M is for Masochism

Sigh. This team.

Just when you thought they were finally on the right track they, reportedly, are going back to their old ways.

We’re now at the point that I would call us all masochists, but that would actually be a step up. This isn’t masochism, it’s more like self-flagellation.

All that to say, this is a critical year in the Canucks’ so-called rebuild. And if this management team doesn’t follow through with plans to move veteran assets at the deadline, they will hinder the chances of the team that finally rises from the ashes three years from now.

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Much has been made of the fact that Craig Button has five Canucks in his list of the top 50 NHL prospects, including Elias Pettersson in the top spot. But as Ed Willes points out, this burgeoning core is still in a fragile state. His point is that the decision on whether to let Linden and Benning be the ones to nurture this core will determine whether or not the Canucks can once again ascend to a status as an NHL power.

As I’m sure you’re aware, I’ve been pretty clear on where I stand on the question of regime change. I’m much more concerned with what happens over the next five months, and as I’ve pointed out before, the critical items on the agenda are:

  1. Definitely not re-signing Gudbranson;
  2. Acquiring some more picks and/or prospects at the deadline; and
  3. Having another successful draft.

At this point in the rebuild cycle, the overriding strategy right now should be to amass as many young, high-quality prospects as possible. You need a critical mass of top end talent around which to build a contending team around. There are two reasons for this. First, even highly rated prospects wash out and don’t amount to much, and second, you want that core to be hitting their peak years near the same time. You can fill in around the edges, but that core group needs to (a) consist of both forwards and defensemen, and (b) be around the same age, which means they not only peak around the same time, but also helps with team chemistry and cohesion.

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So it is imperative that the Canucks stick with the strategy they adopted a year ago, whether it was intentional or not. A month ago it looked like things were on track.

Alas, that is not where we are today.

It is unclear exactly when or why it happened, but the line of thought changed some time in January, which is what makes me think  that perhaps last year was just a happy accident.

Canucks’ president, Trevor Linden, entered the month very non-committal on re-signing pending UFAs and clearly hinting that they would be moved at the deadline:

We will do what is right for the organization. We’ve done that in the past we will continue to do that as we march through the next seven or eight weeks. We’ve got some good future pieces in our organization and we will continue to keep our eye on that.

And more specifically with respect to Erik Gudbranson:

We haven’t really had discussion on re-signing him yet. And obviously we have been in contact with his agent throughout the year. And we in a situation right now where we will see how these next six or eight weeks unfold.

But by the end of the month, there was Jim Benning saying:

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He’s a physical, stay-at-home defenceman who helps us. We have other defencemen who are more puck-moving guys, but we don’t have anyone else with Gudbranson’s style of play. As long as a player can play in today’s game, you’re always going to need a defenceman who can play physical, especially in our division.

There’s always going to be room for a guy like that in your top six.

On top of that, they now appear ready to keep Vanek as well. I really don’t get it. As I said back in November, it seems like Aquilini is giving Benning free reign this year, so I don’t think we can really pin this on the owners.

There’s so much prevarication from both Linden and Benning every time they talk that it’s hard to take anything they say at face value any more. But if they really do think they need Vanek to provide that veteran scoring and mentoring next year, then go ahead an re-sign him on July 1. He’s going to be a UFA. That’s not a reason to pass up on picking up an extra mid-round pick in this year’s draft.

For all the talk about Jim Benning’s drafting prowess, you would think his supporters would want him to have as many shots at the draft as possible.

And if they really do think they need to keep Gudbranson around to add grit and toughness, then I’m not sure what to say. I mean, do they even watch the games?

The point is this: five prospects in the top 50 is nothing more than a good start. They need more. That should be the priority right now. Not trying to keep a guy that supposedly brings toughness and physicality. Which he doesn’t. And even if he did, those are characteristics that you can get on the cheap at any point during the hockey season if you really wanted it. And even if you couldn’t, the Canucks are not at that stage in the rebuild cycle. You fill in around the edges once you have that core in place.

It doesn’t matter if the Canucks have a guy that can move bodies from the front of the net right now. What they really need is a GM that can move bodies at the deadline:

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  • One of the things worth noting about the “five prospects in the top 50” thing which people have been crowing about – many teams have better groups of dynamic young players, and those teams had little or no representation on the list, because their young players are in the NHL. The Leafs’ best prospect is Liljegren, but they’ve graduated Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Dermott and others to full-time NHL duty. It’s a similar situation for the Jets, and other teams. The Canucks have a solid group of players who are blowing the doors of lesser leagues, but the only impact NHL’er Benning’s drafted in four years at the helm (the same four years in which the Leafs drafted Nylander, Marner, Matthews, Dermott, and Liljegren) is Brock Boeser. So the presence of so many players on Button’s list is kind of a double-edged sword.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    I even think Kole Lind might have been robbed a little bit as that list goes. I think he’s a better prospect than German Rubtsov, for example. But that’s a small quibble and GC is absolutely right as this article goes: the rebuild is NOT over and any attempt to pivot to building around the future core is horribly premature and misguided. Keeping Gudbranson at this point would be an outstanding indicator that Benning hasn’t learned a damned thing.

  • defenceman factory

    Re-sign Gudbranson and dust off your resume and in Linden’s case go back to the gym.

    Unfortunately the Gudbranson trade is becoming the defining moment for this regime. It just keeps getting worse. Had Guddy actually been a high end 3-4 defender (which is about the price they paid) the trade would be defensible. He isn’t and the trade was a huge miss. Time to cut losses.

    I don’t think we have ever been able to take anything said by Canucks front office at face value and it’s reasonable to be concerned when they say stupid things. Can only hope it is posturing as they work hard to move out the UFAs.

    • argoleas

      I would say that every organization’s management team has a trade that has blown up in their face, or a signing that’s overpriced. They key is what they do once the mistake is recognized. I saw what they wanted to do with Guddy, but it has not worked out at all. A good management team knows when to fold them and move on.

      I too hope its all posturing. Someone suggested that Guddy may be worth as much as a low 1st rounder, which almost made me spill my tea on my table, but have seen TDL idiocy before. If Benning swings a trade for that much for Guddy, a big hats off.

  • myshkin

    It takes talent to have a payroll at or near the top of the league and ice a team that’s at the bottom of the league for 3 years and then have at least half the fans say that you should be re-signed as gm. Would Aquillini keep a project manager who consistently went over budget building apartments and then couldn’t find tenants or buyers?

    spend at the cap and then hire minor league coaches. maybe spending below the cap and hiring proven nhl coaches would be a worth a try.

  • DB1282

    OT, with Boeser out the Canucks should clean house and get more draft picks, another good 5th rounder and smart picks lower down will give the fans some hope for the future, with the Canucks crap luck in the draft I’ve given up hoping for anything better and a #5 pick

  • Freud

    If Benning was coerced in 2014 to retool by Linden and ownership, he has proven them wrong while accumulating some decent prospects. Even if it’s mostly due to draft position from failure. Linden and ownership would recognize him as a genius and he would have been re-signed by now and allowed to continue.

    If Benning promised ownership “this is a team we can turn around quickly”, he would be seen as a failure and not re-signed.

    It’s fair to say the latter is the most likely case. Therefore, it’s also fair to say if Benning is not coming back, he’s not making the final decision on anything.

    So, if this next month results in the status quo, it’s on Linden and everyone, including ownership, needs to go.

    • Puck Viking

      I think its a major issue as to who wanted this BS direction that the team took. If ownership which I think then I think resign ben if not then cut ties unless he has a legit plan to rebuild properly. The reason I think it may ownership is due an interview I saw with friedman years ago in which he stated it must be tough when the gm wants to rebuild and the owner will not allow it. If he was allowed to rebuild properly and this rumor was true this team would be on the up swing now instead of still being a bottom team as we do not have enough depth at any position especially defense. Hopefully all of our prospects hit their peak but chances are some will not. I would rather an extra rebuild season or 2 to ensure we are the next jets or preds because if not you end up selling the future like buffalo and need to rebuild again when wasting years of your top talent.

  • TheRealPB

    “It doesn’t matter if the Canucks have a guy that can move bodies from the front of the net right now”. Who would this phantom be? Because it doesn’t appear to be anyone on the current roster. Certainly not Gudbranson. The only hope I have is that Benning is doing the crafty thing and trying to talk up Gudbranson (and Vanek’s) value because of course it would be dumb to advertise that 44 is an underwhelming player who needs to be moved. But given Benning’s style I find that hard to believe. It’s times like this when I have so little patience for the vets who simply don’t deliver. That continues to be the most damning thing for Benning; I don’t blame him as much as some others do for trading picks or making some choices over others. But the inability to make enough decent vet signings is really inexcusable.

  • argoleas

    Not only must this team have an awesome draft rivaling that of 2017, they need to have as many picks in this and the next draft as they can. Heck, I would trade Edler too if he agreed to waive his NTC (but that’s not happening). But clear as many pieces as possible, and keep moving with the current emerging core, and do not rush anyone.

    Fans should be told Rangers’ style that next year will probably result in another high lottery position, but that we will have good young players competing every night. That’s fine with me.