The Canucks have gone a year without a president. There are signs of on-ice improvement, but are they a mirage?With a year’s distance now behind him from being fired as president of the Vancouver Canucks, you do wonder what Trevor Linden thinks about it all.The former team captain had been the club’s president for just over four years when the axe came down last July. In the moment, it was a bit of a shock. In hindsight, it becomes less so.There were rumblings for some time that there was discord between the president and the team’s ownership, but the crux of Linden’s sudden dismissal came down to how long it would be until the NHL playoffs came back to Vancouver. And yet, the Canucks missed the playoffs again this past season. The first instalment of the post-Linden program, where the Canucks once again chased free agents to shore up depth, didn’t work.Round 2 leans on the expected growth of their budding stars Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Brock Boeser, and the marginal improvements made to the roster this summer. It’s a better team, yes, one with an outside chance that the Canucks make the playoffs next year, but hardly a lock.
Quinn Hughes looks for the puck after clearing Dallas Stars Jason Dickson from in front of Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom in March.
Gerry Kahrmann /
If the Canucks miss the playoffs again, essentially proving Linden right, he’s not likely to gloat about the situation. After all, he was hired to get the Canucks back to the promised land and he didn’t get to see his project to the end.It will forever be ironic that Linden was dismissed for belatedly coming to the same conclusion his predecessor, Mike Gillis, had reached once the Canucks were upset by the San Jose Sharks in 2013. Gillis realized the Canucks needed to stop thinking about the playoffs for a few seasons, that to focus on becoming true contenders again meant going big on acquiring young talent. That meant turning veterans into picks in the top three rounds of the NHL Draft, picks that almost always become NHLers now. But a different path was chosen.Twice in the four years with Linden at the helm the Canucks did manage to add an extra pick in the first three rounds — but twice they didn’t. That unevenness is a reminder of what the focus continued to be, the notion that the Canucks could hit home runs on a handful of picks every year while also signing or trading for vets in a continual chase for a handful of home playoff dates.And therein lies the rub. The Canucks have missed the Stanley Cup playoffs for five of the last six seasons. The message has become clear, championships are lovely, but playing a few extra games in the playoffs ever year is better.The fact that Linden went 1-for-4 in his own efforts to make the playoffs surely didn’t help his cause for retention.Of course it can be claimed that building a contender can still be accomplished while playing a handful of playoff games along the way, but that’s been a rarely trodden path. Time and again we’ve seen how hockey teams go through boom-bust cycles, with a couple years of pain stacked against several years of joy.You do need to pick high in the draft once in a while to find your elite talent. No matter how good you are at drafting outside the top of the draft it’s pretty hard to survive without an occasional injection of slam-dunk talent.Don’t be the Minnesota Wild is the lesson here.One need look no further than Hughes and Pettersson to understand why the Canucks are hopeful. But they also by themselves don’t solve the problem. The rest matters. How you draft in Rounds 2 and 3 and beyond, what you spend your free-agency money on and how often you win your trades count.Don’t be the Edmonton Oilers is the lesson there.
Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini talks to AGM John Weisbrod during day 2 of the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena.
Jason Payne /
Initially, Francesco Aquilini said he was going to find a new president. As we know, inquiries have been made here — Dean Lombardi — and there — Gillis — but nothing concrete has ever been offered. Instead, general manager Jim Benning remains atop the hockey department, his assistant GM, John Weisbrod, more involved than ever.With more and more data coming available, the modern NHL front office, you’d think, would be getting bigger, with more specialists than ever. That’s what’s happened in other sports, but that’s not the case here.Instead, the Canucks’ executive suite has featured mostly departures, with few replacements. Linden’s departure was succeeded by Jeff Stipec and TC Carling, preceded by Laurence Gilman and Lorne Henning. Stipec was replaced internally, but the duties of the other four have been shuffled onto the desks of others.The signs have been slowly accumulating, but suddenly this appears to be a budget-conscious organization. A steady run of playoff revenue may yet turn the off-ice spigots back on, but given how tight budgets are in the rest of the Aquilini businesses, that’s also not a straightforward assumption.When the Canucks return to the playoffs, Linden’s tenure may turn out to be a mere footnote. Did it even matter that he was in the front office?Linden declined a request earlier to talk about how life is going out of hockey — saying simply that he is “enjoying being out of things and laying low” — so his Instagram presence will have to speak for itself. It’s clear that life has been treating him well. He continues to cycle and ski, both passions for him. He shares videos of his son Roman, who is due to turn two.He may not have succeeded in his return to hockey, but he does seem to be succeeding in life, and in the big picture, that’s really all that firstname.lastname@example.org/risingaction