The Vancouver Canucks are treading water in the basement

VANCOUVER, BC - MAY 23: Vancouver Canucks new General Manager talks during a press conference at Rogers Arena May 23, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - MAY 23: Vancouver Canucks new General Manager talks during a press conference at Rogers Arena May 23, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images) /

As the Vancouver Canucks continue to struggle, it might be worth trying to look at the big picture. After all, the only thing to look forward to is the future. But based on the last four years, are the Canucks setting themselves up for failure?

The Vancouver Canucks should take some advise from an old saying. Right now, they can’t see the forest for the trees and I believe some of fans are in a similar boat. The expression means that someone is too focused on the details to see the problem as whole. Another way of saying that is they aren’t looking at the big picture.

So what is the big picture here? Well, it’s the goal of constructing a team that will someday be good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup. The true goal is winning, but let’s not look too far ahead. Which brings me to the current issue at hand.

Last night’s loss makes 12 of their last 13, just edging out the franchise’s worst 13-game stretch of futility by a single point. But it’s not just the losing this year. The Canucks have lost more games than any other franchise since 2015. Adding regulation and OT/SO losses together, that’s 173 losses in 276 games (win% of .373).

However, losing is just scratching the surface. While being a perennial basement dweller, you must have noticed a trend by now. Jim Benning is still chasing reclamation projects from other teams. In a vacuum, the individual trades for Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, Nikolay Goldobin, Derrick Pouliot, Brendan Leipsic and Josh Leivo are wins,

What are actually doing when looking at the big picture? Leipsic was lost on waivers, Granlund and Pouliot are not particularly good, but at least Josh Leivo scored last night. Baertschi has been a suitable option for the middle six, but will be too old to be part of the rebuild if or when it ends under Jim Benning. Goldobin is likely the best acquisition but can’t get out of the coach’s doghouse. So, if that’s the case, is the investment worth it in the long run? If we look at this in its entirety, I don’t think so.

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The cost to the farm and development

I only mentioned the wins for Jim Benning, but what about the losses in his reclamation quest? Linden Vey, Emerson Etem, Adam Clendening and Philip Larsen. Those “wins” are marginal and I would prefer to keep the futures. Most of the players mentioned so far were acquired by trading draft picks and/or prospects (except for Leipsic and Goldobin).

It was an interesting idea to test if Jim Benning could see something that other teams could not. But when your successes are not moving the needle enough to become a playoff team, I have to ask, what the hell was the point?

The draft picks sacrificed could be part of this team’s prospect pool right now. Maybe they could have an extra centre or two out there to play in Utica, since the team has been devoid of them for the last three years.

Which brings me to an important area the Canucks have neglected: player development. It’s one thing to draft players. The team has that down. However, not every player will be ready to step in as quickly as Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson.

Canucks fans saw the mistakes in rushing players with Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann. In trying to fast track their development, Benning wasted an RFA year from each player and soured so quickly on a 19-year-old centre, he flushed him and a second pick down the drain for a mediocre defenceman. A player too slow for the position and a fake tough guy that doesn’t do the job that was advertised.

The players drafted outside the first round need a good development environment to learn. When the prospects fall flat on their faces like they have this year in Utica, the support structure helps them out. However, when Benning keeps moving pieces out of Utica for his quick fixes, the farm team stays crippled with no replacements on the way.

If you think that doesn’t matter, you have another thing coming. The Canucks are resting all of their hopes on these prospects and are doing little to support them. Why is Ryan Johnson in Utica? He’s not bringing in new players himself. Trent Cull and his staff do that for him.

While the Canucks were busy loading up on veterans this summer, they didn’t do much to help Utica. I can’t believe people thought they were going to chase a Calder Cup. When Jim Benning continues to help the Toronto Marlies, how exactly is that going to happen?

Treading water and ignoring reality

I would love to hear a legitimate explanation for why it is good for Utica in losing one of their best players this season and receiving nothing in return. The Marlies got Sam Gagner and Michael Carcone while the Comets have to throw in prospects who aren’t ready for the AHL. The ECHL should be an option, but this team will never do that out of pride. Benning wants to get younger and faster, but Leivo is older and slower. Does Benning even listen to himself when he talks?

The Canucks have always ran things through a myopic lens. Benning only looks 1-2 months ahead instead of 2-3 years. He only cares about keeping his own roster afloat, even if it means sacrificing the development of his prospects. Those same prospects are the only reason he still has a job with this organization.

It’s sad. The team is treading water with these lateral moves and for what? To hover just above the team’s basement? It is pathetic that the bar has been lowered to “as long as we are not in last place, it’s okay.” The team should be on the upswing. Benning promised to turn this team around quickly and said we would be elite by year four or five. Well, it’s year five. Where is that elite team, Jim?

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The Canucks are robbing Peter to pay Paul and the fact that they aren’t drowning is what is protecting them now. But the team can’t tread water indefinitely. At some point, they will need someone to save them. And the team honestly believes that their life preserver is the prospect pool they have amassed. But if you aren’t doing a good job developing your prospect pool, how are they going to save you? They won’t. And that’s the most frustrating part that this team just doesn’t understand.