside the patience knowing that it will be a few rough years. Maybe someone can enlighten me, but I do get frustrated with Willie and his decisions. If Bo is your top point producer, as well as goals…why not have him on the 1st PP unit? As well as Baertchi, his partner in crime? Give them the opportunity while these games matter less and less. (I’m really not sure why Sekeras and Price on 1040 are still speaking of playoff hopes.) Maybe someday Subban will find his way, and Virtanen will grab his opportunity when it comes. Here’s to a few rough years, but exciting to see the boys develop under the older mentors.

  • Jamie E

    There is an x-factor here that is probably impossible to assess when it comes to deployment and that’s “coachability”, otherwise known as “following the coach’s instructions on the ice”. If you want to understand why Player A gets benched and Player B doesn’t after a similar on-ice mistake, this is usually the answer. Player B is the one TRYING – visibly in the coach’s eyes – to follow the game plan. Player A is the one who is out there doing their own thing. Virtanen greatest sin was not following the game plan. That’s why he’s in Utica and hasn’t been called back up. He was due a MAJOR wake-up call and he’s receiving it. Similarly, Goldobin has a reputation – fairly or unfairly earned – for not being great at following the game plan. As such, he’ll be on a very short leash until he demonstrates he’ll follow it.

    • pheenster

      Good point. Now if you want to question Willie’s game plan itself, that’s fair ball. I do all the time. But gifting minutes to players who don’t follow their coach’s instructions is a sure route to oblivion (see Oilers, Edmonton).

  • TimfromAnahim

    I wish all these guys who are so much smarter than Desjardins and Benning would get the chance to run the team and put their money where their mouths are. At this point its all just cheap talk, without consequence or merit. Unless you are of the opinion that the way Horvat, Granlund, Baertschi, Hutton, Gaunce, Tryamkin, Stetcher, and Markstrom were handled has resulted in them being unable to reach their potential, then you have no business criticizing the way Boucher, Goldobin, Virtanen, and the many prospects yet to come are being handled. Like it or not, the coach has developed trust in certain players, and they will play until the prospects overcome enough of their shortcoming to have “earned” the ice-time that less skilled players are getting at the moment. I, like IMac, think this market’s media is in general too critical, too full of itself, and assuredly too much better than the actual hockey professionals running the team to be taken seriously.

  • TheRealPB

    I quite agree that the focus should be on the process and not the results. But that’s where I actually think that CA and far too many others get way too caught up in the details and not in the bigger picture. There is so much hand-wringing over some of the FA signings and trades and the ice-time of marginal players and not nearly enough attention paid to the organizational work that’s going on in the background. CA and many others said with absolute certainty that the Shinkaruk-Granlund trade was proof that we were going in the wrong direction. That Demko was wrong to pick so high. That Gaudette wouldn’t pan out. There’s CA criticisms I agree with (Virtanen over Ehlers and Nylander, the Gudbranson trade, the non-trades of Vrbata and Hamhuis) and others I think the jury is still well out on. But there’s so much focus on “results” in terms of things like the public comments of the management and coaching staff where we simply can’t be that naive that people like Benning have to balance the expectations of the team, the fans, the ownership, and the rest of the league. The reality is that we’ve had a wholesale turnover of the roster, the significant rebuilding of the prospect pool, considerable advances made by a ton of young players and at least some attempt to addressing the fundamental problem we have — the Sedins are no longer elite. It doesn’t matter how much Megna plays or Goldobin doesn’t in this view — and I think IM is completely right in his assessment of the impatience of the fanbase and critics in not recognizing this.

  • Bud Poile

    McIntyre’s response via Twitter:

    Iain MacIntyre
    ✔ @imacVanSun Live by this from great sportswriter Jim Taylor: “Never mud wrestle a pig. All you get is dirty, and the pig likes it.” Peace+blessings.

    • Tom Selleck's Moustache

      Regardless of Jackson’s points, he was pretty respectful to MacIntyre. To basically insult a person who counters your argument with fair comments is pretty classless, actually.

      • Bud Poile

        “Anyone who suggests this market isn’t accustomed to losing needs a serious history lesson…”

        “It’s difficult to know what players IMac is talking about specifically, but at face value, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In general, this line of thinking is incredibly flawed from the outset….”

        “What MacIntyre is completely failing to understand here….”

        “Don’t Believe Anything Iain MacIntyre Tells You About The Canucks And Rebuilding….”

        Says the twenty-something blogger to the award-winning journalist covering the Canucks professionally for twenty-seven years.

        • Tom Selleck's Moustache

          Falling back on the same logical fallacies again? I don’t care how a long a person has been doing something. If the balance of the facts and arguments show a person is incorrect on something, then his experience isn’t of any use. Even less so if that person is using his years of service as excuse to ignore rexamining his position.

          And, yes, as previously, your evidence presented reinforces my point. Jackson is addressing McIntyres arguments, McIntyre is insulting Jackson himself (likely because he can’t address Jackson’s points directly). The fact that he’s an award winning journalist makes it even worse as he should be better than that.

          • Neil B

            Actually, Bud has a point (possibly not the one he is referring to, but…)

            The article title, and the article by inference, is calling out McIntyre. The article’s first words, literally, are his name. At no point does the article reference *any* other MSM beat writer or journalist of any stripe. While it might not have been the writer’s intent to “put him on blast”, by specifically naming him, not naming anyone else, and not quoting anyone else, it sure makes the article look like an attack on McIntyre. Especially if you were McIntyre reading it.

            Personally, my key issue is encapsulated in Jackson’s sentence “What MacIntyre is completely failing to understand here, as others have before him, is the distinction between criticism of process and criticism of results.” Because his argument is based on blurring process and results as they relate to player development.

            The Canucks’ current braintrust has a concept that ‘keepers’, the guys they want to build the team around, need to learn to play the game in a way that matches the team’s preferred, or at least, perceived, identity. They will bring in veterans & journeymen to paper over the holes in the roster while the kids are undergoing this process. Some will be bargains; some will be overpaid; most (pace, Eriksson) will be on short-term contracts that can be walked away from when they need the money for the kids.

            Saying that the coaching staff is underplaying the kids and therefore not developing them is swapping results (ice time) with process (player development). Ice time, as a tool of player development, needs to be viewed in the context of on- and off-ice work. If the player is doing X in practices, and is identifying X in video sessions, but reverts to old habit Y in game time, then the leash will shorten. They are not learning anything that game in that context, and need to review what they did in their video package to correct the errors.

            Now it is possible that this philosophy is wrong, and that players learn more through mistakes at full NHL speed than they do in practice. And it is possible that this is where Jackson is going in his arguments. But it seems to me that he is just taking that viewpoint for granted without voicing it.

            And, yes, stylistically he’s done it in such a way as to make McIntyre the Judas Goat for all of MSM. That may be a great way to generate page views, but it’s a really poor way to conduct a conversation.

  • wojohowitz

    There`s no shortage of mixed messages from this management group. In hindsight was signing Eriksson to a 6×6 a smart move? Re-signing Miller is another questionable move. Is the future now? Really?