Trevor Linden and How to Tarnish a Legacy

Vancouver Canucks General Manager Jim Benning has received more than his fair share of slings and arrows since taking over the position back in the summer of 2014. The Canucks had just completed one of the most disastrous and lamentable seasons in franchise history, and it had become obvious that the team which came within one win of the Stanley Cup in 2011 was no more. Benning, wish his shrewd eye for young talent, was expected to help right the ship.

However, tn the two years since, Benning has done little to assuage Canucks fans’ fears that the team will be a cellar-dweller for some time, making a series of confounding moves and seemingly bleeding the team dry of its most valuable resources in an attempt to rebuild “on the fly.” With each new perceived blunder, Benning’s detractors gleefully add another black mark to his resume, counting down the days until they can run him out of town, just as they did to his predecessor Mike Gillis.

However, what is so conveniently overlooked when each piece of disheartening news appears on Twitter is the man above Benning on the food chain, franchise icon and President of Hockey Operations Trevor Linden, who has somehow managed to stay above the fray and remain relatively unscathed.

Trevor Linden and How to Tarnish a Legacy

Linden bought two decades’ worth of good will from the fanbase after a lengthy career in which he bled yellow/red/gold/black/maroon/silver/blue/green. He was, simply put, the franchise from the time he was drafted in 1988 out of the Western Hockey League by former GM Pat Quinn until his teary-eyed final lap around the ice before skating off into the sunset in 2008. Sure, there was the heartbreaking trade to Long Island in 1997 and his diminishing abilities in his twilight years, but his triumphant return in 2001 and goosebump-inducing jersey retirement ceremony, which became a celebration of the entire Canucks franchise, cemented his place in the eyes of the Vancouver faithful.

He created some of the most enduring moments in Canucks history, from becoming captain of the team at just 21 years old, to the 1994 playoffs, where a photo of a bleeding and exhausted Linden hugging goaltender Kirk McLean following a victory in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final has become the most celebrated image in team history. He retired as the club’s all-time leader in games played and assists, as well as second in goals, while the date of his jersey retirement ceremony was declared “Trevor Linden Day” in the city of Vancouver.

Needless to say, when Linden decided to return to the team in an executive capacity, there were more than a few who were concerned he could tarnish such a great legacy.

For the most part, Linden has chosen to stay relatively out of the limelight since taking over the club’s hockey ops, even giving an impromptu season-ending press availability in a hallway rather than in the media room, where Benning and head coach Willie Desjardins were subjected to a tough press conference in April.

That isn’t to say Linden has been a complete recluse, as certainly he’s used his connection with the fans as a tactic during radio interviews and fan forums, where he somehow manages to sound both aloof and approachable while putting as positive a spin on things as possible.

However, Benning has been much more center stage, despite his apparent discomfort in dealing with the media (something Linden is able to do with aplomb). With each new move which riles up the fans, there’s Benning speaking to the media about the club’s rationale in making the deal, as more and more people head to the Internet to cry about how the general manager has been an unmitigated disaster.

Which begs the question: When is Linden’s good will going to run out? Because make no mistake, while Benning is the general manager, he answers to Linden, and the man with his #16 hanging from the rafters of Rogers Arena is equally complicit as Benning in all these moves.

If the fans are screaming for Benning’s head on a platter for each draft pick and young asset the club gives up in exchange for a player (usually wrongly) perceived as able help the team in an misguided attempt to stay competitive in the short-term, when do they begin to target Linden in earnest?

The answer is, not much longer.

For some Canucks fans, the Erik Gudbranson trade, which saw the 24-year-old defenseman come to Vancouver from the Florida Panthers in exchange for promising center Jared McCann and two draft picks, including the 33rd overall selection this year, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

People are tired of seeing the franchise bleed assets and refuse to accept a full rebuild, and while the Benning criticism has always been high, as has the disdain for ownership’s inherently flawed mandate, some are wondering if the blame should more rightfully fall to Linden, who, as a rookie executive, decided to install a rookie general manager and rookie head coach in 2014.

For their part, ownership can’t be very happy either. After all, they were the ones who instructed Linden and Benning to keep the club competitive while getting younger at the same time. In both regards, they have failed thus far, as the team finished a dismal 28th this year, and gave up a ton of draft picks to get there. If the Canucks don’t show any indication that they’re on the way back up next year, both Desjardins and Benning could very well be unemployed come April 2017, and that’s on Linden.

Should that happen, Linden will likely be given another chance with another management group under his thumb, but if the club continues to flounder, what then? How will Linden be thought of in Vancouver if his failures as an executive meet or surpass his successes as a player?

Hockey fans have long memories. That said, there is a whole generation of Canucks fans who only know Linden as the thin, laid-back, unassuming president with salt and pepper stubble and an open-neck dress shirt. For this generation of fans, the glory days of the early 90’s and Linden’s heyday barely even register, while the pain of the team’s recent struggles are much more acute.

From 1988 to 2008 Linden defined a legacy. Since 2014, he has begun to redefine it in a way which won’t undo all the good he has done for the Canucks, the city of Vancouver, and even the province of British Columbia, but which could forever leave it tarnished nonetheless.

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