The worst part of success is that people always expect more of it to follow. That doesn’t always happen, especially if some of that success was because of good luck, the right conditions, and people who aren’t there anymore. Like, for instance, with the Vancouver Canucks in 2019-20. The team was faltering, dropping out of the playoffs by the time the season hit their pause. Logically speaking, there’s every chance they wouldn’t have made it at all, and that should be remembered. Fans, alas, are not logical creatures. When they see a team stop one game short of the Western Conference Finals, they expect more next year. And, well, it doesn’t look like one group of fans is even going to get the chance. Here is what the 2020-21 Vancouver Canucks should do to give themselves their best chance.
What the 2020-21 Vancouver Canucks Should Do
The 2020-21 Vancouver Canucks Should Fire Their General Manager
Firing a general manager is an extreme move, granted. Most teams who cycle through GMs end up with a failing record. The simple reason is that no one can plan for more than a couple of years. The complicated reason is that the owners want their toy to work better NOW! And that’s kind of impossible to deal with. In the Canucks’ case, the owner has been reasonably hands-off, letting GM Jim Benning work. Benning has had obvious failures, but also some successes that shouldn’t be overlooked. The problem is the conditions of that original hiring.
To be completely fair, there was a lot on his plate when he arrived in 2014. After their Cup run in 2011, the Canucks crashed hard. Moves had been made to extend their window, and they were in a state where their leading scorer had 50 points, their goaltending was ongoing chaos, and their prospects were minimal. The problem was that the owners hired the person who would tell them what they wanted to hear, not what should be done. And Benning told them he could turn the team around quickly. And that season they jumped from 83 points to 101. Which is great, except that they fell to 75 the year after that.
Since then, there have been a lot of moves to fill spaces and regain draft pick. And a lot more for short-term gain and attempts to reach the playoffs immediately. His moves up to the 2019-20 season make the most sense seen through that lens. He’s filling perceived gaps in the lineup for each season, but not doing much for the long-term game. His free-agent signings have been overpayments in most cases, but the more egregious fault has been their term.
This last off-season could have been salvaged for Benning, with decent free agent signings in Braden Holtby and Travis Hamonic. The acquisition of Nate Schmidt for a third-round pick is strong. But his disastrous pursuit of a suddenly-available Oliver Ekman-Larsson led to hard feelings with the Canucks’ own free agents. There wasn’t just an exodus, but one of very important players. Some were unavoidable, given offers from other teams. But others were the result of a badly-managed salary cap, and that falls directly on Benning’s shoulders. Everchanging plans, lost assets, and a lack of any perceived focus from management have to catch up with him sometime.
Why not now? This is a lost season or it isn’t. The team might be able to come back from their current doldrums, as it’s impossible to picture them continuing their recent miserable play. With a new general manager, such a turnaround would be a nice start. Even if the team can’t get themselves over the slow start and into the playoffs, it gives the new management time to evaluate who they have. It’s not like the team is going to see a drop in attendance this season, after all.
The 2020-21 Vancouver Canucks Should Re-Sign Their Coach
We went over this yesterday, but it’s important to reiterate it here. It’s rare that an incoming general manager doesn’t get to choose his coach, but Travis Green is worth protecting. He coaches an up-tempo, attacking style that is fun to watch and sells well in this city. Can you imagine someone coming in only to put clamps on Hughes? The fan reaction, even with a team winning more than previously, would be fierce – and negative.
Speaking of which, Green’s treatment of young players has a pretty good track record. It speaks volumes that the team he’s running has had three consecutive Calder Trophy nominees. He was criticized early in each season that Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes joined the team. He insisted on the rookies playing protected minutes and a limited role until they prove themselves capable of a larger part. Adam Gaudette went through the same thing, as Zack MacEwen, Jalen Chatfield, and Olli Juolevi are now. For a team that is going to rely heavily on the emergence of young players, that looks like the right resume to us.
The 2020-21 Vancouver Canucks Should Focus
Again, the big deal here is not to panic. One of Benning’s biggest downfalls is what his efforts to make the playoffs each year cost the team. A lot of draft picks went to the wayside picking up other teams’ surplus players in the hope they would fit immediately. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for trades, and not just the firesale of depth players some are calling for. There are even reasons to move draft picks right now, despite the criticism of Benning’s moves. Target a year, work towards it, and there could be gold available.
This is a chaotic couple of years we’re in the middle of, but there are ways to take advantage of it. Scouting has been thrown out a window this season, obviously. Teams are relying heavily on previous reports and highlight reels rather than in-person viewings. Even in those places where the teams are playing, it’s been with reduced or disrupted schedules. Some players at the top are going to be picked there in any case, but given the wildness, why not drop a few picks? Late-stage draft selections are something of a crapshoot in any case, and maybe that can be taken advantage of. If there was ever going to be a year to use picks as a sweetener, this is it.
The 2020-21 Vancouver Canucks Should Wait
But shedding salary isn’t entirely necessary, either. The Canucks have brought plenty of youth to the team, with spaces opening up for a bit more over the next couple of years. Draft picks made in the next two seasons aren’t coming until 2024 or later, and that should be when the young core is at the height of their powers. There are maturing prospects who should be able to find spots in the bottom-six soon. Let the old contracts age out, fill those slots with the low-priced replacements who should be there, and half the work is done.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Stanley Cup isn’t won in a year. The sooner the Canucks stop acting like it, the closer they’ll get to being contenders.
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