The Senators get a lot of flak for having an owner who likes to meddle too much in the day-to-day affairs of his hockey team, and for good reason.
Less flak is given to Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini, probably in large part because that’s a guy who actually spends money on his club.
But when Canucks president Trevor Linden, ahem, mutually parted ways with the club on Thursday, it immediately raised a lot of questions about what exactly is going on over there. There was no real indication, outwardly, from either party as to what the issue behind the departure was, but all indications were that it had something to do with the rebuild and how it either was or wasn’t progressing.
Aquilini’s Twitter thread on Thursday had certainly shed a little light on the issue, as he said “everyone needs to be pulling in the right direction” on the rebuild. It’s unclear what that actually means, however. Reports came out saying Linden seemed a bit run down by everything to do with running the team, and that he had been asking around to teams that went through rebuilds about how they did it.
The speculation, then, is that Lindern perhaps wanted to speed up that rebuild, that all the losing was too much to handle for a guy who had little front-office experience but had been a fierce competitor on the ice.
What’s interesting to me is that this runs counter to the Canucks’ ownership mandate in recent years, that the team should strive to be competitive as long as the Sedins were around. Obviously their mileage varied on that, because whatever moves were being made to sign veterans or make trades were detrimental to long-term success with the team, even as it drafted and developed a handful of fairly promising young players.
With the Sedins now out of the picture, perhaps there was more of an appetite to really ride this one out and see what it gets you in terms of high-end talent, closer to the Brock Boeser “potential gamebreaker” type than the Bo Horvat “high-end second-line” players. Not that there’s anything wrong with a bunch of Horvats hanging around but no one would mistake a guy like that for an unequivocally elite player. And that is what you need to have on hand if you want to be meaningfully competitive in the NHL. No one wins Cups without multiple star players, and usually the only way to get them reliably is to draft high.
Let’s, then, go with the theory that ownership actually got onboard with the idea of tanking as much as possible. That would, to an extent, explain some of these mystifying summer signings; if you want to be bad for three or four years while some higher-end young guys like Boeser, Quinn Hughes, or Elias Petterson age into their early and mid-20s, and you gotta get to the cap floor, then giving Jay Beagle that horrible contract is one way to do it. I’m not sure you needed to make that kind of monetary or time-based commitment to do it, but hey, alright.
That’s, frankly, what should be done with this team, because pushing for playoff competition at a time when Alex Edler is your No. 1 defenseman and Sven Baertschi is probably your top-line left winger tells you a lot about what a difficult (see also: impossible) job that would end up being.
This was a Canucks team that finished only three points ahead of a Coyotes team that was hit pretty hard by injury (at least to important players like Antti Raanta and like half the defense) last season while Vancouver had the freaking Sedins. No one in any hockey front office, no matter how delusional, could possibly think this was a playoff team, and if Linden wanted to speed up the rebuild process, then he’s the kind of guy you reasonably couldn’t have around the club.
The other option, though, is that you could interpret Linden’s “mutual” decision — and Aquilini’s tweets — to be a little less forgiving to the ownership group. Aquilini has, again, long tried to promote the idea that this was (and perhaps is) a better team than any reasonable reading of it would otherwise show, and moreover that fans wouldn’t sit through a rebuild. The idea some in Vancouver have pushed, which hasn’t been observed at the national level, is that Linden was the one who, wisely, wanted to be more patient with the rebuild.
There’s a way to read Aquilini’s tweet about rebuilding — that it’s long and slow and everyone needs to be on the same page — as being about how the team couldn’t reasonably afford to do that at a time when it has a few exciting young players who could be game-changers for the franchise. That would certainly be more in line with how the Canucks have operated at Aquilini’s orders in the past, so I’m a little more inclined to believe the second scenario than the first.
The idea that Linden would be the obstructionist in a rebuild effort here is laughable, especially because ownership seemed intent on undercutting Linden in recent months. It has already been revealed Jim Benning has been reporting directly to ownership since signing his extension, meaning Linden was something of an obstacle to go around in the front office, and wasn’t signing off on hockey decisions like those awul UFA signings. And if that’s the case, then yeah, it makes sense for Linden to pack up his office and tell the team to get bent.
Like I said, anyone who’s not delusional sees this Canucks team as being pretty rotten, so the question now is which side here — Linden or ownership — is the delusional one. Given past evidence, can’t we reasonably land on the side of Aquilini wanting to be competitive again as quickly as possible?
And if so, that seems like it’s bad news for an organization that has had too much of it for too long under this group to begin with.
All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise. Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.
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