The Vancouver Canucks have stopped hawking their “retool” media spin and shifted to the long-awaited “foundational” rebuild.
When general manager Jim Benning made the move to Vancouver, there was quite a bit of hockey jargon and word play going around to side step what had been, up to that point, the slow painful death of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals core. Fast forward two seasons and here we are on the brink of missing the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, and there’s no dodging it this time.
Canucks fans will finally come to terms with the reality: the window for the 2011 core has closed, and it’s time to start building with an eye to what comes after the era that was Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
After all is said and done, the Sedin twins will likely retire as franchise leaders in almost all of the major categories, especially considering the likelyhood of the two playing out the rest of their careers here, at which point fans will likely see both of their numbers raised to the rafters.
For those who supported the “retool” whole-heartedly, that’s when it’ll hurt the most. There they will sit, next to all the other Canucks greats – legacies of leadership and unique talent.
All of them without a Stanley Cup ring.
It’s too early to be certain, but it’s wishful thinking to imagine the pair will maintain their play long enough to see a full rebuild through. It’s not the first time in history an NHL franchise has made it within minutes of the grand prize, missed it, and then held on to the dream for just a few seasons too long with devastating long-term effects.
In fact, it’s pretty much the gold standard error of professional sports.
At the start of the current season, it looked as though the San Jose Sharks were knocking on that door. San Jose has long been considered a contender, but a series of post season exits and missed playoffs has slowly picked the team apart. At the start of this season, Patrick Marleau was answering questions about his future.
Perhaps the most degrading move of all, long time captain Joe Thornton was stripped of his Captaincy, signifying a change in core leadership. To get some perspective on that for a Canucks fan: Marleau has been playing for San Jose longer then the Sedins have been playing for the Canucks.
There’s always a fighter’s chance… and that’s the Jim Benning era in a nutshell.
Of course, another first-round exit this season may be the final nail San Jose’s management needs to green-light some roster changes, but it’s hard to break apart a core that feels like it’s “almost there”. It’s equally painful to admit when their best years are behind them… especially when holding on pays off.
Just ask the eighth seed 2012 Los Angeles Kings, who were said to be sellers at the 2012 deadline, couldn’t get their deals done, and went on to break records on their way to a franchise first Stanley Cup win.
So yeah, there’s always a fighter’s chance… and that’s the Benning era Canucks in a nutshell.
Now hold up just a minute here before we get into the whole “Benning should’ve started the rebuild on day one” side bar. Most Canucks fans who have been watching the team since the Sedin’s draft year will point out to you that in the past, the Canucks made a killing on the whole “retool” idea.
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It wasn’t long ago that former GM Mike Gillis, even for all the success the team experienced during his tenure, was scolded for his lack of “major moves”, adding bits and pieces to the core he acquired from former GM Dave Nonis, who in turn received a core he had a part in building as an assistant to previous GM Brian Burke.
For the first time in quite a long time, the Vancouver Canucks will miss the prime “exchange” window, where one core filters out into another, while staying relatively competitive.
Whether it’s been puck luck, underperformance by the team’s veterans, growing pains in development or fallout from the previous regime to “roload” through the draft, the 2015-2016 Canucks could’nt keep pace with their toughest rivals in the west and the salary cap era NHL just isn’t that forgiving. Now for that light at the end of the tunnel.
Say what you will about Jim Benning, there’s no doubt he’s got an eye for talent, and that’s also something Canucks fans havent seen in a long time, if ever. Though this season has established the expiry date of the 2011 core, it’s also inspired hope. The Canucks have drafted well under Benning.
Jake Virtanen has started to look like the real deal, playing with confidence and poise. Jared Mccann continues to impress with high level skill and who knows where he could be next year, with a full off-season ahead to fill out his frame. Thatcher Demko and Brock Boeser are stud blue chip prospects that other NHL teams were calling about at the deadline, who could make an impact as early as the 2017-2018 season.
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Canucks fans will also get a look at 6-foot-8 Russian defenceman Nikita Tryamkin this season. Depending on how he adjusts to the North American ice, Benning may have again added another roster player via the draft (and if you’ve seen and video… the Chara comparisons are there).
As we learned at the deadline this year, drafting has never been more vital, and picks are as valuable as ever. In two seasons at the helm, Benning made the major moves that former GM Mike Gillis notoriously botched (see: goalie trades). Benning moved a disgruntled Ryan Kesler, He shopped the team’s aging no trade clause players like Kevin Beiksa, and picked up impactful returns in draft picks, roster players and cap space.
Benning also created roster spots for his youth movement the only way you can: by letting veterans walk. Last year, he let unrestricted free agents Brad Richardson and Shawn Mathias walk, slotting in Sven Baertschi and Emerson Etem directly into the roster for picks. We’ve also likely seen the end of Chris Higgins, who was dropped down to the minors with one more year on his contract.
Had we seen a full season from Brandon Sutter, we may still be throwing around the “retool” jargon, which is actually something to be thankful for.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Benning is making all the right moves. He’s not. “Linden Vey“, “Matt Bartkowski” and “Frank Corrado” will attest to that. I would however give him some time to let his greatest skill pay dividends. At least he hasnt thrown out 10 million dollars to any aging veterans (think Mats Sundin‘s brief Canucks vacation)…
Unlike his predecessors, the core he acquired was a few seasons past it’s expiry date, and nobody in management was calling it what it was. It’s a rebuild, and now that we’re calling it that, it’s going to get better, and the first step for a recovering 2011 Canucks fan, is acceptance.