Vancouver Canucks need to build their own model

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 24: (L-R) Cam Neely of the Boston Bruins and Trevor Linden of the Vancover Canucks attend the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center on June 24, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 24: (L-R) Cam Neely of the Boston Bruins and Trevor Linden of the Vancover Canucks attend the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center on June 24, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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Hockey teams like to build in traditional ways. When a team wins the Stanley Cup, the rest of the league lines up to copy what they did. Instead of chasing someone else’s idea, create your own model in its place.

The National Hockey League is known for many things. From rewarding losing to being the only team sport that still allows fighting, it has developed another reputation: it’s a copycat league. Every time we see a team win the Stanley Cup, the media pundits all try to figure out how they did it. They come up with Team X’s model and the rest of the sheep in the NHL flock to copy it.

In 2011, the Bruins model was building a tough, physical team with great goaltending. Did you notice that Boston has pulled away from that model in the last eight years? They emphasized speed and skill. Physical play is there, but it’s not their primary trait. More importantly, they successfully retooled where the Vancouver Canucks have failed: on defence. Daniel Wagner did a great job illustrating the differences.

Contrast that to the Los Angeles Kings, that had to maintain their same defence-first, physical model due to salary cap constraints. Their window is closing and the team has little flexibility to make major changes at the moment. Are teams still chasing the Kings model?

No. But we have the Chicago model, Pittsburgh model and if the Nashville Predators won the Cup last year, everyone else would suddenly load up on defencemen. We know Calgary had that mindset in the 2017 offseason. And whoever wins the cup this year, everyone will be chasing their model next.

Adapting and getting lucky

If Vegas wins the Cup, is the secret looking for the cast offs from other teams? Of course not. Jim Benning has been doing that for four years and is yet to find a 30-goal scorer. A Tampa Bay win may direct teams to fill their roster with smaller forwards who are highly skilled and quick.

Pittsburgh achieving the three-peat would tell you that you need generational players to win cups. The point is, things change with each year. Even if we see the same team win, people find bits that liked from other teams who just fell short.

The cycle continues and teams suddenly change direction. You may confuse that with adapting to the league, but I just see that it exposes teams that don’t have a concrete plan in place. It identifies teams that are waiting for elite players to fall in their lap.

Luck plays an important role in this sport, but do you honestly feel confident in someone who is just hoping for good luck instead of trying to make it happen for themselves? Why not push for people with a plan? Creating a plan that gives you the highest possible chance of success is the best way to go about this. Saying you have a plan and executing it are two vastly different things.

Last year, when Steven Stamkos broke his leg, it torpedoed Tampa’s season. Did Steve Yzerman panic amid a bad season and being right up against the cap? No, he cleared out salary and trusted that his prospect pool was deep enough to support the departures. He did not flip flop because something wasn’t working for one season as he stuck to his plan.

Theorectically simple develops into something complex

Hockey places so much emphasis on culture and identity. Logically, you would want your team’s culture to stand above the rest in a good way. So, don’t you find it strange that a “good” culture is rooted in copying what other people are doing? Don’t be lemmings. Do something different and innovative.

There is a simple idea to building a team. Find as many as skilled players as possible for every position. Then, ensure that you have an incredible amount of scoring depth. Simple, right? The complicated part is how you get to that point.

It’s no secret how I would prefer it done. To sell everything not bolted down for draft picks, the most valuable currency in a rebuild. The salary cap era has made building through the draft more important than ever.

If you have an excellent amateur scouting group like the Canucks, then give them the weapons to do what they do best. I’m sure they would love nine cracks at the draft over six. You can augment your pick arsenal through savvy free agent signings. One-year deals for veterans that can be easily flipped at the trade deadline.

The Canucks don’t have to just trade players. Since they have a lot of financial power, they could trade cap space to extract futures from desperate teams. There is always a team caught in a bad place for being loyal and grossly overpaying a few players. I would exploit that aggressively.

Toughness

Toughness is fine for a player to have, but to me it doesn’t mean someone who hits or fights. I would look for elusive players that not only avoid hits, but can protect the puck and set up goals. A player is no good to me if they lack intelligence, speed or any semblance of skill. Playing physical is fine, but that better not be the only thing that player is good at.

Goons don’t belong in this game anymore. If we adapting to how the league is changing, I would value accountability, but not over playing ability. There’s a balance that must be reached to have a strong lineup. Also, if my team is vastly outhitting the opposition, then I have the feeling they don’t have the puck, which is not what you want.

More from The Canuck Way

Understanding your market

When I say the Canucks need to understand the market, it’s not the fanbase or the media. I am talking about how the trade market tends to fluctuate over the course of a calendar year. A general manager must know when draft picks can be bought for the cheapest price.

That time of the year is at the trade deadline. Annually, teams in the playoffs or in the hunt are willing to just throw away draft picks. You could look at it as Thanksgiving for draftists if the Christmas is the draft itself.

The trade deadline requires some nuanced thinking. For starters, I would advise against announcing to the rest of the league that you are looking for hockey trades. Instead, say you are ready to sell for draft picks. Next, don’t wait for trades to come to you. Be assertive and find ways to convince teams to take your players.

We saw depth players who have been out of the NHL for at least one season go for draft picks. It’s not as hard as some make it out to be. You just have to try. To be willing to tear open the mediocre part of your roster and reset it with cheap free agents and new prospects.

Draft picks are the most expensive at the draft table. It’s a fools game to look for second and third round picks since you will be burned with a poor trader. The prices skyrocket in comparison to the trade deadline and honestly, you are too late if the goal is obtain top-90 picks at little cost.

The courage to rebuild

I get it. Rebuilds are scary. They aren’t as easy in practice as they are in theory, especially if you have a myopic owner breathing down your neck for their first-round-playoff-exit revenue. However, you need to take chances. I would respect someone willing to lay it on the line to make the team better instead of using the two best players in franchise history as a shield. That’s cowardice.

Observing the NHL has taught me something. It’s so easy to say the right things to keep the fans and the media off your backs. However, saying and doing are two completely different things. You can only keep the wolves at bay for so long. Hockey men are pretty good at delaying the inevitable.

Many teams say they can rebuild or retool. Their actions separate who is serious from who is pretending. And so far, the New York Rangers are very serious about this.

After announcing their plans to rebuild, the team was gutted at the trade deadline. The Rangers have three first round picks. What is more amazing is that they have more picks in the first three rounds than the Canucks have in the entire draft.

In this modern era, I can buy into a rebuild that takes five years. It could have been done with how high the Canucks have picked. For those keeping score, next year is the fifth season under Benning. The first four years were wasted in pursuit of a playoff push that had a 25% success rate.

Since 2015, Canucks fans have suffered through 154 total losses, more than anybody else. If all those losses have amounted to one star player with another on the way, then that’s heartbreaking. It tells me that team is aiming for mediocrity and not excellence.

Next: Pettersson will be a Calder trophy contender

Next is year is very important. It’s time for the Canucks to separate themselves from being pretenders. They have to embrace the rebuild. There is no value in chasing a first round exit each season and becoming the Minnesota Wild. Refusing to accept blame, searching for excuses and making false promises is not a good plan. Then again, pretenders never had a good plan to begin with.