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.
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.
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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:
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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:
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.
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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?
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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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