Gather ’round, friends. Let me paint you a picture.
Close your eyes and imagine a utopian hockey universe for the Vancouver Canucks and their fans. It’s two months from now. John Tavares, the most highly-touted unrestricted free-agent in the history of the game, is manning the top line centre spot with a big fat ‘C’ plastered on his chest beside that beautiful retro skate logo.
Every time he tucks himself in to his pacific coast mansion with his Canucks bed sheets, he dreams of scoring the Cup-winning goal for his hometown team in Vancouver. They do it, they win it all, and the first person he passes that silver trophy to is Erik Karlsson, who re-upped for eight more seasons with the team that acquired him after realizing first-hand what a stable and not-at-all conflicted ownership group and front office the organization boasts.
Now, stop laughing and open your eyes. Come back to the sweet, sweet hold of reality.
Obviously, that’s not the point the Canucks are at in what should be a full-fledged rebuild for what was one of the worst teams in the NHL the last couple seasons, but a recent rumbling is suggesting that former president Trevor Linden’s firing was not only a result of opposing development philosophies.
From Ed Willes of the Vancouver Sun on Monday:
“Trevor Linden, the recently deposed president, lost his job because he favoured a patient, methodical approach to the team’s rebuild.
“He’s since told friends the Aquilinis wanted no part of that plan and when Benning presented a more aggressive approach, which included an offer sheet for John Tavares, Linden was dumped,” Willes wrote.
Now, that first part is essentially what 99.99 percent of hockey people have come to accept as the general reasoning behind Linden’s departure. He wanted to go slow, be patient and play the long game when it came to rebuilding the Canucks. The team’s ownership — The Aquilini Group — wanted to really ramp things up. So did GM Jim Benning, leaving Linden as the odd man out.
The rest of it — the whole Tavares thing, if true, really shows how out to lunch this Canucks front office and ownership group is right now, and how dysfunctionally unrealistic their accelerated rebuild plans are.
First off, John Tavares was never going to Vancouver, we all know this. The Canucks don’t have a roster makeup anywhere near contender-status as Tavares himself publicly deemed a crucial part of his decision-making process. JT, in fact, did not include Vancouver in the group of six teams (Bruins, Leafs, Sharks, Stars, Lightning and Islanders) he met with approaching July 1, and many believe he already had his decision narrowed down to two or three of those clubs before the one-on-one conversations even began.
In other words, an offer sheet to Tavares from the Canucks would have had about as much chance of being accepted as an offer sheet from myself to Margot Robbie. That’s zero percent, to be clear.
They weren’t even in the running. Not even on No. 91’s radar.
Secondly — putting the ridiculous Tavares notion aside for a moment — if Linden and the ownerhip group and Benning were indeed at odds at how methodical and patient to be during this rebuilding process, how on earth do you trust Benning to run this team into the future better than Linden?
A few years into the process under Linden (with Benning by his side) has yielded such young riches as Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Adam Gaudette and Jonathan Dahlen up front, blueliners Olli Juolevi Quinn Hughes and couple potential future quality netminders in Thatcher Demko and Michael DiPietro.
Scouting and development of these players is, of course, an organization-wide effort, but with Linden at the top overseeing everything, the direction of the team seemed to at least be stable and trending upwards fairly quickly.
Benning, meanwhile, reportedly wants to take the more aggressive approach, which pairs solid drafting with signing bottom-six guys like Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle to FOUR-YEAR contracts, and re-upping a defenceman like Erik Gudbranson at $4 million-plus per season, apparently.
Between the Aquilini’s ownership group, Benning and Linden, only one really seemed to be capable, competent and patient enough see see the Canucks through to the other side of this thing.
And he doesn’t have a job anymore.
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