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Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

Monday Mailbag: Defensemen, General Managers, and Cat S**t

For starters, Tolvanen is definitely a worthy target for the Canucks, especially if they really are dead-set on moving on from a player like Jonathan Dahlen or Nikolay Goldobin. He’s a young player who’s seen a bit of the shine come off after a disappointing AHL season, but he’s exhibited a scoring touch in the past and he fits an organizational need at left wing.

The issue I would have if I were the Nashville Predators is that getting a player like Dahlen in return would seem like a lateral move at best. You mentioned including another asset, but I’m just not sure that there’s anything the Canucks could offer that would make sense. If Sven Baertschi’s future wasn’t so up in the air, I could have seen the Canucks packaging those to players together for a return of Eeli Tolvanen and a pick, but at this stage I don’t think there’s a fit. If the Preds are interested in moving on from Tolvanen, though, Jim Benning should be making calls to David Poile as often as possible.

This is a great question, and one that I’m sure no one will get mad at me for answering.

(Just for context, Adam Gaudette made waves in November of 2016 by tweeting in support of the newly-elected U.S. President Donald Trump, and it’s become something of a meme among a certain segment of Canucks Twitter.)

A couple of years ago this would have been an open-and-shut case. Ryan Miller has been an outspoken critic of U.S. politics beyond the realm of what one might normally expect from a hockey player. 

Even the Sedins, who were never the type to be outspoken, had a history of supporting nominally liberal or left-wing causes at times during their careers.

But none of those guys are on the team anymore, so I have to just guess. Maybe Chris Tanev? He just seems like the kinda guy who smokes a lot of kush, listens to Phish, and really likes animals. I doubt he’s explicitly political beyond being really passionate about the fact that pit bulls are lovely animals and it’s the owners that are bad, not the dogs. I don’t think he’d really give much thought to the actual program but it just seems like MAGA stuff would really harsh his mellow.

(Not reading the comments on this one so I’m just gonna assume everyone loved this question and my answer.)

I didn’t have the time to go through the entire history of every NHL team, but I played a hunch and discovered that the 2008-09 and 2009-10 Edmonton Oilers did indeed see eight of the same defenders play across both seasons despite missing the playoffs. There’s a significant difference though, in that 14 different defenders played for the Oilers in 2009-10, which would account for some of those appearances, at least in theory. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how unique it is in the modern era, but given how bad the defence has been it does seem pretty astounding that the Canucks have been so reluctant to make changes.

It may come as a surprise, but I’d have to say the lack of solid, legitimate rebuild trades has been a more significant strike against management than the bad contracts. Ideally, you’d want to see an NHL front office get both aspects right, but I think you can survive a couple of contracts fumbles if you execute the rest of the rebuild properly.

The blueprint for building a contender, as I see it, is to identify a competitive window and focus on bringing in a group of players that will all be hitting their peak as that window opens. That means you have to hit at the draft, and/or find other ways to bring in young talent that will all be hitting their peak years at roughly the same time. Since no team bats .1000 at the draft table, that means you either have to bring in underrated young players in trades that other teams have overlooked, or increase your the of picks you have by trading off veterans who aren’t going to help you when you’re ready to compete again.

As much as I like Sven Baertschi and Nikolay Goldobin, their record of bringing in players has been hit-or-miss, and while it’s great that they have extra picks in this years draft, that’s something they should have embraced two or three years ago when they were beginning to draft a new core in players like Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson. Ideally, a few extra picks would have meant an extra NHler or two to complement the players they already had in the system. Instead, the Canucks have the type of young talent that should theoretically make them competitive within the next two years, but haven’t surrounded it with anything and have very little coming down the pipeline, with the exception of Quinn Hughes.

The Canucks have three guys on the team right now who can change the course of a game. Optimistically, you can bring that up to five in a couple years’ time if Olli Juolevi pans out. Good teams like the Winnipeg Jets or the Toronto Maple Leafs have 10+. People drastically underestimate how many good players team needs to be a contender. If you don’t add to your asset base while you’re rebuilding, you get left behind.

There’s something to this, in the sense that I think you can hide a forward more easily than you can hide a defender; but to frank, it’s just never going to happen. Players don’t amass nearly 500 games of experience at one position and then suddenly make the switch. In fact, making the switch from one skater position to the other is already so rare as to be described as a complete anomaly anyway, and when it has happened, it’s usually a player with an obscene amount of talent and skating ability.

The better option would be to not play Erik Gudbranson at any position, and let literally anyone else in the organization take his place.

Another top 5 pick, for reasons I outlined above. There’s not nearly enough talent in the system for the Canucks to realistically become a contender in the near future. They’ve added an elite point-producing centre and a high-end goal-scoring winger who looks to be a good bet to score 30 goals a season, and they’re barely treading water. We’ve seen what happens when bad teams make the playoff, it almost always sets them back at least two years. The Canucks can’t afford that.

This is an interesting question. Francesco Aquilini has been absurdly patient with this management team considering the results the team has accrued over the past 5 years. Mike Gillis and Dave Nonis were each fired after one losing season, so you could say that patience would appear to be out of character. Maybe the difference is the level of control over hockey operations that Aquilini feels he is afforded with the current management group. Or maybe he just recognizes that the Canucks are in a different stage in their life cycle and he’ll need to be patient regardless.

Whatever the answer may be, the idea that every bad move has Francesco Aquilini’s name all over it and that every good move has been the result of “stealth-tanking” or underhanded political machinations by Benning is an absurd conspiracy theory. It’s laughable at face valuable because it relies on the belief that Jim Benning has the ability to be duplicitous. The man has strengths, but a strong poker face is definitely not one of them.

The simplest answer would be that if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. Jim Benning was Peter Chiarelli’s right hand man for years, and I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest they may have some of the same weaknesses.

Petersson has managed to basically replace the offense of both Sedins this year, which is no small feat considering they were still among the team leaders in points even in their last season. If you removed the 54 goals Petersson has factored in so far this year, the Canucks would be the lowest-scoring team in the league and it would not even be close. If he weren’t on this team, it would come up a lot. Instead it’s barely on anyone’s radar.

I honestly don’t even know anymore. The Matthews deal has really set a new precedent, and with the glut of awful contracts on the Canucks’ active roster I don’t see how you can look him in the eye and tell him to take less. Just jettison some of the dead weight and give him what he’s worth. You can always afford to pay your stars.

It’s pretty close, but I’m going to say Gudbranson. Sbisa was more prone to the obvious. eye-popping gaffes that make you yell at your television set, but Gudbranson just makes dozens of plays in every game that kill you over the long haul. That’s why he has the worst share of even-strength goals of any player in the league since he was acquired.

I really don’t like to speculate on this kind of thing because frankly it’s just mean to relish is someone else losing their job. It’s even less palatable when it’s clear that ownership is at least partially responsible for the current state of the roster.

More importantly, though, I just don’t really have any idea what it would take. The team has been among the league’s worst for nearly four years. If nothing else, they at least have some talent in the system now, so picking this particular season as the time to pull the plug seems arbitrary to me.

If I had to guess he’ll get one more year. If the team doesn’t make the playoffs next season I think Francesco Aqualini will finally have to move on and look to someone else to guide them to contention.

To be honest, that seems like a very Torontonian brand of psychosis. What makes Toronto so different from any other market is that they were a once-dominant sports franchise that’s been the epitome of failure for the past half-century. Sure, their heyday came during a time when there were only 6 teams in the league, but they still have more Stanley Cups than any team not called the Montreal Canadiens. The club is some how synonymous with hockey, but also with ineptitude, and that weighs on the collective psyche of a fanbase after awhile. Usually, being the poster boy for your sport is a good thing, (think the Yankees or the Pats). It’s gotta be tough to be simultaneously the center of the universe and a joke.

Contrast that with the Canucks, whose history is basically a long series of lost seasons, with occasional bursts of success that always ends in heartbreak. It creates a totally different psychological dynamic. Leafs fans have a greater sense of entitlement to a good team because they’ve won it all, even if that was a lifetime ago now. For Canucks fans, losing is such a part of the team’s history that it’s just what feels comfortable. We don’t need to eat cat shit, because we’ve been treated to the hockey equivalent of the act for most of the team’s history.

Besides, something is in the water in Toronto. Every day there’s another insane story out of the province that’s clearly the sign of a civilization in decline. They elected the crack-smoking mayor, and then thought, “hey, this guy’s brother would be really good at running our province”. Ontario is quickly becoming the Florida of Canada. Somebody eating cat shit is just another day in paradise.