Vancouver Canucks Management: New Era – 100 Games and Half an Identity


The Vancouver Canucks have played 100 games for their new management. Through a resurgent 2014-15 season, a 1st-round loss to Calgary, a troublesome offseason, and a dozen games into the 2015-16 season, the Canucks have played 100 games now for the post-Gillis Era led by Jim Benning, Trevor Linden, and Willie Desjardins.

From front-office changes in player management and asset management, right down to ice-level strategy and player deployment, the New Era is. needless to say, different from the days of Gillis, Vigneault, and Tortorella.

But do we have a concrete identity?

Perhaps the reason why the Canucks are surprising so many this year is the ambiguity of their identity. Consider the following.

A four-line team that serves the youth right by giving them less than 10 minutes a game. A team that wants more defense from the forwards and more offence from the defense. The offense hasn’t come, and guys like Clendening are getting lost from the system. Mr. Draft GM Jim Benning continues to give away draft picks. Last season’s leading scorer has three goals, one off the skate, one off the rebound, and one tapped mid-air.

No goals from shots. This year’s goal leading goal scorer is playing just 11:04 a night, and the last year’s leading scorer playing 17:27. The Vancouver Canucks were 21-10-1 vs. the East last year, and they are now 2-3-1.

Talk about identity. It is sad to realize how an organization can be so uncertain, from the front office right down to the bench. I wouldn’t point the finger at Desjardins too much though. Although not popular, he has stuck to his decisions.

But what does it mean to be a Canuck? A two-way-play team that scores lots and defends well. Great. All NHL teams try to do that.

I am sure that the culture in the locker room is considerably better with the exit of Kassian and the arrivals of Sutter, Prust, and the Kids. But has the on-ice product taken on a concrete identity? Let us look at some numbers.

The Payroll

Of the $74.2M the Canucks are paying their players this year, $9.2M is invested in the ‘tough guys’, a crew consisting of Prust, Dorsett, and Sbisa, who get their pay-checks not because of their scoring of defensive upsides, but for their physical play.

Deduct the $7.5M that Markstrom and Miller get, and you have your 5th defenseman and your tough-guy 4th-wingers getting paid almost 15% of the team payroll. If you look at the Montreal Canadiens, their bottom line is getting paid just under $3M – Smith-Pelly, Mitchell, and Flynn. That is about 4.9% of their entire team payroll, after deducting the $7M Price and Condon are earning.

And then there is the scoring struggle. The top line of Sedins and Vrbata is getting paid $19M, which is more than a quarter of the entire team payroll. They have combined to 10 goals and 26 points. Looking at the Canadiens top line of Plekanac, Pacioretty, and Gallagher, the three are getting paid $12.25M, just 18% of the entire team payroll.

The Canadiens top line has scored 21 goals and 43 points. Go figure. We are paying an extra Ryan Miller’s worth of dollars for the top line, and Vancouverites have less than half the goals to cheer about. Vrbata is an UFA next year. Sedins still have two more years after this season.

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  • Just a side thought – would you have $5M spent on your 4th line wingers Dorsett and Prust, or on a three-goal Vrbata?

    The Team Stats

    Surprisingly, the Canucks are faring well on the stats. They are 9th in Goals For per Game, they are 10th in fewest Goals Against per Game, and the PK is 6th in the league. They have the best Goal Differential in the Pacific Division, and sit 2nd in Division, just one point behind the mighty Kings. The only stat category that hurts them is the PP, where they rank 23rd in league.

    Then why are the Vancouver Canucks stuck in the middle of the League Standings, witting 15th out of 30 teams? Based purely on goal for, goals against, and the PK, they Canucks should be around the top 3rd of the league, shouldn’t they? Why are we stuck with the likes of the Islanders, the Senators, and the Devils?

    It is because the Canucks cannot protect leads, nor can they push it to the next level during the 3-on-3 OT. So much for all the money that goes into character building and locker room culture, the leadership cannot drive the play of the group.

    We lack the explosiveness of an Ovechkin, a Benn, or Kane. We lack the Taresenkos, the Seguins, the Doughtys, and the Subbans. Although the top-6 defensemen have been great, the occasional slips cost us games – with no one really to blame.

    The Vancouver Canucks are too predictable.

    Take away the Sedin cycles and their center-ice cross pass, take away the Hansen drive, take away the point from Weber, and take the goal scoring out of them. Take away the front of the net, take away Miller’s lanes, and pull a couple rookies out of position, and voilà – you have goals against them.

    The Canucks are labelled as “the Sedins and the rest” and frankly, the team is not doing much to find a stronger identity. It struck me hard when the play-by-play guys said during the Pittsburgh game that the Penguins have turned things around in a hurry – they are no longer the scoring phenoms led by Crosby and Malkin, they are one of the top defensive teams of the league. Can we make a definitive statement like that about the Vancouver Canucks?

    Next: Vancouver Canucks Prospects: Three Stars of October

    Are we going to score four goals a game? Are we going to be stingy with our possessions? Are we going to run the opposing defenders through the boards? We need to make up our minds, and quick, before we get buried from the playoff picture.