Coming out of a decade of futility and the worst start in franchise history, ‘standing pat’ isn’t just a bad play for the Canucks, it’s functionally impossible
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
4 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks picked up their first win of the 2022/23 season on Thursday evening against the Seattle Kraken. It was cause for celebration, sure, but only of the cautious and reserved variety, because it did come in the immediate aftermath of a 0-5-2 start, the worst in team history.
It also comes in the wake of a nearly-unbroken decade-long streak of franchise futility.
And yet, when the front office duo of POHO Jim Rutherford and GM Patrik Allvin have been asked to comment on the current state of the team, their messaging hasn’t quite reflected that reality.
Instead, it’s reflected the reality that Canucks fans — who are running out of patience for being asked to be patient — have been forced to deal with for the past ten years running.
Now at almost a full calendar year on the job, the “new” management team did start out strong in their messaging. There was talk of the Canucks needing at least some sort of retool. There was commentary about the blueline not being good enough, and of the drastic need to start restocking the organization cupboards with prospects and draft picks.
Words were spoken that had some fans, at the very least, hopeful for meaningful change in how things are done around here.
But talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words.
Instead of following through on those intentions, the Vancouver front office spent the summer making the kind of moves that only a team that already believed they were set up for contention should make.
They signed veteran free agents to long-term contracts. They traded away draft picks to cut cap, in order to fit in those new contracts.
And, perhaps most consequentially of all, they decided not to trade JT Miller, but to instead sign the 29-year-old pseudo-center to a seven-year extension worth $56 million, signalling not just a doubling down on the roster as it was, but on the entire roster as it was.
One seven-game winless streak into the season, that line of thinking now looks all the more questionable. Even the messaging seems to have changed.
There’s been word of it being “too early” for the Canucks to make any significant changes, as if their problems just started occurring in October of 2022, and not a cool decade prior.
There’ve been comments made about certain prospects and picks being parted with because they’re “years away,” as if the Canucks’ competitive window is on the cusp of opening up.
There have even been direct quotes from Allvin and Co. about having “faith” in the Canucks’ current core.
Well, we guess it would be nice…but that’s just jiving with the lived experience of the Vancouver fanbase.
When we call it a “decade of futility,” we’re not being overly dramatic or flowery with our language. We mean it with statistical certainty. The years since the 2011 Stanley Cup Final run have not been kind.
Those years have yielded some massive, draft-related gains — more on those in a moment — but even that is difficult to put a decent spin on, because the overall level of interorganizational development has also been dreadfully lacking for, you guessed it, a decade.
As our own Cody Severtson pointed out on Twitter, the Canucks have made among the fewest upper-round selections of any NHL team over the past three-, five-, or even ten-year span.
That might be acceptable for those teams who spent the decade moving in and out of lengthy playoff runs, but for the team that ranked 26th overall across that same span, it’s simply unacceptable.
And the results speak for themselves.
No one should deny that the Canucks’ years of frustration have left them with a few core pieces well worth building around. Elias Pettersson continues to develop into a Selke-worthy, two-way franchise center. Quinn Hughes is already the most talented blueliner in franchise history. Thatcher Demko is carving out his rightful place on the Mount Rushmore of Canucks’ goaltending. The team’s youngest assets, like Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Höglander, look poised to spend years to come as productive NHL players.
But all the pieces surrounding that core? The Canucks have been there and done that a few times already, and there hasn’t been anywhere near enough success to justify anything less than a drastic retool — and certainly nothing even approaching a justification for any sort of faith-based doubling down.
When teams say they’re going to “run it back,” that means they have some hope of achieving the same results of the recent past with the same roster that achieved those results in the first place. That raises the interesting question of what exactly the Canucks are “running it back” toward. On the one hand, achieving the same results of the recent past with the same roster seems very doable for the Canucks. On the other hand, that sucks.
Looking at the data, one can’t help but wish that it could have gone another way. All those missing draft picks were expended in the exact same hopes being expressed today: that with enough “tweaking,” a plainly inadequate roster could somehow get it done. Had those picks been retained and used instead, the Canucks would presumably be sitting on a bevy of in-house developees entering the prime of their life.
Instead, they’ve got a limited core of players in the appropriate age range for a team on the rise mixed in with a collection of veterans on the wrong sides of their careers, each acquired in the hopes of their being the one to put this group “over the top.”
Instead, this mindset has put the Canucks behind the eight-ball, again and again.
Canucks fans have heard all this before. They’ve heard the excuses about injuries, which are valid, but which are a factor each and every year and should be planned around. They’ve heard the preaching for patience, and they’ve been plenty patient through more than enough down years. They’ve heard talk of faith, they’ve seen more than a few instances of doubling down, and they’ve expressed apprehensions that were proven right on too many occasions to count.
It’s just not going to fly anymore. Worst, it can’t.
The reality is that “standing pat” is never really an option. Time marches forward at its own pace, always, and it tends to march a little bit faster than usual when it comes to the careers of hockey players.
Pettersson is 23, and now firmly ensconced in his prime. Hughes hit the same age a couple of weeks back. Demko is already 26.
Each year that this franchise continues to fool itself about not needing a major retool, they whittle away a peak year of some of the best talents to ever come through the organization. They’re not standing pat, they’re standing still, and wasting precious time as they do.
Last week, Rutherford opined that “…people have to realize how long rebuilds are. You look at some of the teams that went through it and we look at them now how good they are, but there were a lot of tough years.”
Well, he’s right. But the tough years have already rolled through town, and they’re continuing to roll through, and they will continue to so long as the team continues to believe in the fiction of ‘retooling on the fly.’
Yes, the building of a quality team takes time. But you’ve actually got to spend that time correctly, not just throw it away.
The best time to start was a decade ago. The next best time available to start is right now.
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