Following in the footsteps of the Colorado Avalanche and their expansion cousins in Buffalo, the Vancouver Canucks announced Sunday that Trevor Linden, former Canuck captain and far and away the most beloved athlete residing in Vancouver, was their new president of hockey operations.
The position opened up Tuesday when Mike Gillis was dismissed from his dual positions as General Manager and President by owner Francesco Aquilini. It will now be Linden's job as President to find someone to fill the newly-vacated GM role (and any other roles he deems necessary of a change, like, say, the head coach).
From a public relations standpoint, this is a massive win for Canucks' ownership, and let's be clear here -- that's exactly what they were going for.
The dismissal of Gillis made it perfectly clear who was running the show in Vancouver, and gave an indication of who directed the hiring of John Tortorella as head coach. Granted, the story behind that hiring remains perfectly unclear. Rumours and reports have swirled all year that Tortorella was an Aquilini hire, and these persist, despite the active and ardent denial of the Aquilini family.
How ardent? On Wednesday, after once again intimating this, Globe & Mail reporter David Ebner received a text from Aquilini that said, plainly, "You are a prick."
That actually happened.
Nothing said at Wednesday's press conference cleared this up. "Mike [Gillis] hired Tortorella, and I'm responsible for that, and that's why we have a change in direction today," said Aquilini, confusing everyone. So if Mike hired him, then why are you responsible for it, and if you're responsible for it, then why was Gillis fired, and if hiring Tortorella was a fireable offense, why wasn't Tortorella fired, and what's the Caramilk secret?
Aquilini isn't very good with the media, and his run-in with Ebner is far from the first he's had with this press group. (His reported tirade to a columnist seeking a quote just after the 2011 Stanley Cup Final remains legendary.) He really shouldn't be the guy out front. So you can understand why he'd want to trot out a slightly more loveable face to run this difficult summer, especially with season-ticket renewal season conveniently beginning today.
This is Trevor Linden's primary role. It's not to remake the Canucks in his image. It's not to turn them around singlehandedly. It's to be the handsome, beloved face of this organization at a time when it desperately needs one.
When the giant Roberto Luongo banner off the Georgia Viaduct outside of Rogers Arena came down following his trade, the Canucks were met with a difficult question. Who goes up in his place? Luongo's replacement, Eddie Lack, who's yet to play a full NHL season? The Sedins, who are in serious decline and don't inspire the confidence they once did? Ryan Kesler, who reportedly asked out at the beginning of the year? Kevin Bieksa, the second assistant captain and probably third defenceman? A peripheral member of the core as your primary face?
Understandably, the team simply decided to leave the space blank. In hindsight, that should have been as strong an indication as any that they needed Linden back in the fold.
"We need a new direction in the organization, a new voice, and Trevor, when he accepted this position, was the perfect fit," said Aquilini. "He will put a plan in place that will create a successful wining environment.I believe that. We have full confidence in him."
That seems optimistic. Linden has no front-office experience, and in his six years away from the game, he's stayed far away, giving no indication that he wanted a job like this. I don't have full confidence. (I simply have a hope, as a Vancouverite, that this isn't the beginning of Linden's slow transformation into Kevin Lowe. Somehow the men of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final loss are impervious to the sort of bitter feelings the men behind the 2011 Cup Final loss have engendered. It would be a shame for the Canucks to find a way to tarnish Linden's Vancouver legacy.)
But Linden doesn't need to inspire full confidence -- just quell the slow erosion of it from this fanbase towards the people in charge. He's a a trusted member of the community, and the most beloved Canuck of all-time. For many Canadian West Coast hockey fans, the sight of him takes you to a hockey quiet place, and amidst the turmoil of this season, that may be exactly what the fans need right now.